I was having some great conversations with people about the gospel on our short-term mission trip to New Zealand. We gathered each night so that the team leader could record the daily statistics to send back to the mission organisation and I would eagerly tell about my experiences. The only problem was that my efforts didn’t seem to count. Unless I’d gone through an entire Christian tract with someone or led them in a prayer to receive Christ, there wasn’t a box to tick on the tally sheets. I felt like a bit of a failure in my evangelistic attempts until I remembered something I had heard about the number line of faith.
Think of someone’s spiritual journey as a number line that goes from -10 through zero to +10. At -10 the person is far from God and not receptive to hearing about him. As the person moves closer to zero, they’re more open to spiritual things. Zero is the point at which they become a Christian. As they read the Bible, pray, and learn more about God, they grow in their Christian walk and move further along the number line of faith. That gave me a new perspective. I wasn’t a failure if someone didn’t become a Christian when I shared with them. I could still help them in their journey. It also reminded me that God is the one who does the converting. He’s already working in someone’s life long before I talk to them. I may come across them when they’re -7, -1, or +4; but I can join God in His work. Others may have different roles in that work, but it’s not up to us to compare ourselves to them. We’re all part of a team just as Paul and Apollos were part of a team (see 1 Cor. 3:3-9).
So what does this have to do with writing? I recently read an article that looked at the debate about whether Christian novelists should stick with Christian publishers or try for the mainstream market. In that article and elsewhere, there has also been discussion about what should or should not be included in a ‘Christian’ novel. There are arguments on both sides and it’s not my aim to canvas them here. As I’ve been reflecting on this, however, I wonder if the number line of faith could be a helpful tool in thinking about the markets for which we write.
Which segment of that number line do you see as your main audience? Are you called to help new Christians learn about what it means to be a follower of Christ? Do you want to challenge mature Christians to move from complacency to action, or help them work through deeper issues of life that don’t have pat answers? Maybe you feel led to reach those who are seeking, but have not yet committed to one faith over another. Your writing might help them consider the claims of Christ and move them towards accepting Him as their Saviour. Other writers may be more concerned about those who are currently far from God and the aim is to bring them to the point where they will at least consider spiritual issues.
Each audience requires a different kind of writing. Someone at -9 will be turned off by scripture references in the first few pages of a novel, whereas someone at -2 might be quite happy to read about characters who pray when they’re in difficult situations. Rather than debating whether we should aim for Christian or mainstream publishers, we should seek God about the direction to take, hone our mission statements, and then aim for the appropriate market.
Of course the reality is not as neat as the examples I’ve given. The same book can have a number of layers that touch people at different stages of their spiritual journeys. The same author may also write different books that are pitched at various types of readers. However, thinking and praying about the audience we hope to reach can help us to be more focused and effective in our writing.
Which side of the number line best gels with your mission statement?
Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 80 short pieces published in various magazines, journals, and anthologies (including true stories, devotions, poetry and short fiction). She has a passion for writing about what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same. (Some call it "nagging", but she calls it "encouragement").