The Crushing Truth About Christian Books and Authors and Big Preachers

I was speaking with a literary agent for the Christian writing industry about some of my favorite authors, and at some point she says, “Yes, her writing style is really easy to imitate, it’s easier for her publisher.”

I ask, “How do you mean?”

She says, “Oh, she hires someone who copies her style and writes her books.  She doesn’t have time to write her own.  You didn’t know?  Tons of authors do this, those big celebrity preachers just pay someone to ghost-write.”

I was seriously crushed. Before I could ask her to stop, she began dropping names.  Each one hurt me a little more than the last.  I won’t share them here.  Maybe it would’ve been better if the names weren’t of Christians that I looked up to, but some of my heroes were slapped down from their pedestals.

I feel this might be just as bad as plagiarism. I’m trying to imagine Tolstoy or Picasso or Mozart or Augustine becoming too busy to create their own work because of publicity tours and mega-conferences.

I also think about the amazing bloggers and artists and dancers and painters, whom no one has ever heard of, pouring hours of their soul into perfecting their craft and marketing their art and shaping each movement, and the years they would spend in anonymity but continuing to share their hearts in their corner of the world.

I think of unsung heroes who don’t have big platforms but persevere in writing and speaking about justice and faith and politics and life, from their very own pen, with no one telling them to make it easier or palatable or more mainstream.

I don’t mean to demonize the “celebrity Christians.”  It’s a whole different level of responsibility.  To have influence is humbling.  Yet it’s so easy to get trapped into speaking impactful things without first being impacted; it’s easy to talk about justice without living justly; it’s easy to ask others what we’re first not doing ourselves.  And if there’s ever a time I’m about to sell out or go cheap or think I’m too big for myself, I would hope someone would confront me painfully and lovingly with the force of a ten ton freight train, because we each have blind spots of our own that need grace and surgical rebuke.

I have to gut-check myself, because maybe we’re all just as capable of selling out.  I’m not any better than “them.”

To those who speak from the heart, in their own words, with no fear: you’re doing a good thing.  Here’s to humility, integrity, honesty.

— J.S.

7 thoughts on “The Crushing Truth About Christian Books and Authors and Big Preachers

  1. Very sobering. I was always a little curious as to how these mega pastors/leaders had the time and energy to churn out a new book every 6 months. I have to take off whole weeks just from blogging sometimes! The Driscoll saga brought a sad light to a common theme in the book industry. It’s better to write an authentic book once a decade than a best seller once a month; but relevance and name brand takes precedent over art. Good word!


    1. To be fair, some mega-church pastors hire editors to transcribe their sermons into books, which is a legitimate well-known practice. For example, Andy Stanley and presumably James MacDonald both do this, and they credit their editors/assistants/transcribers within the book. But actual ghost-writing from an entirely different writer without credit is just plain unethical.
      I do feel bad for Driscoll. Of all things he was accused of, I think the plagiarism incident felt the least damning, simply because he cites everything else so well and he was quoting a friend. It seems like more of a mistake rather than a deliberate rip. But then there’s all the other stuff.


  2. It’s funny I was on your page while listening to a Christine Caine podcast. Not that I don’t totally admire the crap out of her haha, but I think it’s way too easy to get whisked away by the allure of a “celebrity” Christian and believe every word they say like it’s the word of God itself. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they’re as human as we are. Thanks for sharing it came at the perfect time.


    1. Ghost-writing is not anything like plagiarism. Ghost-writers meet with the speaker/pastor/etc. or listen to their talks and they work with the person to write that person’s thoughts. It’s not the ghost-writer’s opinions or thoughts but the person attributed with the book. It’s also not unethical or dishonest. Ghost-writers are paid for their skill – writing – not for coming up with ideas but putting the other person’s ideas down on paper.


      1. Yes that’s true and it’s an accepted practice, but I’m not sure that would be called a “ghost-writer.” Many celebrities have a co-author who’s also credited and they transcribe the author’s story. The author, as you said, remains more or less involved. Most people don’t pretend the author wrote it on their own. Especially for autobiographies, where the celebrity might not have a knack for writing, this is very common.

        The more unsavory practice is when an author does not write their own book at all and is hardly involved, while also being given full credit for their book. To me that is ghostwriting and it’s still not looked upon favorably. Why not credit the ghostwriter as a co-author? My guess is either embarrassment or pride. I get it, but I find it difficult to respect. Of course, opinions differ on this and that’s fine. I can see how it’s so common that no one would bat an eye. But it being a “common practice” doesn’t make it have more integrity or anything. For me, at least, it’s still disingenuous.


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