Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Interview With Teena Stewart: Moving Forward On Faith

Our interview today is with Teena Stewart. I believe she has some interesting things to share with us. I think you'll agree.

RM: Teena, you’re a pastor’s wife and heavily involved in ministry activities. How do you find time to write?

T: Ministry does keep me busy. And lately, busier than ever. I just finished helping plan and implement something called Faith in Action at church that mobilized hundreds of people to get involved in community service. Plus, with our current status where were are changing church ministries, which involves lots of work, it has really eaten up a lot of time.

But even so, I reserve several days a week for writing. Even before I go to work in the mornings – I have to be there at 10 am--I sit down at the computer and work on my writing. Sometimes in the evening, if I have a little time after doing ministry, going to exercise class or handling some family obligation, I write. I've learned that having time to write is similar to having time to have devotionals. You don't find the time, you have to make the time. That means less playtime, but that's how I have to balance it. I rarely watch TV (which eats up lots of time) except for watching an occasional murder program on TV or watching a movie on weekends with my husband.

RM: I notice that, like me, your initial experience in writing was in non-fiction. Yet we “met” on the loop of the ACFW. Where do you stand with your fiction efforts?

T: Yes, that is interesting. Crystal Miller, a book doctor friend of mine, suggested I join ACFW after encouraging me try to get my fiction novel published. We are in an online writer's critique group together and she had seen some of my short suspense fiction before I switched to non-fiction. She also remembered the novel I had written but set aside due to life, ministry, moves, you name it. And she started gently nagging me to try to get it published. She saw the Christian romantic suspense market heating up. I have to say that ACFW has been such a blessing. Even though it is geared for fiction it has such a wealth of info and resources that a non-fiction writer can benefit from too.

Where do I stand with my fiction? It has been a long haul. And I have learned and am learning lots along the way. I have reworked the book so many times and am working with an agent to get it out there. But the original market I targeted, Steeple Hill, is closed to first time authors in the romantic suspense genre right now. They take a much shorter word count, which would have worked well for this book because I tend to write short. Now I am working on adding length and polishing. It's been tough but I now have it at nearly 75,000 words, which will make it more marketable to other publishers. Our concern now is that is might be a bit edgy because it deals with a business partner whose drug usage causes the death of his Christian partner. So there is no guarantee that even after I lengthen it that someone will want it. But if I look at that then I wouldn't write anything. I have to just keep writing. If God means for me to get it published, He will find a way. I envy those who seem to find fiction writing easy. It is the hardest writing I have ever done.

RM: Your book, Successful Small Groups: From Concept to Practice, has just come out. I notice that you had another non-fiction book, The World’s Easiest Pocket Guide To Money And Marriage, published about five years earlier. Tell us about the differences in writing those books and getting them published.

T: The World's Easiest Pocket Guide To Money And Marriage is technically considered co-written with my husband Jeff and financial guru Larry Burkett. I say co-written because our names appear on the cover. But in truth I did most of the writing, and Jeff added some masculine viewpoint. We compiled Larry's notes from previous articles that an editor provided, and added our own illustrations plus helped organize it. We never spoke with Larry and it is a work for hire, where we were assigned the work and paid a specific amount upon completion. Often this kind of writing is considered ghost writing, but because we have our names on the cover, it is considered co-written. Mr. Burkett has since passed away but I think it is a testament to his character that he allowed us the recognition of having our names listed. In ghost writing you don't get the recognition and the big names get all the credit. Many writers have an issue with that because it misleads the public and doesn't give credit where credit is due.

With Successful Small Groups: From Concept to Practice the process was similar in some way to the Burkett book in that I had published quite a few articles on how to lead and manage small groups. I saw where I had enough expertise and enough articles under my belt that I could organize them and add more meat to the bones. The tough part was marketing. I attended a writers' conference at the urging of a writer friend and made a crucial connection with a Beacon Hill editor. Through God's providence I hit the right publishing house just when they were looking for a book on that subject. Definitely a God thing.

RM: What is the important take-home message for readers of Small Groups?

T: That small groups are a crucial part of church health because they provide community, spiritual support and leadership training and that church's should have some means for growing and coaching more groups so people grow into mature Christ followers.

RM: You and Jeff are just making a move into a Christian coffee house ministry. What prompted that? And where can my readers learn more about what you two are doing?

T: We had this nagging sense that our ministry was turning in a different direction from our current church, which is growing larger and larger. Jeff is pastor of discipleship and both of us are equippers. We have worked with many people in small group settings. We both experienced a growing awareness that many churches have a "come to us attitude" for reaching unchurched people. And yet studies show that expecting people to come to your building and adjust to your church culture is not very effective at all. Very few people come to Christ that way. People feel lost in big churches for one thing. And regardless of your church's size, many will never step foot in a church. They just won't. We have to go out and reach them. We began noticing the coffee shop phenomenon. People love to come and hang out and have a favorite drink at coffee shops. It's almost a small group community in itself.

We saw that maybe having a legitimate coffee shop where people come for the coffee first could provide a crucial connecting point for reaching unchurched people. We don't have to try to drag them into a church building. They are in the shop of their own free will. Maybe we can meet them on their turf, offer them prayer, support groups, small groups and not expect to grow big. Where did we get the idea that bigger is better? Maybe we could teach them to be small group leaders and encourage people to meet in homes, businesses, etc. and be out in the world. So far, our decision has been a real faith adventure. We are having to raise support for covering many of our expenses. We are trying to sell our house in a depressed market, which has raised all kinds of challenges, especially if it doesn't sell. And yet, we still feel called to do this. If people want to learn more about our crazy Java Journey adventure and ministry they can visit this site.

RM: Any final words for my readers?

T: God is a big God who sees the big picture. Lately He has been talking to me and Jeff through what we call mile markers. Those are life changing events and incidents, (not always happy ones) that happen to us on the life journey. Look at your mile markers, write them down on paper. What are they? What did you learn? How can you use them to take stock of where you are and your life direction? Maybe you are supposed to use what you've learned to encourage others to press on toward the goal. It might even be a book.

Thanks, Teena. And best wishes for success in your new missionary endeavor, as well as in your writing.


Crystal Laine said...

I have known Teena a long time and she is a great writer--1000s of articles--and now this small groups book. Teena has a ministry site she built and is wonderful to equip people. She is artistic (art degree) and knows so much in ministry, plus, wrote all these great stories.

So, when she says I "gently nudged" her on her fiction (scary stuff!) she is being nice. I dragged her and then maybe bloodied her up a little...ha. But she has a gift for fiction, too. Maybe one day an editor will get one of her stories and publish it. Hope so!

Good interview, Teena and Dr. Richard!

Teena Stewart said...

Richard and Crystal,

Thanks for the encouragement. Where would I be without people like you? Richard, love your retro photo. BTW, God is moving. We had a contract on our house yesterday (actually two offers.) God remains faithful.