Writing and Publishing For Your Local Congregation

If you’re a pastor, no doubt you sense a strong call to preach and teach the Word of God. But you may also be a pastor who has a strong desire to write for the spiritual benefit of God’s people. Your passion to write may express itself in maintaining a blog, contributing regularly to a church newsletter, or crafting the occasional article. The plan for book-length writing, however, is rarely entertained with much seriousness. And if you do think about writing a book, your dreams are often interrupted by present and pressing responsibilities.

Pastors who care about their clear biblical calling to shepherd their flock (1 Peter 5:2) may find it difficult to justify designating a significant amount of time to writing when they could be working on something that will directly benefit the local body. Yes, it’s true a book would eventually benefit your people, but the time required to write, edit, rewrite, re-edit a standard size 200 page book might take a lot of time away from your pastoral duties.

But what if there was a way that you could pursue book-length writing while maintaining close attention to your clear pastoral responsibilities? What if you could craft helpful, high quality books geared specifically for your local congregation?

Our Adventure in Publishing: GBF Press and BIG TRUTH | little books™ 
Soon after I joined the staff at Grace Bible Fellowship in July 2014, I suggested to the elders that we find a way to put the weekly preaching into different formats. As we discussed these ideas, we started to envision small books on vital topics of theology and Christian living–developed from Sunday sermons and other teaching–becoming the focal point of this publishing ministry.

In the summer 2015, the elders gave me the green light on a few of my proposals, so I started to research self-publishing options for our new book ministry. After eight months of work, we have produced four works in a series we call BIG TRUTH | little books™.  Through this process we have learned that it is possible to create useful, inexpensive, high-quality books for our local congregation while remaining faithful to our shepherding duties. Sound too good to be true? Consider these few bits of counsel from what we have learned.

Use CreateSpace to Develop and Publish Print-on-Demand Books
CreateSpace is an online self-publishing resource where you control all the elements of the publishing process. Unlike Xlibris or Xulon, you do not pay for CreateSpace’s self-publishing service; you create and provide all the interior and exterior content and oversee the process from beginning to end. You can pay for professional cover designs, custom interior formats, or promotional help, but these are all optional.

Believe it or not, it is possible to produce a book without any cost apart from what it requires to print each book. The first two books we produced cost us nothing to design through CreateSpace. The last two cost $10 because we purchased ISBNs to retain our own imprint, GBF Press. The cost to print each book is around $2.50 a piece. And, because CreateSpace is an Amazon company, your books will appear on Amazon for purchase soon after they are completed. If you are interested in publishing written works for your local congregation, I cannot recommend CreateSpace highly enough.

Form a Group of Editors and Proofreaders at Your Church
The one obvious disadvantage of self-publishing is that it lacks oversight from formal, trained editors and proofreaders. We all have blindspots, so we need editors and proofreaders to catch our poor word choices, awkward sentences, unsubstantiated arguments, and outright theological errors. While it is not possible to replicate the personnel and rigor an established publishing company can provide, I believe you can develop an editorial process that will help mitigate mistakes and sharpen your writing.

An easy solution is to gather a few competent volunteer editors and proofreaders at your church who are able and willing to join in the publication process. Indeed, I would not encourage you to publish anything in a permanent written form like a book unless it has gone through a editing process that includes at least two other people. Depending on the composition of your local body, a publishing ministry may be a means where those with otherwise “non-showy” gifts may have opportunity to serve in a way that brings them great joy and benefits the body in a mighty way. (The editor is, after all, a servant.)

You may even consider finding a few external readers–those outside your local body who are willing to look over your manuscript. Opening yourself to the scrutiny of those outside your church protects your congregation from the danger of theological isolation.

Draw From Sermons and Lessons You’ve Already Taught
The biggest impediments to writing–at least in my experience–are the twin factors of time and priority. I cannot, in good conscience, give myself to things that take away from my calling to care for those in my local church. The writing and publishing process, then, must tie directly to what I am already doing in my pastoral role. By drawing our material from sermons and lessons we’ve already taught, we are able utilize research and writing we have already completed as we develop this work into written form. This practice saves time and makes good use of work you’ve already accomplished.

Write Smaller Books
Finally, consider writing smaller books. We have chosen to focus our energy on producing 5″ x 8″, 12o page books on important issues of theology and Christian living. These are not large research treatises or comprehensive treatments on any given subject. But they are accessible to the common, busy Christian, and they provide readers with substantive biblical truth and theological reflection.

The other advantage to publishing smaller books is that it takes far less time. Your time writing, editing, and re-editing will be manageable because your amount of content will be manageable. By decreasing the amount of time you spend on any given project, you can maintain your focus on your primary pastoral responsibilities.

Give it a Try
If you have a passion to serve your people through writing, consider the option of self-publishing. Done well, you can produce useful Christian literature to aid your people in discipleship and spiritual growth. If this interests you, ask the Lord for his guidance and favor, gather some folks around you who share your passion to provide Christ-centered literature to the local body, sketch out a plan, and give it a try.

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