The Power of Unity

We don’t focus enough on unity.  It’s hard work.

Believers through the centuries have been skilled at declaring, accusing, judging, or condemning those who embrace differing biblical convictions—or who have experienced personal failings—as corrupted, deceitful, or heretical. Over the millennia, Christians have burned such folk at the stake. Today, we simply fire up a blog or magazine article to scorch those we wish to condemn.

To be clear, I believe in the authority of Scripture, core values, and the essential nature of the kerygmatic core of the Gospel: the death, burial, resurrection, and return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those are ideas to live and to die for. But when we get much beyond that core, we find ourselves in a dreadful morass that inhibits the great commission.

The world is watching.

The behavior of the greater body of Christ is being observed each moment by an ever-intently watching world. While we invest massive energy in attempts to perfect each other, the world around us often sees a divisive, mean-spirited rabble of perfectionists. It may seem to them that we invest little time in loving our neighbors or reaching out to the billions who are searching, lonely, and hurting.

Where am I going with this?

From the beginning of my work as a publisher, my mission has been to bring differing convictions to the marketplace of ideas, where those ideas can be discussed calmly and respectfully, though passionately. I’ve been honored to publish people with widely different points of view, and have seen that dialog produce spiritual growth, real life change, and greater theological unity between widely varying traditions.

That affirmed, I commonly hear authors and writers take off after those they perceive as heretical—often people they’ve never met, much less talked with in depth. All this over matters of opinion I’m not at all sure qualify as being at the core of the Gospel.

As Jesus’s ministry drew to a close, as reflected in John 17, one of His great passions was that the unity of his body would reflect the beauty and power of the Good News.  Whether you’re writing a book, drafting a blog, speaking to a friend or someone in your community – seek first the path to harmony and unity.


Never Give Up

Having cruised past 65 years of age, I’m feeling vulnerable enough to think about mortality. Pop culture thinks 65 means you’re getting old . . . just about quittin’ time. However, actuaries say if you live to 60 you’ll likely survive to at least 81 years of age.

Through the years I’ve reinvented my career a couple of times, so it’s not uncommon to be asked, “What are you doing now?” And when I tell them I’ve launched a new book publishing company, they’re not embarrassed to say, “Really? At your age you’re starting over?” That question betrays a bias that there is a limit to our productive years. Let’s think about that . . .Discovery2

  • During the 1940s, while in his 20s, John Glenn survived a combined 149 combat missions in the South Pacific and Korea—149!
  • In the 1950s, at age 36, Glenn flew the first supersonic flight across America— California to New York—in 3 hours and a few minutes.
  • In the 1960s, at age 41, John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the earth. The first.
  • In the 1970s, at age 53 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving 24 years.

That’s more than enough for one lifetime, right! Maybe not . . .

  • Because in the 1990s, at age 77, John Glenn became the oldest astronaut when he rocketed into space aboard the shuttle Discovery—77!

At an age when most of us are re-checking Social Security benefits, John Glenn’s mission was not complete. He did not quit. As Ron Hutchcraft observed, we could use an army of “spiritual” John Glenn’s—that is, experienced men and women who don’t measure their lives in years, but in the fulfillment of their mission. People with no quit!

One of my heroes is Caleb!

In Joshua 14, Scripture reminds us that at the ripe old age of 40, Caleb was sent by Moses as one of 12 spies to scout out the Promised Land. Only Caleb and Joshua came back believing God could lead them to victory over giants in walled cities. As we recall, because of their unbelief, Israel wandered in the wilderness for over 40 years—until all the unbelievers died off!

More than 40 years later, Caleb, now 85, was not checking out Medicare benefits. Instead, and I’m paraphrasing here, Caleb tells Joshua, “So, here I am at 85, one of only two octogenarians left in Israel. But, with the Lord’s help, I’m still ready to lead the attack to drive out the giants and take the walled cities, so we can finally claim the Promised Land.”  Go, old Caleb!

So, my message today is simple. Don’t stop now! Don’t give up the fight. Never give up on your mission. We need all the believing 85-year-old Caleb’s we can recruit.

What is retirement all about? 

Quitting was institutionalized by FDR. The first social security payments were issued in January 1940. I suppose that was the birth of the modern day notion of retiring at age 60 or 65. In fact, Fortune, Forbes, and Money magazines will tell you that if you’re really clever you’ll find a way to retire at 50 or even 40.

That wasn’t what I saw in my parents: My dad didn’t step down from his professorship at a large university until he was forced to by law at age 75. So he signed on as a construction supervisor for Habitat for Humanity, continuing well into his 80s.

At age 65 my mom turned her home into the emergency childcare shelter for Denton County, Texas, and over a ten-year period took in more than 200 children. She stopped only when physically disabled, and then only sadly.

At age 65 I launched a new business—smack in the teeth of Amazon’s predatory takeover of the book industry, effectively closing 1,000 or more physical bookstores. Why would I do something suicidal like start again at 65? Simple: I’m on a mission to help people experience the heart of God.

I love what Thomas Edison said,

Our greatest weakness is giving up.

The most certain way to succeed is to try one more time.

And that after Edison’s team reportedly failed more than 1,000 times at inventing the incandescent light. If we stay the course, the 60-somethings among us will have at least another 20 years, and the 30-somethings will have 50 years to finish well.

It was the old apostle Paul, a near-homeless man with no 401K, who said in Acts 20:

I know it won’t be any picnic, . . .

but that matters little. What matters

most to me is to finish what God started:

the job the Master Jesus gave me. . . .

(THE MESSAGE)

And as saint Babe Ruth said, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

 


Still Captivated
After All These Years

Periodically, though not nearly often enough, I’m seized by an awareness that I’m still getting to do what I love to do! Publish books. I have found myself immersed in a career so deeply satisfying I can’t imagine it coming to an end. Of late I’ve reflected with amazement on the odd track that brought me to be involved with books.

My first years were spent on a remote farm in north Texas in a house with outdoor plumbing. At five-years of age I had already begun to see a bigger world while sitting on my grandfather’s lap watching CBS News each evening on a little round-faced 1950s TV.  Loved the news!

By day I fed a Jersey, two pigs, and small flocks of chickens and sheep. Weeded and harvested a one-acre garden with my grandmother, taken by how seeds explode. Met Dwight Eisenhower – well, he patted me on the head – at a whistle stop during a campaign, and by age six I already was captivated by a stimulating world.

Spent nearly every day of my eleventh year watching typographers set and pour hot-type, and then observing the presses roll out the city paper at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. It was clear to me that words captivated. Lounged on a public library floor during junior high reading the Tale of Two Cities and Robinson Crusoe. Later in life often sat on the floor of our Barnes & Noble sampling books with my teenage daughter, except that her tastes ran more to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

Restocked a bookstore in high school, while making ridiculously poor grades in English. Years later an old English teacher of mine was stunned to see me as a book publisher and, truthfully, I am more surprised than she was. Sold books and Bibles door-to-door two summers in Ohio and Alabama during college years, and also sold books direct to consumer via telemarketing, never realizing any future irony.

Through it all, and I’m convinced it must be a God-thing, I have come to publish a list of ‘amazing authors and their remarkable ideas’ – that’s how I’ve come to describe the business of books. I’ve seen first hand how words can transform lives. It’s been an honor to work with Max Lucado, Beth Moore, Billy Graham, Charles Swindoll, Jerry Jenkins, Charles Colson, Nolan Ryan, Emerson Eggerichs, and so many more.

Acknowledging these gifted authors, including Sarah Young and her remarkable Jesus Calling, I’ve never been more honored than to work with David Jeremiah on his upcoming Jeremiah Study Bible, which Worthy Publishing expects to release, God willing, before Christmas 2013.

My current course was well predicted by a high-profile business consultant who once told me, “Those whose careers are invested in intellectual property never choose to retire.”  I’m still captivated after all these years!

What work most captivates you?


Getting Back to Mission

I just read a blog by a self-styled book industry expert, who, for a handful of irrational reasons, all but predicts the demise of a major book retailer. One doesn’t have to be terribly visionary to see menacing clouds churning above the book world. But, rather than responding to such hyperbolic predictions, it occurs to me I ought to stop and reconsider why I was drawn to this business from the start.

  1. I love books! Not surprisingly, I love reading insightful, provocative ideas, marvelously expressed, that surge from words on a page. That’s very cool. I’m re-reading David McCullough’s The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris, and it rings with hope about how creative thought can renew a broken world. So, one reason I came to publishing was to affirm the expression of creative, regenerative ideas.
  2. Good news is my call! For those of us who first invested ourselves in the Christian genre of publishing, it was about mission. Worthy’s mission is to help people experience the heart of God. We must not let the tumultuous book trends of the 21st century distract us from our mission to bring light to a world permeated by darkness. Any number of Worthy’s recent books remind me of that mission, not the least of which are Margaret Feinberg’s Wonderstruck, Mary Lou Quinlan’s The God Box, and Nichole Nordeman’s  Love Story.
  3. Wall Street doesn’t get it! The book industry has been overrun by holding companies and entertainment corporations, causing it to lose much of its creative heart. Not every business is best exercised as part of a multi-national enterprise, such as a mature, boutique-arts industry like books—the entire trade book business of $16 billion is only one third the size of the $42 billion Walt Disney Company. It’s hard to see what Wall Street has brought to the table, and I’m not altogether sure why the Street sees books as an opportunity. Do financial gurus think book earnings will experience double-digit growth over the next five years?
  4. Craft can be lost in a corporate environment! There was a time not long ago that publishing was driven by literary families who were impassioned by the artistic, enriching expressions found in books. Beginning with Gutenberg, think about all the family names that have defined what we still call publishing houses: Nelson, Zondervan, Harper, Collins, Putnam, Pearson, Warner, Doubleday, Simon, Schuster, Wiley, Dutton, Holt, et al. Today few families retain their heritages, resulting in Big 6 publishers being a conglomeration of hundreds of acquired imprints. The primary focus has changed from mission to ROI. Not good news.

Worthy’s mission is our message . . . helping people experience the heart of God. We are blessed to be funded by individuals who believe in our craft and support our mission. Worthy must be a great steward of its resources, yet we must not lose site of our mission.

Question:  From a literary and mission point of view, how is the business of books in a better place today than it was in years past?


Encouraging News about Books

Considering the quakes rumbling through the book industry, even slightly encouraging news lifts the heart. Because I believe so fundamentally in the vitality of book content and the future of reading, I’m not alarmed that the reading of books is threatened. But what’s nearly impossible to predict is the course book reading will take over the next few years.

That said, of late I’ve noted a number of small indicators that may affirm the future of the book industry.

  1. During this holiday season, TV ads for a half dozen brands of digital devices are noting how attractive their device is for book reading, whether in low light, bright light, in bed, or on the beach. Those TV spots are defacto consumer ads proclaiming the joys of book reading. Yay!
  2. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a Publishers Weekly story saying Barnes & Noble bookstore profits were up and that sales increased 1.8% for the quarter, excluding Nook hardware (in transition to a partnership with Microsoft). There’s little the book industry needs more than a healthy Barnes & Noble. Go, B&N!
  3. E-books accounted for 22% of book sales in the second quarter, up 14% over the previous year, according to Bowker Market Research. It appears quick adopters have settled in with their reader of choice, but notice that physical books are still 78% of the total unit sales. We need new technology, yet everyone involved—authors, publishers, retailers—need an element of stability in our shared industry. Christmas cheer all around!
  4. AAP reports trade book sales for August 2012 were up 10.4% over 2011, whereas ebooks are now growing at a far slower rate. Great news!
  5. Family Christian Stores just announced a new investor group that is committed to its mission. Having spent time in recent days with one of those investors, I’m encouraged again about moves toward more stability in book retailing. Prayers for Family!

Change is inevitable. But smart change will better protect the flow of great content to consumers in a way that works for author, publishers and retailers. I’m praying that the flashes of sanity I’m seeing aren’t illusions, but are the makings of a trend toward a more stable, healthy book industry.


Celebrating the Life of Calvin Miller

Guest Blog By Kris Bearss, Executive Editor/Worthy Publishing

Regardless of the changes that occur in the months ahead, the book publishing industry will always be centered around words. We are a community that celebrates, believes in, and stands by the power of both the word and The Word. So when a gracious wordsmith like Calvin Miller leaves this world for “the better realm,” as he called it, we are all a little lesser for it.

This past weekend, we lost Calvin—one of Christian publishing’s true craftsmen—to complications from heart surgery, and now our literary world will be a touch less poignant than it was before, like a well-crafted sentence that is missing its adjective.

On a personal level, though I only knew Calvin for the final 17 months of his life, he made a distinct impression on me and the rest of the Worthy team. We’d known of his industry accomplishments—which were many; been shaped for years by his literary prowess and spiritual insight—which was extensive; but what we didn’t know until we had the chance to work with him was how fully engaged he was in LIFE! His final months were not punctuated with an uncertain question mark or a run-of-the-mill period. Rather, he concluded his final earthbound chapter as I suspect he lived his every day: with an exclamation point.

Curious, excited, and very much alive, Calvin enthusiastically approached his writing, his relationships, his faith with a gusto that I often wish I had—and with a humility that I hope to emulate. He was caring, kindhearted, sweetly funny, genuinely interested in others . . . and a man of God who was minus all the pretension of someone who sold more books in his career than almost any Christian author living today.

I can’t say how God rewards His faithful scribes in heaven. Perhaps with a pen that never runs dry, a thesaurus with perfectly appointed words, and a heart that is ever full of inspiration. But this I do know: Calvin Miller shepherded the words that heaven supplied as no other ever will, searching for those scurrilous creatures on the high plains until they were found, rescuing them from the desert of superficiality, freeing them from the valley of apathy, and then herding them onto the lush pastures of finished pages bearing his name. Pages that all pointed to the Name that is above all names. And in the process, he led everyone who read him to the refreshing waters of belief, reassurance, and a Grace not of this earth.

Having previously been hospitalized for heart trouble, he lived with the awareness that eternity is only a step away. And in his final book, aptly called Letters to Heaven (which Worthy had the honor of publishing), he sought to take care of things the only way he knew how: Through the written word. Through letters that might complete the unfinished business of this life. Through personal missives that encouraged readers to write their own thank yous and wonder ifs.

Meanwhile, he held out for us all the hope that awaits.

For Calvin, on Sunday, August 19, 2012, his hope was realized. A sweet reality no longer the stuff of mere dreams. A lifelong confidence undeniably fulfilled.

Those of us who wrangle words for a living will never be able to replicate his ability to “make verbs dance and nouns sing,” as Max Lucado described his gift. But the one thing we can do is, I believe, the one thing he would ask us to do—whether we sell words or pitch them, design words or write them, edit words or print them. I think Calvin would say: “Make sure you end your story with an exclamation point.”

He sure did. Personally and professionally.

On the last page of Letters to Heaven, Calvin told of having heard the pale horse of death stomping his steel hooves, restless in his stable. “I am a shy equestrian,” he wrote, “yet I am not afraid. I have waited all my life for this ride. . . . This is my coronation day!”

Here’s to you, Calvin. We miss you already, dear friend. But we celebrate your life too, realizing that, as C. S. Lewis said in The Last Battle, “Now at last [you are] beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read.”


Celebrating Year One, and Counting…

On this first day of August 2012, Worthy joyfully celebrates its first full year in commerce.  We are thankful to God for the team He has assembled, the opportunities He has provided, and above all, the grace He has poured out on us.  And that’s not to mention our supportive board that has believed in us from the get-go, providing cherished counsel and resources.  Thank you!

Creative Talent Onboard.  Looking back over this first year, I am humbled by the confidence authors have expressed in Worthy.  It’s unimaginable the talent that has come our way.  Never would I have believed a couple of years ago, when we first conceived the idea of launching Worthy Publishing, that we would be honored to have signed such a list in only one year. A short list of bestsellers that have come our way includes…

Stephen Arterburn

Tim Clinton

Franklin Graham

John Hagee

Hank Hanegraaff

Neta & David Jackson

Jerry Jenkins

David Jeremiah

Stephen Mansfield

Nichole Nordeman

Les & Leslie Parrott

Chuck Swindoll

Michael Vick

 Vision for Authors!  In a day of mega-sized New York-based christian publishers with enormous book lists, it’s easy for authors to get lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. They often complain of getting little editorial input and even less marketing attention.  Worthy’s unique vision is to be a nimble, author-focused shop that is responsive to its authors and the marketplace.

                                     

Giant Media Exposure for Worthy.  Even as a new publisher, Worthy already has managed to get front-page, feature stories in USA Today, as well as appearances on NBC, Fox, CNN, ESPN and others, about two upcoming books:  BeBe Winans memoir of his 28-year friendship with Whitney Houston, The Whitney I Knew (July 31); and NFL star Michael Vick’s autobiography, Finally Free (September 4).  Stephen Mansfield’s just- released book, The Mormonizing of America, has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN’s Piers Morgan, Fox News, The Sean Hannity Show and MSNBC Now.

This first year has been quite a ride – and from my vantage point 2013 doesn’t look any less exciting!  Holding on to my chair.


My Friend Chuck Colson

“First, we must be diligent in the matter of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.” ~Charles Colson

Many things have been said about Charles Colson. Watergate villain. Nixon’s loyal “fixer.” Maybe the most famous convert to Christianity in this century. For certain, Chuck was one of the brightest minds I’ve ever known.

I met Chuck in the early ‘90s when I signed him to write for the publishing company I worked for. His first book with us, The Body, was the first-ever ECPA Book of the Year. Over the years we collaborated on several other titles, including his only novel. Coming full circle, this past year Worthy Publishing had the honor of publishing his last book, The Sky Is Not Falling.

As I think about Chuck, I remember an occasion years ago that struck me. After a video shoot in Fort Worth for a curriculum project, he spontaneously volunteered to field random questions from the studio audience of about 150 people. The questions were wildly diverse—politics, theology, church history, even scientific issues. Chuck responded effortlessly with direct quotes from classic books and historical dates and facts, in each case adding some form of personal application. I was speechless.

The ease with which he accessed a lifetime of learning and then so freely gave to this group of people—late into the evening—was clearly something he enjoyed. In an article in 2005, Colson wrote of the importance of Christian classical learning as a tool to engage culture. In 2009, he established the Colson Center, which he described as the “LexisNexis of resources on the Christian worldview.” He exhorted Christians to begin each day “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

It was his love of knowledge and how it can transform culture that, for me, defined my friend Chuck Colson.

As I pray for Chuck’s family and celebrate the fact that he is now with Jesus, I find comfort in knowing his impact on this world has been far greater than he ever imagined. The Colson Center, Prison Fellowship, the many books he wrote, and the thousands of organizations and leaders he advised, counseled, and encouraged, will spread his love of Christ and love of knowledge for years to come.


Why The Sky Is Not Falling On Print Part II

E-book sales may be growing, but ink-on-paper reading has a healthy future

Last week I promised to post my thoughts on the reasons Christian books will remain relevant for the long haul.

First, Printed Books Are Here to Stay

People wonder if the book business is in trouble, fearing technology will undermine reading and/or replace physical books. Let’s think about that: When parchment scrolls gave way to Guttenberg’s bound books in the 1450s there was a relative boom in reading. When higher-speed printing presses made books affordable for more than just the privileged few, there was an even greater explosion of reading with common men. Now with the digital age upon us, I’m convinced reading and books will proliferate more dramatically than ever. Change isn’t always a bad thing.

I don’t believe eBooks will replace physical books, certainly in the short term, and quite possibly not in the long run. There is emerging evidence that the exponential growth of eBooks has slowed. The quick adopters are on board and the growth of eBooks has slowed. In fact, downloads actually declined briefly last fall. My sense is that some who converted to eDevices have already modulated use and reverted to reading some conventional books, particularly in non-fiction. Certainly there will be a major role for eBooks, but there will continue to be a need for print and ink.

It occurred to me recently, as I reflected on the future of physical books, if someone hands you a music CD, what do you do with it? You must have a player of some kind, maybe in your car, to experience the music, so why not download an MP3 file to your phone or IPod? But if you are given a book, you can directly experience that book with no need for any aiding device, except maybe your reading glasses. Books are amazing inventions in themselves.

So, the core issue we are facing in my view is not the death of physical books or reading, but answering the challenge to harness this publishing revolution. It will be tough for retailers and publishers alike. Along with so many ways to access book content, paired with the consumer’s need for instant gratification, a reading boom is on. I don’t remember a day when there has been more casual conversation among friends, family and workmates about what everyone is reading.

 

Secondly, Books Are A Symbol of Achievement

More than once I’ve heard people say something like, “Show me a person’s library and I’ll know his head and heart.” Recently I read Eric Metaxas’s remarkable bestseller, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson). That book is on the shelf in my office and when I happen to see it, I smile. Several guests have eagerly asked about it when they notice it sitting there. Physical books are monuments to intellectual and spiritual growth, not to mention achievement. It’s just not the same to shelve a file on a digital reading device. People decorate their homes with books they’ve read; cities and universities continue to build libraries for the enrichment they bring to communities. Books are a unique phenomenon.

 

Third, People Are Hungry for Books

A growing world population needs our message more than ever before. Books, Bibles, and other materials are life-giving for cultures that are sliding towards greater secular relativism. We don’t need to be sociologists to see that people turn to the Bible in adversity and uncertainty. The current economic crises and geopolitical issues suggest to me that, if we provide the right content, consumers will reach out for Christian books, not unlike what we experienced in the wake of 9/11.

The most compelling reason why I believe books are with us for the long-term lies in the very nature of our faith. Truth is eternal. I ran across some words by Billy Graham, reminding me that Christian books aren’t about an industry, but about man’s hunger for God:
“If you read the Bible (or any other literature from the ancient world), you’ll realize that the people who lived then had the same fears and hopes and shortcomings we have today — because human nature hasn’t changed. But neither has God changed. He is the same today as he was thousands of years ago — and thousands of years from now he’ll still be the same. But something else hasn’t changed — and that is our need of God. We need his forgiveness, and we need his strength to live the way we should.” **

We have been called to a great work – publishing and distributing great Christian books. Never have publishers had greater need for retail partners as we do today!

**© 2011 Tribune Media Services 9/26


Why The Sky Is Not Falling On Print Part I

E-book sales may be growing, but ink-on-paper reading has a healthy future

With the changes book publishing faces, especially in light of what’s happened to the music industry, I am frequently asked, “Are physical books a thing of the past?” I am always quick to say that books are more current than ever. Still, publishers, retailers and consumers are unnerved about the future of books and bookstores.

As background for my optimistic outlook, we chose to launch Worthy, likely the newest publisher, right in the middle of one of the greatest economic and political crises of our lifetimes. That said, my experience in Christian publishing over the last twenty years gives me reason to believe the sky is not falling on the book industry and that opportunities are still alive.

Books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a seventh grader I remember sitting in the aisles of a nearby college library during the summer break reading everything you could imagine. I passed that love of books along to my children, including “date days” with my daughter. She and I would often browse in a bookstore together—leisurely noting particular titles or passages for books we found interesting, using those moments as a basis for discussions we both remember years later.

As a young publisher, I was brought to Word Publishing in the late 1980s during some tough days. Then, in the mid-90s, Word was acquired by Thomas Nelson, which brought unsettling changes including a move for many of our staff from Dallas to Nashville. Yet from early on we were honored to sign and publish many best-selling authors, including Billy Graham, Max Lucado, Charles Swindoll, Barbara Johnson, John Maxwell, Frank Peretti, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Frank Peretti, and so many others. Though turbulent at times, God still worked amazingly.

Leaving Nelson, we launched Integrity Publishers, ironically moving into our first office on 9/11/2001 as reports of terrorist firestorms rang out. Despite the ensuing market crash, we experienced great receptivity for Christian books and found wider distribution through new channels. God continued to work through books more mightily than ever.

Now, as Worthy Publishing enters its first full year of commerce in 2012, I see parallels with the past. Economic crisis, unpredictable retail patterns, and shifts in sales volume from traditional channels to new technology, keep us wide-eyed. When will I ever learn that each decade will undoubtedly bring its own new set of changes – and that in the long-run God will use change to expand the reach of the Gospel? I’m convinced that more people are reading books today than ever in history, though maybe in different ways than before.

I believe, contrary to some, that Christian books will remain relevant for the long haul and next week I will share with you three reasons why.