The pastor intends to write a book, but probably won’t. Here’s why.

The pastor said to me, “When I retire, I’m going to write a book.  I have all these great stories and experiences I’m itching to tell.  That’s what I’m going to do.”

I said, “No, you won’t.”

He was taken aback.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I’ve heard it too many times.  Preachers who have not written anything more than copy for the church sign think that when they hang it up, they’re suddenly going to transform themselves into authors. And it’s not going to happen.  It never happens.”

“Why do you think that is?” he asked.

“No one can go a lifetime without writing and suddenly flip a switch and write an entire book. Especially one worth reading.”

He agreed to give that some thought.

Let me say up front that I’m no authority on this subject.  I’ve written hundreds of articles but no books.

For thirty years, I’ve written for Christian magazines.  A few of my articles have made it into seminary textbooks.  And I’ve published books of my cartoons, one series of which sold over 300,000 copies.  But I have not written what my dad once called “an actual book,” meaning a volume of only words and no cartoons.

All my life, I have written. As a seminarian in my mid-20s, while pastoring a small church on Alligator Bayou some 25 miles west of New Orleans, I wrote a devotional column for our weekly newspaper.  That was exactly 50 years ago, and I’m still typing away, although mostly for this website now.

To all the pastors who want to write that all-important book of memoirs when they retire, I have a few words of counsel:

1) Read constantly. That way, you learn what good writing looks like.  And just as importantly, how to recognize terrible writing.

The would-be writer who does not read much will turn out material amateurish to an embarrassing degree. Teachers of music and poetry speak of amateurs with no knowledge of the basics showing them compositions which “God gave me.”

A few years back, when someone sent me several cassette tapes of songs they had written direct from the throne of God, I passed them along to my favorite music professor (who happened also to be our minister of music).  Later, I asked, “What did you think of my friend’s music?”  He was quiet a moment, then said, “Joe, it’s junk.  Trash.  It’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.”

Yikes.  My problem then was going back to my friend and giving him the bad news as tactfully as possible.

There is no substitute for learning the basics of writing. And nothing accomplishes this more than reading a great deal of excellent writing.

2) Write a great deal.

“I don’t have time now,” the pastor says. “But after I retire, I’ll have lots of time.”

“I beg to differ,” I say.  “You have plenty of time now.”

Pause. No response.

“You have the same amount of time everyone else does–168 hours a week.  It’s a matter of priorities, of deciding what to do with your time.”

I once asked Pastor Larry Kennedy how he found the time to write books. We were neighboring pastors, he at Amory and I in Columbus, Mississippi.  He said, “I get up early and write an hour every morning.”

That’s how it’s done. You find slivers of time wherever you can, and you write.

If nothing else, pastor, open your Word program and write for that, things you never intend anyone else to see. You’re practicing, trying to learn the craft, to “find your voice,” as they say.

What does “finding your voice” mean?  I’m not sure exactly, but to me it means being comfortable with writing. It means confidently expressing whatever is on your mind in a way consistent with who you are.

If you have not been writing but wish to get started, let me suggest some topics to get your juices flowing….. 

Write a page or two on each one in your Word program. Save it with an appropriate title, then return to it occasionally to tweak it (we call that “editing”) and add to it, or delete, as you feel the necessity. (And if none of this makes sense to you, invite your spouse or secretary or any teenager on the planet to show you.)   Write a page about one or more of these…

1. My first pastorate

–My first pastorate and the mistakes I made.

–My first pastorate and how it influenced the rest of my ministry.

–What I did right in my first pastorate.

–If I could do my first pastorate over again, here is what I’d do.

2. Some people I have pastored

–My least favorite church member.

–The hardest member I ever pastored.

–The funniest thing that happened in a deacons meeting.

–My favorite deacon.

3. What I love best about the ministry

–My worst year in the ministry.

–The worst funeral I ever conducted.

–The most fun I ever had in the Lord’s work.

–The sorriest revival I ever preached

4. What I love about God’s Word

–My favorite scripture

–The most puzzling text to me

–The time God surprised me in the middle of my sermon

–How I know the Bible is God’s word.

One of the greatest ways to “find your voice” and get comfortable writing is to start a journal.  I did one by hand for the decade of the 1990s.  It usually required 30 minutes each night and ended up occupying 46 hard-bound books.  My guess is nothing helped my writing more than that.

The best indicator of how you will do–and what you will do–in retirement is what you are doing now.

I hope that is encouraging.


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