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Rohr for Writers: Above All Else, Avoid Success

Rohr forWriters

How many times have I rejected God’s mercy because it came clothed in failure and disappointment?

No one signs up for an exciting new career or work opportunity with the goal of utterly and completely failing. And yet, how many of us have fallen flat on our faces at one time or another?

In my writing I’ve experienced a roller coaster of encouragement and discouragement. Each day is a new adventure in measuring incremental success and trying to reach just a few more readers than the day before.

While working to attract readers, writers are especially at the mercy of others in order to achieve success. If people aren’t interested in our work, then we may as well scribble notes on paper and fold them into paper airplanes. If influential people above us don’t offer guidance, endorsements, and marketing help, we’ll most likely flounder.

It’s hard to see the mercy in failure. When you’re on the outside looking in at those who are enjoying success, it sure seems like the successful figures in the writing world are living the dream, writing books in trendy cafes (mine is full of broken chairs and dust), and talking about their ideas for adoring audiences. We don’t see the inherent drawbacks in success.

Richard Rohr clues us in:

“A too early or too successful self becomes a total life agenda, occasionally for good but more often for ill… Our ongoing curiosity about our True Self seems to lessen if we settle into any ‘successful’ role. We have then allowed others to define us from the outside, although we do not realize it.”

Immortal Diamond, pg 27-28

Mind you, that isn’t to say that every successful writer, especially those who are young, are inherently captive to the demands of his/her audience. Rather, they are the ones who face the greatest challenges when trying to hold onto a clear sense of their true selves when there are so many temptations to seek validation elsewhere. They are the most likely to make a habit of measuring themselves according to the standards of others.

More to our point here, every successful writer I’ve talked to is quick to point out the drawbacks. They are targets for criticism, endure crazy scrutiny in the public eye, and often wonder which new friendships are genuine and which are just trying to take advantage of their success. It’s not all about living the dream each and every day, even if they can afford better coffee than the average writer.

If anything, my successful friends have humbly reminded me that just reaching a point of achievement in your career can be tremendously unfulfilling. At the very least, success can be a fragile thing that is sure to fade at one point. And when it does fade, we are left wondering what remains.

Rohr makes his case in stronger language when he goes on to quote Thomas Merton on pg 28:

“‘Be anything you like, be madmen… and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only to how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.’ Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing. It gives you some momentum for the journey, but it is never the real goal.”

Reading this, I’m well aware that it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Merton was “successful” as a monk and as a writer. We’re still talking about him, aren’t we? That sounds pretty successful to me.

So, if anything, I’m encouraged to read Rohr and Merton’s words on success. Writers can achieve success for a season while still remembering that it is fleeting and ultimately a poor substitute for recognizing our identity as God’s beloved people. The great trap of success is that once people start to notice us, they will begin to try to define us and will most certainly judge us, and we’ll be tempted to give their words tremendous power—even drowning out what God says about us.

Think about that for a minute.

If you’re going to write, you’re going to receive feedback on social media, comments, reviews, emails, and (the introvert’s nightmare) phone calls based on your work. You’re going to see people leave one or two star reviews along with comments like, “Didn’t speak to me.” You’re going to have your faith, integrity, and intelligence questioned.

By the same token, you could be told that you’re brilliant and amazing. You could be told that you’re the hope for the future—the person who could save the church or at least a segment of the church. You’re going to be praised and honored for your achievements.

The crazy thing, according to Rohr and Merton, is this: Praise can be more threatening to our spiritual health than criticism. While negative reviews or insults can be deeply wounding, we can at least see what they are and take steps toward counseling and healing.

There is no ready balm for the damage done by success. Who would think of going into counseling to counteract the negative side of success? We may even tell such a person to stop being ridiculous.

Rohr and Merton remind us that success can exert tremendous power over us, trying to define who we are and what we are worth. If we can’t counteract our steps toward success with the grounding knowledge of God’s love and acceptance, then we are better off having failed in the first place.

There is great mercy in failure. Failure is an opportunity to step into our true selves, as loved and even praised by God as his beautiful creations, even when we don’t receive praise at the times and places of our choosing.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple spirituality and creativity practices you can incorporate into your day right now. It’s $.99 on pre-order until March 11th when it releases.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond. Click on the Prayer category to read other posts in the series. 

Rohr for Writers: Stop Calling Yourself a Writer-You Are Loved

Rohr forWriters

What is your identity? Do you call yourself a writer? I would say that you can write, but you are loved by God first.

Your identity should never hinge on something that you have to do. Your identity should rest on what you have already been given, what no one can take away, and what is perfect and irrefutably true.

Richard Rohr writes in Immortal Diamond:

“Your True Self is who you are, and always have been in God . . . The great surprise and irony is that ‘you,’ or who you think you are, have nothing to do with its original creation or its demise. It’s sort of disempowering and utterly empowering at the same time, isn’t it? All you can do is nurture it.”

Before you put your first word on the page, you have a very important question to answer: How do I determine my self worth?

In other words…

  • Does your identity hinge on the response of others to your writing?
  • Will you feel more secure about yourself if readers respond positively?
  • Will you consider giving up if you don’t reach a certain goal with your writing?

So many struggle with calling themselves “writers” because it’s a murky label. Do you need to write for a certain number of people in order to call yourself a writer? Do you need to attain a certain level of success before you can claim that label? Don’t ask me if I know.

Regardless of whether you think you can call yourself a writer, I wonder if Rohr can help us move beyond these labels and consider ourselves on a deeper level. What if our primary identity is linked to what God says about us? If writing is just something we do, something important that some do more professionally than others, then the words we write or the response of readers cannot change us.

Semantically, we can still refer to ourselves as writers, but it may be helpful to remember that writing is something we do. It’s just a small piece of who we are, even if we devote significant hours to it each week. Even speaking of myself, one who pays the bills through writing each day, I have found it extremely toxic to hinge my identity on my writing.

When I centered my identity around being a writer, I endured the misery of setting goals for myself, failing to meet them, and then enduring the doubts and questions that followed. If I didn’t meet my writing goals, what kind of writer could I consider myself? And if I wasn’t much of a  writer, who am I after all? Could I claim any kind of identity?

Constantly maintaining my identity as a writer drained away my joy, prompted me to spend less time with my family, and created a deep aching that drummed away in my mind. My stress and anxiety sky-rocketed.

Something had to give, and Rohr’s Immortal Diamond spoke directly to the heart of my struggle with writing: my identity was based in large part on calling myself a writer.

When I finally let go of the goals I’d attached to my identity as a writer, admitted failure in a few areas, backed off on what wasn’t working, and committed myself to what seemed more sustainable, I felt like a massive burden had been removed from my shoulders.

I had more energy to devote to my family and even to myself, to say nothing of more free time.

My identity isn’t linked to my writing—at least most days. Writing is my work, my calling, and my ministry. It’s not who I am. There are days when I still struggle to maintain those lines. When they start to blur, I can let too much rest on how others respond to my writing—even the most minuscule social media praise or criticism can swing my day one way or the other. That’s typically a sign that something is out of balance.

Rohr writes that nothing can touch you when you find your identity in God’s love. I find that both immensely appealing and extremely difficult to believe.

Nothing? Really?

While I will surely feel pain, suffering, disappointment, and regret when I rest in my identity as beloved by God, the stakes attached to my writing work are now completely different. I’m still disappointed if people don’t like my work, but it’s not the same kind of dread and devastation. I don’t feel the same need to keep fighting and struggling and working.

My drive is now completely different when I get my identity sorted out before writing. I am free to work hard and to put out my best work, but there is so much less riding on the success of my work. I’m in a much better position to accept criticism and failure. Best yet, if things don’t work out, I can just try something else.

I don’t see this identity in God as a card you receive and carry with unwavering assurance every day. It’s not like you either have it or you don’t. I see it as more of a  continuum. While I experienced a freeing epiphany while reading Immortal Diamond, I don’t see myself completely in the clear at this point. 

As you begin writing today, this week, next month, or next year, the first thing you need to know is that you are loved by God—period. You are loved and pursued because there aren’t any footnotes, endnotes, or “syke!” comments in John 3:16. God so loved the world, and if you’re part of the world right now, then that includes you.

Jesus spoke of himself as the vine, and we’re the branches attached to that vine. So if you want to know more about who you are as a branch, the only way to look is back to the vine itself. We can’t do anything to change the vine, and so we can rest in that security and stability.

It will be an ongoing learning process. I doubt I’ll ever be done. However, the crazy thing about finding my identity in God’s love is that I’m now free to enjoy writing for what it is. It’s like writing occupies its own cozy little corner in my life. I want to excel as a writer, but my identity isn’t wrapped up in it.

I’m learning how to be free to write because I’m learning how to receive the freedom of God’s love.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

You can grow in both your prayer and writing by developing the same practices. Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple practices you can incorporate into your day right now.

How to Market a Book with Integrity: A Christian Author’s Struggle

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My friend Charity Singleton Craig is guest posting today about the lessons she and co-author Ann Kroeker learned as they released their latest book On Being a Writer. In particular, she shares how they tried to make the marketing process less miserable—even fun at times. If Ann and Charity can’t make book marketing fun, I don’t know who can!

 

I’ve never been part of a publishing industry that comes knocking on writers’ doors with large advance checks and the opportunity to just be our introverted selves and write. Never once has someone told me, “You just focus on the words; someone else will worry about the sales.” In fact, conventional wisdom tells us just the opposite. Make sure the writing is decent, but your marketing strategy and platform need to be excellent.

And you’d think that would be fine by me since in addition to being a writer, I also provide marketing services to clients. I have no problem giving them the tools they need to explain their services and connect with potential customers.

When it comes to selling myself, though—which is really what an author needs to do if she plans to write more than one book—the whole business seems a little slimy. I don’t know any writers who think or feel any differently, but if participating in a sales strategy is a necessary part of the writing life, then I needed to get okay with it. And fast.

As my co-author, Ann Kroeker, and I wrote and released our recent book, On Being a Writer, five key elements emerged that have allowed me to sell books without losing my soul.

1. Permission to be myself.

From very early on as we brainstormed ways to spread the word about our book, our publisher, L.L. Barkat, encouraged both Ann and me to choose marketing activities that would allow us to be ourselves. Organizing a big launch team? That didn’t feel like “us.” So instead, we contacted a few individuals privately to help with specific tasks. We also hosted small in-person, launch parties so our friends could come and buy books and celebrate with us. We don’t all have the same gifts and skills—the Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians of that extensively in his letters to them. In the same way, we can’t all approach book selling the same. That’s not to say that I should never operate outside of my comfort zone. But finding marketing methods that fit best with my personality and desires will ultimately serve the book, the readers, and myself best.

 

2. Focus on relationships.

When readers become a platform and friends become a strategy, it’s easy to forget that these are people I am building relationships with. Focusing only on what others can do for me is not only a self-centered sales technique, it misses completely the way the Bible says we should love people. Though Scripture is certainly more than a relationship manual, it provides many guidelines for how we as writers should be interacting with readers, publishers, fellow writers, and more. Here are just a few: James warns against favoritism or giving preference to those who are influential or wealthy. Paul exhorts us away from selfish ambition, thinking only of our interests, toward looking out for the interest of others. Peter reminds us that love should be sincere. And Jesus tells us to give straight answers, to let our yes be yes and our no be no.

 

3. Let each project motivate me.

In On Being a Writer, Ann makes a strong point about what should motivate us to promote our books or other writing projects. It’s advice she actually got from the publisher of one of her earlier books. “Something compelled you to write this message and share it with a broader audience. Right?” her publisher asked. “Could you see speaking [or other promotional efforts] as another avenue to share that same message?” Later in the chapter Ann talks about going on the road to promote that earlier project: “Each time, I kept that idea in mind: the message matters, and I want to get it to the people who need to hear it.” If you just want to write for your own self-discovery or private reflection, keep a journal. But if you have a message or a story or a strategy you want to share with others, publish a book, and then let that message guide you toward telling people about it.

 

4. Remembering that I am creative.

Not only do we each have unique, God-given gifts, we also are made in His image as creators. Just as we bring all of that creativity to the work of writing books, we can employ it in selling books, too. Don’t use just the strategies everyone else is using because “that’s the way we do things around here.” Try new things. Take creative risks. Let your personality, your relationships, your book itself guide you in new and interesting ways to spread the word. For Ann and me, that came in the form of an early release of our book, a surprise even to us as authors! Without telling us, our publisher released our book several weeks early. Sales were happening, friends were gathering, and Ann and I were nearly the last ones to know! That creative launch gave our early sales a boost, and we had nothing to do with it!

 

5. Finally, have fun.

After the hilarity of that early release, suddenly Ann and I had a lot of work to do to get the word out beyond our immediate circles. We ratcheted up the intensity, and rather than enjoying the conversations and being thankful for our bit of success, our strategy turned serious. For several weeks, I didn’t have much fun. People would ask how the launch was going, and I’d smile and say, “Great!” But secretly I was wondering whether I really was cut out for the writing life. After a break from the book over the holidays, I came back to our efforts realizing that it was just the intense, serious version of the writing life that isn’t for me. But by injecting a little fun into our marketing campaigns, I can still be focused without nearly as much stress.

Author Neil Gaiman tells the story of some advice he received from best-selling horror writer Stephen King fairly early in his career. When King observed Gaiman’s early success, he told him simply: “This is really great. You should enjoy it.” The thing is, Gaiman wasn’t enjoying it. And he didn’t for a while.

“Best advice I got that I ignored,” Gaiman said. “Instead I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn’t writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I’d enjoyed it more.”

Being part of a sales strategy is now a reality for writers. But it doesn’t have to suck the life out of you in the process. How do you keep your soul while selling books?

Learn more about On Being a Writer: Ten Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Charity-Craig-authorCharity Singleton Craig is a writer, bringing words to life through essays, stories, blog posts, and books. She is the coauthor of On Being a Writer (T.S. Poetry Press, October 2014), and she has contributed essays to three books, including Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self. She is regularly published at various venues, including The Curator, where she is a staff writer; The High Callingwhere she is a content and copy editor; and TweetSpeak Poetrywhere she is a contributing writer. She lives with her husband and three step-sons in central Indiana. You can find her online at charitysingletoncraig.com, on Twitter @charityscraig, and on Facebook

 

One last note from Ed:

By the way, my latest eBook, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together (due out March 11th), is available for pre-order at the steep discount of $.99 on Kindle.

Click the cover image below to place your order before the price goes up!

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Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Disciples of Christ

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I know a surprising number of people in the Disciples of Christ denomination these days, especially considering that I hadn’t heard of it until I read the fantastic memoir Any Day a Beautiful Change by Katherine Willis Pershey a few years ago. I love how the Disciples of Christ folks I know are both committed Jesus-followers while also being incredibly diverse and generous. It’s a hard group to pin down in a single blog post, but Rev. Erin Wathen does a great job sharing what she loves about her denomination: 

 

It pays to have a great conversion story. Some fantastic burning bush moment when God turned your doubt upside down with unavoidable, cosmic certainty; or a drawn-back-from-the-brink story, wherein you abandoned a life of crime/addiction/certain doom for—wait for it—Jesus! If you’re a pastor and you have THAT story, then every sermon for the rest of your life has found its starting point, its center, and/or its conclusion…with your own story.

Too bad I don’t have that story. My story goes more like this: I grew up in a mainline protestant church in small town America. I did Sunday school, vacation Bible school, church camp, mission trips, and youth group, without complaint or resentment. Then I went to college and felt no impulse, whatsoever, to go to church on the weekends. When I got out of college, I started going to church again—different town, same denomination. And like, 5 minutes later, I found myself in seminary classes going, ‘what the hell…?’ I mean, I loved church. I had always loved church. But how it got me on the hook for life, I’ll never know. Maybe it was the Bible school cookies? Or the Pension Fund. Whatever it was, it was no flaming conversion.

The church of my raising was the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, and that’s where I’ve served a decade-plus of ordained ministry. The Disciples grew out of the Stone Campbell movement in the early 1800’s. The early founders sought an alternative to the divisive denominationalism of that time. They wanted a way to live faith in community without “tests of fellowship,” and with “no creed but Christ.” It was a frontier journey, in more ways than one. Most literally, it was a fellowship that grew out of rural, Central Kentucky—which was the very edge of all that lie ‘west’ of civilized America. But it was also a wilderness outside of polity and strict doctrine. This was to be a place where all were welcome to receive communion; all would be received in baptism; and all could worship together, even if they did not entirely agree on the letter of the law.

How we measure the success of that original movement, these days, is highly subjective. On the one-hand, 200 years of shifting social paradigms have led to several splits. What started as a single, unified church is now 3 different denominations; sometimes we’re speaking to each other, sometimes not. Depends on the day (and what part of the country you’re in). At the same time, the Disciples of Christ, on the whole, can still point to those founding tenets of unity in Christ and freedom of belief at the heart of who we are as church together.

But with all that freedom comes the occasional identity crisis. And what, really, has been a centuries-long marketing nightmare.

“What does your church believe?” a newcomer might ask. “Well…” we venture… “Depends on who you’re talking to. And where you are on the map. And who made the coffee this morning, among other things.”

Most of our congregations affirm and empower women for leadership; but a few still don’t. Some are welcoming of LGBT people; some aren’t. Some embrace a progressive understanding of scripture; but not all. Some of our churches use gender-inclusive language for God, avoid violent imagery of crosses and blood, and are comfortable hearing about social issues from the pulpit. Others… you see where I’m going with this.

When everybody is welcome, doubt is affirmed, questions are encouraged and nobody wants to tell anybody else what to believe… then what in the world do you put on the brochure?? The website? The t-shirt?

True to those ideals of our founders, authority lies within the local congregation. We handle our own money, own our property, hire (and fire) our pastors, select our own leaders, and are not bound by the demands of any hierarchy. Our mission is expressed from the ‘bottom up,’ in that churches support the larger structure for ministry—and not the other way around. That means the local church can hone its own mission statement, set its own vision, find its own way to serve and establish presence in the community… We are guided by the same basic principles, but not bound by them.

It is both wonderful and maddening, all this freedom.

It means we don’t always know how to sit together when we disagree. It means we struggle to navigate the racial tensions, present in the world outside our walls, when we come together within. It means we don’t always know how to share our message ‘out’ there, when we can’t always get it together ‘in’ here. It means it can be hard to focus our energy and our resources to affect real change in the world… when everybody’s idea of ‘change’ is broadly varied, but deeply valued.

Oh, and worship music. Don’t get me started.

The current Disciples identity statement says that “we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” And the world, as we know it, is indeed fragmented. It is complicated. And the not having of easy answers is, yes, a marketing problem. Because easy answers, proven growth models, and colorful packaged programming is what most folks are in the market for.

Disciples really suck at all that. We always have.

But what we do offer—and always have—is a safe place to live with all that ambiguity. A place where people worship together (however imperfectly) and try to organize for good. A place where ‘movement’ of the collective body, and the Spirit, are valued over any statement of faith; and where the communion table, at the center of worship and community, calls us back to a shared belief in Christ’s love: embodied within us, and made flesh for the world.

My own faith story was no flaming conversion… But it was a slow, steady certainty that I belonged at that table. At the center of everything, I had a place, and I had people. And for all that we embody different expressions of faith; for all the places I have moved; and for all the turns our collective journey has taken; that table, and the people around it, are the same wherever you go.

Put that on the brochure. It’s the best thing we’ve got.

 

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

profileRev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in the Kansas City area. She is originally from Kentucky, and also served a church in Phoenix, Arizona for 7 years. She and her husband, Jeremy, have two kids, ages 4 and 6. Erin blogs for the Patheos interfaith network. Read more at  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/

 

 

 

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. We’re also accepting posts where anyone can share what they love about their denomination. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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Denomination Derby: What Cara Strickland Loves about the ELCA

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This week Denomination Derby enters a new phase that will open it up for way more writers. While I’m still inviting ministers or volunteers (with a bit of expertise/experience) to share about their respective denominations, the series is now open to writers who want to share what they love about their denominations. Today my friend Cara Strickland kicks us off with her journey through a whole bunch of denominations (including a bit of time at the same college as myself!) that landed her in a very different church than the one where she first came to faith:

 

My childhood memories of church are fuzzy around the edges. Mostly, I remember how I felt as a five-year-old in the Vineyard Church of the early 90s in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego. I felt secure. I knew that God loved me. God could do anything, and I rested in that.

My parents had been part of the movement almost from the beginning. I met John Wimber as a baby, before his unexpected death.

Sometimes during worship, people would dance in the aisles. Occasionally the order of service would change and people would come forward to be prayed over and anointed with oil. We always invited the Spirit to move, and to do what needed to be done, regardless of our plans.

It was there that I got to be Mary in the Christmas pageant, received my first communion, and sang about breaking the mighty “yolks” (when you shout to the Lord).

I was six when we left the church. It’s a chapter of our family history that doesn’t open often, but I know that it was a hard one for my parents. I took our leaving, moving in with my grandparents for a time, and moving to the Pacific Northwest in stride, as six-year-olds do.

When we arrived in Spokane, Washington, we started attending a Presbyterian church. Then, over my middle and high school years, we went to a series of Foursquare churches. These were the places where I began to find the words to talk about faith. I became steeped in the evangelical culture of the 90s, writing in my PB&J (prayer, Bible and journaling) notebook every day, highlighting nearly every passage in my Bible, and affirming that True Love Waits.

The first time I left the church was in high school, just before my junior year. By then, I had spent years at church camp, youth group, winter retreats and church services. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but now I think I was tired of expecting so much of myself. I was already a check-box girl, and the church added further boxes to my list. I served in the nursery and made pancakes for the homeless on the weekends, I gave money, above and beyond my tithe, as I felt led. I had forgotten how it felt to be secure in the love of God. So I left.

I think of that time between sophomore year and graduation as my first desert season. I allowed myself to be held by God without agenda. I got the sense that I could rest under strong, powerful wings. I started to learn how to sing with conviction again, this time about breaking the heavy yokes.

I began attending a nondenominational church after I graduated from high school. Honestly, I think that I wanted to meet a nice Christian boy and start dating. Church seemed like a good place to do it.

Both in Spokane and in the little Midwest town I moved to for college, I attended big churches, largely filled with an ever-changing population. Every week, someone introduced themselves to me during the “say hi to someone” part of the worship service, asking if I was new. I joined small groups and volunteered. I came to events and made coffee dates, but somehow I couldn’t quite get connected (or plugged in, as the pastors were always saying). While people were friendly on the surface, they didn’t seem to be in the market for new friends.

Part of the way through college at a small conservative Christian university, I stopped going to church again. I had become tired again, and I didn’t have the energy to care about the odd looks I got in the cafeteria when I arrived for lunch in everyday clothes, my hair uncurled, on Sunday afternoons.

Along the way, I met people who seemed to understand my journey, and to be on one of their own. One of those people was my first roommate, and she gave me a copy of Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross. Immediately, I fell in love with liturgy. I soaked up the words, laden with meaning, spoken by so many on any given morning, around the world.

I went to a small Episcopal church on Ash Wednesday. I fumbled through the prayer book, and the hymnal, somewhat self-consciously. But there was something about the church that felt familiar. For the first time since the first church of my memory, I felt safe, secure, and loved. That church became my home until I graduated from college.

I moved back to Spokane after graduation and spent some years floundering between then and now. I went to the desert. I expect that I will return again, from time to time.

But now I drive to a small ELCA Lutheran church in a community you might call “challenged.” I walk past a brightly colored mural depicting trees, people of all races, and a communion table. I slide into my seat next to friends, and my pastor winks at me as she begins the service. She knows my roadblocks to believing in grace.

Here in this place, I have begun to heal from the check boxes of my youth group days. I pass the peace, take in the nourishing Eucharistic feast, and when I allow myself to relax I feel secure. I know that God loves me. I am confident that God can do anything (and that I don’t have to do anything), and I rest in that.

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About Today’s Guest Blogger

CaraStricklandAuthorCara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know.

Come say hi to her on Twitter or Facebook. She likes making new friends.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. We’re also accepting posts where anyone can share what they love about their denomination. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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3 Challenges for Christian Publishing

challenges-christian-publishing

 

If you searched for “crisis in publishing,” you could spend the rest of your life, quite unhappily I might add, reading predictions of publishing’s impending demise. I don’t have anything at stake with the big New York City publishing scene, but I do know a thing or two about Christian publishing.

Perhaps the word “crisis” goes too far. The more measured, less “link-bait-inclined” headline I’ve chosen is “challenges” (My thanks to the three of you who persevered to click through.) Mind you, these are some big challenges. The challenges are especially pressing for authors who aren’t pastors of mega-churches or who can’t afford a $250,000 marketing campaign to make a series of purchases that land their books on the New York Times bestseller list.

Yes, there are more Christian authors than that one former pastor who have done the latter.

Adding to the urgency of these challenges, I’ve seen quite a few of my talented friends involved in Christian publishing take big steps back either to rest or to reevaluate what they’re doing. Some have bowed out, some have made big changes to their goals and daily practices. Some are soldiering on in Christian publishing while harboring some big misgivings—hardly believing that others aren’t putting up more red flags.

From what I know about editors and publicists in the Christian publishing business, most are aware that the challenges and vices of their world are more or less open secrets—especially when the word “business” comes into play with anything that’s supposed to be “Christian.” By and large they all want to fix problems rather than perpetuate them. However, it’s nearly impossible to create any kind of meaningful momentum in a climate where many editors and publicists could be laid off at any moment and publishing companies are always reorganizing and shifting. The last thing I want to do is point fingers or create an us vs. them climate.

From my limited vantage point, there are three major challenges that everyone involved in Christian publishing has to deal with. If you’re new to Christian publishing, you’ll most likely be shocked and overwhelmed by these three challenges at one point or another—so let’s just get the shock over with now. If you’re trying to write Christian books for the long term, I think you’ll have to deal with these challenges sooner than later—that is, if these challenges don’t prevent you from landing a book deal.

Most importantly, I’d like to talk about them and hopefully arrive at some solutions. I have no personal vendettas here… OK, maybe I have a few teeny, tiny grudges… but I’m not out to attack anyone or any company. This is all stuff that tons of people talk about over coffee at Christian conferences and publishing events. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually sort some of them out a bit?

 

What is a Christian book?

The biggest hurdle Christian authors face today is the “Christian book” category itself. What exactly should Christian authors write about if we’re trying to write books about our faith for a “Christian” publisher?

Seriously, just take a look at this little overview of the 2014 Christian bestsellers. We have diet books, relationship books, money-management books, and several crazy town end times prophecy books. I have no bone to pick with anyone who wants to read these books—OK, maybe I’ve shown my cards on the whole end times prophecy thing. But really… I’m just asking, what exactly makes a book “Christian”?

“Christian living” has long been the catchall category for books about prayer, faith, spirituality, and Bible study. There are subsets for church books, theology books, prayer, and fiction. However, the distribution of books into these categories just flat out sucks sometimes. I mean, for the love, people… Heaven Is for Real and Four Blood Moons are listed on Amazon as “theology” books. We may as well list Hippos Go Berserk under Wisdom Literature—you can’t deny the parallels with Ecclesiastes.

Most importantly, quite a few of the best-selling Christian authors getting the biggest advances at the largest publishers aren’t necessarily even writing books with any discernable Christian or faith-based element beyond the fact that they are Christians themselves.

I’m not here to judge anyone. We may need self help/healthy living books at times, and it doesn’t hurt to read a book about living a better life, organizing your junk, or whatever. I understand that these books have a broad appeal, sell well, and keep the lights on at publishers. The same goes for the ubiquitous Amish fiction genre.

However, based on some of the books that are acquired and that become bestsellers, Christian publishing is having a bit of an identity crisis. I don’t know about you, but I spend my time trying to figure out the challenges and needs of Christians and then developing book ideas that address them from the perspective of the Christian faith. That at least strikes me as the point of Christian publishing—you know, as opposed to using the Bible to speculate about the end times, sowing fear and confusion, and then cashing in by playing to the fears American culture attempts to medicate through entertainment and sleeping pills.

Publishers may not like me, my writing, or my ideas, but so long as I’m presenting solutions to problems from a Christian perspective, I think I’m at least faithful to the mission of what Christian publishing is all about.

Christian books should resemble the actions and teachings of Christ.

When we see books that are essentially self-help manuals sitting atop the bestseller list alongside Christian bestsellers like 1,000 Gifts or the latest N.T. Wright book (i.e. books that are actually “Christian” in content, mission, etc.), you can’t blame Christian authors for getting a bit confused.

What exactly should we pitch to editors?

What do editors want?

One caveat: if your publisher is super-duper reformed, you just need to find a cool metaphor or analogy for explaining what the Gospel REALLY is. For the rest of us, it’s not just a crapshoot. It’s a huge mess where some big publishing deals are going to authors, who are very nice and good Christian people, who aren’t necessarily writing faith-based books.

I don’t know what the best solution is. I don’t hold any grudges against publishers or authors for this confusing state of affairs. I trust that these are complex, difficult situations. Put most charitably, it’s all quite confusing. Perhaps it would help if some publishers just created an imprint or line of books that are specifically dedicated to “better living” or take more of a self-help angle. We could at least have honest conversations about what a publisher is looking for. Then Christian authors who are writing about specifically Christian topics will have a better idea of their odds of being acquired.

While publishers put together little lists of “topics” they’re currently interested in, I can’t help thinking there’s a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” element going on even if their list focuses on stuff like prayer or discipleship. I mean, sure they’ll publish a book about prayer if the author has the credentials, platform, and, preferably, thousands of church members to help catapult sales, but if a simple living recipe book about losing weight and saving your marriage while decluttering your home and raising happy kids came along by a Christian author with a huge cooking blog platform, they won’t say no.

 

Fragmented Authors and Publishers Aren’t Working Together

The majority of authors I know are struggling to find readers for their books, and the majority of their books are really good or at least ideal for a particular niche of readers. We’re all on our own little islands with our various publishers trying to find new readers, asking each other for favors, and dreading a few authors who always ask for a bazillion favors.

I have personally not seen evidence that Christian publishers recognize how authors at different publishers could work together to serve the same market and reach more readers. Publicists are already shoving authors out the door to network and beg for favors. Why can’t publishers join their authors in becoming partners in building these networks among authors in order to strengthen promotions? This could be as simple as sending a few emails back and forth to coordinate a price promotion, book release, or special event.

I don’t mean one of two publicists here and there. Some publicists already get this. You can always find some people who are willing to think outside the box. The problem is that this has yet to become an assumed industry standard. I mean, gosh, some publicists can’t be talked into running eBook promotions yet, let alone partnering with other publishers to help an eBook promotion reach a wider audience!

When I’ve attempted to set up book promotions with the authors I know, the promotions didn’t happen because we couldn’t get certain publicists to respond to our emails in a timely fashion. I think we had a few really great opportunities to network together, and some publicists I spoke to really loved this idea. However, we didn’t get the critical mass to pull it off because some emails weren’t returned.

This kind of thing is maddening to authors. We’ve gone to publishing conferences where publishing experts lecture us on authors taking the initiative, doing their own marketing, and moving away from the days of “just writing books.” Seriously, if you work at a publisher, you need to know this: authors are lectured over and over again about not being lazy and being proactive and doing our marketing. OK? We hear this all of the time. So we try working together to promote our work, and it doesn’t happen because someone at a publisher can’t answer an email.

Every author I know sees the need to work with fellow authors, and some have a long history of doing so. It’s time for publishers to start doing the same or to at least take a more active role in helping us do what they’re telling us to do. If you have a group of authors with intersecting books who write for different publishers, there’s no reason why they can’t work together to organize a group promotion for the same week. A few emails and two months of lead time is all you need to set this up. This is low hanging fruit, folks.

Authors are always being challenged to stop viewing each other as the competition. Most of us are willing to work together to help each other succeed. If our publishers joined us in this as partners with the same vision of cooperation, we would all have a lot to gain.

 

No One Can Agree on Book Marketing

Based on the conversations I’ve had with authors and publicists at a variety of publishers, there really isn’t a strong consensus on how to market a book. There are, however, a lot of strong opinions. These opinions are so strong, in fact, that some hopeful authors have opted to not pursue book publishing because they don’t want to blog or be a public speaker or deal with the insanity that is Twitter.

#NotAllAuthorsLikeTwitter

However, in each case these authors have merely run into people who have strong opinions about Twitter or public speaking or blogging. There are other professionals with equally strong credentials and comparable experience who think Twitter is ineffective for selling books and public speaking does jack squat for selling books. Some publishers rely on ads and radio interviews, others rely on eBook promotions and reviews, and still others look to blogs, email lists, and social media strategies.

How crazy is this? One publisher rejected a proposal because I didn’t have 10,000 Twitter followers, while another said my platform was strong based on my email list since Twitter didn’t matter. Another friend was told she had to make a YouTube video advertising her book, while another was told his deal hinged on public speaking engagements.

I don’t hold anything against publishers and publicists for this range of opinion. I suspect that particular marketing tactics work based on the author, the book, and the audience. There isn’t a single “correct” way to release a book. In fact, we run into problems when publicists get hooked to particular promotion strategies that simply don’t work for a specific author or a particular book.

The best conversation I’ve ever had with a publicist involved her telling me all of the strategies that wouldn’t work for my book. It was extremely helpful and refreshing.

If you’re getting into Christian publishing, here’s the best thing I can tell you about marketing: you need a plan, but you don’t have to copy every bestselling author. If you hate blogging, try podcasting. I have a friend who told me that her podcast did a lot more to sell her books, even if conventional wisdom says that podcasts don’t sell books.

If you like writing letters, I have good news for you. It’s fun to send regular email newsletters! You just need to figure out how to get people to subscribe so that you have a strong list for your book’s release.

If you have deep, pithy thoughts you enjoy sharing throughout the day, then you’ll probably crush it on Twitter.

If you like starting engaging conversations, then Facebook is certainly for you.

My biggest mistake as an author was trying to imitate authors who are very different people and who write very different books from my own. I would have been far better served to be honest about what I like to do and what I hate to do and then imitating authors based on that.

There’s always a place in book marketing for holding your nose and diving into promotion tactics that you find draining or annoying. There are certain activities that will pay off, even if you don’t like them.

However, there are too many authors who go into marketing conference calls without a clear sense of the most effective ways they as authors can help promote their specific books. Either out of ignorance or an aversion to marketing, they just defer to publicists, some of whom may have strong opinions about marketing that don’t necessarily line up with an author’s talents or the book’s message.

While authors shouldn’t resist every suggestion from a publicist, I’ve talked to enough publicists to appreciate the range of opinions out there. If you want people to read your book and you don’t want to be curled up in the fetal position during release week, take some time to review your options for book publicity and then sort out which ones appeal to you. By the time you sit down to discuss marketing plans, come prepared to listen, but also make a list of ideas and suggestions that best reflect ways you want to promote your book.

 

Is Christian Publishing in Crisis?

Answering that question definitively is way above my head. However, there’s no denying that Christian writers hoping to publish with one of the top 15-20 Christian publishers will face these challenges related to the identity of a Christian book, working with authors at different publishers, and marketing their books.

In the midst of this turmoil, we’ll most likely see more small publishers and vanity publishers reaching out to ambitious authors who may not quite know what they’re getting into. Middlemen are also rising up, some with more credentials than others, promising classes and coaching on how to get published. As more bloggers and authors see the ease of publishing with Scrivener and Kindle Direct, they’ll begin migrating toward Indie publishing since their profit margins will be higher per sale and there are many top notch tools that make it easy to publish on your own these days.

It’s wonderful and terrible. The opportunities are breathtaking, but for every chance to leap forward, there are twice as many ways things can fall apart.

Every author I know has shared his/her shock at the pain of the publishing experience. There certainly are positive experiences too—or else no one would even bother trying!

I could be completely wrong about all three points here. It would be nice if I was, in fact. However, it’s much easier to take a punch if you’re ready for it. It can be significantly harder to stand up and prepare for the next punch if you aren’t expecting the first. If you want to get into Christian publishing, I guarantee that the punches are coming. Brace yourselves… Christian publishing is changing.

What did I miss? Are there challenges I’ve overlooked? 

 

If you still want to give book publishing a shot after my rants,

I’m still giving away my book A Path to Publishing for Free:

Download it today at NoiseTrade Books

You can also download it straight to your Kindle for a few bucks.

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Wesleyan Denomination

Denomination Church Logo

I found Timothy Hawk, or did Timothy Hawk find me—actually, I’m not sure. That’s a common problem Arminians have. We have a hard time sorting out who made the first step. Regardless, I met Timothy Hawk one way or another through his son who happened to be at the same university while my wife worked on her Master’s degree in English. Perhaps much to Tim’s surprise, I’ve heard nothing but good things from his son about him, and found common cause with his work in prison ministry since my in-laws got me hooked on prison ministry for a season of my life. I’m honored to have Tim share what he loves about the Wesleyan denomination in today’s denomination derby post.

 

In the beginning…

I am a third generation Wesleyan (former Pilgrim Holiness), following my parents and grandparents on both sides of my family. I was raised in the Wesleyan Church, with mandatory attendance at every offered worship service, Sunday School, summer VBS, and every revival series or special services. My Dad was almost always a trustee, so I would even go to the church with him some evenings and Saturdays to work. There were times that I think we were at the church more than at home. I am not complaining, because I loved church, and I loved the people at our church.

I was called to pastoral ministry when I was twelve. There was never a question as to what my course of preparation would be for this journey. I attended United Wesleyan College, a small Bible college in Allentown, PA, and began my ministry as a youth pastor in 1985. Right on schedule, I was ordained in 1987 in the Northwest District of the Wesleyan Church. I pastored my first congregation alone beginning in 1987, as well. I continued pastoring, leading three churches over 14 years until in 2001 I accepted a position as prison chaplain in New York, where I continue to serve. In 1999 I obtained a Master of Arts from Indiana Wesleyan University.

 

Who are the Wesleyans and why do I love them?

The Wesleyan Church is an evangelical denomination with just under 500,000 members worldwide, with a little less than half of those in North America. The denomination is the result of a merger between the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness Churches in 1968. Both of these former denominations were formed during the turbulent mid-1800 years of the Methodist Church, when people left over social issues.

I love the Wesleyan Church because of their history regarding social issues. Many ancestors to the current Wesleyan Church were Abolitionists, involved in speaking, writing, and even the Underground Railroad. This action spanned the movement from the highest leadership to the grass root attendees.

Women’s rights are another issue the Wesleyans fought for, blazing a trail leading to some of the first ordained women into the pastoral ministry. An early women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY at the Wesleyan Chapel in that town. The Wesleyan Church today maintains a strong support of the ordination of women, and is led by General Superintendent Dr. Joanne Lyon. I am proud to be part of a denomination that supports women.

 

I love Wesleyan theology!

Dr. Melvin Dieter stated in one of my graduate classes that John Wesley was an eclectic theologian whose theology was a lot like grandma’s cookies, a pinch of this and a dash of that, leading to the difficulty of really grasping his thinking completely. This eclecticism is quite attractive to me, as well as the many liberties allowed by the Wesleyan Church on many topics. The denomination reflects Wesley’s emphasis on holiness with the mission statement, “To spread scriptural holiness throughout every land.” This is the foundation for the Wesleyan-Arminian position of emphasizing the free will of man and an acceptance of the possibility of apostasy. While the denomination has a comprehensive statement of belief, there is a lot of flexibility within it for varying theological positions. I believe that this is a strength of the denomination, embracing diversity while maintaining unity among the essential core beliefs of the Christian faith.

 

I love the flexibility in worship.

If you traveled around the world visiting Wesleyan Churches, you would experience about every style of worship that you can imagine. Some follow a strict liturgy with much leader and congregational interaction while others practice a very enthusiastic and free worship. Observance of the Eucharist is mandated by the denomination once per month, but some churches partake in the sacrament weekly. Some churches sing only from a hymnal, others only sing contemporary choruses, while many present a mix of the two. The creeds of the church, the doxology, the Gloria Patri, and the Lord’s Prayer are used in some churches, while others might question your reference to them. Cultural influence is as prominent an influence on worship as is theology. All this variety is due to the Wesleyan denomination not prescribing a set style of worship. I love that about the Wesleyans.

 

Is the Wesleyan Church too good to be true?

Throughout my journey there have been times that I have questioned my loyalty to the Wesleyan Church. While there are some theological statements that I might challenge, the underpinnings of the denomination, rooted in the tradition of John Wesley, resonate with me more than others that I have explored. My greatest disagreements surround social issues and the membership guidelines of the church.

Since the Wesleyan Church has a history of standing for social justice, I hope and pray that they may change course on these issues, and that I might be a part of such a change. Being a small denomination and having spent my entire life within it, I find my roots deep and my connections broad within this body of believers. I married a girl who was also raised in the Wesleyan Church, her father being a Wesleyan pastor, broadening our connections to people around the world. Every time I contemplate pursuing transfer to another denomination I feel like a child preparing to run away from home. I wonder if I would simply find myself circling around the block, knocking on the door, and asking to come back home.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Timothy_4x6Timothy Hawk is an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church. He is currently a chaplain at Elmira Correctional Facility in Elmira, NY. He has been married to his wife, Susan, for almost 31 years, has three children, and three grandchildren. He has often said that everything he learned about God he learned from his children! You can follow him on Twitter @tim_hawk and visit his website at www.timothyhawk.com to find his blogs.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Christian Reformed Church

Denomination Church Logo

 

You hear a lot of folks these days talk about “reformed theology.” Sometimes reformed theology is mentioned with a sneer or an eye roll. Sometimes reformed theology is given a thumbs up, as if it was the greatest thing since Calvin’s Geneva (minus the burning of “heretics” of course). For all of this confusion about what it means to be “reformed,” we have the humble little Christian Reformed Church that continues to surprise me with its vitality and life. Today Paul Vander Klay, who has the appropriate last name for this topic to say the least, shares what he loves about the Christian Reformed Church: 

 

If Ed’s “Denomination Derby” is conceived of as a competitive display of self-promotion the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) will certainly lose. The CRC is fabulously poor at self-promotion. Let me explain.

Unless you’re from Western Michigan or have visited Calvin College you may not have ever heard of the Christian Reformed Church. The CRC has about a quarter million quiet members scattered in around 1000 congregations three quarters of which are within a couple hundred miles of Grand Rapids Michigan. This is not a recipe for church market success in North America.

While you may never have heard of the CRC or know anyone from it you’ve probably heard of a number of her famous sons (yes, sorry, they’re mostly boys). If you’re young and Reformed and you like to read old dead white guys you might recognize the names of Ned Stonehouse, Cornelius Van Til, Geerhardus Vos and Louis Berkhof. If you’re into newer philosophical books you’ll probably recognize Alvin Plantinga, his theologian brother Neal,  Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw and Lewis Smedes.  Church growth lovers or haters of course will know Bill Hybels who grew up CRC.

One of our more famous rebellious sons is Paul Schrader who went on to explore his roots in his 1979 film Hardcore, not quite “safe for the whole family” but yet insightful. Many like him who leave the CRC have trouble fully leaving it behind. Ours is a thick culture.

You might notice that a bunch of your books come from Zondervans, Bakers and Eerdman’s publishers based in Grand Rapids, and if you’re really an evangelical Bible wonk you might know that the NIV translation project began in the Christian Reformed Church in one of her 4 colleges. All of this should indicate that books and education in the CRC is a very big deal. This is why its most famous conference with this crowd is the biannual Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, an institution founded to train preachers for our churches and teachers for our Christian schools.

Seeing this partial list of notables and accomplishments might lead you to believe that the CRC is a bookish clan and you’d be half right. The other thing the CRC majored in was farming, mostly dairy. The CRC’s parent/cousin, the Reformed Church of America was planted by Dutch city folk while the country folk of the Netherlands who left in the 19th and 20th centuries mostly joined the CRC.

“Reformed” has recently been tied to “young” and “restless” and too often “angry” or “cranky”. A lot of CRC folks have watched this new wave of mostly Presbyterians (more cousins) and it has brought up painful memories. The CRC used to be a lot more cranky about a lot of things but it brought a lot of pain. The most recent painful fight was over women in church leadership. It started in the 70s and lasted about 25 years. When CRC finally permitted it, about 70,000 people left. For a denomination where many folks are related to you, where you play “Dutch Bingo” trying to find mutual relatives, or who were your school mates (CRC folks start lots of Christian schools), these splits are personal and the wounds heal slowly. This is making the CRC fairly avoidant when it comes to what looks like the next big fight over same sex marriage.

If you visit a CRC you’ll probably find a rather shy but friendly group. The pastor will likely be well educated but cautious and not flashy or loud. CRC people have been called the “Jewish Hobbits” of American Christianity. Many like myself actually have Jewish roots back to the Netherlands. We’ve also been compared to Jews because of our comfort with the Old Testament. We’re kind of like Hobbits because we mostly keep to ourselves and can tend to be stubborn. The real difference between CRC folk and Hobbits is that we’re abnormally tall.

What I’m most proud of in the CRC, and why I stay, is that we as a denomination work really hard at trying to be faithful to God while also trying to engage our world. It takes a stubbornness about the Bible and the church, practical wisdom learned in a real zip code and a courage to doubt yourself to try to hold it all together. We read, think, and write a lot but aren’t usually too quick to grab onto something new. We’d rather wait, ponder and pray for a while before making a big change. This usually bothers both sides of a fight. We’re never as conservative as some want, and never as liberals as others demand. Again, think of Hobbits.

I won’t be so bold as to try to sell our church to you. That’s usually just not our way. We love having new folks come and join us. Jamie Smith is one of our more famous recent joiners. He seems to be carrying on in our bookish, philosophical tradition. So visit Calvin College for the Festival or a CRC in some non-conspicuous corner someplace. We’re proud about our institutions and accomplishments, but don’t be surprised if we’re a bit shy and slow about some things. Be patient with us and you might find you’ve made a thoughtful friend.
About Today’s Guest Blogger:

head shot w2Paul Vander Klay: I’m a third generation CRC minister. I grew up in my father’s racial reconciliation church in Paterson NJ. I was a missionary in the Dominican Republic and currently pastor a small, multi-everything congregation in Sacramento CA. I love to read, write, and enjoy the interesting people God has made. I blog at http://leadingchurch.com.

 

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

email-rss-subscribe

 

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join a Calvary Chapel

Denomination Church Logo

 

OK ecclesiastical purists, I know that Calvary Chapel isn’t a denomination, but it’s sort of like a denomination in America, and it has played a pretty big role in the evangelical movement as a whole. Speaking personally, a Calvary Chapel played a huge role in my early days as a Christian, so when minister, writer, and jack of all trades Trip Kimball offered to share what he loves about Calvary Chapel, I couldn’t say no on a technicality. Here’s what Trip loves about his “denomination”:

 

Calvary Chapel—Past and Present

A charismatic young man, with long hair and a full beard, exhorted us to believe in Jesus and become His followers. He resembled the iconic picture of Jesus during the seventies—a quasi-hippie revolutionary.

After prayer, those who believed would follow this young persuasive leader to a back room for more prayer and instruction. I didn’t follow that night. I had questions, lots of questions.

This is my earliest memory of Calvary Chapel and the Jesus Movement of the late sixties. It crystallizes that era and the birth of what became the Calvary Chapel Association. Even my refusal to follow because of questions epitomizes the Jesus Movement and my own faith journey.

A little history

We’re not a denomination, at least that’s what we’ve claimed for more than 45 years. Many of us joke that we are a non-denominational denomination. Our official belief for years stated—

We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their overemphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.

It’s hard to understand Calvary Chapel without knowing its origins.

The era was the mid-sixties and early seventies. Anti-war demonstrations, love-ins, psychedelic drugs, eastern religion and philosophy, the Beatles and Bob Dylan provided a back drop for what became a national movement. Calvary Chapel played a big part in the west coast phase of the Jesus Movement.

What set Calvary Chapel apart was an emphasis on teaching the Bible and what became known as contemporary praise and worship. Hour long Bible studies were common, as young people with beards, beads, and bell bottoms sat on the floor. The music was a blend of folk and rock, but always about Jesus.

The one-way sign—pointing a finger towards heaven—symbolized our focus. It was always about Jesus.

An eclectic mix

The founding pastor, Chuck Smith, was a Four Square pastor for many years before starting with a group of twenty-five people in a borrowed church building. It went from a small group to thousands—a small church on the edge of town, to a circus tent, to its present facility in Santa Ana, CA.

Pastor Chuck was a Bible teacher first and foremost, with a love for biblical prophecy. It was a mix of old school Christianity that merged with the hippie culture of the time. His wife Kay encouraged him to welcome and reach out to these hippies who were lost and wandering. His background was traditional Pentecostal, and most of the young people had little to no church background.

Chuck presided over the movement with his genuine, gracious, fatherly smile. His emphasis was always on God’s Word and the grace of God, which characterized the Calvary Chapel movement.

Chuck’s simple form of personal discipleship transferred easily to those who remained committed beyond the early days of revival. It was natural and grounded in biblical truth. This is an important reason why I found a home in Calvary Chapel.

A developing theology

Calvary Chapel is still too young, as church movements go, to have a well-developed theology. It’s still in the development stage. This is especially true following Pastor Chuck’s death last year. His son-in-law, Brian Broderson, has a vision to reach the present young generation, so changes will come, as he settles into the role of pastoring Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa.

But Brian is one of several other pastors who form a Leadership Council. Each church is autonomous, which has its pluses and minuses. Growth pains will come, just as there have been bumps along the way. Now it must survive the passing of its founder.

One of those bumps was the breaking off of the Vineyard fellowships during the 1980’s. An over-compensation to the Vineyard movement resulted in more restrictive and conservative attitudes towards worship, prayer, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In recent years, I recall Chuck appealing to pastors during conferences to return to a more Spirit-led form of ministry, as he taught out of Galatians 3:1-3. There are other difficulties over the years, but the core elements of the early years continue to hold firm.

What do I love about Calvary Chapel?

My wife and I were baptized in the Pacific Ocean at Pirates Cove (in So Cal). We fellowshipped and served at a young age during the little chapel and tent days (1971-73). Things were simple then. We loved and worshiped Jesus, and our life reflected this simplicity.

These are the things we embraced then and now—

  • A personal relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior
  • Teaching through all of God’s Word, the Bible
  • Worship focused on Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit
  • Relational evangelism, discipleship, and service

Is this a little too simple? Perhaps, but it’s how we came to faith more than forty years ago, and how we follow Jesus today.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

TK1-3.09-smTrip has cleaned toilets and painted houses for a living, and planted a church in 1978. He and his wife moved to in the Philippines in 1990, and established a ministry for abandoned babies and children, and abused girls. He also developed a Bible school and training center for leaders in the Philippines.

In 2012, Trip published, The Mystery of the Gospel, born out of his ministry time in the Philippines. He’s also developed discussion-based Bible studies connected to his workbook on an inductive approach to Bible study.

He is currently involved in mentoring a few men and leading several small group studies, while working a couple part-time jobs and posting online at– word-strong.com.

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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One more thing from Ed…

The eBook version of A Christian Survival Guide will be on sale for $.99 on most major eBook sites until January 18th, 2015. 

3 Terrible, Stupid Things I Used to Do on My Blog

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I’ve been blogging since 2005, and that means I’m sort of an expert… at least an expert on what not to do. As I’ve tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve seen that I tended to make some really big, terrible, stupid mistakes because I fancied myself a pure, idealistic writer who does not bow to the conventions of the blogging world.

After changing a few things in my approach to blogging, I thought I should confess my mistakes so that you can avoid making them too.

 

Titles Don’t Matter for Blog Posts

I used to think that writing was all about writing amazing stories and sharing super-helpful ideas. If you spelled out the basic ideas clearly, the discerning reader would SURELY recognize my genius, brilliance, and value. These savvy readers don’t demand click bait. In fact, they’re most likely sitting by their computers right now just waiting for me to post something amazing.

But oh gosh, if Buzzfeed has taught us anything, which I highly doubt, it’s that people LURVE click-bait headlines. I should have totally titled this post: “You won’t believe what I used to do on my blog!” or “I teared up after reading the second sentence” or “This is better than tap dancing kittens on YouTube.” You get the idea. You were probably clicking all over those fake headlines just now even though you knew I was making them up and they didn’t have any hyperlinks. Admit it.

While we don’t have to give in to the Buzzfeed headline writing buffoonery that is ruining the Internet for the sake of advertising clicks, titles still matter a great deal. Every serious blogger I know spends a lot of time on their titles. These days I begin my blog posts with a title that plainly states the focus of my post for the sake of personal clarity, but then hack it to pieces and work through a bunch of different options before picking one.

Here’s the thing, there’s a ton of stuff out there on the Internet, and you really, really can’t afford to put up a bland headline that’s something like: “Musings on Stuff I Like.” First off, never, ever use the word “musings” ever again on your blog. In fact, WordPress developers, we need to add a mandatory plugin to the next build that automatically deletes blogs that use the word “musings” in contexts other than Greek mythology. But back to my point, please, for the love, spend some time writing a good blog post title. If you love your little blog posts as much as you say you do, then you need to give them good titles. Otherwise, very few people will be tempted to read your precious little posts.

 

I Don’t Have to Be Vulnerable on My Blog

Blogging used to be about ideas for me. In fact, it was all about ideas for about the first six years or so. I’d rant and rave about things from time to time, but I spent so much time believing that people just wanted to read my little nuggets of wisdom that I rarely inserted myself or my “feelings” into my posts.

I don’t know how I could have missed this for so long. I mean, yeah, people want to read smart ideas, but it would have helped if I wrote with the voice of a real person and share a little bit from my life.

Having said that, I also feared being one of those bloggers that shares all the things from his/her personal life online. I’m not quite in the Ron Swanson school of personal privacy where I’m tossing my cell phone in the sewer and burying gold bricks in undisclosed locations, but I find it really hard to determine when I’ve crossed the line from being authentic and real (in the sense of, “Keepin’ it real… yo”) into overdramatic over-sharing that violates the privacy of my family.

I can see now that vulnerability is essential for writers. Writers really do have to face our demons and set down at least part of that battle on the page.

Writers have to take risks. We don’t have to over-share or compromise the privacy of ourselves or loved ones, but we have to take big, vulnerable risks if we want people to care about our work. We have to work on stepping up to that line that divides authentic vulnerability from over-sharing, wherever it is, and give it a firm poke—just like old school Facebook.

And even if you aren’t particularly vulnerable, you have to at least care a lot about your topic. I’ve labored for hours over posts that I thought had tons of great ideas, only to see a passionate post I’ve dashed off in 20 minutes become the most popular post on my blog for all time. I’ve you aren’t personally invested in your writing, then your readers probably won’t be either.

 

Announcing “Here’s My New Blog Post” on Twitter

No one cares that I’ve just posted a blog post. No one. Probably not even my mother most days, especially if my titles are terrible. And yet, I used to complement my vanilla blog post titles with tweets that I plunked down like dry, crumbly, bland wafers.

One day I saw someone quoting from my blog post on Twitter, and I was like, “That’s awesome! I should try that!”

Now, some bloggers go a bit overboard with the Twitter quotes. They highlight the tweetable parts of their posts in bold, set up “Tweet this” links on their posts, or create little lists of tweetable quotes.

OK, I’m not here to judge anyone. This is personal confession time, and I’m confessing that I’m terrible at tweeting from my blog. Do whatever you like. I’ll just say that I saw some folks doing that, and I was like, “Oh come on! Just write something good!”

What can I say? I was born in the wrong age. I’m all “Get off my lawn!” with these new fangled marketing tactics. Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days. But back to my main point about the Twitters…

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TWEET THIS –> “Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days.” @edcyzewski

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I’ve still seen that people want to share helpful little quotes. Even if I tend to think in 1,000 to 2,000 word chunks, it won’t kill me to share a quote or two from my latest blog post if folks could find it helpful. Mind you, I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do. I’ve just realized that my resistance to posting a blog post quote on Twitter wasn’t all that smart of me

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TWEET THIS TOO!!!  –> “I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do.” @edcyzewski

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In conclusion, I’ve made some really huge, terrible, stupid mistakes as a blogger. These are all pretty basic, simple, run of the mill blogging tips that you can find all over the Internet. And still, there are tons of bloggers like myself who have resisted them. It’s time to get with the program. Adopting a few best blogging practices won’t hurt… too much. We may even get a few new readers along the way.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a blogger?