"You're going to have to decide - does God want you to be an author, or a pastor?"
My wife had a point. At this time a year ago, I had written several books, but was struggling to get them noticed outside of our local community and social circle. They had all earned great reviews from readers, but just weren't selling much. The problem was, I was wearing too many hats, doing too many things, and trying to do all of them well. I was (and am) a full time teacher at a small Christian school, instructing in seven different subjects in the fall and six in the spring, plus a night class one night a week at the local community college. Patty and I were also, with the help of our two daughters, providing 24 hour care for her aging mother, and trying to run a small goat ranch. There was also my writing, doing book signings on Saturdays, and my occasional attempts to get out of the house and go down to the river and look for arrowheads, just to clear my head and have some relaxation.
Then there was the church. I had said eight years ago that I didn't think I could do justice to a church as pastor and teach school at the same time, but I continued to do some pulpit supply and interim work. Then a small church called me to preach one Sunday. Then they asked me if I could come and preach one Sunday a month. Then they asked if they could refer to me as their pastor "for official records and such." And, sure enough, within a year, I was preaching there every single Sunday. It was a good little country church with nice people, and we grew. We moved into a new location. We baptized new members. We saw most of our youth grow up and graduate, and new children come in to the church with their parents. I started my writing career during this time, and published one book after another for three years straight. We were busy, but not frantic. It was pretty good for a while.
But then Patty's Mom began to need more and more care. Matt, one of our most active church members, who directed much of our visitation and outreach, died. We had some drama and folks left. My Dad's health began to slide. The church needed more of my time at a point when I was ill equipped to give it - but at the same time, I didn't want to walk away when there were so many needs to be met. But was I really helping the church by staying on when I could not give them the time and attention that they needed? Was I really serving God more effectively by preaching to the same 20 people every Sunday, or by writing faith-based books that had the potential to reach thousands if not millions with a message of hope and redemption? After a lot of prayer and soul-searching, over Christmas I made up my mind. I would announce my departure in the spring, cutting my ties with my church and pouring as much effort as I could into my writing.
When I told my wife, she said: "About time! I've been afraid you were going to kill yourself by trying to do so much. You really needed to let something go."
I agreed, but I still worried if I was doing the right thing. So I prayed to God to show me if I was going the way He wanted. And that is when the doors began to open!
In January I was doing a book signing at Half Price Books in McKinney when an older gentleman named Dan stopped by my table. In between my sales pitches, he began to talk to me. He was a professional publicist and marketing expert, and we talked off and on for a half an hour. He never did buy a book, but he complimented my novels, my cover art, and my willingness to engage people and plug my works. As he left the store, he gave me a card and said: "I would like to help you out, so drop me an email sometime."
To be honest, I really figured that Dan was trying to sign me on as a client, and was a bit wary - but at the same time, one email couldn't hurt, right? So I emailed him a couple days later, and got a friendly response. At the end, he said: "Let me get February done, I'm stacked up right now, but then we can meet sometime for lunch. I like you, I like what you are trying to do, and I want to help you promote your books."
So in March, we met for brunch at a sidewalk café in McKinney. I brought my wife, and Dan brought his sister. Our conversation began something like this:
Dan: "I want to get one thing out front. I simply cannot take you on as a client right now; I have too many projects going at once."
Me: "Good, because I wanted to get one thing out front, too: I have absolutely no money to pay you!"
We laughed, and then talked for an hour and a half. Besides some incredibly solid marketing advice (some I had heard before, some I had not), Dan also made me an astonishing offer at the end of our time together: "When you get the cover art for your next book ready, send it to me - along with the covers for the other ones. I am going to design you some nice, professional brochures and print you up a thousand of them. Actually, I think I'll print five thousand!"
That blew my mind. FIVE THOUSAND professionally designed, colored brochures for free? But, when we finished designing the cover of THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, I sent it to him, along with the cover art and synopses for my other stories - and sure enough, a few weeks later I received a PDF file of these beautiful brochures! Not only that, Dan also designed a website for me, set the whole thing up, and taught me how to add new appearances to the "Coming Events" page. All of this, and the only thing I was ever asked to pay for was the website's annual hosting fee.
Dan also asked me for a bio to go on the website, and I wrote one. It was kind of stiff and awkward, and he kindly said: "You really ought to get somebody else to write this for you; someone who knows you well." My wife, of course, knows me better than anyone - the problem is, she knows me TOO well! So I asked my close friend and beta reader Ellie to take a stab at it, and she wrote a wonderful bio which I sent to Dan. He took one look and said: "This is spot on!" So he used it on the brochures, and on the website.
So by April, right after I announced my resignation to the church, I had a professionally designed website AND five thousand brochures to promote my books. But God wasn't done yet! Shortly after I left the church, I ran into a friend of mine, a local filmmaker named Holly Rice. She told me: "I just finished reading THE TESTIMONIUM, and I think it would make a fantastic movie. Would you be willing to collaborate with me on a screenplay?"
So at the beginning of summer, we began to bounce scenes and scripts back and forth with each other. Then one day we came up with the idea of creating a YouTube channel! Next thing I know, I have Holly and a former student of mine, Austin Thomas, who is becoming something of a YouTube rock star himself, following me up to the Sulphur River to film the first couple of episodes. Today the YouTube channel is launched - and, might I add, our first video is pretty amazing, more due to Holly's skill with a camera than to any ability on my part. In our first three days online, we have 51 subscribers and nearly 500 views! Lots more episodes to come over the next few months, too, as we continue to work on our screenplay and film new episodes whenever we get the chance.
In short, ever since I made my decision in December, one door after another has opened before me. I don't really know where we are going to wind up, but God is good. He is leading, and I continue to follow. I am close to completing my sixth novel, I have book signing events every weekend through the end of August, and as I visit different churches, I find myself being invited to come and give my testimony and talk about my books and their message. Feature film? YouTube star? Inspirational writer? Maybe all these things, maybe none. But wherever my journey takes me, I am grateful for all the people God has put in my path, who are helping me along the way - especially to Dan and Holly for their amazing talents, to my lovely wife, Patty, who has been such a tireless encourager, and to all those who buy and read my books. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!
Now - check out my awesome website!