"Pastor's who sell their books are only in it for the money," said one disgruntled blogger. He added, "Why do they always have to mention their 'new' book?"
Whether it's a marketing agency that pushes a book to the top, or blogs rebuking slick marketing campaigns designed to create urgency — the question, "Should pastors sell and promote their books," comes up often.
An email from a large publisher prompted the completion of my last book, Desperate for More of God. Their interest motivated me to finish the manuscript. For that, I am forever thankful. But as the process of publication moved on, they decided to drop the project. Their email read, "Let me start with the bottom line. I don't think I can move this proposal forward to committee at this time."
While he liked "Desperate" as an angle, he didn't think that the book was marketable, or that it addressed a "felt" need. While the word "desperate" draws attention, sadly, "more of God" is not what many are desperate for, according to this publisher.
Why am I sharing this you? To illustrate the fact that we can sometimes be more concerned about marketing than about helping people. As an author, my job is to give the reader what they need to hear versus what they want to hear. If our focus is on marketing instead of people, it will tip the scale in the wrong direction.
Before asking if a book "pops" or if its "marketable," I ask, "Will it truly help people in their walk with God?" And what is affordable and what is extravagant.
How can we promote books and resources, while at the same time, honor God? Here is a helpful checklist to keep integrity at the forefront:
- Is there accountability in place from those who are not "yes" men? Seek godly counsel on a regular basis from mature believers who can help direct your steps. All that we do and say should reflect the integrity and seriousness of our message (cf. Titus 2:7).
- Is this something Jesus would endorse? Before asking if a book is marketable and relevant, we should ask, "Does it glorify Christ? Is it consistent with Christian character? Will it send the right message? Will it cause others to stumble or think less of the gospel?"
- Is your goal name recognition or to honor God?
- How can we bless the less fortunate ... those who may not be able to afford copies? My policy has been to try and give away more than I sell, and to sell them at a fair price. When Desperate for More of God was posted on Kindle, many well meaning people told me that the price was too low, but it has helped many people. I'd rather reach more people and make less money than visa versa. Granted, no one in perfect in this area — all of us fight against the pull of the flesh.
- Make sure, without a shadow of doubt, that God is leading you. Many books are written for name recognition and financial gain, but many are not. Use wisdom, examine motives, and ask, "Is God truly directing me? Are my actions consistent with Scripture?"
- Look to the Word first and foremost for direction, wisdom, and discernment. Many questions about integrity, marketability, and stewardship would be answered if we simply looked to God's Word instead of the world for the answers.
- If in doubt, footnote.
In general, our culture is looking for authenticity — even they understand that a compromised life sends a compromised message.
A.W. Tozer noted, "Where does Christianity destroy itself in a given generation? It destroys itself by not living in the light, by professing a truth it does not obey."
What an insightful perspective, especially for us today.
We shouldn't immediately assume that most authors are in it for the money. Scripture encourages us to err on the side of grace, not judgment. If an author writes something noteworthy that will benefit readers, God may want to promote it. Christian authors rarely make a living selling books. Most simply want to help people, but someone has to cover the shipping, printing, and production cost of the book.
In Matthew 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and "drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves." These money changers were taking advantage of the people; they were using God's house to manipulate. This is not a proof text against offering helpful resources to those in need. If an author offers a good book for a good price the choice is left up to the consumer to purchase it or not. This is a much different setting than the setting and context of Matthew 21:12.
The Bible is our guide and should be read more than any other book, but people like the Puritans, A.W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, D. Lloyd-Jones, E.M. Bounds, and so on offer wonderful insight ... their resources have helped countless people. Surely we wouldn't neglect godly counsel in person, why neglect it in book form. Granted, there are "Christian" authors who take advantage of people and whose books should be avoided, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Pastors are not CEOs or business executives; we are called to lead people in complete surrender to Christ. Jesus must increase as we decrease. Many are missing the mark in this area and do need to be challenged from time to time. But let's remove the spirit of judgmentalism that immediately assumes that an author is "in it for the money" because they write a book.
Christians are fallible and make mistakes. We should consider the total portrait of one's life, character, and ministry and evaluate on that basis. A few poor choices over the course of many years shouldn't define a person. One's life and character speak volumes as to the sincerity of his or her ministry. We should extend to others the same grace that we desire.