Karl Vaters 10
Drew Dyck: So, it's kind of a cool time to have a message that you want to communicate to people because you don't have to wait for anyone's permission. You can just start now.
Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl Vaters and welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church? My podcast guest today is Drew Dyck and the subject is writing for ministry. Drew is the author of several books, most recently the book, Your Future Self Will Thank You: A Guide for Sinners, Quitters, and Procrastinators.
Yes, that may be the longest subtitle ever. I believe there was still room on the cover of the book for a picture. Drew has spent a couple of decades as a writer and editor. I actually first met him and he asked me to write for Leadership Journal several years ago. And today he's an editor, actually my editor at Moody Press.
So in this conversation, Drew and I talk about the differences between preaching and writing, how to get started at writing for ministry and what book publishers are looking for. Don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I’ll give an overview of the content and the answer to the question, “can this work in a small church?”
So on this podcast today, we've got a really fascinating guest with us—at least that's how he describes himself, as a fascinating guest. Drew Dyck is with me today. Drew, welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church?
DD: Thank you. I am fascinating. And this is what I keep telling people. And some people don't see it, including my wife. And that's when it's the most hurtful.
KV: I have noticed you've got an alter ego on Twitter, on Twitter that gives away all of your secrets. Purple Drew, some people call him.
DD: That's right. Yeah. And I can't even remember who that is, but there's some guy out there with way too much time on his hands.
KV: I know. You're the only, the only guy I know who runs his own parody account.
DD: I’ve been accused of it. I swear, it's not me. I swear. It's not me. But the more hurtful thing is, you know, Grace isn't on Twitter. That's my wife, Grace, and I will read my tweets to her and, and she often doesn't find them as funny as I did. So we're working through that.
KV: Well the rest of us find it hilarious.
DD: Thank you.
KV: So, let's just jump right into this. You, you have written several books, your most recent one, Your Future Self Will Thank You. With the longest subtitle in the history of publishing. Somehow you still had room on the cover for a picture of a dog wanting cookies.
I don't know how you did that.
And someday we will talk about that because you talk about self-control, which is really an important subject. Someday we'll get you back and talk about that, but you also have spent most of your professional life around writing and editing, particularly for Christian publications and Christian publishers and so on, including you hosting the Writing for a Change podcast.
So let's begin with, how did you get started on this idea of writing for ministry?
DD: You know, I had these big aspirations when I was in my early twenties that I wanted to be a writer. I did not know what that looked like. I also had this twin goal of wanting to serve the church in some way.
I didn't know what that would look like. So I started writing for various publications here and there as I could. I went to seminary and basically stumbled into being an editor. But the way I describe it to people now is yeah, I'm an editor. That's my day job. And then I moonlight as an author, you know, so when I can get some time away from the kids and carve out some weekends here and there to work on my own books.
I should say, though, I could do it all wrong. I've only written three books and I've spaced them out like five years apart, which is the worst way to do it because then everyone, except for your mom, forgets that you're a writer. And you have to tell them all over again.
KV: Yeah. Mine are completely random. The first one took me 53 years to write.
DD: That’s a long time.
KV: Yeah. The second one took me five. The next one took me what, two or three? And then the next one was like four months because I got a call from this guy named Drew Dyck going, “uh, there's this pandemic thing happening. And we'd like to put something out real quick that can help people.”
And somehow we were able to pull that sucker together real fast for The Church Recovery Guide.
So you write for ministry endeavors, and the primary audience for this podcast is pastors of course, pastors of small churches primarily. So if you've got a pastor out there who maybe preaches every Sunday, communicates well, is interested in writing for ministry. What, what are some of the first things that a pastor needs to start thinking about?
If they're going to be interested in writing for ministry?
DD: Yeah, good question. That's a big one too. There's a lot there, but I think the first thing is just to have the confidence to start. A lot of people don't, especially if you're not some nationally known figure or, you know, have a mega church or something like that, a lot of people feel like, well, who wants to hear from me?
And there is a hill to climb there as far as carving out a bit of an audience, but just go for it. It can happen. That's the first thing I feel like you need to tell some folks because they feel really insecure.
The other thing is you do want to develop a bit of a niche, you’ve got to find something that, you know, I get a lot of people that say, “Drew, I've got this book, um, about community. I want to write a book about community.”
“And I go, well, that's great. That's a great topic.”
Right? I mean, it's not really a topic. It's like a whole area.
And the thing if someone's going to read your book about community, you've got to find a bit of a fresh angle. Maybe it's something counter-intuitive that you've learned about community. Maybe it's, you know, a tough story you've gone through in a community and the hard one lessons you've learned.
It's gotta be fresh. It's gotta be a little bit more defined, I would say. And you're a great example, right? You're not telling everyone how to run a church or a ministry in every single context. Your heart is because of your background, because of what you do, as a small church pastor. And I love that.
So giving some careful thought to what am I most passionate about? Like, not just, what can I talk about? But what gets me up in the morning? What am I thinking about when I have free time? You know, that kind of thing. Those are good clues often for the first area that you can write in.
KV: You said it, but it's true. That was exactly my track. The whole idea of looking for a publisher—“I don't have a social media”—that was the argument I had, or not the argument, but the challenge that I gave Shelly years ago when I was, you know . . . I gained this passion for finding all this information about small churches, which I couldn't find put together anywhere in a single book at the time.
And then Shelly was the one who said, “well, you know, quit complaining that nobody's written the book and write the book.” And my first opposition to that, to her, was what you just said a lot of us have, which is, “I don't have an audience. Nobody knows who I am. Why would anybody care about my book?”
And of course, her brilliant genius response to me was, “well, who else is going to write about small churches other than a small church pastor? And how many famous ones do you know?
What I did was exactly what you're talking about. First of all, I just started writing. I didn't have an audience. I didn't have a presence on social media. I didn't have a website. I had a passion for this particular, very, very specific area of ministry, which as it turns out is huge, but untapped.
KV: There's a massive amount there. And that's the thing. People sometimes think if I limit myself to this particular small area, that somehow I'm going to run out of stuff, but in fact, you can often find something that hasn't been tapped into before and start digging deeper in things.
So, you find the very specific area. You just start writing about it.
Now, when you start writing, do you have any immediate pieces of advice for pastors who are used to speaking every Sunday about the process of now writing to be read rather than writing notes to be spoken, because those are overlapping talents, but they are not the same talent.
DD: That's right.
They're different animals, as you know. And often, as you know, some of the best preachers I've heard, when you read the writing, it's pretty good. Right? And the reverse is true. Some of the authors that I love their books, and then you're so excited that you get to hear them speak. And it's like watching paint dry. All to say, yeah, they're different animals.
Just be aware of that challenge, because I think a lot of preachers automatically think, oh, I'm a good communicator. And I've been doing this for a while. Certainly when I go to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, it's going to work similarly and it's gonna kind of flow and it's gonna connect with people.
But it really is a process of just clarifying your thoughts. There's a lot less repetition, you know, for one, right? You have to be more concise because people, if they didn't quite get what you were saying in an article or a book, they can go back and read that sentence again. That’s different from speaking.
And so just to be very clear, have a clear thesis, especially if you're doing an article or a blog post, just kind of one thing you want to say.
I think that's the number one mistake that novice writers make is trying to pack too much into whatever they're doing. If they're writing a book, they're going to tell their whole life story, right? If they're writing an article, they're going to go all over the place. So you really gotta be concise and focused.
And then there's just no replacement for practice, just getting the reps in. And that's the beautiful thing about the time that we're in, right? It used to be in a magical age, what—15, 20 years ago? People like me, publishers, we were the gatekeepers. If you wanted to connect with an audience, you had to come through us.
Or you had to get something published in magazines and journals. Now, it's the wild west. Now you can go on Facebook right now and . . . say you’ve got a few hundred followers or friends on there and you can write articles. And if they connect with people, if they resonate, they can go viral. They can take off.
There's no excuse anymore. You can go directly to people. So it's kind of a cool time to have a message and to want to communicate to people because you don't have to wait for anyone's permission. You can just start now.
A lot of people come to me and say, “I want to write a book.” And I say, well, have you written any articles?” “No, I don't wanna write articles.” “How about a blog post” No, I'm not into that.”
Right? So they despise the small beginnings, but that can really allow you to feel, test your ideas, and start to build an audience, right? Because often the concern is who's going to listen to me? I don't have a platform.
Well, you can build that up slowly. If you've got a newsletter, even if it's like, you know, a few hundred people that you're sending it out to regularly, you're connecting with people. And that's a good thing when publishers look at you and go, oh, is there an audience that you're connecting with? Are people listening to what you have to say? Is it resonating? And that can open the doors for other opportunities.
KV: Yeah. Well, let's talk about that specifically then. So the pastor says, “okay, I want to write. I hear what you're saying. Doing a blog post, occasionally,” which first of all is less threatening.
It really is kind of taking something like a sermon or even a section of a sermon because not every sermon is going to look good and written. But you could probably look back over your last 10 sermons and find five or six spots, at least, where you'll look at it and go , that would actually work well in written form.
Not all of it, but find the spots that would, so you've got some content already. You've got some ideas. You're going to write it out. Let's say you create your blog space. What is it then that a publisher is looking for? Because this is what happened, again, with you and me. I was writing my blog seven, eight years ago now.
And little did I know that there was this guy named Drew spying on me and you watched for a while and you were looking for certain things before you got in touch with me. What are those things that made you go, o kay, this is a guy that may be, we might be able to put in initially it was Leadership Journal and now with Moody. But what was it you were looking for? If a pastor's blog comes across your feed—what is it that you're paying attention to that makes you want to say, I might want to work with this person?
DD: Yeah. I'm looking for someone who's really dedicated to serving a certain constituency—a certain group of people and is really addressing their needs. I think sometimes when you go to write, I fall prey to this, I've got my theological axe to grind and my pet topics. And those may or may not connect with people's real needs. Right?
And so I find myself sometimes writing on something that I'm ticked off about or passionate about, and that's fine. But then all of a sudden I realize, o h my goodness, you know what, no one wakes up in the morning thinking about this issue. This isn't a need that comes up in people's ministries.
So when I see someone, like you're a great example here, you were passionately serving this group of pastors that historically has been neglected as you know. I mean, you can go to the big conferences and stuff and you get the guy on stage with a 10,000 member church and whether it's explicitly or implicitly communicated, that's the goal to strive for.
But you were talking to all these guys that feel left out of this conversation and yet know God's doing things through their ministry and you're affirming them and equipping them. And that's really unique and something that I look for.
And then of course writing talent. And you're a great writer. Great blogger. And you learn the conventions, which is not just an intuitive thing, like how to title blog posts. Sometimes you gotta go like “nine ways that X, Y, and Z,” you know?
KV: Let's pause on that because I do think there's a tendency for pastors, and people in general I think, but we’re talking to pastors so let's go ahead and select that as our, as our target group right now.
There is a tendency to kind of look down upon the idea that I've got to learn particular conventions. I'm going to break the mold. The artists are the ones who break the mold after all, right? The Beatles didn't just follow. Right? You know, whatever.
But, no. The Beatles knew how to play the chords. They knew they knew what a four-four time was. And then they broke the rules after they had formerly established themselves with the mysterious 10,000 hours’ worth of getting the rules down, right? There is no substitute for . . . there is no app that can correct bad writing. Grammarly is helpful, but it is really not going to turn a band writer into a good writer, right?
DD: No, it isn't. It'll help your emails a little bit. Apparently. I've never used it.
KV: So, if you're a good speaker and you're writing, It does help to take some time to study. what good writing looks like. I just, I'm constantly doing it. I just on vacation, read through Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, which is a really helpful case on writing.
And one of the, one of the wonderful things she says, again, she starts just like you—just start writing. There's no substitute for just keep on writing. And then I love how she says, she uses language that I can't use in a Christian podcast when she says this, but she's says to start with the lousy first draft. She doesn't use the word lousy. But she's correct. Start with a lousy first draft. That's again, that was another thing in my mind shift from speaking to writing. If you speak in front of an audience, you really have to get it right, because there's no taking it back. But you can write a really ugly first draft and it doesn't matter because you get to go back and you get to correct it again later. Just make sure you do go back and make those corrections. And then apply the basic fundamental rules that you have to follow in order to write.
So anyway, I cut you off on that. I want to be sure that people understand there is no substitute for knowing the basic rules. You can't break the rules until you know the rules and you're following them to begin with.
DD: Yeah. And I think it's intimidating for people. They read published authors, they read someone, you know, whose blog is as well trafficked, and they go, I can't write like this. You know what? Neither can that person. I forget who said it—”good writers are good editors.”
They're just people disciplined enough to go back, refine, refine, refine, improve, improve, publish, keep writing, keep writing. I think it was Philip Yancey who said, “writers are people for whom writing is very difficult.” That always comforts me because I'll show my wife my first drafts of a chapter. And she, I remember one time she's reading it and she looks up and she goes, “you know, this isn't good. This is really bad.”
And then I get all defensive and have an argument with her. And then I look at it again and I'm like, yeah, this is pretty bad. That’s the dedication, right? And that's the craft, that's the discipline.
And a lot of people think they can kind of sidestep that somehow, but it's the same in any field, right? If you walk into a hospital and say, “I want to do a surgery,” they'll go, “you know what? I think you need to go to medical school first. Right?”
I mean, that's maybe a bad example, cause I'm not saying it's as hard as like brain surgery. But it is a craft. You have to develop and hone your craft. And it might be a few years before you start producing prose that's really, really good. But the good thing is, I think, because it is less an art than a craft—it's learnable. So you can do it. It's just about putting in the time
KV: Less an art than a craft. I've never heard that phrase before.
DD: And some people may disagree. Obviously certain people have some latent talent that predisposes them to being better writers. There's no doubt about that. I'm sure like with anything, but it is something that you can learn and get done.
KV: I'm only saying I hadn't heard it before because I'm mulling it over, but I think you're right. There’s a saying that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. So 1% art 99% craft. You've got to learn the discipline of doing it in order for it to be a value. There's a whole bunch of unwritten books in people's heads. It's the craft of putting it in a place where somebody else could read it. That is going to make a difference in people's lives.
DD: Exactly. And ideas are cheap, man. Like so many people have so many ideas and a lot of them are really good. But it's the execution that matters at the end of the day. And that's painful because yeah, you, you have a great idea. And then like three years later, you see someone else wrote that book.
KV: And now a 20-second break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First forward this podcast to a friend, secondly, consider becoming a Patreon partner for as little as $3 a month. You can help us put these resources into the hands of ministries that need it the most. Our Patreon link is in the show notes.
All right. So the title of the podcast is Can This Work In A Small Church? So let's make the shift now from writing for pastors in general, to why this might be different from a small church perspective or how we might have a perception that is different in a small church perspective. Do publishers really want to hear from small church pastors?
DD: Yeah, I would say yes. I mean, it's not that we wake up in the morning going, okay, what small church pastor can we get to write a book for our publishing house? It's not that, but it certainly is not a disqualifying thing. And ultimately it's a good thing because what I love about it is that these are people that are in the trenches of ministry on a day-to-day basis. Right? And that's the best place to learn lessons that you can relay to other people. If you've been in church ministry for any length of time, you've been through some battles. You got some scars. You have what I think Richard Rohr called “the authority of one who suffered.”
Frankly, this might sound mean, but I don't want to hear from the fresh seminary grad about ministry. Okay? Get some time in, right? It's sort of like the guy who writes a marriage book after he's been married three months and he's still on the honeymoon high. Right? Okay. Well, let's talk to you 20 years down the road.
So for the pastor who's been in the trenches daily and a small church pastor really is because you can't just be the teaching pastor when you're in a small church. You're doing everything, you know this better than anyone. So you are dealing with the whole enchilada, which I love. So I think that's a rich well to draw from, for stories when it comes to your writing, Illustrations, anecdotes, all those kinds of things.
So I think that's great, but it does, of course present a challenge because, I know it's a dirty word, platform. Whereas if you're leading a monster church or ministry, then publishers are going to be more eager to accept your book proposal or look at it. When you do have a smaller church, it's a bit of a hurdle.
But again, going back to our conversation with how the digital world, the social internet has opened avenues to communicate with people instantly everywhere. You can do that without anyone's permission. And it doesn't have to be either that, oh, I've got this blog that gets a million people a month. It can be small. It can be humble. But what publishers want to see, what we're looking for is, are you already communicating with this audience that you want to write a book for?
And if your answer is like, no, then why will a book succeed where you haven't succeeded? Otherwise, if you're not speaking to these people, if you're not writing to them, if you're not writing a newsletter to them, if they're not visiting your Facebook page or your website, why is it that a book is going to work?
And I think that's a legitimate question to ask.
KV: Yeah. Well, it feels to me kind of like when the average pastor will have somebody come to him and say, “I want to serve on the board.”
I've never even seen you stack a chair, dude.
DD: Right. I get that, though’ cause that's not my calling, you know?
KV: Yeah, right. What you're describing is exactly the same thing. Are you actually voluntarily in the arena in order to help other people with this? And if so, then let's talk about maybe expanding your audience to others that we can bring in the audience for. But if you're not doing that yet, what evidence do we have that this is going to actually follow through?
You get a book advance, let's make sure that a book is actually going to be produced, or if you've got an idea that you want to put out there, I want to be sure that that idea is going to land somewhere with an audience. Maybe you don't have an audience yet, but I can read what I see and I can see the small audience that you've got responding to it and going okay, we have a big audience from our publishing house. We can help you with that nudge to get it out there.
What I discovered with my first book, The Grasshopper Myth, was the fact that I was an author, all of a sudden I started getting invitations to seminars, not to say anything different than I'd been saying for years, but now they wanted to hear from me because they could introduce me as “the author of.”
DD: Right. Credibility.
KV: Right. And today you could do a similar thing. If you put together a blog and it's going well, and you're doing it consistently, you can say, this is a person who writes regularly on this subject at this particular place. It gives you, yeah, it gives you the credibility that you're actually in the arena already, that you're willing to step into it, but without having a publisher to begin with. And, plus, in the area of small churches, especially, I mean, there's such a big need for it. It’s not like we've likely covered the subject before. There's a whole lot of area in that, in that spot that we can hear from. And as I'm doing in my now, I'm shifting from talking just to small church pastors, which I still continue to do, but really looking at these issues from a small church perspective, which opens it wide to all kinds of things.
And that's the other thing that I've discovered. Almost every question I’ve had you so far, your first answer has been some version of: start with a narrow focus. You phrased it differently about each time, but each time, your first thing was figure out that very narrow thing that you want to talk about.
Then once you get a name for being an authority with that narrow focus, then you can broaden it. And then people are like, I want to hear what Drew Dyck has to say on other subjects, because I appreciated what he had to say on that first, very narrow subject of self-control or whatever it was from that book.
But you've got to start with the narrow, don’t you?
DD: Yeah, that's good. I hadn't thought of it that way, but yeah. Hard to go broad and then narrow. Right? But you can broaden out if you start with a narrow subject that you're addressing, and then you'll find that there are all these ancillary or related topics that you can address.
Again, I mean, the rules are different. You know if Tim Keller phones a publisher and says I want to write on topic X, they're going to let him write because he's Tim Keller. But for the rest of us, that people don't recognize our name right away, the subject kind of has to be the thing that leads.
And if it's too broad, if you just want to write a book about the love of God, well, you're going toe to toe with Max Lucado and all these other folks that are already very well-established. So your better approach is to find something that's a little narrower.
Another thing I want to say too, though, is something that intersects with your own story. Karl, your whole ministry is so autobiographical. I mean, it grows right out of your story of being a small church pastor thinking your church is going to grow, then it doesn't. What's going on? Am I a failure? All those questions that arise out of that enabled you, gave you, the credibility, the experience, the insights to talk to other people that go, hey, that's me. Right.
And tell them, no, you're not a failure. God's using you and your church. That's powerful. So that's another way to think of it. Like , what have I been through? How have I handled it well or poorly? And then you may have an inkling of the kind of topic that you want to address, right?
KV: So you want the topic to be narrow. You want to have somebody who has experience in that topic. You want to be sure that they're speaking about that topic with some level of skill in there, right? You want to see consistency of writing that they're regularly putting out product so that you can have some reliability that they're going to meet things like deadlines.
KV: Earlier on, you mentioned that just because you're angry about something . . . Let's talk about that just for a moment here at the end of this. There is a big audience, obviously, for anger, in case anybody hadn't noticed. But most of the people who are writing angry blog posts or producing angry videos or writing angry books, they're really having to kind of create their own publishing house to do that because a publishing house like you're with, Moody, doesn’t want to be the bull horn for yet another angry voice. You want to offer practical solutions. So if you want to write a blog or put out videos or even write a book that's just you being angry, you can do that, but you're going to have to self-publish. You're going to have to create your own YouTube channel. You're going to have to create your own blog. If you want someone like you as a publisher with a reputable publishing house to actually pay attention, it can't just be angry. It has to offer solutions.
DD: Right. Right. There are publishers certainly that are more open to publishing things that I would say appeal to outrage and not our better angels. But ultimately those are going to be pretty time-bound because they're usually attached to fairly recent events in the news. I remember just even a year ago, getting proposals from people that wanted to write an angry book about Donald Trump and I go, okay, well, you know, he may or may not be in office at that time.
It turns out he isn't. And how long is that going to last? Is someone going to read that in five years? No, not a chance. Right? And with Moody, at least, we're a backlist publisher, meaning we kind of live and die on our older books. We want to get books that are going to be read in five, 10, 15 years.
And so we tend not to do the more timely things. And usually when it comes to something that's just appealing to people's fear, anger, those kinds of things, they're usually tied to current events. And you can get attention though, I mean, especially online, by being that person with no nuance that just jumps on one side of an issue and goes after the other people in sort of a brutal way.
But at the end of the day, you gotta live with your conscience. Is that really what God is calling especially Christians and Christian leaders to at this point? I think we need more people with nuance, that have a heart of love, even when they see people that they think are wrong.
I love something you said, actually I think this was you on, on social media. You said “don't let your trigger become your truth.”
KV: Yeah. That was me.
DD: Man. I repeat that to myself. Like almost daily, honestly, because what that means is, and I get it. When you're scrolling on social media, especially, you see things that really trigger you. You think, man, that's dumb. Oh man, that guy's way off. Or this is ridiculous. That's so unfair.
And you can get embroiled in that, by responding in the moment and going off. But then you’ve got to realize it's not just the person you're fighting with that sees it. It's other people, maybe it's people in your church, maybe it's family members. It's non-Christians that are looking at how you conduct yourself. There’s a lot of things to consider.
So I tend to at least try to stay away from some of those things, or at least when I do address controversial issues to be a voice of reason, nuance, compassion, and hopefully ultimately reconciliation because we're in like a crazy polarized time. So we need to tamp it down. I really believe that.
KV: It almost sounds like you're talking about the issue of self-control. He wrote a book on that.
DD: I'm just trying to drag everything back. That's my goal.
KV: All right. Let's finish this up with our lightning round questions to see how well you do here. All right. A guy who's a master on Twitter should be great at these.
First of all, what are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years and how have you adapted to it?
DD: Oh, wow. Yes. So I'd say the biggest thing that we've seen, this is kind of a broader thing about evangelicalism is that it's become very tribalized and fractured. Right? So I used to be the managing editor of Leadership Journal , as you know, which is a Christianity Today publication. It's no longer around now it’s CT Pastors, it's just an online thing. But with Leadership Journal, we had this big tent mentality where we could get people across the spectrum writing articles.
And it used to be that that was the go-to resource for a lot of pastors from mainline to low church to liturgical churches. People would read that. Well, times have changed because like I said, evangelicalism has fractured into all these little towns. So nowadays the challenge for me, as someone who's creating and editing resources for church leaders, is that . . . say, you want to tell someone how to lead a church, like a general leadership book. Often they'll want to ask w here do you stand on this theological topic? before they'll even listen to you. Does that make sense? So they’ll be like, where are you on women in ministry? What do you think about racial reconciliation? All these kinds of litmus tests.
And I'm not saying those things aren't important, they obviously are, but it used to be that you had a bigger tent mentality within the church where we'd listen to each other. So that is a challenge because often we'll have a great book by a great author, but they're in a certain tribe that maybe it's hard for them to speak across the spectrum to all Christians.
KV: Interesting. Wow. Okay. So yeah, which is the opposite of how it used to be. It used to be if you were too tribal you couldn’t be listened to and you had to speak to a more general audience. And now that's really flipped, huh?
DD: Yeah. And it’s not necessarily for the good.
KV: Interesting. All right. Around question number two: what free resource—like an app or website or something like that has helped you lately— would you recommend for small church ministry?
DD: You mean other than Small Church Essentials?
KV: That's not free. They're gonna have to pay for that.
DD: If they come over to your house. I'm sure you'll give them one off the shelf, Karl.
KV: I've done that many times.
DD: In all seriousness, that's an awesome book. I've heard from so many small church pastors just blown away by it. Actually not just small church pastors. Other, you know, anyone in any kind of ministry that reads it is blown away by it.
So I do actually recommend that, you know, this is kind of a weird thing, especially since I'm not a pastor, but I'm part of a private Facebook group called small church pastor. You are too. So you know what I'm about to say. I just find it so fascinating. And I'm just thinking if you are a small church pastor, being part of this group or one like it is incredibly helpful because, first of all, people are just airing their honest challenges. And some of it's just heartbreaking, frankly. People that are maybe losing their church or going through a major crisis or painful challenges of ministry.
And then there's just practical questions like, how long should I preach? There's someone in my church that's doing X, what should I do? I just think it's a great resource. Of course it's free and it's private in a sense because, you know, people don't share it outside of that. It's a closed group. So you can be a little more open and honest.
KV: We used to have to physically get together with three or four ministers in town. And if you're in a small town, you might have to drive a long way and now you can do it online and actually develop relationships with people online.
I know people from groups like that, And they are friends and every once in a while, I'll meet them in person. Like the first time I met you in person, it's like, it's weird that we're physically meeting in person for the first time, because we actually do know each other before this. You can do that. So that's helpful.
Number three, what's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?
DD: I forget who said this to me or where I heard it, but it's this: don't sacrifice your family. Don't sacrifice your family. I grew up in a tradition that sort of celebrated people who sacrifice their families for ministry.
I got all kinds of stories about the painful follow-up from that in people's lives. Not only in children's lives, spouses, but in the lives of ministers themselves. So that's huge. And you know, not only because your family is your first, your primary ministry, but then also for you, for your psychological well being, for your spiritual wholeness, you need your family in order to have that foundation to then minister to other people.
And so thankfully I think the mentality is changing. You know, it used to be like a pastor was like, “Hey, I'm getting away with my family for a couple of weeks.” People were like, “Hey, just a minute. How much vacation time are we giving you?”
But I feel like people now are realizing that kind of self-care and the attention to family is more important that I'm grateful for that shift.
KV: Yeah, I agree. And I think that second part is really . . . that's something I discovered, especially as I was going through some difficult seasons in pastoral ministry. Maybe, you know, there were people who were saying, “is it church? Or is he just dealing with a lot of stress and counseling and people's lives are falling apart?”
And I've had people at times ask me, “how do you deal with all the stress?” And my answer has always been the same: as long as I can go home to a peaceful household, the rest of it matters to me, but it's secondary to me. If I've got to go back to stress at the house, then the whole thing's going to fall apart to pieces that
DD: You’ll never last.
KV: No, that's huge. And the last one, what is the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?
DD: Oh man. How do I narrow this down?
KV: Okay, give us a couple.
DD: So my dad was a pastor. I grew up in the church. I remember one time when he was introducing these crazy things called choruses, that are not hymns, to the church. There was a lot of angst over that. And I remember this one little old lady, she came down to the front and she was shaking because she was so mad. She said, “the next time I see an overhead projector”—again, these new fangled devices in the eighties—”next time I see an overhead projector in the church. I'm going to bring my axe and I'm going to drive it right through the overhead projector.”
I thought that was pretty funny. I always imagined her with that axe under her dress, but she never made good on that.
The second thing is another church my dad led, it was an inner city, small church, and it had a church soup kitchen attached to it, which was a really cool ministry. But because of the soup kitchen, we had a lot of homeless folks, a lot of people addicted to drugs, that kind of thing. So it made for some very colorful services.
And I remember one time my dad's preaching and he asked what people who go to church would understand this rhetorical question, right? He says, “what would Jesus say to you today?” And I remember, there's like this pause, right? And this one guy from the soup kitchen ministry kind of perks up and he goes, “I don't know. Maybe he'd tell me to stop drinking and get a job?
I was like, that's pretty good. That’s kinda refreshing.
KV: That's kind of not bad advice either.
DD: Not bad advice.
KV: Hey, how can people find you online, Drew?
DD: Oh, I'm pretty easy to find. I spend too much time on Twitter. It's just my name Drew Dyck. D Y C K is my last name. Or you can drop by my website, it's drewdyck.com, and read a sample of my book or some blog posts. You can see some cheesy pictures of my family.
And if you're in the Pacific Northwest, man, drop by! You know, Karl, you've been out here. We'll get you some good coffee. Usually I drink at Starbucks. I hate to admit it, but you know, if you're a guest, I'll take you to like Hart Coffee or something snobby and artisan and cool.
KV: Yeah. Down in the Portlandia area that’s always entertaining. Thanks, Drew, I appreciate it.
DD: Hey man, this has been a lot of fun. I appreciate it.
KV: Thanks so much to Drew for his wisdom from so many years in the writing and publishing worlds. The advice that Drew gave is so universal and it comes down to what I've heard from every other writer and every other teacher about writing. If you want to be a writer, there is no substitute for this. You have to write then you have to write some more and then you have to keep on writing. There is no substitute.
Now of course, as we talked about, one of the advantages as pastors is that we already do know how to organize our words and to communicate well with people in a long format because we're preaching sermons. But as he said, we also need to add the foundational writing skills to that. Because while that Venn diagram overlaps quite a bit, they are not the same thing. So we need to work on our writing skills as well. And again, the only way to do that is to write a lot. So let's ask the question that we need to answer from the title of our podcast: can this work in a small church? Is there a place in the publishing world for small church pastors?
And the answer, of course, is yes. Yes. If we do a handful of things, let's take a look at four of them. Yes. One, if we find a specific focus to write about. That was something he came back to so many times and I found it to be true for myself too.
Two, if we offer advice based on our own experience and our expertise. You've got to be in the field already. I want to hear from people who are already doing this.
Three, we have to write consistently and we have to write well. Follow the basic rules of writing. Write those lousy first drafts, but then keep on writing, keep on editing, keep on tightening it up and never give up. Keep writing consistently. And, as he mentioned, keep putting it out to an audience via Facebook posts or blogs. Seeing how people respond to our writing can give us a good idea of how to tweak our writing so that people can understand it even better.
And then finally, yes, we can do this if we're offering practical, helpful advice and not just venting our anger. It feels good to vent our anger. And we’ve got all kinds of places to do that, but that's not what publishers are interested in. They want something that's actually going to help people's lives. So if we can do that, this can work in a small church.
So, if you'd like to become a Patreon partner for as little as $3 a month and help put these resources in the hands of the ministries that need them the most, check out our Patreon link in the show notes.
If you want a transcript of this episode, it will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at christianitytoday.com/Karl-Vaters. You can find the link in the show notes. This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver. Edited by Jack Wilkins. Original theme music written and performed by Jack Wilkins of JackWilkinsMusic.com. Podcast logo by Solomon Joy of joyetic.com. And I’m Karl Vaters, and I’m a small church pastor.