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.

For instance:

-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?

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.


  1. Thank you for this thought-provoking post! You brought up a lot of important things to ponder, and as I read it, I was mentally evaluating. I desire to be a follower of Christ who "understands the times" as the Scripture says, and I was struck by the fact that this understanding takes Providential leading and time and work to achieve. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this and bringing this to light!

    1. Thank-YOU for inspiring it!

      I is very good to know the times, and there may be different ways that each person is called to be involved--that way, if each Christian is helping the others understand the times according to their areas of expertise, then we all are able to keep balanced and informed in a necessary way.

  2. This is one of your best posts I've read. I get annoyed when people say things like "I don't keep up with popular stuff" -- not that they have to follow everything carefully, but I think Christians especially have to be at least aware of what's going on in the world so they can actively engage it and not live in a bubble.

    What you said about fiction not being a mindless thing is so true too. It's a huge, huge problem when people, especially Christians, live with that assumption. Reminds me of a quote by somebody, can't remember who, but it went something like "Whoever controls the media controls the minds of the people."

    1. That's a good quote--and I think it's true. After all, what people spend the most time with is what they'll be most influenced by. If we're trying to influence the culture we need to know what's competing with our messages.

  3. Wow, this was a fascinating article! It's something I think not a lot of people consider, but it's so important. Fiction (whether in book, movie or musical form) is one of the most powerful ways to influence and it should not be ignored or treated lightly for sure.
    Thanks for a good thought-provoking post!

    1. Fiction is so powerful, and I crave to see it treated with dignity and value among Christian leaders--but I also understand that we fiction writers have to give them proof that there are things worthy of valuing. So that is why we write! Crowning Heaven will be one of those, for sure. :)

  4. EXCELLENT stuff, Schuyler.

    (My main concern with HAMILTON is how it makes a hero out of a man with some VERY unbiblical, statist policies. He was bad news...)

    1. Thank-you very much. :bow:

      I don't know anything about Hamilton, but that is very, very interesting! I'll have to dig into him more.

  5. I love this article and I agree with it emphatically. We humans are quick to find logical defenses for whatever has captured our hearts, and slow to realize how easily or how deeply we are influenced. I think fiction, in whatever form, has a greater impact than most of us suspect!

    1. We are. It's so easy to sound smart and informed about what we love, and make excuses for it. Good words, Philologist! I love that reminder.

  6. Andrew of the House of LaceyJanuary 7, 2017 at 7:48 PM

    Sage council. Thanks for an excellent post, L. B.! I strongly agree that media, particularly in our modern era, plays an astronomical part in leading the minds of men and women. Young folks particularly.
    Have you ever heard of a fellow by the name of Scot Ritsema? He has some very interesting things to say on this subject. Try goggling "Media on the Brain," and have a nose.

    1. It sure does! Thanks for the Scot Ritsema recommendation, I will check it out!

  7. Well said! I am so grateful for young, thoughtful, writers like you with a passion for communicating Truth with excellence. Looking forward to reading more from you!

    1. Thank-you for your encouragement, Mrs. Forster! I'm honored you stopped by the blog! :)

  8. Wow. This is SO good. I totally agree about fiction not being mindless - it's going to influence you one way or the other, and while I don't have a problem with (thoughtfully) reading books I disagree with, it's also important to be careful what you're allowing to influence you. Fiction has such a profound influence on our culture. I would love to see church leaders put some of these ideas into practice!
    ("Teenage girls on Twitter are your friend." So, so true. XD)
    Btw, I'm currently in the middle of the Harry Potter series. I'd love to email or chat you about it sometime (maybe when I finish), and hear your thoughts!

    1. I agree thoughtfulness is the key to all reading! It helps keep us on track and accountable--if we have our inner voice in line with God's Word then that's a good safeguard. :)

      I'd love to hear what you think when you're done with HP. It's a series I've chosen not to get into, but I'd be glad to discuss what you think of it when you're done. :)


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