Writing as Ministry

I should have titled this post, Things that make you go hmm. What I’m going to do is share with you some of my incomplete thoughts on writing Christian fiction and ideas I’ve heard around the Christian fiction community. These really are incomplete ideas so feel free to help me think them through completely.

1. Some Christian fiction writers equate their novels to the parables that Jesus told. While I sorta understand what they mean, I’ve always found the connection a bit of a stretch. A parable wasn’t 300-400 pages long. Jesus didn’t charge $6-$25 to read one. Also, Jesus didn’t get upset when someone re-told the parable and gave away the ending. That was sorta the point of the parable. I think likening Christian fiction to parables is a way of elevating the work, but I’m not sure it needs that kind of elevating. Christian fiction novels are something good but they’re not parables.

2. If writing is ministry, what does it mean that in order to benefit from the ministry one has to buy the book? I’ve never said this aloud but I’ve always equated selling a book and calling it ministry to Rev. Ike selling prayer cloths. If it’s going to bless somebody, why do they have to pay for it? If someone has a need and you have the means to meet it in a book, why do they have to pay for the book? Well, the obvious answer is “writers and publishers have to eat, too” which I certainly understand. I want to make money just like any other writer, but what is the role of money in ministry? When do we tell our publishers to reduce the cover price so more people can have access to the books? When do we take a pay cut so that book prices can be lowered or books can be given away?

3. I went back to the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9) to get some clarity on the relationship between ministry and money. I’ve always focused on Paul’s bold statement that he worked so the church couldn’t claim any hold over what he did and said since he didn’t depend on their money. That supports my notion that the money you live on doesn’t have to come from your ministry. But Paul was also a sponsored missionary in that he lived off the support and gifts from the church communities to whom he ministered. So how does that translate to those of us who see writing as ministry?

It is difficult for me to conclude that if our writing is ministry the only way for folks to get ministered to is to buy the books we write. That’s too capitalist for me. If it’s ministry, we rejoice when books are shared, bought used, borrowed from the library, downloaded from the Internet. All because our purpose is to get the message out. But we have a dual purpose–to get the message out and to get paid. How do we reconcile the two?

Maybe instead of writing ministries what we have are Christian businesses (in most cases, sole proprietarships) that are run according to Christian principles and that produce novels that present the truth of the gospel in stories that reflect our contemporary society. By definition, a business has to make money to survive so it’s natural for a business to charge for its products.

I don’t think using the “Christian business” terminology takes anything away from what we do as Christian fiction writers. As Christians, we are called to do everything “as unto the Lord.” This applies to our jobs, raising our families, writing our books, everything. So what do you think?

12 thoughts on “Writing as Ministry

  1. I am one of those writers who believes my writing is ministry. So I’m going to address your specific issues with that.

    1. Equating books with parables.
    I do not believe my books are parables. However, I do believe that one of the reasons that Jesus spoke in parables was to help the listener understand. I also know that a parable is simply another word for “story”. Some stories are short, and some are long. So to say my books are in comparison to (but not equal) to a parable speaks of the story. Some people understand things better when they are told as stories. So my ministry tells stories, similar to how Jesus told stories. But I in no way equate myself to him.
    However, one of my responsibilities from him, is to minister, in a like manner. I think writing as ministry does that.

    2. Charging for ministry
    I’ve loved to read since I learned to read. I believed that the Bible was for “studying” so when I looked for reading entertainment I chose “secular” novels. As I grew older like most I read Terry McMillan and most recently Zane. And everyone in between.
    Was God please with my choice of entertainment? I don’t think so, but as a reader, my choices were limited.
    Now there is a new choice for Christians who want to do the “right” thing while also being entertained. Christian fiction.
    I can also say it ministers because I’ve been ministered to while reading it.
    Paying for it doesn’t change the ministry. I pay tithes at church. I pay for gas to go into a car, that I also pay for in order to get to church. I pay for my son to attend youth conferences. I pay for gospel CD’s. Life is not free and unfortunately neither is ministry.

    When God has called me to, I’ve given away books, and he’s blessed me for that also. But in a world that operates on finances, the money involved does not cancel out the ministry.

    Unless the person is focused solely on the money, and not the ministry and God will take of those people and that ministry, in his own time.

    Lastly, God put me into the writing ministry. As a singer I believed that was my ministry. I don’t have any CD’s on the market so I always sang for FREE, and I ministered.

    I was also a writer of secular novels, but God was not pleased with that. He let me know that the talent he gave me could be and should be used to glorify him. The fact that I can also make money from it, only further glorifies him. He is providing for me through my ministry.

    So while I respect that not every Christian fiction author is writing as ministry, many of us are. And I also believe that is what God intended for me to do.

    Stay Blessed


  2. Hi Angela,

    Just a few thoughts…

    1. I may sound like the most “unspiritual” person in saying this but I agree about the parable thing. I don’t really understand most the parables Jesus used. I fact I wish he would’ve just said what it meant. Hate to admit that, but it’s true. So no…I don’t get the connection. If you’re going to tell a story based on Christian principles then just tell your story.

    2. I do see my writing as a ministry in that I am writing from a Christian perspective. My characters are Christians and they live their lives as Christians. (Praying, fasting, sharing the word in their daily lives.) Therefore the problems, issues and conflicts they confront are handled using biblical principles which are intended to teach and help readers solve their problems in a similar manner. in short, I see writing as my way of passing on those nuggets of truth and wisdom that have been useful to me in my life.

    3. Writing is my gifting, my talent and my calling and I view this according to Deuteronomy 8:18. “But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day.”
    Writing is the ability and gift God has equipped me with to earn a living. Other people can sing, others can play basketball. I can do neither, but I can write and write well enough that others get some value from it.

    4. As far as the money goes…In a sense, I am providing wisdom, inspiration and information to the readers and they’re benefiting from that and yes, even paying for it. But as Gena has said, it costs to do ministry. When we attend church we go with the expectation that we will receive something. A word that blesses us and strengthens our faith or the encouragement from a song sung by the choir. And as much as we enjoy it, there is a cost involved in all of that. The choir director is usually paid for their time and services as well as the pastor who spent time in pray and study to bring n accurate on-time word to the people that’s truly from the heart of God.

    And the Bible in 1 Timothy 5:17 – 18 addresses this. “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his reward.”

    The idea here is that if the ox is going to work all day grinding the corn under his feet for someone else to eat, then he’s entitled to eat some in exchange for his hard work. And it’s a win-win situation for both sides. The farmer gets his grain and the ox gets the nourishment that it needs to live another day. Now if he falls dead from starvation, what will the farmer do then?

    As a writer who is seeking to bring something of value to the reader, if I work hard, study my craft, take the time and make the commitment to produce a quality work that will bless people, then yeah…I deserve to be rewarded for my labors. The readers reward me by buying my books and we both get the benefit of that transaction.

    Lastly, I do recognize that writing is my contribution to the kingdom and like Gena, there are times I have given my books away. But whether I am paid for every book or not, God is my source and I trust Him to bless me with money and things that money cannot buy.


  3. What an interesting discussion. I don’t see Christian fiction as parables because I think Christ used stories that were not always obvious to make people wrestle with and consider His gospel, the illumination coming through cognitive understanding and by way of the Holy Spirit. Even today, we wrestle with the parables, more or less depending upon our understanding of God and where we are on our journey to Him. Christian fiction, although it may make me think, is much more straightforward, so for me, no, it is not like a parable.

    Is writing a ministry? It’s certainly a way to minister by drawing the attention of readers toward Christ. For some, it’s a hobby. For others, a means of making a living. Still others, a ministry. None are wrong or less rarefied than the others, in my opinion. The hobbyist’s book may draw the most people to Christ. Did it not minister? Honestly, I believe each writer has to define this for herself. We should be careful about getting caught up in labels, and more importantly, in labeling anyone other than ourselves.

    Money and ministry. Hmmm…. This one trips up so many people. Because some believe money and ministry should have no connection, taking Paul’s personal decision as creed, is the reason why some feel those in ministry should not prosper materially, even by long, hard work. It becomes the argument, for some, against giving or supporting the pastor and his family-where salary is not supplied or not enough to meet the basic needs.

    On the other hand, as you point out, Paul did live off means supplied by others, at least in some circumstances. In the purest sense, if a writer wants to minister by way of her books and getting the message out is more important than the money, I suppose she might self-publish and give the books away. (The cost might be completely tax-deductible, although that ministry-minded writer may not care about taxes.) Asking the publishers to reduce prices is not realistic, because they are in the business of making money even if the writer feels she is not. Perhaps the writer buys as many author copies as she can, and gives them away for free–not to book reviewers but to readers.

    God doesn’t have a problem with people earning a living. It’s what you do, how you do it, and how you handle the proceeds that matter, as those things affect your heart and your choices may diminish your witness.

  4. TOTALLY Agree. I think some people have grown up to believe that churches or ministries have a price; they don’t. I don’t recall Jesus passing out tapes and CDs…Spreading the gospel is free.

    Writing books is a business no matter the original intent of the author. If people were really concerned about the accessibly of books as a message as opposed to money in their pocket, books would be free. Lets keep it real.

  5. great discussion building post, lady.

    1. Parables: I agree. Unless the book is a novelized version of a parable, then no, it’s a novel or novella.

    2 and 3. Charging for ministry: One of my best friends is an associate pastor for a presbyterian church in Denver and she is also a missionary that travels the world when on sabbatical. The church pays her a salary to service the church, as most employers would. Likewise, the church I belong to we provide for our pastors. We want them to devote their time –except family time– to ministering to us and the community.

    As a missionary, however, she raised funds to go on her trips. She sends out a newsletter to keep her patrons posted on the mission trip.

    Yet, when we speak on art as ministry, there are other things to consider. If a church commissions a painter, a playwright, potter or a poet to create art for that church’s edification then of course some monies are exchanged.

    We could produce are works as gifts, whereby we give our books away like Billy Graham or Oral Roberts have done in the past with its purpose to Kingdom build.

    But when it comes to writing commercial fiction we have taken a step outside of an intent to only minister. We are also–whether we want to admit or not–expecting an income, a fan base, and writer perks.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to write commercial. However, when a writer states that there writing is also ministry, they need to be careful that their works edify the Body of Christ, glorify God and add to the Kingdom.

  6. Angela,

    Thanks so much for this post. Points 2 and 3 are two that I definitely considered when deciding I no longer wanted my fiction writing to be formally included in the Christian Fiction genre. Dee Stewart adds a pertinent last comment in that consideration as well, “…However, when a writer states that their writing is also ministry, they need to be careful that their works edify the Body of Christ, glorify God and add to the Kingdom.”

    I do understand other’s viewpoints. The spiritual walk is a personal one and each of us must do what we are comfortable with. I appreciate you talking about your views with such honesty, clarity and insight.

    Think I’ll be blogging about this later.


  7. Angela,
    This is a great topic. LOL @ Rev. Ike and the prayer clothes. I was watching TBN and the pastor was basically saying send your money in and I’ll send you my prayer oil. I was thinking if you want me to have your holy oil then just send it to me. Then if I have some money I can send you a donation and that is if your oil even works. Some of these pastor are not of God but that is a whole other topic.
    I agree with Dee when she said if you are using it as a ministry it should edify the body of christ. If you write on the side then maybe you shouldn’t charge as much. If it is your only income then that is a different story.
    Christians do need good stories to read to uplift and empower them besides the bible to add a little balance to their lives. At the end of the day God has the last say on your destiny and finances!

  8. Thanks to everybody for sharing your thoughts with me. It helps to have add’l insight as I work through these issues. Keep ’em coming.

    The thing about parables is that if you wrote a story with the characteristics of a parable most folks wouldn’t recognize it as Christian fiction. I’ve toyed around with some ideas of allegory, but nothing yet.

    Ministry and money. Yes, a hot topic. I thought a lot about it as I got ready to go back to contract. Do I really need a publisher in order to have a writing ministry? I concluded that I didn’t and the self-publishing idea really grew in my mind. I’m still toying around with it.

    More on my thoughts later. I really do want to hear yours.

    Cheri, I can’t wait to read your post and find out about your decision regarding how your books should be categorized.

  9. I agree that the key is “do everything as unto the Lord.” Some years back I wrote and published a book of short stories in Spanish (I grew up in Argentina, the son of missionaries). I wrote them because they came to me. They come from the tradition of fantastic literature that has been so rich down there for the last 120 years or more. I have just released my latest book, Angela 1: Starting Over, a YA novel in English. Again the story covering a series of three books just came to me at lunch one day between sessions of a writing workshop. The themes of the book try to be universal. If it is Christian (I will leave it to others to judge) it is because the author has deep Christian roots. To learn more, go to my website. I also invite you to read my blog at http://www.davidabedford.aegauthroblogs.com. Thanks!

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