If you don’t know I own a publishing company (Energion Publications) by now, I’d be pretty surprised. It’s not as though I don’t talk about it regularly.
One of the things I find interesting about blogging is to discover which blog posts actually catch people’s attention. There are times when I have put my heart and soul into a post, writing about something I consider extremely important, and there’s no response. At other times I write something quickly just because I feel I haven’t blogged enough, and I get comments, links, or e-mails that indicate it has really touched someone’s life. This unpredictability is great fun!
As a publisher, however, the idea is for me to figure out what people will actually read, because I will be investing money in producing the book, and I need someone to buy it in order to stay in business. Now I say I run my business as a ministry, i.e., the primary mission is more to educate and to build the Kingdom (to use the Christianese expression) than it is to make money. If I simply put my entire time into using my IT skills, I’d make more money. Yet at the same time, it is a business and so it does have to make money. As such, part of my job is to determine whether people will buy a book before it is released.
It’s interesting how often these goals collide. There are manuscripts I know people would buy, but I don’t consider them of any great value. No, I don’t place my judgment over the popular judgment. There will always be somebody to publish popular things. I’m not depriving you of them! But what about the things that say that becoming a Christian is not a matter of guaranteeing that you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise? What if they say that you may die of cancer rather than be healed? What about books that talk about martyrdom, persecution, and sacrifice? Who publishes those books?
Such books do get published, and I do not claim to be the only one to do so. But I do think it is part of my duty to make such books available to people. And I’m not just talking about books about the negatives of becoming a Christian. (And quite frankly, in the United States, being a Christian can be quite good for business. Where I live, a common question in business networking is: “Where do you go to church?” It’s a good idea to have a “safe” answer that makes people feel you’re a part of the community.) I’m talking about books that challenge our prejudices, that ask us to think about things we might rather avoid, and that ask us to take action rather than just deal in theory.
Let’s face it. A lot more of us talk about various reforms than are willing to take actions.
Do you believe in house churches? Are you ready to get out there and start one, or join a group that is doing so?
Every member in ministry (a good UMC slogan)? Are you involved? If you’re a pastor or other church leader, are you willing to give up some of your power and control so more people can get involved? Are you willing to go look for people and challenge them to get involved rather than waiting for them to volunteer?
Are you mission oriented? If so, are you ready to back that up with, again to borrow a United Methodist phrase, are you ready to support that goal with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service? (Now if you answered “yes” there, please check to see how much of your church’s budget is going to support outreach ministries.)
Which brings me to the book I can’t give away. The cover is pictured over to the left. Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?
It doesn’t sell very well. In fact, there’s a very specialized book by the same author, The Authorship of Hebrews. It quotes Greek words and phrases, and deals with a very technical issue of interest to a relatively small number of people. It’s not precisely a bestseller, but I sell more copies of it than I do of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?
I know that many Christians are not too happy with the word “missions.” As I said in the description for another book I’m soon to release, also on the subject of missions:
Many Christians have grown up with a very limited concept of “missions” and “missionaries.” In this view a missionary is a person who goes and preaches to lots of people, often in primitive lands, and explains the theology of the gospel. The natives are convinced and become Christians. Thus the gospel commission is fulfilled.
Actual missions have not been carried out in this way very much….
This sort of mechanical view has damaged the concepts of both evangelism and missions and made them bad words with many people. But a church without a mission is very dead. A church with a mission that is all internal is likely dying. I haven’t been going out and speaking at many churches lately. I spend most of my time in front of this computer. But I used to tell pastors I could gauge the health of their churches by asking a few members what the mission of the church was. In a healthy church, people will be able to answer quickly and clearly.
“But evangelism,” someone says, “that refers to holding boring meetings in a tent trying to convince people to give their hearts to Jesus.” No, not so. Evangelism is spreading the good news.
Let me give an example. My parents were missionaries, and they carried out evangelism. Neither of them ever conducted a tent meeting. My dad was an MD, and my mother (who is still active at 96 years old) was a nurse. They operated clinics. They cared for people. They prayed with people personally. When you visited their church, you would be invited home to lunch. I hear people taught to make visitors welcome by speaking to them and getting to know them. Good! Let’s do it. (Though I have a problem in that I’m a member of a 3500 member church and I often can’t tell who’s a visitor and who’s not. That may be another problem!) But for my parents making someone welcome meant making sure they had time to get truly acquainted, making sure that person was fed, and if they had needs, that those needs were met. I wonder how many people in our churches would be willing to take that on today?
I suspect that many people simply don’t want church to change the fundamental way in which they live quite that much. That’s getting way too much into other people’s business. We don’t want to do that.
The thing is, that sounds to me much more like the way the gospel was spread in New Testament times. I’m fully aware that times have changed. The church needs to adapt.
So let’s ask this: Is the way we’ve adapted working?
And so we return to the book I can’t give away. I’ve tried to give Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? away in various places, from academic gatherings down to personal meetings with people. It’s not quite true to say that I can’t give it away at all, though at one academic gathering it was the only book from my book table of which I had the same number on my return as when I’d left. I’ve never run out of them. I’ve tried. I’ve offered free copies for people to use in study groups or to give away in church.
Maybe it’s because the author is Southern Baptist, and I approached people of other denominations. Maybe it’s because he’s conservative, and I talk to people all across the spectrum. But this book doesn’t tell you what your theology has to be. It tells you what to do with it. It tells you the level of commitment that God calls for. I know plenty of people moderate or progressive theology who would not disagree with those points. Besides, how do people know when they haven’t read the book yet?
My real challenge here is not to buy this particular book, though I’d be delighted if you did. What I hope you’ll do, however, is look at what you believe and then check out your actions. Do you believe you should be out doing social action, yet you’re sitting in the pew instead? Then get up and go! I’m not trying to define your mission. That’s up to you, hopefully as you discern God’s leading. Whatever it is, do it!
I didn’t intend to when I started this post, but I just noted that I have 16 copies of this little book on my office shelf. This book talks about mission, it talks about martyrdom, and then it asks you to commit yourself to it. Let me know in the comments. Tell me how many you need and up to what I have on my office shelf I’ll send them to you free of charge. No shipping or handling either. Just ask. If you need ten copies for a church group, tell me that. First come, first serve, until they’re gone.
Don’t worry about whether your mission, as you understand it, is the same as Dave Black’s. You aren’t called to Dave Black’s mission. You aren’t called to mine. You’re called to yours.
If you need more than 16, or you want some after I’ve given those away, I’ll work out a price that will cut this as close to my cost as I can manage. I can’t afford to lose money, but I can live with making pennies on the book. Just email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask.