Words, especially written words, move people to change the world. Moses received God’s written words in the form of the Ten Commandments. The prophets penned warnings, judgments and truths. The gospels were written by men telling the story of Jesus. Luke wrote the history of the early church. Paul transcribed letters that shaped the Christian movement.
The mystics wrote of their devotion for God. The Reformation was influenced by Martin Luther’s tracts. The great revivals of England and North America were inspired by John Wesley’s books.
Today, the influence of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, David Jeremiah, Max Lucado, Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley and Chuck Swindoll are extended by their writing. All, by the way, are pastors who have extended their ministry through writing.
When I began preaching in my first pastorate, I thought it was a shame to let all the research and writing of the weekly sermon go to waste once it had been preached. I thought, “Why not develop these sermons into articles? Maybe they can have a second life.” Because I had been a student minister and was familiar with student publications, I began to query student ministry magazines. The articles were rejected: “Reads too much like a sermon.” Finally, after crafting the sermon to read as an article, one was accepted: “How to Live with Failure,” by Event magazine in September 1986.
Since that inauspicious beginning, I have had published more than 1,000 articles, six books, four ebooks, and contributed to six books and five study Bibles. I’ve written for local newspapers and regional magazines. I’ve written Sunday School lessons for a major publisher, and my sermons have been published in preaching journals and online. I often tell people, “I am a pastor who writes, not a writer who pastors.”
You’re a writer, too. As a pastor, consider your current writings. I’m guessing you write at least one sermon every week, maybe more than one. Perhaps you write for your church’s newsletter or devotionals for Christmas or Easter publications. As sermon writers, we write more than most weekly newspaper editorial columnists. They may write 500 to 1,200 words per column. Most sermons are in the 2,500- to 4,000-word range.
Why Should I Write?
Why should you be a pastor who writes? Let me give you seven reasons to consider.
Words, especially written words, have been used powerfully by God.
Martin Luther wrote the Ninety-Five Theses (2,717 words), which ignited the Reformation. Charles Monroe Sheldon pastored a church in Topeka, Kansas. On Sunday nights to stir students’ interest, instead of the typical sermon he weaved the main theological points he wanted to convey with the story of a young pastor and members of his congregation. A Chicago magazine published the sermons in weekly installments. They eventually were printed in book form and titled In His Steps. It is estimated that since its debut in 1896, worldwide sales have reached close to 30 million copies. (Because Sheldon did not copyright the material, neither he nor his family ever received a penny of royalties for his work; but oh, the lives he has touched.)
To Extend Your Influence and Ministry
When I preach, I speak to a few hundred people. When I write, I reach thousands. For example, I’ve been published in Billy Graham’s Decision magazine, which reaches 1.8 million readers. I’ve written curriculum for LifeWay. Counting all channels, approximately 1 million copies of the lessons have been printed and distributed.
Writing, especially with social media and the Internet, has the potential to touch an astronomical number of people that mere preaching in a local church context cannot. I receive emails, notes and comments from people all the time who say they read something I wrote. I’m humbled and astounded by the influence and spread of my ministry just because I put words on paper or in a document.
To Be Remembered
Paul and Apollos provide an interesting contrast between the written word and the spoken word. Apollos is first mentioned as a Christian preacher who came to Ephesus, where he is described as “an eloquent man, competent in the Scripture…being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:24-25). Apollos demonstrated persuasive speech. He was very popular in his day as he watered the seed Paul had sown (1 Cor. 3:5-7).
Paul, on the other hand, was not bold in speech, but his writing possessed the voice of a lion. He wrote 13 books of the 27 collected for the New Testament. What sets apart Paul from Apollos? Apollos was a skilled orator, much more skilled than Paul, but Paul’s influence touches us today because he wrote words on parchment. The words he wrote were the words of God. They still live to this day.
Consider Charles Spurgeon. He wrote his sermons out fully before he preached, but what he carried up to the pulpit was a note card with an outline sketch. Stenographers would take down the sermon as it was delivered, and Spurgeon would make revisions to the transcripts the following day for immediate publication. His weekly sermons, which sold for a penny each, were widely circulated and still remain one of the all-time bestselling series of writings published in history.
Because You Have a Voice
In the movie The King’s Speech, Lionel Logue, King George’s speech therapist, is sitting on the coronation throne in Westminster Abbey in preparation for the king’s coronation. King George tells him to get up, that he can’t sit there. Lionel says, “Why not? It’s a chair.” The king replies, “It’s Saint Edward’s chair, the seat on which every king and queen sat.”
Lionel replies, “I don’t care.” The king replies, “Listen to me. Listen to me!” Lionel says, “Listen to you? By what right? Why should I waste my time listening.” The king exclaims, “Because I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!” Lionel pauses, “Yes, you do.”
Pastors, you also have a voice. You need to be heard. As pastors, we experience more of life than most people. We see life from birth to death, the highs and lows, the good and bad, and all the mess in between. We see people in their weakest moments and rejoice with them in celebration. We have more of a right to speak to human life than most any other profession.
Writing allows another outlet to use your voice. The fact is people are talking. With social media, there is more talk than ever before. Pastors need to be a part of that conversation, and we need to influence the conversation. One way is through the written word.
To Get More Life out of Your Work
As a child, my family gathered for Thanksgiving meals. I have four siblings, and my eldest sister was married with two children long before me and my twin brother. Holidays were festive and fun. Each of my two sisters, along with my mother, would prepare the meal. Many hours went into making the dishes of potatoes, green beans, squash casserole, turkey and dressing, coconut cake, chocolate pie, and much more. It was consumed in less than 30 minutes.
Preaching is similar to Thanksgiving meals. We plan, prepare and present a meal that our congregation will feast on for spiritual growth. The sermon is delivered in about the same time it takes to consume the Thanksgiving meal.
What if you got new life out of your sermon material? What if your sermons were more than one and done? What if your sermons could be reused to feed another audience? That’s what writing for publication does.
To Earn Extra Income
I hesitate to mention the monetary benefit of writing, because there are no guarantees. However, there is the possibility to make money from writing. Granted, very few writers—secular or Christian—can sustain a living merely on writing profits; but when done well, there is the possibility of earning extra income for you and your family.
For me, from that very first article, “How to Live with Failure,” I placed a portion in my daughter’s college fund and a portion in my family’s vacation fund. I’m happy to report that my daughter attended a prestigious university; along with scholarships and financial aid, she graduated debt-free. Also, as a family, we were able to take some nice vacations every year.
What you might do with your writing’s earnings is up to you, but my writing ministry has helped our family.
To Follow God’s Example
Let us not forget that God wrote a book. God’s revelation came to us through the written word. That may be the most compelling reason of all for pastors to write.
How Can I Write?
Pastors for years have turned their sermons and teachings into books, articles, blogs, devotionals and countless other written documents. You can do the same. You can reuse, retool and recycle your sermons to use in various ways. Consider the Sunday sermon as the hub of the wheel. From it extend several spokes—various writing outlets for you to extend your ministry. Let’s examine a few of these.
A Blog: Blogs have become very common today. In the past 60 seconds, 347 new blog posts were published on WordPress sites; 684,478 pieces of content were posted on Facebook; 100,000 tweets were sent. No longer do you have to pitch your ides to a legacy media outlet, sit around for a reporter to call you for an interview, or send out your own press releases. You have something to say, and blogs give you a direct communication channel.
Three types of people are on the Internet: Consumers who read content posted by others; curators who gather content on specific topics and post it for readers with similar interests; and creators who develop unique content for a specific audience on a particular topic. Your sermons provide you with your own content rather than having to promote or curate others’ work and is a great reason to blog.
With that said, many people start blogs. A few have turned their blogs into a profession. Here are a few suggestions. Make it good. Write from the heart. Be insanely useful, pertinent, relevant. Keep the readers in mind. Give them a reason to come back. Write catchy headlines.
Often on Mondays, I will pick out some thoughts—a few paragraphs at most—from the Sunday sermon to post on my blog. I would suggest that you don’t start a blog until you have written at least 25 to 50 blog posts. That way, you always have something to post and won’t feel as pressured to write something weekly. Also, don’t start unless you can keep it up; a blog in which the most recent post is months or years old is sad.
Devotionals: I have emailed a weekly devotional for many years. This email devotional serves several purposes. One, the devotional thought is intended to encourage and uplift the reader. Two, I list my ebooks for purchase. I don’t hawk the books but simply show the book covers with links to purchase. Three, I include an invitation to our church’s Sunday worship services, informing readers what is expected to happen during the week ahead.
I compile these devotionals from sermons and articles from the previous year. Often, a devotional is a point of a sermon. If I have three or four good points in a single sermon, they make three or four devotionals. I write for several devotional magazines, so those get tweaked and included in the weekly devotional, too. Sometimes I will shorten an article to include as a weekly devotional. I try to be sensitive to the calendar and have devotionals pertaining to Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, etc. This has been a great source of inspiration for my readers. They often compliment me for speaking into their lives.
In addition, I write devotionals for various publications. Usually, I’m assigned to write three to six devotionals at a time. Sometimes the editor provides the themes, and sometimes it’s left up to me. Either way, the first place I go for these devotionals are sermons already preached. Obviously, they have to be formatted and written according to the given publisher’s guidelines and style, but the bulk of the research and writing already has been done in the sermon.
Articles: A sermon provides a great source for possible articles in various publications or online magazines. A sermon is not an article. Let me say it again: A sermon is not an article. Yet with retooling and tweaking, it can become an effective article. Remember always to follow the publisher’s guidelines. These can be found at the publisher’s website.
If you want to break into article writing, I suggest studying the most recent edition of The Christian Writer’s Market Guide, which is updated annually. Follow the suggestions and advice therein. Editors are bombarded with many unsolicited manuscripts and queries weekly. They are more apt to read yours if you have followed their guidelines.
Another possibility is journals and magazines you read and that appeal to you, or you might want to consider your hobby as an outlet or an area of passion. In addition, I write for various local publications from the local newspaper, a magazine for seniors, and Christian newspaper. Most of these articles originated from a sermon.
Books: The New York Times reported that 81 percent of people believe they have a book inside of them. Pastors have a lot of books inside them—or at least we have written a lot of sermons that possibly can become the fodder for potential books.
Obviously many pastors have turned their sermons into books. Let me warn you that book publishing is becoming an increasingly difficult field to break into. Years ago, some Christian publishing houses were publishing 200 to 250 books per year. Today, those same publishers may publish only 50 to 75 books annually. Publishers are in the business not only to encourage and educate through the printed page but to make money; if they don’t make money, they go out of business. That’s why pastors with a large platform are more apt to be published.
Most books don’t become best sellers. The average book sells approximately 1,500 copies. As a rule, a writer will sell to 10 percent of his or her platform, meaning that if you have a worship attendance of 1,000, you will sell 100 books; but if you have a social media audience of 1 million, you will sell 100,000.
Be that as it may, and with no intent to discourage or dissuade you from book publishing, the next earth-shattering, life-changing book may be bouncing around in your head. The world needs to hear what you have to say.
Sermon Sites: Various online sermon sites or preaching journals offer another outlet for your sermons. Obviously you can post your sermon at various online sermon sites for free. I have written for various preaching resources, providing sermon summaries, extended sermon outlines, or complete sermon manuscripts. Sometimes editors want sermons on certain texts. If so, I check my sermon database to see if I have something on that text. If I do and it fits, I will revise the sermon per their guidelines. If not, then I will prepare the manuscript or outline and add this sermon to my future sermon plan—a win-win for me.
Sermons provide a wealth of information, research, stories and truths that can be used in other places if revised, retooled and redone. Consider what works best for you to extend your ministry through writing.
For additional information to help you extend your ministry through writing, I have written a resource called Writing for Prophets to help you in this venture. You can access that resource at MinistryDesignTraining.com.