A retired pastor asked a friend who owned a pickup truck to stop by his house. Once there, he loaded several heavy-duty plastic bags into the back of the vehicle. “Drive me to the city dump,” said the elderly minister.
Once there, he pulled the large black bags out and stepped a few feet away. In a few minutes a bulldozer buried the contents. With a questioning look on his face, the friend asked, “Sir, what was in those bags?” With tears streaming down his face, the pastor said, “Sixty years worth of sermons and notes—my life’s work.” This true story should not have happened.
Perhaps this elderly pastor is similar to others today. As a young man, he intended to publish his work. Procrastination became his friend, and the myths of why he couldn’t write became his enemy. As health and age-related problems crept in, he realized he had become a victim of false beliefs.
As a pastor, what keeps you from writing? Do you fall in the category of believing in one or more of these seven myths? Or do you seek the truth and use writing as part of your ministry? You decide!
Myth # 1: The Time Myth: I’m too busy to write.
Truth #1: Wise people are well-organized.
Pastors are busy people. They have congregations with numerous needs; they prepare one, two or sometimes three sermons each week. Most have responsibilities as a spouse and parent, plus hundreds of other duties. Many serve on local and state committees and travel extensively. It’s understandable that they can’t add writing to a busy schedule.
Bob Agee, president emeritus of Oklahoma Baptist University and former pastor of churches in Memphis and Louisville, believes there are two major reasons pastors do not write. The first is management of time; the second is discipline. Because of an unwillingness to manage time and discipline yourself to carve out time each week to write, the world loses ideas that only are heard by one congregation.
Effective time management means scheduling ourselves to focus on priorities, which can include writing, and there are tools and methods which can help us maximize the time we have for such tasks. For example, as you write and research, develop an electronic system of collecting data, statistics or articles in a designated file. Or if you’re more comfortable with a vertical file, save those clippings and drop them into a manila folder in your file cabinet.
One word of caution: Too many files can overwhelm you! The late Bob Hastings, former editor of the Illinois Baptist, warned about keeping paper clippings. “Don’t waste your time cutting out newspaper or magazine articles and filing. They will consume your space. That’s what we pay librarians to do.” Today, Hastings would have everything neatly organized and stored in digital files.
Regardless of your preferred method of filing, think of ways to use information that inspires, educates, informs or entertains readers in the Christian market. Writing can include: how-to, travel (missions and volunteers), devotions, interviews and church curriculum. When writing sermons, think of other ways to use the material later. Could some of the illustrations be used as devotions? Could the work be turned into a book?
Agee points to the writing example of Herschel Hobbs, who wrote 54 commentaries, The Baptist Faith and Message, Sunday School lessons and weekly columns on “Baptist Beliefs.” By organizing your time and disciplining yourself to sit down and write, you have the opportunity to extend your ministry.
Myth #2: My English isn’t perfect. I don’t write well.
Truth #2: Writing improves communication skills.
When teaching writing classes and encouraging pastors to attend, often I hear some similar excuses. “I know my English isn’t perfect. I can speak to a congregation of my people, but writing…well, it’s like putting something down in stone. It’s available for everyone to see.”
As in Moses’ case, if God calls you to do something, He will walk with you. He will see you through the task. Trust God. Whether we agree, we are evaluated by how well we communicate with others. Writing and speaking are two forms of communication, though writing takes longer.
Writing is a skill, and a skill can be learned. Because communication is at the forefront of a pastor’s job responsibilities, this is an area where it is worthwhile to spend time and energy enhancing your skills. As you grow in ability to communicate effectively, you’ll also enhance your writing skills.
Editors need fresh ideas. Tools are available to assist writers. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White is considered one of the best guides to the usage of the English language. There are other online tools to help refine your writing skills. Computers have spell check, but don’t rely on this tool without thoroughly reading and editing your work. See if there’s an editor in your church who’s available to proof your work.
Myth #3: I’ve been rejected by traditional publishers.
Truth #3: Self-publishing is gaining respect.
Writers often report having sent a manuscript to an editor and waiting months for a response. Again and again they try, only to be rejected each time. Although it may be increasingly difficult for unpublished authors to work through traditional book publishers, there is a reasonable alternative: self-publishing. There are a number of firms that specialize in helping authors publish and market their own books, and some have a particular focus on pastors and church leaders.
Do some Internet research to discover sites that explain how to self-publish your book. There are companies that will do much of the work for you, but be sure to connect with one that’s reputable. Among the better companies that work with pastor-authors are Xulon Press (owned by Salem Communications) and Cross Books (a division of LifeWay). Talk with other writers to get their recommendations. Viewing samples of their published books is a good way to evaluate finished products.
Of course, today it’s not necessary to have a printed book in order to be a published author. The growth of ebooks and popularity of ereaders makes forgoing print a reasonable alternative. According to one recent report, ebooks are selling more than three times the amount of printed books.
One word of caution: Once a book is published, there’s no guarantee you will sell those 1,000 copies sitting in your garage, so don’t spend money you don’t have on self-publishing!
Myth #4: I don’t have time to promote a self-published book.
Truth #4: Be your own representative.
If you work with a traditional publisher, large companies have representatives all over the world who promote your book. However, in my experience, the author is still the one who works hardest to spread the word about his or her project. Within the town or community where you serve, make a list of civic clubs, businesses, Christian schools and universities, and other denominational groups where a speaker often is needed.
Volunteer to present a free program focusing on your book. Design a PowerPoint presentation using appropriate music, movement and visual images. Purchase the books at cost and have them available to sell if those attending request an autographed copy. Contact the media prior to the event. Ask local radio and television stations for a few minutes to discuss your book (and the program if appropriate). Build a network of people who can help you. Write thank-you notes afterward.
If you self-publish, write a book that helps people. Word of mouth promotes a good book. Resources such as Amazon and CreateSpace offer free worldwide advertising. Plus, authors earn a higher percentage with these companies than if they went with a traditional publisher. Traditional publishers often take 18 months or longer from the beginning to the end of the publishing process. Once a book goes on Amazon or CreateSpace, it’s available for purchase within 24 hours.
Myth #5: I don’t feel writing is as important as preaching a sermon.
Truth #5: Writing helps discipline sermon preparation.
“I began writing while I was a pastor,” says Cecil Murphey. “I wrote one hour every morning before my secretary reached the office. Not only did it spread my reputation (and attract new people to our congregation), but the discipline forced me to focus on thoughts and choose the exact word I wanted.” Murphey has written or coauthored 135 books, including international best sellers such as 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.
A pastor can speak to a few dozen or several hundred people on Sunday; but when he or she writes, that opens the potential to speak to thousands or perhaps millions. Also, the discipline of writing can make the messages you preach in your own congregation more effective.
Myth #6: My sermons are prepared for my congregation.
Truth #6: The written word reaches generations yet unborn.
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist & Reflector in Tennessee, says, “Writing to publish is a natural extension of a pastor’s ministry. Whether it is a compilation of sermons or a reflection on…years of ministry, the pastor who writes to publish is leaving a valuable, historical record for future generations.”
Working with pastors across the state, Wilkey serves as an encourager to the leaders of churches as they write with an eye toward publishing. He relies on pastors to write articles, weekly Sunday School lessons and devotional material for the B&R.
Wilkey says, “I have a book written by famed Southern Baptist minister R.G. Lee, former Southern Baptist Convention president and a former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. Lee once pastored my home church, Lima Baptist in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. He writes about Lima in his autobiography. His reflections on my home church make that book a treasured part of my library, though it happened decades before I was born.”
An example of a pastor who reaches millions of people beyond his congregation is Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta since 1971. Stanley has written 45 books, has a radio and television ministry, and writes In Touch, a daily devotion. In his personal biography, Stanley says he models his ministry according to this message from Paul to the Ephesians: “Life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the good news about God’s mighty kindness and love” (
One way a pastor can begin a writing ministry is to launch his own daily devotional for his congregation, using the church website, a personal blog or an email newsletter format to deliver the content. As you develop your writing skills, you can expand your horizons into other writing ventures, as well.
Myth #7: I don’t know how to start writing for the Christian magazine or book market.
Truth #7: Writing workshops and mentors are available to help you start.
Denise George, cofounder/teacher for the Boot Camp for Christian Writers, has trained hundreds of pastors and church staff to write to publish. George says, “Writing is a skill, and a skill can be learned. More than 3,000 people have attended our Boot Camps, and many of these have published books and magazine articles. Two factors that bring our people together are: We love to write, and we love God. We encourage our people. We stay with them and offer advice as they learn the techniques of writing and publishing. Most important, we pray for our people.”
There are also publications that can help such as 2014 Writers Market and The Christian Writers Market Guide 2014 (both revised and republished annually). These can help you find potential outlets for your writing, as well as provide other resources to help you increase your reach.
Johnnie C. Godwin, who pastored churches in Texas, said, “I’ve come to understand that God’s calling is more like an amazing maze that He guides us in for all of life. If we keep on saying yes to His calling, He will make the varied expressions of His calling clear to us at each age and stage in life” (“Is God Calling You to the Ministry of Writing?” Baptist & Reflector, Oct 12, 2013).
What if the apostle Paul never wrote? Writing for the Christian market extends far beyond the church walls. Readers need the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world that needs to hear what they have to say and what Scripture teaches.
Carolyn Tomlin lives in Jackson, Tenn., writes for numerous Christian publications and teaches writing seminars. She is married to a Baptist minister.