Set aside your author identity and think about your reading life for a minute. I have a question for you. How many times have you been frustrated, unsatisfied, or downright bored by Christian fiction?
Let me say something right now: Christians do not have an inherent disability when it comes to creative pursuits. There isn’t something wrong with us spiritually that should hinder our ability to create, neither is there something wrong with our worldview that makes it destroy art whenever it is at its foundation. In fact, God gave Christian artists the opportunity to create things of eternal beauty and value. So, why is it that so much Christian fiction is glaringly sub-par?
I see one mistake at the root of the problem. One. That should be good news. The solution is a simple shift in mindset and a re-evaluation of your mission. So, here’s what I think it is. It might sound a little off at first, but hear me out.
You’re over-spiritualizing your work.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I definitely view my art as a mission and a ministry. I try to involve God in everything I do, and I want what I do to make an eternal difference. But what am I doing exactly? I’m writing stories. Making things up. Playing with imaginary friends and dreaming up imaginary worlds for them to interact with. When it’s time to write, it’s time to throw my agenda out the window, forget who’s going to read it and how it might change their lives, and focus on some serious goofing off.
As a Christian fiction writer, you can be a lot of things. You may be a healer, a teacher, a prophet, or a warrior poet. But first and foremost, there’s one thing you’ve got to be to write great fiction. Are you ready? This is going to be hard to swallow.
You need to be an entertainer.
That sounds really profane. To Christian ears “entertainment” can have negative connotations. This culture worships entertainment. Entertainment is an idol, a drug, a distraction. It leads us away from what’s important in the pursuit of mindless or even godless pleasure. Here’s one of the lies that builds the foundation of Christian fiction’s problem.
Entertainment is not always evil. It can actually be good. It would be, more often, if Christian authors could realize this. Entertainment is a powerful and beautiful medium for truth. Through entertainment, truth can penetrate and blossom in ways it never could in a cold dry textbook. Entertainment captures the reader’s imagination and immerses them in a new world. If you’re a Christian, and a writer, that world will naturally and organically be permeated and undergirded by the ultimate truth and love of God.
I have a practical step for you, if you think you could improve your writing with this kind of mindset-shift. Think about how you decide to write a story. What’s your process? Do you sit down to plot and say to yourself, “I’m going to write a story about (insert moral, value, or message)?” Please don’t do that! Do everyone a favor. Don’t start with your moral or theme. Start with your character, your setting, your situation, maybe even just your atmosphere. Don’t even think about what you want to teach your audience until you’re halfway into the story. I’m serious.
Christian authors, by and large, need to lighten up and allow God to work through them in his own good time, in his own way. There’s a very good chance, if you put your story first, the message is going to change a few times. That’s not a bad thing. That’s proof that your story is alive, not just a machine that does one thing stiffly and mechanically. A person picking up a novel, no matter how spiritual their interest in it is, really hopes it’s going to entertain them. They want to enjoy watching your characters, explore a fascinating setting, freak out over your plot-twists—they might even want to laugh now and then.
If this doesn’t really sound like what you want to do with your writing, I have some advice for you: don’t write fiction. You could write sermons, devotionals, bible-studies, Christian lifestyle blog-posts…but if you don’t think entertainment is a worthy occupation, you shouldn’t be writing fiction. Fiction can be instructive, thought-provoking, and awareness-raising, but it won’t get a snowball’s chance if it isn’t entertaining.
So, Christian fiction-writers, and Christians who want to be fiction-writers, dive in and write a fun story, or a thrilling story, or a humorous story, or a story that stirs emotions and makes you fall in love with your own characters. Trust God to write a deep meaningful story that springs from your love for him. He will.