Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Preaching to the Choir

Today I'm pleased to give you guest blogger Robin Lee Hatcher. She's a pal of mine--even if she doesn't read my books (she's a card-carrying member of the Big Honkin' Chickens' Club).

Robin began writing her first novel in 1981 and saw it published (with all its imperfections intact, she says) in 1984. Fifteen years and thirty books later, she followed God's call on her heart to write Christian fiction. In October 2006, her 50th book was released. A Carol for Christmas is a story about the desires of our hearts and how God wants to change and use them for His glory.

A week or so ago, I saw a post by Robin on an author's e-mail loop. I liked what she said, so I invited her to post something similar here on Forensics and Faith. Take it away, Robin.


Discussions on Christian writer blogs and in email groups turn frequently to matters of quality, "writing real," reaching our audience. Said discussions frequently include complaints about what CBA publishers (and readers) will or will not accept in books published by them.

Some of those discussions can put a real twist in my knickers. Others challenge me and cause me to consider once again my audience, why I write what I write, what I feel called to do.

These discussions usually include comments regarding reaching the lost. What are seen as restrictions by CBA publishers (i.e. more graphic language) are also viewed as barriers for reaching those readers who don't know Christ. Accompanying this, there seems to be a disparaging attitude about writing for the Christian audience who makes up the vast majority of CBA readers. It's a negative attitude toward "preaching to the choir."

Since I published 30 books in the ABA before coming to the CBA, I know something about that attitude. It was a wall I built as I felt God calling me to a new commitment to Him, including in my career. "But, God, can't I reach more lost people with what little bit of gospel I can slip in to my secular books (read "Christian worldview") than I can writing for those who are already Christians? Isn't writing for the CBA preaching to the choir?" To which He answered, "Yes. And the choir is sick."

I so totally understand this. I was a born-again, on-fire-for-the-Lord, Jesus-Freak, carry-my-Bible-everywhere, living-for-God Christian in the 1970s and early 1980s. But I let the cares of the world ensnare me and I drifted, grew lukewarm. I was still a member of the choir, but I was a "sick" one. I've been one of the "walking wounded" in the body of Christ. I knew what a total screw up I was. God had a whole lot of teaching and healing to do in me, and He did it in amazing ways, beginning with Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love.

So when He called me to "write for the choir" I understood why. I'm part of the choir. I'm a flawed Christian. I need to learn constantly. Salvation happens in an instant; sanctification takes a lifetime. That's why I look forward to my pastor's sermons on Sundays and why I want to read Christian fiction and why I do Bible studies. It's why I pray and why I worship. Because I need to be constantly challenged and taught. I don't write fiction for the purpose of evangelizing the lost (although the Holy Spirit has used my books in that way a time or two). I write fiction to challenge and encourage and build up the body of Christ on their individual journeys of sanctification. I write about flawed believers and I write about the One who loves them.

Paul said, "But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus -- the work of telling others the Good News about God's wonderful kindness and love." (Acts 20:24)

If God has called a person to write evangelistic fiction with the hope of winning souls for Christ, then that person should do so. If God has called a person to write "Christian worldview fiction" where truth and grace are demonstrated without naming the name of Christ, who am I to say that writer should not do so? But those writers called elsewhere should not disparage those who have been called to write "for the choir" in the CBA. After all, we are in good company. Paul wrote the epistles to the "choir," in order that they might be built up in Christ. He spent a great deal of time helping believers learn how to grow and mature in Christ.

Acts 18:23 says, "... Paul went back to Galatia and Phrygia, visiting all the believers, encouraging them and helping them to grow in the Lord." In Acts 20:28, Paul says, "And now beware! Be sure that you feed and shepherd God's flock -- his church, purchased with his blood -- over whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders [and others as writers of Christian fiction]."

Paul didn't just evangelize unbelievers. He encouraged the believers and helped them to grow in the Lord. Then he encouraged others to feed and shepherd God's flock, the church.

I'm a writer who is called to create fiction about and for the body of Christ, and my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned to me by the Lord Jesus.

In the grip of His grace,
Robin Lee Hatcher
Eph. 2:10


relevantgirl said...

What a refeshing, lovely post. Thanks Robin! I've struggled wondering where I fit. I'm not really quite sure. But your words are a great help. When I speak, I talk about Jesus, how He transforms us, heals us, sets our feet upon a rock.

I have thought before that this wasn't good enough, that I was supposed to share that same message with those who don't yet know Jesus (and I have, to be sure), but the message seems to buzz more loudly in the ears of those who have identified themselves as Christians.

Anonymous said...

Certainly a great post!

I think the only thing I can say in response and this is only my personal experience (and believe me, there isn't a whole lot of it.)

I don't think questioning things and stretching ourselves should be stopped because some of us are called to write stories that edify the foot, while others are writing stories that have nothing to do with feet. What have found is that for a long time, only feet books were written for feet. If a hand wanted a book, too bad. Here's a Foot Book for ya.

Now, I'm seeing a few more books for other body parts, but for some reason, the Foot Book authors are acting as if there's something wrong with writing a hand book. So the hand book authors stand looking around wondering if they're doing something wrong. Why would a foot book author tell us that we should write hand books? And I believe that's where the problem that you're addressing comes into play.

Foot books are fine for feet. But there's a whole lot of body out there that isn't being tended to and it seems the feet people don't want to see each member have its own books.

Kristy Dykes said...

Great post, Robin! Well said. Hurray for Christian fiction!

There seems to be a movement to water down Christian fiction to make it more mainstream, i.e. appealing to the masses. And by "water down," I mean two things: pushing the envelope, and, telling a good moral story for a general audience. I'm for those, IF the envelope isn't pushed too far.

I'm also for a third scenario: continuing to produce quality Christian fiction as we know it today. I think this is the audience you're talking about. And this audience, as you said, needs--and wants--this type of literature.

This audience enjoys Christian magazines such as Today's Christian Woman.

This audience enjoys Christian music.

Let's continue to give this audience Christian fiction.

Hurray for Christian fiction!

Kristy Dykes said...

One more comment: Brandilyn, I wanted you to know: I withdrew from The Big Honkin' Chickens Club. I read Violet Dawn.

Folks, it was fantastic. I didn't get too scared. :) I enjoyed Brandilyn's superb fiction skills including her expert handling of the craft, her unique insertion of the "mystery character," and her creation of a riveting, un-put-downable story.

Patricia W. said...

I've read so many of the discussions about Christian fiction and posted comments in a few.

Can't we just cut and paste your post to every Christian fiction author/review/editor/publisher/reader site?

The best line is "Salvation happens in an instant; santification takes a lifetime." I would only modify this to say "...a lifetime in Christ." The issue is not age, but growth in Him. Christ is the ultimate point, however one gets that across.

I love Michelle's comment about books for various body parts. LOL!

Jennifer Tiszai said...

Great post, Robin. Very well put. Thanks, Brandilyn for posting it and sharing it with us.

And I like Michelle's comment about foot books, too. :)

Air Force Family said...

Well said, Robin! Brandilyn, thank you for inviting Robin to share her thoughts with us.
We need to get the message across to others about Christ, in music, books, TV, etc.
Michelle is right about those foot books.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

First--Kristy, thank you for the comments on Violet Dawn. So glad you enjoyed it. Another BHCC member bites the dust!

Now--Michelle, your metaphor lost me. Everybody else seems to be getting it, so I'm sure it's just my own pea brain. Are the "foot" books those such as Robin writes--for the Christian audience? Or are those the hand books?

Whichever way the metaphor goes, here's what I see. The "hand book" authors think "feet folk" are putting them down, and "feet folk" think "hand book" authors are putting them down. And then the "genre" authors feel the "literary" authors are putting them down, and vice versa, and on and on it goes.

I feel like a voice crying in the middle--"Can't we all just get along?"

There really is room for all. We can not blanket judge what other authors are doing out there. Who am I to judge that some novelist is not following his/her real call from God, that he/she is somehow "selling out" because "that's what people are buying?" Frankly, I am really, really tired of the judging. We've got to quit pointing our fingers at other people and start pointing them only at ourselves. Am *I* following God's plan for me and what I write? Am *I* living a life close enough to God so I can hear Him when He speaks?

I know Robin personally. I know she is doing this--with her life and her books. She stays the steady course despite all the talk that Christian fiction needs to change, and so many books out there are just "giving the people (who evidently are thought pretty stupid) what they want." Yes, there are changes to be made in allowing our industry to expand for other kinds of books. I don't want to judge the edgier books either. They ALL have a place.

In the end, it comes down to target audience, as Robin's story shows. Who does God want ME to write for? Okay, then, how best to go about that? Then each of us needs to embark on that path fully, completely, in honor to God--and NOT judge the next guy because he/she is on a different path.

Susanne said...

And I am a member of that choir! I sometimes get so much more out of a well written fiction book than listening to messages. I've told Robin this at her site, but her book "Ribbon of Years" changed my life, changed how I viewed the Christian walk, changed how I loved people.

Julie Carobini said...

Thank you so much for this post! What a breath of fresh air, especially as I prepare to launch my first novel (actually, the first one to actually get published :-) I'm so glad that I started my book before getting into blogging--frankly, there's so much judging going on out there that I'm not sure I would've had the guts to go for it under all that pressure. Reading some of what's out there did, however, lead me to deeper discussions with God about what He wants me to do, and for that, I'm grateful.

Still, it's good to read a post that challenges opinions often treated as truth.

Ed J. Horton said...

A well-timed post. Thank you Brandilyn, and Robin for sharing your encouraging thoughts. Just within the last week I read a book I received at ICRS this past summer. I struggled through the edgy, somewhat gritty, story. Personally, I may not read other books by the author. However, even as I lay awake in this morning's wee hours, my too-busy mind replayed snippets from the book. God reminded me the book had an audience, both within the body--the choir--and among unbelievers. Subtly portrayed, without much Christianese language, the author extended God's grace to readers. That's really what it's all about, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Ed hit it.

What I was saying is what I think others are trying to express, but often come across as judgmental when they say it.

I'll use myself as an example. I'm not a foot. I don't understand feet, I don't how they operate, they confuse me. But that doesn't mean they're not needed. A foot book does nothing but leave me emptier than when I started. I don't think feet should tell or imply to know how to write the book for the hand.

I'm the hand. I want hand books written by hand people. I need to write books for hands. We function different than feet. I also don't think hands should tell feet how to write for feet.

We are all bound together and each function differently, one no more important than the other. The head of all this is, of course, Christ. If we're paying attention to Him, we wouldn't be trying to hack each other off. I don't need to stare at the feet and constantly question them, what I need to do is simply do hand things. Have you ever seen a hand in a shoe walking down the street?

See what I mean?

I know that I write things that the feet people would have nightmares about. But I know that there's a whole bunch of people out there reading these kinds of stories because that is the kind of story that moves them. They're hands like me. They don't get offeneded by an occasional curse word, they hear far worse at work. It doesn't mean they are less a part of the body. They don't get offended reading about premaritial sex, because often they've been the culprit. They have a different need.

Brandilyn, you said it. There is a place for all of these stories. However, some of us feel shut out because our stories don't meet the criteria that has become the acceptable norm.

One very well respected person in this industry was talking to an audience I was a part of and laughed and told us what a bad, bad idea it would be for an author to write "Christian horror." So I wonder, do I look at this individual and the superb creditials that are a mile long and stop my pursuit of "Christian horror" or do I write this story God has infused into my being? I only wondered for a millisecond. I shook the person's hand, laughed and said, "You've shot down my novel on every level during the course of the time we've had here, but I'm writing it anyway."

We need to learn to put on our blinders and write for the audience of One. Not for a target group, not for an editor or an agent, not for personal satisfaction, not for anything else. I think if anything is standing between God and I, there's a big problem and writing is the least of my worries.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Michelle, you go, girl. Go write that "Christian horror." The industry is expanding for new books, and I don't think that idea is nearly so "out there" as it used to be. Remember seven-eight years ago the very thought of Christian suspense was a new thing--now look at the size of the genre.

Gina Holmes said...

Great discussion. Thanks Brandilyn and Robin and all who commented thus far. Thankfully what I've noticed in loops and on blogs etc. is what is being said here: that we're each called to write what we're called to write. Some are called to minister to believers (thank God for them!), some are called to present God without ever spelling it out (thank God for them too!).

There are a few who are black and white thinkers, ie: only my way is right. But most are in agreement it seems that there is room and need for both.

Most involved in these discussion do me proud.

Thanks ladies.

Sheryl said...

Excellent post Robin, and excellent comments everyone. Michelle, you summed it up nicely when you said that we each need to be writing for an "audience of one."

That made me think of one of my favorite scripture verses, 1 Cor 10:31 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

If we each do what the Lord put before us to do, and support each other as brothers & sisters in Christ, then we can trust Him with the outcome.

Nicole said...

How naive to think that life doesn't present horror to many of its victims ripe for a Savior. Some saints forget that life is filled with alcohol and drug-induced demonic encounters, serial murderers, torcherers, rapists, and the rest of us sinners.
The Holy Spirit is capable of inspiring anything good and perfect. What sin isn't horror to the One who is perfect? You write it, Michelle. I told you I want to read it.
Robin, so very well said. Thank you.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

All I can say is, "Preach it, Robin!"

Dineen A. Miller said...

Better late than never to post a comment. Michelle's analogy is a good one. We're all part of the body of Christ and serve within the parameters God called us to—no matter what type of service we do. As a body, we need to recognize this and respect one another's calling, even if it's so totally different from our own that it seems "out there." Why limit God? Why put him in that proverbial box? Sometimes the choir needs preaching to. The key is to unite in a common purposed—to share the redeeming love of Christ. So much energy is wasted on criticism. How many more would we reach if we funneled that energy to those who need Jesus?