The long-awaited day has finally come. I am stepping out of SI and handing it over. One year ago, I was sent out by my home church to plant a new church in downtown Denver. It soon became obvious to me that my time at SI was coming to an end. The demands of starting a church and the challenge of reaching a secular city would take much of my time and creative energy. So I had to make a decision: pull the plug or hand the site over to new leadership. Nine months ago, I decided to pursue the latter option, but it proved to be difficult. It was not until last month that I felt comfortable with finding a person to take over the ownership of the site. Tomorrow I will introduce him to you.
So this is my farewell. I thought it would be fun to rehearse the history of the site, especially for those who joined and do not know it. I also want to explain the ways it has been a blessing to me. The greatest joy of the site for me is getting to know you, the reader. You have enriched my life over the last several years. I also want to explain to everyone why I feel it is my time to go.
The History of SI
This journey began back in 2004 when I wrote an article about where I saw younger fundamentalists heading. The article drew a lot of attention and controversy at the time. If the average SI reader would read the article now, it would not seem shocking to most. But at the time, it was upsetting to a large group of traditional fundamentalists. A couple of people wrote critiques of the article, insinuating that I did not know what I was talking about. This lit my fire a bit. :) Not long after, Dave Burggraff, vice president for spiritual formation and ministry development at Clearwater Christian College, asked me to present my thoughts at the National Leadership Conference in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. In our conversation, he told me I could do a couple of workshops on some of my “hot topics.” I told him that a hot one for me would be to do a statistical survey of the views of young fundamentalists. It was frustrating to me not to have a baseline from which to base discussions. If the dialogues about the current state of Fundamentalism could not be based in fact, then most discussions would dead-end in a disagreement about what “is.” When he heard that, he said, “You do the survey, and we’ll report the results in one of the general sessions.”
Jerry Thacker and I got to work on the project, and 1,100 young fundamentalists ended up taking the survey. About two or three weeks before the results were to be presented, I realized that the results would provoke far more discussion than my original article did. But I knew Fundamentalism was weak in the media area, and I could see that the survey would be put on the shelf and seldom referred to again. The survey revealed some troubling results, and I was not convinced that the fundamentalist media, of which there is little, would give it much space. Almost all publications in traditional Fundamentalism seem to be highly controlled and scrubbed of any self-criticism. In my opinion, because of this posture, most of them are just plain boring. They seem to preach to the choir, avoid controversial topics (except if it involves taking potshots at left-leaning evangelicals or lost people), and assume that their readership agrees with them. I also believe this is why they struggle to keep a viable subscription base. I believe many of them would do much better if they canned or scaled back their print operations and put their resources into an online interactive community. It would become more relevant overnight. But that’s just my two cents.
Dave Burggraff said some things that really encouraged me to take the survey a step further. He said that all movements go through three phases: self-awareness, self-criticism, and self-correction. He felt the survey would aid in providing some self-awareness to fundamentalists at large so self-criticism could begin. This process had already gone full circle in several spheres in Fundamentalism in areas such as expository preaching and graduate education. However, I have learned that nothing seems to provoke as much passion as when a group of Christians start to ponder the next generation or their foreign missionaries. Denominations split and fight over these things. I knew then that it would be a worthy effort to provide a wider platform for greater self-awareness of the young minds in Fundamentalism.
At the same time, the blogosphere was just beginning to make an impact on the web. The blogosphere was credited with exposing Rathergate and the Swift Boat Controversy. As I was mulling over the idea, I read a book by Hugh Hewitt called Blog, and I was hooked. It seemed like a perfect medium to discuss ideas and especially the results of the Young Fundamentalists Survey. I called a web designer I knew and floated the idea by him. He argued with me, saying that a forum site would be far better. Blogs didn’t allow people to start their own discussions, forums did. After a couple of long conversations, disagreements, and unyielding positions, we decided to merge the two concepts into one, and the blog/forum was born. Now we had to come up with a name. I wanted “www.iron2iron.org,” but everyone else wanted “www.sharperiron.org.” I did not like the name, but decided to go with the majority.
At the inception, we wanted to have a discussion about the results of the survey. Therefore, we wanted only those who were self-identified fundamentalists to be able to comment on the results. Looking back, this decision did more to set the direction for the future of the site than anything else. They say the magic behind blogosphere traffic is to find a niche and to plunge it deep. Well, we had no idea that the exclusive nature of the membership would actually propel the site traffic to the point where now the site is in the top ten most-read Christian blogs on the Web. Many fundamentalists were already engaging the blogosphere, but they were not finding a place where they could dialogue with someone who shared their core ideals. Soon SI became a gathering point for thousands of fundamentalists.
Not long after the site began, many began to wonder if I was vying for the position of the next president of some fundamentalist fellowship—or worse, if I was starting a new movement. Regardless of how many times I have disavowed that notion, this rumor was the one I have had to refute more than any other. Hopefully, now that I’m stepping out of the site, it is obvious that this rumor was not my desire. I simply wanted to have a conversation about the past, present, and future of Fundamentalism.
SI was a bit of a personal journey for me since I had many questions about Fundamentalism. After about two years, I found the answers to most of my questions and soon found my interest in the site waning. Contrary to the rumors, I had no grand vision of what the movement could or should become, nor was it my desire to lead it in any new directions. In fact, after steering this Web site for more than three years and seeing the movement from different perspectives, I think the “movement,” for all practical purposes, is dead. There are a variety of expressions of the idea, but from my seat in the stands, there seems to be no overarching movement.
I have affinity for what Kevin Bauder calls “the idea of Fundamentalism.” It has been encouraging to form relationships with many who embrace the idea. I was also able to develop a number of relationships with those who would be in conservative evangelical circles who seem to embrace the idea as well. It has been rewarding to see that the group of people who care about the gospel is much broader than I realized three years ago. I have come to find most like-mindedness with those who desire to earnestly contend for both gospel purity and Christian unity with fervor. Many of the writers on the front page have helped shape my thinking, and I thank them for that. The “forum feeders” hacked through everything from views on alcohol to theology to church to personalities and institutions. These forums were very helpful to observe and participate in.
The Blessings of SI
It has been good to reflect on ways in which SI changed me. Here are several:
- SI helped me in my Christian growth. We navigated through several difficult situations over the last three years. Whether it was End of the Spear, Maranatha, Soulforce, or others, these pressure-cooker issues helped me process criticism, think through biblical responsibilities toward brethren, learn how to pursue peace, and learn how to wisely steer a free-press operation. While each situation wasn’t necessarily fun, it was a great process. Anyone who runs a blog will understand this truth as he gets a number of e-mails from all types of people. I praise God for the growth that took place in my life because of this experience. I had and have much to learn.
- SI brought me into new relationships. Many of the people I have come to know through SI have become dear friends. Before I started SI, I sometimes wondered what island I was on because I found myself thinking differently on a number of issues. SI brought me into contact with hundreds who are standing on the same island! I also got to know many with whom I would not see eye to eye on a number of issues but who are Christian brothers and sisters whom I have learned to love. This relational aspect was the most enriching part of the journey for me.
- SI helped me sort through my beliefs on numerous issues. In some educational experiences, I was taught only one view rather than exposed to numerous views and then taught the preferred one. SI changed that process as I watched differing viewpoints debated on the site. I saw my views change on a number of issues, some views becoming more conservative and some becoming more progressive. I have come to believe that this observing of dialogue is the core benefit of the site. While we have only 150 new posts per day by about fifty different people, 4,000 people read the site and watch the discussions.
Why I Am Stepping Out
- I am not personally motivated to take the site to the next level. Personally, I am a creator, not a great maintainer. I can tell when I start to lose my interest in something. Some of the only things I have not tired of are my family and the local church. Most other things I have been involved in have had a lifespan with me. One of the reasons I started SI was because I had some things I wanted to discuss. I feel like the survey helped me see and discuss what I wanted. Therefore, I think the site needs to move to the next level, but I’m not the guy to take it there. I could just pull the plug on the site as well, but I think it still serves people and meets a need.
- It is centered on Fundamentalism. The common characteristic of the members of the site is that they call themselves “fundamentalists.” As far as I know, that is the most common denominator. Besides that, views are all over the board on a number of issues. I never really intended for the site to become so prominently identified as a “fundamentalist” site. Due to the fact that I wanted the survey discussed “in house” and membership limited to fundamentalists, this site was what happened by default. By the time I desired to change that trend, it was too late. I personally would be fine with opening up membership to everyone, but I think it would change the site significantly. To have a place for self-identified fundamentalists on the Web to discuss and publish ideas is a good thing. However, the site is not my burden. I probably will venture back into the blogosphere at the appropriate time, but it will probably be more centered on ecclesiology than on a movement. I like what 9Marks Ministries has done with their emphasis on the local church. That is my heartbeat.
- I am planting a church, and support-raising and core-raising are needing my attention. Truthfully, it’s taking all of my creative time and energies to get this church off the ground, and it’s what I’m most passionate about. This is what God has called me to do. I probably will be starting a blog that speaks to our city and the current issues that are being discussed. Our state motto is “Nil Sine Numine,” which means “Nothing Without Providence.” So my new blog will be launched with the purpose of bringing God’s voice back into the public square in this community.
How Will I Stay Involved?
I plan on helping in an advisory capacity as needed for six months. I would like to see the site improved and developed. I will occasionally write an article or do an interview. I enjoyed doing both.
I wanted to say thank you to several people who made the journey a wonderful experience:
- Greg Linscott—Greg served as a key partner on the site for the first year and a half. He was a blessing in so many ways.
- Dan Miller—Dan took over Greg’s responsibilities and has done a fine job. He has become a friend over the last couple of years.
- Austin Matzko—Austin has provided a technical eye and a steady voice in the middle of our many controversies. He stands for free speech and feels that exchanges of ideas are profitable even in the face of criticism.
- Adam Blumer—God brought Adam to me at a key time. I could no longer handle the site responsibilities by myself. Adam took the job of posting the front-page articles, editing them, communicating with our advertisers, and handling many of the other details associated with the site. He has done an outstanding job. Part of the agreement with the new leadership was that Adam would continue to be employed by the site.
- Michelle Brock—Michelle has brought a good voice to the leadership. I thought adding a woman to the leadership would provoke controversy, but surprisingly her addition was well received. Go, Michelle!
- Brad Waite—Brad was the webmaster for the past three and a half years. Thanks, Brad, for keeping the site going and for putting the time in on the front end to make it hum.
- The Moderators—Dave Barnhart, Jim Peet, Joel Tetreau, Adam Blumer, Andy Efting, Austin Matzko, Brian McCrorie, and Larry Rogier all have greatly helped by keeping the conversations on track (as much as possible) and amiable. Thanks for your time, wisdom, and willingness to grow.
- Beth Murschell—Beth was the membership director and handled all the sticky issues regarding enforcing the membership requirements. With more than 100 new people joining every month, this was not an easy task. I look forward to seeing you and your family in Denver soon.
- Tom Richardson—Tom hosted our site at a good rate with enough bandwidth so we were never throttled during high-traffic times. Thanks, Tom. You helped us get this site off the ground.
- Advertisers—We could not have done it without the many organizations that supported us through ads. Thank you and keep it up! The new owner will appreciate your support.
- Donors—About two dozen people helped keep the site alive with gifts varying from $10 to one donor who underwrote Adam’s salary for many months. With the finances given through donations and the contribution from the new owner, I will end my time with the site debt free. That is a blessing!
So I don’t know how else to end. My wife asked me this week how I was doing with the whole thing, and I am not sure. I believe wholeheartedly that I followed the Lord’s leading in starting the site. And I feel just as convinced that it is my time to move on. So I guess there’s a sweet sorrow to it all. Thank you all for making it a meaningful journey.
So Chapter 1 is complete. Chapter 2 starts tomorrow …
|Jason Janz, SharperIron site publisher, is planting Providence Bible Church in downtown Denver. Formerly, he served as an assistant pastor at Red Rocks Baptist Church (Morrison, CO). He has a bachelor’s degree in Bible and is currently finishing a master’s degree in theology. He has been married to Jennifer for 10 years, and they have four boys. His interests include pastoring, reading, and wrestling with his boys. He likes SI because of how it helps serve pastors and church leaders.|
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