On Christian Ministry, and Being Prolific
When I look back on my life I quite often feel like the title of Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography: Chronicles of Wasted Time. I think, “Wow, I could have done so much more. I should have been more dedicated and committed.” And this in spite of the impression some people have of me.
Often folks will tell me, “Bill, I’m amazed at how much stuff you get done! Do you ever sleep?” I usually jokingly reply, “Sleep? What is sleep?” And many people will mention how prolific I am – as an author of course. Well, compared to your average Joe on the street, perhaps I am. I do have 3628 articles on my website. If each one averages around 1300 words, that is over 4,715,000 words!
I have penned 6 or 7 books as well, with more on the way. But when I compare myself with really prolific authors, I feel like small change big time. And of course it all depends on just what you are writing. The romance author Barbara Cartland cranked out some 723 novels before she died at age 99, and had another 160 unpublished manuscripts lying around! In one year alone she wrote 23 novels. Now that’s a lotta books!
Enid Blyton, the English children’s book author, wrote more than 800 books. But writing a romance novel or a children’s book is not quite the same as writing a deep work of theology, or some other work of non-fiction requiring heaps of research, and often hundreds if not thousands of footnotes.
So here I am primarily referring to non-fiction, and often of the theological variety. And I will confine myself to mainly Christian authors. Andrew Murray penned around 240 books, mostly Christian devotional works. But let me again narrow things down to those writing more academic or serious theological works.
Think about Karl Barth for example. His 14-volume Church Dogmatics alone would amount to some 6 million words! And take some other authors as an example. I own 40 books by Christian philosopher and apologist Norman Geisler, and he would perhaps have twice that many out.
I have 38 of theologian and New Testament scholar D. A. Carson’s books, and he has penned far more than that. And of course N. T. Wright is certainly a leader in the field here. The 67-year-old – also a NT scholar and theologian – has penned scores of books.
And this includes not just his 18-volume popular level commentary series on all the books of the New Testament, but his massive and hugely important volumes like his 800-page The Resurrection of the Son of God or his 1650-page, 2-volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
And he is still cranking them out at breakneck speed. The standing joke about the prolific and fast-paced Wright is this: A student calls his office and his secretary says he is busy writing a book. The student says, “That’s OK, I’ll hold.”
Think of another NT scholar, Craig Keener. I have a dozen of his books, including his massive 4-volume commentary on Acts which totals over 4,500 pages. And I just read something by the Christian writer and pro-lifer Randy Alcorn, mentioning he had written 50 books. Carl F. H. Henry also wrote prolifically, with his magisterial 6-volume work, God, Revelation and Authority still a top notch resource.
On and on it goes. There certainly are a lot of prolific authors out there. And of course the really amazing thing is that most of these authors are/were also busy teaching, speaking, preaching, being spouses and parents, and doing so many other things. I mention all this because if you think I am prolific, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Consider also my friend Michael Brown in the US. He is another amazingly productive worker and prolific author. Some of his books are more popular level calls for revival and discipleship, but many of his volumes are serious theological works, including several fine Old Testament commentaries, as well as his very important five-volume work, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (amounting to almost 1600 pages). All that on top of a busy international speaking and teaching ministry. And he is a few years younger than me as well!
These folks have obviously not been wasting their time. I once asked Michael Brown how he cranks out so much quality material, and he said “you have to be disciplined”. You can say that again. I don’t think I have been very disciplined, all things considered.
Indeed, I often think I have wasted so many years. Of course my first 18 years on this planet were spent as a non-believer. But I feel I have squandered so much of my time since becoming a disciple of Christ as well. I have wasted too much time, been far too lax, been way too undisciplined, and went after too many trivial pursuits.
I should have a dozen books out by now, or more. Of course one does not measure spirituality, or devotion to Christ, or commitment to the Kingdom, in terms of how many books one has written. But one can measure these things by how well or how poorly one uses the gifts and talents God has given to us.
He has blessed me with the ability to read, research, and write. As I tell people half in jest, “I can’t fix your car or tend your garden, but if you want a 1000-word article in 20 minutes, that I can do!” And this is really the point of this somewhat rambling and odd article: What are we doing with what God blessed us with?
If God gave you a great singing voice, are you using it for the Kingdom? If God blessed you with the ability to create wealth, how are you using it? Just to have a lavish, selfish lifestyle, or to finance the work of the Kingdom? If you are talented as an artist, a doctor, a teacher, or a leader, how are you using those gifts? How are you utilising the talents God has given you?
We all need to ask ourselves such questions. Indeed, one day we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account. Will we be able to stand confidently in that day, knowing we did all we could for Christ and the Kingdom? Or will we hang our heads in shame because of all our wasted opportunities, our slackness, and our fruitlessness.
When I get to glory I want to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Is that the desire of your heart? Life is short, and soon enough we will run out of time to work for his glory. But now we all have a job to do. As the old poem by C. T. Studd said, “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
9 Replies to “On Christian Ministry, and Being Prolific”
I’m amazed not only by how prolific you are Bill, but also as to the quality and depth of your articles. This applies to the other Christian writers you mentioned. To me, it’s clear evidence of the Holy Spirit at work. God bless.
If you feel like that Bill I’m way down the ladder when comes to bearing fruit. The first years were good with Bible school, children’s ministry then adult ministry. Then I got into a pressure cooker. My own business and for 25 years I did zilch for the kingdom except raise three children. Now I find myself in Melbourne most Saturdays witnessing for Christ with a great team of Christians lead by Dr. Bernie Power and I have never felt so fulfilled. I know God has led me to this and had He fore- warned me I can assure you I would have done a Jonah. I like the idea of making up for lost time and I can see God’s hand in it. Keep doing what you are doing Bill until God whispers in your ear because Christians and those yet to come into the kingdom are being blessed.
Many thanks indeed Nuhu.
And many thanks as well Keith.
Keith Lewis–if you were raising your children to love and honor Christ, then that was not wasted time.
Don’t we all wonder what we could have done. You may find your efforts bringing up your kids more important than all your writing. From teenage years my aim was to please the Lord. Yet now I cannot see much done. Keith you may find on the last day it is your time with your kids what gets the well done.
It bothers me that I’ve never led anyone to Christ, but I may have planted some seeds along the way.
As you know I’ve studied theology. It also bothers me that I may have wasted my education as well. Does my life count for anything in God’s eyes?
Thankfully Ross all of our lives count for heaps, based not on what we do for God, but because he loves us so greatly. Sure, in appreciation for that, we seek to live godly lives which count and make a difference, but that not to earn his favour, but to recognize and show our thankfulness for it.
Pretty amazing Bill. Quite an accomplishment, you and all these others.
When I eventually approach my final mortal moments I suspect my foremost thought will be on how much (or little) I’ve come to know Him and His way.
The young spend their time in “doing”, in running things down, butting their heads, finding their way. The old and wise spend their time simply “being” what the Lord made them to be, Children of God. And the Lord brings things their way and works through them to accomplish His will.
So, I think I’m still young.