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Blogging bishops: 2 Mormon men talk about sharing the gospel online

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

LDS blogger and former bishop Brian Mickelson (upper left) and his family live in Tremonton, Utah. (Provided by Brian Mickelson) LDS blogger and former bishop Brian Mickelson (upper left) and his family live in Tremonton, Utah. (Provided by Brian Mickelson)

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles over the next few weeks exploring the world of LDS blogging.

When LDS Bishop Dirk Strobel brings up the topic of blogging, he generally sees one of two reactions.

"Some people really get excited about it," Strobel said. "For other people, it's like you are talking to a blank wall."

For those who want to be engaged in missionary work and help people find answers to life's hard questions, blogging should be exciting, Strobel said.

Strobel and Brian Mickelson are two men who have embraced blogging for this reason.

Strobel is bishop of the Rexburg, Idaho, Young Single Adult 45th Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Earlier this year, the 55-year-old dentist and father of nine children started posting on Reallifeanswers.org.

Bishop Dirk Strobel, right, stands with the digital missionaries in the young single adult 45th ward in Rexburg, Idaho. (Provided by Dirk Strobel) Bishop Dirk Strobel, right, stands with the digital missionaries in the young single adult 45th ward in Rexburg, Idaho. (Provided by Dirk Strobel)

Mickelson, who served as bishop of the Tremonton, Utah, 10th Ward from 2005-2010, likes to help others feel the Spirit by sharing personal activities, thoughts and ideas on BrianMickelson.wordpress.com.

"I’ve given hundreds of talks in my life," Strobel said. "I have things I feel passionate about. For example, I want people to know that you need to forgive those people who hurt you, and there is always a silver lining in the bad things that happen in life."

The two men agreed to discuss their experiences with blogging by answering a handful of questions.

What led you to start blogging?

Mickelson has kept a number of blogs over the years, primarily as a way to keep extended family updated on his family's activities. A few months ago he said he felt prompted to begin blogging more about religion and spiritual matters in response to counsel from LDS Church leaders, he said.

Dirk Strobel's blog posts are shared on reallifeanswers.org. Strobel and others provide content for the website, which strives to provide real answers to life's difficult questions. (reallifeanswers.org) Dirk Strobel's blog posts are shared on reallifeanswers.org. Strobel and others provide content for the website, which strives to provide real answers to life's difficult questions. (reallifeanswers.org)

"My theme used to be 'updating my family on our activities,'" Mickelson said. "Now it is helping people feel the Spirit of the Lord through sharing personal activities, thoughts and ideas."

Strobel's interest in blogging came about when he read Clayton Christensen's book "The Power of Everyday Missionaries," which contains a chapter on digital missionary work. He reached out to Christensen to learn more and eventually started writing for a website operated by digital missionaries in Boston.

"I thought I would explore the possibilities," Strobel said. "I was going to have the students in my ward do it, but I was told you should be the first to do one, so I did."

What do you write about? Describe your experience?

Having served on the stake high council for several years, Strobel had a virtual library of talks from which to draw recorded experiences.

Brian Mickelson's blog used to be focused on providing family updates. Now his theme is helping people to feel the Spirit of the Lord through sharing personal activities, thoughts and ideas. (brianmickelson.wordpress.com) Brian Mickelson's blog used to be focused on providing family updates. Now his theme is helping people to feel the Spirit of the Lord through sharing personal activities, thoughts and ideas. (brianmickelson.wordpress.com)

"I thought I'd write about experiences I've had that strengthened my testimony and helped me through my life," Strobel said.

In his first blog post, Strobel recounted how his little brother was killed by a man who police told him was intoxicated, and his subsequent struggle to forgive this man.

"Hatred grew in my heart. … For a few months this hatred consumed my life, and then I realize that it was destroying me. I knew that I must forgive and that I was becoming somebody that wasn’t the person I need to be," Strobel wrote. "I prayed to God for forgiveness and to help me love this young man that killed my brother. The tragedy wasn’t my brother dying, but the young man that killed my brother. I realized that for the Savior to forgive me, I must forgive that young man. Christ could forgive the Roman soldiers as they were killing him, and he would forgive me of my sins. He would forgive this young man, and so I did. A great weight was taken off of my shoulders, and I felt love in my heart again."

Brian Mickelson's blog used to be focused on providing family updates. Now his theme is helping people to feel the Spirit of the Lord through sharing personal activities, thoughts and ideas. (brianmickelson.wordpress.com) Brian Mickelson's blog used to be focused on providing family updates. Now his theme is helping people to feel the Spirit of the Lord through sharing personal activities, thoughts and ideas. (brianmickelson.wordpress.com)

Following the church's recent October general conference, Mickelson blogged about personal experiences he'd had in reference to certain topics discussed by church leaders. For example, he related to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk about depression. He wrote about struggles he had while serving as bishop.

"I just could not shake the anxiety I was feeling. It wasn’t depression (so far as I can tell), but it was quite a struggle to manage projects, interact with people, or have the energy to do much of anything in my day," Mickelson wrote. "I prayed a lot and tried to analyze what the problem was. Was it sin? Was I guilty of something? Yes, but nothing major. Was it a chemical imbalance? Maybe. I’m imbalanced in a hundred ways."

He tried to just deal with it, but his wife encouraged him to see a counselor at LDS Family Services. He resisted at first but eventually made an appointment. It was the help he needed, he wrote.

"I’m thankful that I was finally able to take appropriate action to get the help I needed," he wrote in the post. "Things have improved and we’ll see where things go from here. I’m grateful that Elder Holland was inspired to address this subject."

The response to Mickelson's more religious entries has been overwhelmingly positive, he said. Although he doesn't consider himself to be a gifted writer, he has received a number of messages from readers who are touched by his posts, leaving comments like, "This was exactly what I needed to read tonight," or "This post answered a question I've struggled with for 25 years." Sharing the blog through social media has greatly expanded its reach, Mickelson said.

"It has been a blessing to be a small part of helping other people with spiritual matters," Mickelson said. "Carving out a little time to write about what thoughts I’ve had during the day has been a challenge. Otherwise, writing posts for the blog has been a wonderful experience and has blessed me greatly."

Have you interacted with anyone who became interested in the church?

Mickelson is in the middle of a series of communications with a woman from the Midwest who is investigating the church and came across his blog post about Elder Holland's talk.

"She is a wonderful and spiritual person who is really searching for truth. … I've enjoyed our communications," Mickelson said. "I've had a small number of conversations with friends who are not of our faith about LDS topics. These are conversations I would not have had without the help of the blog."

Strobel has hopes for one man who found his father's obituary online and sent his family 6,000 ancestral names. The man had also written a book about the Strobel family. He said the man is reading the Book of Mormon but hasn't yet spoken with missionaries. Strobel and his son, Peter, also helped one woman who had questions about death.

How has blogging about church topics or sharing the gospel via the Internet blessed your life or strengthened your testimony?

Blogging has blessed Strobel in his calling as bishop, he said. Years ago, he heard the late President Gordon B. Hinckley say that "a greater enthusiasm for missionary work will strengthen the entire ward." So he has enlisted members of his ward in blogging. Many of the posts on NextdoorMormon.com are from his ward members.

Blogging has blessed Mickelson's life in a number of ways, he said.

First, writing a post forces him to research, study, ponder and organize his thoughts on a gospel topic. This process strengthens his faith and testimony.

Secondly, writing and engaging in conversations have helped him to better understand the opposing views, beliefs and opinions of others.

"That has helped me look for common ground between myself and others," he said.

The best feeling, Mickelson said, has come from finding out how a reader felt blessed for reading something he posted.

"That is particularly humbling," he said.

What lessons have you learned from your experience that you might share with others who want to get involved?

Mickelson has learned not to put too much pressure on himself to write the perfect blog or post too often, he said.

"I don’t worry about the statistics that my blog host provides to me. I write when an important topic is on my mind," he said. "If there is a topic on my mind for a few days, I figure I’d better at least put a post together to see how I feel about it."

Mickelson also suggests avoiding controversial topics.

"That may not be everyone’s choice, but I just don’t have the interest in my life to argue with people or combat people who are in the mood to attack my beliefs," he said. "I’m happy to explain or even defend my beliefs in a friendly manner, but my blog is not a place for bashing, arguing or attacking."

Strobel's advice? Don't be a blank wall; people are capable of more than they know, he said.

"I didn't think I could do it but I did it. … It’s blessed my life. I’m able to share what I know with everybody," Strobel said. "I want to share the gospel with everyone in the world."

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