Friday, January 6, 2017
Why Ministry Leaders Need to Keep in Touch With the Fiction Market
My mom shared an article about Jen Hatmaker a few weeks ago, a Christian womens' author who recently came out in a pro-homosexual comment. Or so I understand. In the article, it was recommended that pastors keep in touch with women's authors who are influencing a large portion of their congregation, not just theology written by men.
After all, the lives of families in their church would be affected by women's books.
It made me think a little further--about how ministry leaders (of which I am one, in a small way) should also keep in touch with the fiction side of things--because that's preaching messages loud and strong to another large portion of their audience. And in some ways, it's the easiest genre to slip in and preach mindsets without people realizing it.
-Did you know that right now, Harry Potter seems to be finding a resurgence among homeschool and conservative evangelicals? Agree or disagree, do you know why it's happening? What would that mean to you as a ministry leader?
-Do you know anything about Hamiliton, the musical that's taken the world by storm since early 2016?
-Are you familiar with the names Beverly Lewis, Karen Kingsbury, George R.R. Martin, or Veronica Roth?
-Have you ever picked up a Hallmark film, or known what's on the market?
-Are you familiar with Marvel movies? Have you watched the new Cinderella? Does the name Fantastic Beasts ring a bell with you?
What's your girl's group picking up in Sherlock? How about Downton Abbey? Rogue One? Game of Thrones?
-Did you know that steampunk, sci-fi, and fantasy are top genres in YA circles? (Think Red Rising and Cress.)
I'm not bashing any names on that list. I like some of the things on there, and some of them I would have strong cautions watching anyone consume. But my question is, are you familiar with them? Have you heard of them?
And if so, why not?
This is the mental food that's entering the wellspring of life of the next generation. And from that life, good or bad, they will pour into the lives of others.
Most Christian fiction is purchased by women in the retired age bracket. Of that fiction, romance is the highest seller. These are the "older women" who are mentoring the "younger women" in your group. What are they being fed with that they are passing on? Are you happy with these romance books? Are they matching the picture of covenant marriage and love that you are trying to teach your audience? If not, which warring picture is going to win?
Disinterest in, contempt for, or mindless consumption of fiction does a disservice to God's people. Spiritual mentors and teachers need to know how fiction is being used in today's culture to preach authority, God's worship, self-worship, morality, and love. Fiction does that loud and clear in the guise of characters, actors, and situations. It is far from neutral.
As a fiction lover, I'd love to offer some recommendations for exploring this huge aspect of our culture. You don't have to be versed in culture to preach the Word of God, and I wouldn't want to see ministry leaders distracted and obsessed with being culturally relevant. But it is worthwhile to know the influences in your group's life that are either reinforcing or undermining your message. It's also worthwhile to be informed about the battle for the mind that is being fought in the fiction camp.
First of all, as a ministry leader, you'll find people trust and listen easier if you come from the perspective that fiction has value. They'll know you have their best interests at heart, and that you want to see them glorify God through the stories that speak to them. This will go a long way towards breaking down the prejudice divide that exists between both camps.
Second, it also helps to know that you can't critique fiction from a nonfiction perspective. It's like a different language. Fiction has its own rules, and own ways of teaching that in some cases is purposely and entirely opposite of nonfiction. Where nonfiction teaches through facts, bullet lists, and clear teaching, fiction teaches through imagery, allegory, and sometimes characters who make opposite choices.
For example, just because a character is evil doesn't mean the audience thinks they're worthy of imitation. It wouldn't be necessary to warn them against that character's behavior unless it's a main character your audience loves that they should not be loving. It's better instead to look overall at the worldview of the authors, stories, and movies they are enjoying, cautioning or reinforcing as you see need.
1. Learn the fiction language.
In the case of your fiction loving part of the audience, they'll know if you know what you're talking about. It's worthwhile learning how fiction works. A couple of helpful ways to do that are to read fiction blogs and to talk to strong Christians you know who love fiction. They can educate you really well in how to thoughtfully critique literature. Then exhort your audience to think through what they read, loving what God loves and hating what he hates. They need that exhortation.
2. Find fiction-savvy people who can keep you updated on trends.
Teenage girls on Twitter are your friend. You don't have to talk to them about fiction, just follow them and listen as they talk about it. Every movie and book trend will show up in your stream. You'll pick up a lot about what they're learning, and can judge from there how it's affecting them, and if that effect is good. A couple other worthwhile ways to stay connected are to run over the bestseller list in the Christian fiction category on occasion and find out what's hot and why. You could also get a Goodreads account and friend people to see what they're reading and what they want to read. Or you could ask a good friend to email you fiction updates periodically and give you a brief run-down of what's going on.
3. Get a Spotify account to test out music trends.
You betcha I looked up Hamilton after everyone was talking about it. I wanted to know what was going on. After the third swear word in the first song, I decided it wasn't for me, except for Burn (no swearing), which I used as fodder for an emotionally intense scene in my book (it served its purpose, and I don't listen to it on a regular basis.) Spotify is invaluable for the musicals, music groups, and songs people are loving. Again, you don't have to know all of them. But if everyone is talking about something, it may be worthwhile to look it up and respond accordingly.
Fiction has too often been considered mindless entertainment for people after they come home from work. I'm passionate about thinking through literature in a dominion-minded way. And I would love to see that thinking reinforced in the church as we take captive everything to the glory of God. While ministry leaders have to be careful to make God's Word their primary focus, I believe it is also vital and fruitful to stay in touch with the fiction culture so that ministry leaders can guide their group in thinking through this key subject in a God-glorifying way.