Preaching Behind Closed Doors

Back in my writing days, I attended a writers’ workshop where I sat in on a presentation by a high-profile literary agent.

He was emphasizing the importance of the author and agent being in partnership, working together as a team. It was crucial, he said, that you trust the agent to represent all of your work, not just a particular manuscript.

As an author who wrote both for the secular world and for religious publishers, I asked for clarification: “You are saying that you would like to be my representative in the religious market as well as in general trade. Is that right?”

My image of this agent is that of a cat touching a hot stove burner. This calm, authoritarian presenter in flew into reverse. “Religious?!! No, no, no, I don’t have anything to do with religious publishing!” Hmmm, right after saying that he would expect to represent ALL my work, without exception, he made it clear he wanted nothing to do with a religious manuscript.

That same year, I was invited to speak at a Christian Writer’s Conference in California. My topic was “A Christian Writing for the Secular Market.” When I was introduced to begin my talk, I was a little unnerved by the reception I received. It wasn’t just lukewarm; it was cold, almost hostile.

I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until we took a break halfway through my presentation. One of the audience members told me, “When we heard the title of your presentation, a lot of us were concerned. We couldn’t image why a Christian would ever want to write for a secular publisher.”

The two incidents, back-to-back, made a huge impression on me. Is our society so polarized that a literary agent can’t imagine having anything to do with anything religious while a Christian writers’ group can’t imagine having anything to do with the secular world?

I’m grieved today by the growing numbers of young adults who view the Christian church as a group that isn’t just lukewarm, it’s hostile. They view Christians as people who judge, condemn and hate, who mask their insecurities by clinging to a cramped, narrow opinions.

Their view is nothing like the church I represent. The fact they believe this about us is indicative of the gulf I ran into in the publishing world. I wish those who view Christians as the enemy would hear what comes from our pulpits. But the fact is, despite various evangelism strategies, they aren’t going to come in and hear. Mostly, we are preaching sermons behind closed doors.  So mostly what the world hears from the Christian sphere are those loud, aggressive voices that reinforce their stereotype.

If my church is to have a voice in the public forum, we need proclamation to reach outside the pulpit and outside our doors. We need to engage the culture, not welcome it (or rail against it) behind closed doors.

We can expand our audience by engaging people in public places — places where we are fellow participants and not the ones in charge. Places where we do not just lecture but listen to others and engage in conversations. Letters to the editor in local newspapers, clergy comment columns, blog sites, social media, community presentations, and public service and social justice work are more broad-based pulpits than the ones in which we confine ourselves.

The secular world is God’s creation. Why not get out there and bring our understanding of God’s grace into it, instead of proclaiming it behind closed doors?