Your ‘write’ role

Listen to the audio of this keynote

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 12, as I read from the New Living Amplified Paraphrased King James Watkins Version for Writers:

    Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If a writer should say, “Because I have not been published in Charisma, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the Body. If the whole body was writing for Guideposts, who would write for take-home papers?

    But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many kinds of writers, but one body.

You have an important role in Christian writing

How many of you truly believe that you have an important role in Christian writing?

Writers’ conferences are the absolutely worst place for you to feel important! Here’s what happens. You visit the website or look at the brochure, and there they are: “important” writers who have written fifty New York Times best-selling books, won “major awards” and spoken to thousands around the world.

And there you are having not written fifty New York Times best-selling books, not having won “major awards” and not speaking to thousands around the world.

And to be perfectly honest, I look at the conference faculty bios and wonder What am I doing here giving a keynote address?!

Okay, I do have books with Zondervan, Tyndale, HarperCollins, but most of my books are with small houses. Yes, I’ve spoken around the world, but mostly in cement-block churches with tin roofs and circus tents (no editorial comments, please, about clowns). And, while four of my books have won national awards, but not one has been a best-seller.

“Hi I’m Jim. I’m critically acclaimed, but commercially ashamed.”

So, if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and underqualified, I feel your pain. But my most “painful” event was a book signing in Seattle sitting next to Frank This Present Darkness Peretti. Frank had a line as far back as Nebraska; I had one or two people at a time in line. He was frantically writing “Frank.” “Frank.” “Frank.” I was writing little essays:

    Dear friend, thank you for stopping by. If you can just stand there for just a few minutes until someone else comes, I won’t look like a complete loser. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Oh, here comes another person.

    3 John 2, Jim

So, you’re not alone if you’re sitting here at this writers’ conference feeling less than important. But here’s that verse from 1 Corinthians 12 again.

    But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

In your Bible, circle that name “God.” Then underline that verb “arranged.” God has arranged the body of Christian writers. He has you right where he wants you to be right now!

I hope and pray you feel safe here this week. It is so easy to feel all alone as a writers among people who just don’t get you. Here, you’re with your fellow peculiar people.

And most important, you are with fellow parts of the Body of Christ

When you speak at churches in India, “honored guests” are outfitted with a gigantic floral arrangement around your neck, so you look like a Kentucky Derby winner. Plus, you have to take off your shoes when you’re on the platform. So there I was, the only white man in the entire church, dressed like winning thoroughbred, in my sock feet, and they started singing “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” and suddenly—I felt right at home. I belonged!

I felt that same way in our two trips to Africa. I was with my brothers and sisters! Okay, I was white brother who can’t dance, but I was family!

But it is so easy to lose our sense of importance with three deadly C’s:

Comparison Back to the conference website or printed brochure. Maybe you’re thinking I haven’t had 50 books published. I haven’t been interviewed on national TV. I haven’t spoken to a stadium filled with fans. So I must not be an “important” part in the body of Christian publishing.

So, we move on—and down . . .

Copying I’m going to write like Max Lucado. I’m going to get on the national talk shows. I’m going to be a great Bible teacher like Beth Moore.

And when we all, inevitably, fail we move to the third level:

Criticizing We move from feeling inferior to them to feeling superior to them. I can write better than E. L. James. Okay, anyone can write something better than Shades of Grey. I’m a better, deeper speaker than so and so.

I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Galatians 5:4-5:

    Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life (Galatians 6:4-5 MSG).

Comparison is a killer of creativity! And worse, a killer of your unique design as a writer. (We’ll talk more individuality in a moment.)

For now, you may want to write this down:

    I am important not because of who I am,
    but because of Whose I am.

Give that a second to sink in, because it just may be the most important thing you’ll hear all week. More important than “Write tight,” “Show, don’t tell” and “Avoid adverbs.” Even more important than “Develop your brand and platform”

My very funny friend, Jeanette Levellie, who has written two hilarious books reminds us, “God has already defined you. You don’t need others to tell you who you are..”

And from the founder of the Christian Missionary Alliance, A. B. Simpson:

    Many Christians are in the place that the Lord has appointed them, and yet the devil is harassing their lives with a sense that they are not quite pleasing the Lord. If they could just settle down in the place that God has assigned them and fill it faithfully and lovingly for Him, there would be more joy in their hearts and more power in their lives.

So, you have an important role in Christian writing. But the enemy is ruthless. If he can’t convince you you’re not important, then he will try to make you feel you’re more important than you are! Look at verses 15-18:

    A writer for Decision cannot say to a writer of a church newsletter, “I don’t need you!” And a best-selling author cannot say to the one who writes letters to the editor, “I don’t need you!”

    On the contrary, those writers who don’t command six-figure advances are indispensable, and the writers who don’t appear on the cover of Today’s Christian Woman deserve equal honor as those who do. And the writers who are never interviewed on Christian talk shows are just as necessary as those in the spotlight.

Paul is incredibly honest in acknowledging that there is an earthly hierarchy in the church and in Christian publishing. So, we need to maintain that careful balance that, “I am incredibly important, but I’m not any more important than anyone else . . . despite what the world may say and, particularly, despite what Christian publishing says!”

Moving on to verses 24-26:

    But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

    If one part receives a rejection slip, every part suffers with it; if one part signs a contract with Tyndale House, every part rejoices with it (1 Corinthians 12:24-26)

You have an interdependent role in Christian writing

When I was directing another Christian writers conference on the east coast, one of the faculty came and sat down beside me.

“I’m working on my novellas about women of the Bible. I was wondering if I could bounce some ideas off you?”

“Uh, excuse me.”

“I respect you and would like your opinion.”

“Uh, well, I guess . . .”

That woman was our keynote speaker, Francine Rivers! Francine Redeeming Love Rivers!

I met her just recently at Mount Hermon where she was there as a conferee! “I can always learn something new.” And she asked me to pray for the work of turning that book into a major, A-list film!

That’s the beauty when Christian publishing works as the Body of Christ.

The King James Version translates 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:

    Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

That verse has been used as a Louisville slugger against anything the person swinging it believes harms the body. But the King James translators failed to take into consideration that Greek has two separate words for “you”: you singular and you plural. If you’re from the south, you already know that. You is singular. “Y’all” is plural.

The New Living Translation acknowledges that Paul is using “y’all.”

    Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).

That verse is not talking about the human body at all! Y’all are the Temple or Body of Christ.

So Paul is not telling us to take care of our own bodies because they’re the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We should take care of our bodies, but that’s not the point he’s making here. You’re important all right, but you’re interdependent! Y’all are a part of the Body of Christ, and y’all need to take care of each other!

Gone are the days of Emily Dickinson when you could be a recluse, never leave the house and still be a best-selling author.

Publishing is a relationship between you and your readers. That’s why building your “tribe” with social networking is so important.

It’s a relationship between you and your agent in planning your writing career and choosing the projects that best fit your “brand.”

And it’s a relationship between you and your publisher. Editors are not cold and heartless people—those would be the marketing minions. No! Even marketers are a part of this writing body.

We all need to work like a body. But the absolute worse place to watch that play out is in church. For instance, here’s how a body would act if it acted like some churches.

You’re putting up paneling with those microscopic finishing nails and you hit your thumb. You roll your eyes, shake your head in disgust and scold, “You did it again! How many sermons have you heard about ‘fleeing even the appearance of hammers’? Or that ‘the love of hammers is the root of all evil’? And you were nearly through the twelfth step of H.A. And now, you’ve gone and got yourself hammered! I’m sorry, but you brought it on yourself and I’m tired of your excuses.

Is that how your body works? Here’s how mine works:

You scream: words of loving compassion

You stick your thumb in your mouth: Warm, protective comfort

And you dance! The whole body involved in ministering to the suffering part.

So, here’s another passage from the New Living Amplified Paraphrased King James Watkins Version for Writers:

    Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by passive verbs, you who are members of the writers’ group should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path of action verbs. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself using adverbs to prop up weak verbs. Gently critique and enthusiastically encourage one another, as we follow The Word and the Author of Our Faith (Galatians 6:1-2).

And why do you do that? Because he or she is a part of the same body you are a part of! So treat that “thumb” like your thumb—because it is! We are interdependent, so when one suffers, we all suffer.

In the same way, when one is honored, we’re all honored.

Secular celebrities do a much better job of sharing the honor than most Christians. On the red carpet, they proudly announce who designed their gown. And when they win an award they thank their agents, managers, spouses, and the Academy, and on and on . . . until the music ushers them off stage.

So when Jerry Jenkins sells another million books, I’m honored too, as his friend and spiritual brother. And when my friend gets her 36th rejection for her series Jesus Calling from the Purpose-Driven Shack, I hurt with her.

Well, before we get too depressed thinking about rejection, let’s keep moving . . .

    Now in the ministry of writing, God has appointed novelists, letter writers, those who have the gift of poetry, local church reporters, best-selling authors, devotional writers, those who write their legislators, and those with the gift of writing advertising copy.

    Are all novelists? Do all write letters to the editor? Do all have the gift of poetry? Are all local church reporters? Are all best-selling authors? Are all devotional writers? Do all write their legislators? Do all have the gift of writing advertising copy? No! But eagerly desire the greater gift of writing with love.

You have an important role in Christian writing.

You have an interdependent role in Christian writing and . . .

You have an individual role in Christian writing

Paul writes, “Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church.” It’s not a exhaustive list. There are other lists in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. But here’s the point: everyone is an individual in the body

The late, great author Calvin Miller wrote of me: “Jim Watkins is one in a million. Two in a million would be overkill.” I think that was a compliment. Right?

We all have a choice. I can try to be a second-rate Max Lucado, or I can a first-class Jim Watkins. You can be a imitation Debbie Macomber, or you can be an original you!

Now, I tend to write and speak in a way that makes people squirm in their comfortable padded pews. I’m a firm believer that writers and speakers are here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I don’t let people sit too comfortably, so in the Body of Christ . . . I’m a hemorrhoid!

And I’m determined to be the world’s best pain in the behind!

God doesn’t need another Billy Graham or Karen Kingsbury or whoever you wish you were. He needs you to be you. And as scary as it sounds, he needs me to be me.

In the words of the great theologian Theodore Giesel, better known as “Dr. Seus”:

    Today you are You, that is truer than true.
    There is no one alive who is You-er than You!

And the closer you get to God, the closer you get to being who He designed you to be.

Okay, how to do we determine our role in the Body? Here’s my P-A-T answer:

Passion Can you not not write? Do you live and breathe to write? Would you write even if you weren’t paid? I’m guessing that because you took vacation time and maxed out your credit card to be here, you can check YES. Writing is your passion!

Affirmation Has someone—other than your mother, best friend or spouse—affirmed your writing? Have you been published in a paying market?

Be careful on this one, because even though I started writing for the high school paper and won an award in the national honor society; and even though I’ve now written and contributed to over 35 books over the past 30 years; and even though I’ve won three professional writing awards and four industry editing awards . . . I got a C in Freshman Composition in college. A C!

And so I stopped writing for publication from 1972 to 1982! Ten years wasted because some professor decided I was a grade C writer. I’d like to take my solid walnut and brass Campus Life “ Book of the Year” award and smack him up up side of the head. But I’m not bitter!

So, be careful! Those who can write, write. Those who can’t write, edit. And often, those who can’t write or edit, teach!

But if you’re receiving good professional critiques, if you’re being published, then you can check YES. You’re receiving affirmation!

Talent Does writing seem to be much easier for you than your friends? Were you that one weird kid in high school who loved term papers? And do you have those divine moments when you look at what you’ve written and think Wow! That had to be God!

When your passions, affirmations, and talents all converge, that’s probably where you’ll live out the purpose for which you were created.

I wrote to a writer friend in February 2015:

    While I am not seeing the success I hoped for in writing and speaking, I am beginning to realize what an impact I am making in the lives of people in print and online, at conferences, at church and especially in the lives of my daughter and her daughters. I’m realizing it has been a “Wonderful Life” and that I am a success with so many friends in the church and writing community. And I’m looking forward to what God has planned in the future. And if it doesn’t involve a best-selling book or stadium speech, I think I’m okay with that.

You were born an original, don’t die a copy! God created you to be you—and no one else.

Like any good novel, this talk has a surprise ending that you didn’t see coming.

The original text of the Bible is not broken up in chapters and verses. Just one solid block of text. So, if you’re ever on Jeopardy and the final answer is, “It’s the first English Bible to be divided into chapters and verses,” you would write—in the form of a question, of course—“What is the Geneva Bible published in 1560?”

So, Paul doesn’t take a breath between 1 Corinthians 12 and 13:

    So, earnestly desire the most helpful of all the writing gifts. But now let me show you a way of writing that is best of all.

    If I write with the pen of the psalmist and win national book awards, and donate all my royalties to the poor, but have not love, I only a clattering printer or a pounding four-color offset press with burned out bearings.

    Where there are magazines, they shall cease publication. Where there are speaking venues, they shall pass away. Where there are Web sites, they shall crash. But love never fails.

Here’s what blows my little mind . . . straight out my ears . . .

John writes in chapter 4 of his first letter:

    No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us (1 John 4:7-12).

John also writes in his gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The “author and finisher of our faith” has now given you and me the responsibility to take that “Word” and put it into our own words, to be authors of the faith.

You are important. You are interdependent. You are an individual. But most of all . . . wait for it . . .

You have an incarnational role in Christian writing

I’ll give you a second to let that truth sink in until I see whiffs of smoke coming out your ears.

I’m not diminishing the role of preachers, but writers have exponentially more influence and longevity! The average church in America runs less than 100 people. As a magazine writer, you can reach a thousand times that number with just one article

And, unless the sermon is recorded and posted online, it stops reaching new people after the last amen! But as a writer, your work can last for years in waiting rooms and bathroom magazine racks. Thomas a’ Kempis’ Imitation of Christ is still in print over 500 years since he wrote it and continues to be a best-seller, second only to the Bible!

And even if your book goes “out of print,” it doesn’t go out of existence. It lives on until Jesus comes in homes, in church libraries, in garage sales!

I recently received this email:

    I cannot tell you, how much reading the three chapters that i did just before writing meant for me. I am so thrilled with the way the Lord has gifted you not only in your writing; but primarily your love for Jesus and the deep Spirit filled way you have written this book.

It was from India . . . concerning a book that had long gone out of print . . . on a day I was feeling especially un-important!

God uses our words to communicate his Word!

Without the written word, Christianity would have never made it past the first century. The writing of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John preserved the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The writings of the church fathers, such as Augustine, gave us a systematized theology and kept heresy at bay.

And as the relationship with the living Christ slowly devolved into a religion of works, legalism, profiteering and politics, Catholic writers like Thomas a’ Kempis reminded us of the pure, intimate relationship with Jesus in his The Imitation of Christ. Martin Luther’s 96-Point Thesis reminded us that salvation is by faith and faith alone.

And today, holy men and women are using pens and pixels to write the love of God on the hearts of followers and seekers as well. So, you and I are a part of the parade of published writers who have kept the Word alive for over 2,000 years. I’ll probably be in the tiny clown car.

For me, writing is an act of worship.

It’s acknowledging the important, indispensable role in writing that God has entrusted to me.

It’s fellowshipping with other writers, agents, editors, and publishers as an interdependent part of this eternal work.

It’s rejoicing in my individuality that God has personally, uniquely, lovingly crafted me into a writing instrument for his glory.

And it’s shaking with holy joy and fear that I am an incarnation of the Word of God!

Copyright © 2015 James N. Watkins

5 thoughts on “Your ‘write’ role

  • May 18, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Thanks so much for this, James. I cannot attend BRMCWC-too many hills for my feeble knees & back, but thank you so much for this.

    Keep on keepin’ on!

  • May 18, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Thank you so much Jim for such inspiring words of wisdom. I attended a writer’s conference each year for almost 20 years at the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference. Learned so much wisdom from the publishers and editors. I’ve always considered Christian Writing a ministry!

  • May 18, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Jim, the people at Blue Ridge are going to sleep, not realizing how blessed they are about to be in the morning! It was fun reading this and being able to imagine your voice speaking the words. Thank you for letting us read it! Blessings and prayers abounding your way!


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