*Editorial Note, Pt. 1: In Mandy’s own graciously pastoral heart, I’ll let her introduce her own piece:
“I wondered if you could add a little something as an intro for those who may not be writers, e.g.: ‘
‘Whether we write or speak or sing it, we’re all called to steward a message. The Gospel longs to fill us and overflow to the world around us. But it’s complicated to know how to communicate well when we have good reason to be concerned about seeking the limelight. Instead of reacting to the baggage associated with abuse of authority, we’re called to wrestle with the mystery of how to speak with an authority not our own. Here’s how Mandy Smith is figuring that out in her writing.’“
Whether we write or speak or sing it, we’re all called to steward a message. The Gospel longs to fill us and overflow to the world around us. We’re called to wrestle with the mystery of how to speak with an authority not our own. Click To Tweet
Byron Borger loves books. He’s the owner of Hearts and Minds Books, a Christian bookstore which is what a Christian bookstore should be — an invitation to a feast of ideas and images. Because he loves writing and reading and the expansion of imagination that comes with both human endeavours, he loves books. He helped me remember that I do too. I love them so much that I sometimes write them.
Byron’s work of healing took place in me as he described this scene from Chaim Potok’s novel In The Beginning:
“I remember the night in the second week of October when we danced with the Torah scrolls in our little synagogue…The little synagogue was crowded and tumultuous with joy. I remember the white-bearded Torah reader dancing with one of the heavy scrolls as if he had miraculously shed his years. My father and uncle danced for what seemed to me to be an interminable length of time, circling about one another with their Torah scrolls, advancing upon one another, backing off, singing. Saul and Alex and I danced too. I relinquished my Torah to someone in the crowd, then stood around and watched the dancing…The noise inside the synagogue poured out into the night, an undulating, swelling and receding and thinning and growing sound. The joy of dancing with the Torah, holding it close to you, the words of God to Moses at Sinai. I wondered if the gentiles ever danced with their Bible. ‘Hey, Tony. Do you ever dance with your Bible?’” (Potok, In The Beginning, p. 907).
Byron wasn’t only talking about love for sacred texts but books in general. Until that moment I hadn’t known how much my book-lover, book-writer heart needed healing. I was in the final stages of writing a book and I loved it. Not because it was good or destined to be a best-seller but because it had been given to me to write. And over years I had carried that bright burden, re-written it four times, fought through rejection after rejection for its publication. I loved it because it was something that I had been given to steward. I wrote out of obedience, working carefully on words that were working on me:
It’s a strange time for those who are called
to the ministry of writing.
Again, it’s a strange time for those who are called to the ministry of writing. While the written word has been a crucial part of the Judeo-Christian tradition for centuries, in recent years it’s become complicated. We have good reasons to have hesitations about writing and publishing. We’ve read the stories of megachurch pastors who went to immoral lengths to prop up book sales, of leaders whose heads were turned from people to platforms. And I’ve had some harsh warnings from friends, concerned that if I keep writing I might fall prey to the same temptations. Their concerns are not to be taken lightly. I feel them too.
It’s a strange time for those who are called to the ministry of writing. While the written word has been a crucial part of the Judeo-Christian tradition for centuries, in recent years it’s become complicated, and with good reason. Click To Tweet
I remember the knot in my stomach in phone calls with publishers, defending the lacklustre sales of my previous book, explaining why they should publish my next book. And the new knot that formed as I made my marketing “influencer list,” scrolling through my friends on Facebook — was a person with a church of 1000 more influential than a Christian consultant with 4000 followers? How does one rank such things? It made me sick to try. But I did it.
I did it because of the conversion that had taken place in me in that permission to dance with my book. To mark that moment of turning, I opened a fresh page in my journal and wrote in large letters:
“Why I’m Writing A Book:”
And before I knew it, the page was filled with a kind of manifesto:
Why I’m Writing A Book
“I’m writing a book because I have experienced something that I can’t keep to myself. It has brought me joy and healing and it feels connected to points of pain in the Church at this moment. I write to figure stuff out and if that writing helps others figure stuff out, who am I to keep it to myself?
I trust that if God is calling me to write this book, he knows that he’s also calling me to lead this church and parent these kids. I trust that there’s a way to faithfully attend to the various things he’s calling me to do and that this writing may actually help me be a better pastor and parent. While it may cost me time and energy to write this book, it also costs me to suppress the thing burning in my bones.
I trust that there’s a way to faithfully attend to the various things God is calling me to do. While it may cost me time and energy to write, it also costs me to suppress the thing burning in my bones. Click To Tweet
I’m not writing a book to become famous or make money.
I’m not writing a book to create a platform for myself.
If I’m honest, I’m terrified to write a book. In addition to the usual anxiety inherent in any creative endeavour, as we wrestle to put some tender part of ourselves out into a critical world, there’s the additional pressure to prove ourselves to publishers and reviewers. It would be safer to avoid the risk of rejection and keep myself to myself. But that’s not what I’m called to do. Who am I to be silent when I’m called to share? That silence feels like humility but it’s actually fear, even disobedience.
And being obedient to this prompt doesn’t always mean that it will be successful. Every letter I’ve written to a publisher or a potential endorser or reviewer has been typed out of obedience and with shaking hands. And every rejection has been read with shaken hope.
I am called to write. I’m not called to sell a lot of books (although I do hope that someone somewhere is blessed by my words).
I am called to write. Not out of ego and pride but out of humility. To obey the call to share and to do so for the sake of others takes courage.
I am called to write. Not movement-making books or perfect treatises. But little missives from my small way of seeing to those who may need to know they’re not alone. Not the final word but a word, nonetheless.
I am called to write. So I’m just going to write.
Even if half of what I write never gets published and all of what I write rarely gets read.
I’m still going to write and share and let God determine my “success.” I’m going to trust the good work that happens in me as I navigate all the sticky issues of ego, returning each time (in failure and in acclaim) to the prompter of all writing prompts.
I’m going to cast my bread on many waters.
May my words be one small voice in a great chorus.
And when I’m dead and gone and my books are out of publication, may some lonely soul come across a used copy of something I wrote and hear the faint hum of the hope that sings in this small heart.”
I’m going to write and let God determine my 'success.' I’m trusting the good work that happens in me as I navigate all the sticky issues of ego, returning each time (in failure and in acclaim) to the prompter of all writing prompts. Click To Tweet
*Editorial Note, Pt. 2: In Mandy’s beautiful, hope-filled words, I’ll let her finish her own story:
“Oh and ironically, the manuscript that kept getting rejected and led to the writing of this article has just this week been accepted for publication! So would it be okay to add something like this at the end of the article:
‘Interestingly, the manuscript whose repeated rejection prompted Mandy’s writing of this article has just been accepted for publication! Mandy’s next book will be published by NavPress in Fall 2024.’”
Yes, of course, Mandy! It would be our joy at Missio Alliance to celebrate the resilient joy you are witnessing publicly to us, as you settle into the good news of your manuscript’s future publication, and the difficult work of crafting the actual words between now and then.
Thank you for honestly showing us the pathway before you, and inviting us to walk our own.
A version of Mandy’s piece first appeared on her site.
Missio Alliance warmly invites you to join us in Chicago on Wednesday, April 26th, for Why Write?, our pre-conference Writer’s Workshop, held the day before Awakenings: Disruption in the Life of the Church, our 2023 National Gathering, begins.
All info below.
Mandy Smith will be joining us via video from Australia!