Personal Thoughts on Writing Books that Serve Readers

by Quentin Schultze

Quentin Schultze in the video control room at Calvin College

A Servant’s Heart+ Experience + Skill = Book

That might seem like a strange equation, but great writing is always an act of the heart. A servant’s heart nurtures our desire to serve readers. It directs our writing. It gives us a perspective, sound ideas, concrete illustrations, and a desire to truly serve our readers. A servant’s heart even equips us to discern the call to serve readers instead of ourselves.

But reader-serving writing also demands skill. Skill, in turn, requires experience and practice. Practice alone is not enough. You can practice writing all day long for weeks and fail to make progress if you lack basic skills such as expressing and organizing your ideas, crafting introductions and conclusions, choosing the right words and phrases, and employing the best examples and illustrations. These skills can be learned from those of us who have already discovered them—especially those of us who are called to teach as well as write.

The book I am holding in the photo, High-Tech Worship? Using Presentational Technologies Wisely, was a delight to write partly because I felt called to address the topic of using technologies like PowerPoint in worship, and partly because I already had learned how to write nonfiction books from beginning to end.

Still, the call to write the book came in spite of my disinterest in the topic. Knowing that I teach about technology and communication, a friend encouraged me to write such a book because he was concerned about the overuse of projectors and screens in worship. I didn’t think PowerPoint and the like were much of a problem so I declined to pursue the idea. My own church was using technology very moderately and, I believed, wisely.

Then my wife and I spent a sabbatical in Florida. While there, we attended many churches. We enjoyed learning about different worship styles (the good, the bad, and the cheesy). Along the way, we discovered that projection technologies and software were not always used appropriately; they were becoming distractions from worship. I wondered what, if anything, I should do about the situation. What should I say? With whom should I share my concerns and positive suggestions?

High-Tech Worship?

High-Tech Worship?

I recalled my friend’s urging to write a book on the topic. I wondered if his encouragement and my Florida experiences were evidence of a calling. Ouch! I had plenty of other ideas for books. Yet before I knew it, this subject rose to the top of my mental list. Soon, while contemplating the topic, I discovered my thesis: the problem is not technology or worship, not even technology and worship. All worship is technological; worshipers employ voices, ears, printed materials, etc. The problem is that worship planners and leaders wrongly try to fit worship to technology, rather than fit technology to worship. They begin with the goal of using a particular technology rather than with the desire to plan fitting worship. Worship must come first; the purpose of worship should dictate how we use technologies, not the other way around. I actually had something to say. I researched other books on the topic and discovered that none of them addressed this basic, important theme. So I felt like I really had to write the book. The book was calling me, so to speak.

Fortunately, I had taken notes while visiting Florida churches. I had good and poor examples of worship technology. With the help of some friends who gave me invaluable feedback on three manuscript drafts, and some seed money and friendly conversations from the staff at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, I was able to write the book  in about three months. If I hadn’t known how to write a book, I would still be tapping my keyboard, laboring in fits and starts if not circles. From the time I discovered the idea for the book until it was available in bookstores, I applied the basic skills that make writing fun, interesting, and successful.

We all need  a servant’s heart, experience, and skill to write books that serve readers. If you have the heart and adequate life experience, you still need the literary skill. I conduct nonfiction book-writing workshops to teach others these skills so that they, too, might serve readers. Maybe you and some friends or colleagues feel such a calling. If so, you can find out more about my workshops and then contact me about leading a workshop for your organization (e.g., a college or writer’s group). If you’re a teacher, I’ll work with your academic administrator to see if we might offer the workshop on behalf of all of your interested colleagues.

Best wishes as you ponder what it means to write books that serve readers.  It’s both an exciting calling and a unique responsibility.

— Quentin Schultze, PhD

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