It’s no secret: pastors like books. We read them, we quote them, we give them away. After all, the foundation for our entire ministry is the written Word of God himself. Take away that book and we have no ministry.
But what about the writing of books? How should pastors think about putting words on paper for publication? Anthony Carter, lead pastor of East Point Church in Georgia, has written, co-authored, and contributed to a number of books, including most recently Blood Work. Carter warns against the desire for attention and the distraction that writing can take away from pastoral ministry but also encourages pastors to pursue writing and publishing if they can. You can also read our interview in this series with Timothy Keller.
* * * *
Should a pastor write? Is writing a valid part of pastoral ministry, or does it distract us from the people we’re called to care for?
All pastors are writers. For me, writing is just an extension of preaching ministry. Every week I write a sermon. All preachers do. Whether you write a full manuscript during sermon preparation or not, writing is indispensable to good preaching. Therefore, it is not a distraction; it is what all preachers do. Nevertheless, if the pastor pursues it apart from the pastoral ministry, then it could be a distraction and become a source of pride.
A young pastor comes to you wanting to be a published writer. What advice do you give him? How should a pastor evaluate and pursue a call to write?
All pastors should seek to get published. The process of writing and being published is a great learning experience. It causes you to think about how you communicate outside of sermonic sound bites and gives you another venue through which you can communicate to the congregation. So I would encourage the young pastor to write.
However, I would caution him against thinking more highly of his writing than he should. As I said, consider writing as an extension of the pastoral calling, and be contented if no one but people in your local congregation read your book. After all, you have been called to the local flock, not the world. If my congregation reads and is encouraged by what I write, I should consider myself blessed.
Writing for publication brings a measure of national attention. How does a published pastor resist temptations to pride and cultivate humility?
Actually, most books get published with little to no national attention. If you write for national attention, you are writing for the wrong reasons. I would encourage any pastor to remember and take to heart this sobering reality: Most people won’t even know that you have published a book, and the rest won’t care.
In his book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, Andreas Köstenberger says, “Writing never just happens. If you are called to write, you must actively plan for it and doggedly persevere in it.” Take us into your writing routine. How do you actively plan for and doggedly persevere in the writing task?
I write sermons practically every week. This is the bulk of my writing, and where my writing is primarily concentrated. Writing books or blogs is more a fruit of the preaching ministry than anything else. Consequently, I plan my writing like I plan my sermons. First, I start with an idea that grabs my attention. If I am not interested in what I am writing, I doubt others will be either. Second, I outline my thoughts with the end in mind. What do I want people to take away from this article or book? Then I develop the outline seeking to get myself, and subsequently my readers, to that end. Third, I set aside time where I can spend on the deliberate exercise of writing. Like anything else, writing takes discipline. Discipline is time and effort.
Are there any practices or disciplines that have helped you develop skill as a writer?
I don’t know how much skill I have as a writer. I am sure many would say not much, and I would tend to agree. However, I find that I write better when I read good writing. Good reading is the best discipline I know for being a good writer. In fact, when I read good writers, it does two things: one, I am reminded of how weak my writing is and, two, I am encouraged to try and write better.