As a pastor, an author, and a book publisher, I am often asked, “Should a pastor really sell his book?” My answer is a consistent, “It depends.”
There’s more to writing a book than the act of writing itself. Even though writing is inherent in being a minister of the Gospel, the work of writing, publishing, and promoting a book is laden with temptations.
What is more, as a pastor, I believe it’s important to not only promote the message of the Bible through multiple mediums, but it’s also important to protect the message. What I mean by this is that as messengers of God’s Word, we need to maintain a high level of fidelity to God, his Word, and his people.
Regardless of how we choose to share or promote God’s Word, as a pastor or teacher, God holds those of us in this line of work to a higher level of accountability (Jas. 3:1).
Now, if I were having a conversation with you about whether you should publish and sell a book or not, here are the four questions I would ask. This is a big decision to make, and one that can't be made lightly or for the wrong reasons.
In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek argues that the first question we must always ask ourselves when making a decision is, “Why?” This is a great start for a pastor who is considering writing and selling a book. Why do you want to do this?
We are often the best at deceiving ourselves, but if we can slow down before the Lord, our spouse, and our leadership so that we can give an honest answer to this question, it could help determine if we should move forward.
If the answer to, “why?” has more to do with your glory than the Lord’s, that is an obvious issue. However, the majority of pastors know better than to have that be their motivation, so it will require more time to get down to the real, “why?”
I’ve heard pastors say they want to write and sell a book to help their family out financially, or to open up doors for speaking opportunities, or what have you. The reality is, these reasons are not inherently wrong, but in most cases, the financial benefits of writing a book should not be the primary motivation. A pastor’s call is primarily to fulfill the work of pastoral duties in preaching the Gospel and caring for God’s people.
However, there are many great reasons why a pastor should write a book. If the Lord has given a pastor something to say that is helpful to people, the pastor should consider taking the time and resources to write, publish, and promote a book. Then, if selling books helps further the mission and message, this avenue should be pursued.
2. Is this a message people will joyfully pay for?
This question can be answered through many different avenues.
Have people spoken to you about the impact a certain sermon series has had on them?
Have you been encouraged to expand on content you’ve shared?
Do people subscribe to your blog, share your blog posts, and invite others to hear what you have to say?
The reality is, people like buying, but they don't like being sold to. People don't have a problem with paying money for content that is helpful to them. Writing a book with Gospel encouragement and teaching can be a completely appropriate item to provide help to people.
3. Who are you accountable to?
Pastors should already have accountability surrounding their lives, and additional opportunities to generate revenue should be no exception.
Clear expectations should be established on who owns content the pastor writes (i.e. if the pastor is being paid full-time by the church, and does the majority of writing at the church, the church could argue for ownership rights). If the church is investing money in the project, the pastor needs to have clear expectations on how the repayment will be made through the sell of the books and how the money will be split if and when the initial investment is repaid.
Many financial issues need to be addressed openly and honestly in accountability relationships for pastors to prevent money from becoming an issue. Having these conversations ahead of time will save you a tremendous amount of heartache and confusion in the end.
4. How will I sell my book?
This is a very important question for the pastor to talk through with his church leadership and his family. If the pastor does what he should and helps promote his book, he needs to make sure it is done in a way helpful and honoring to his family and church family.
It is important for you to discuss with your leadership team how you should speak about the book, from announcements in church, to one-on-one conversations, to book promotions. Having your church on the same page will be very helpful to make sure you’re honoring the Lord and honoring your church family.
I also mentioned speaking with your family about it. I’ve known men (I might’ve even been that man at one time) who have consistently self-promoted their work on social media to the extent that people were mentioning it in a condescending way to their spouse. It can become embarrassing if your wife is helplessly standing by as you promote your book in a confrontational or overbearing manner. Make sure your family is on board with how you go about selling your book.
Taking the time to think through these questions will help you determine if you should write and sell a book, but also how you should go about doing so. It’s worth taking the time to think through these issues as it will help you avoid many challenges in the future.