Building a People of God

BY vmarsay | 11 January 2017 |
  • Langham Literature is investing in teamwork through cutting-edge techniques.
  • A pastor in Zambia used his writing project as a teaching and training platform, with excellent results.

It can be mind-boggling to anyone with no inside experience of publishing how many hours of meticulous work goes into a book. Not just writing it – which can be realistically compared to bearing and birthing a baby – but editing and marketing a book can take dedicated, specialist investment.

Recently Langham Literature has supported some exciting initiatives to maximize that investment. For example, some authors are using their writing project as a teaching and training platform. Students involved in the process are trained – and some who may become writers themselves in future are identified. At the same time, the content is sharpened to be optimally useful for the intended readers.

It is not a process that suits every author or every project. But it is a good opportunity when a suitable project does come along, and to spot one takes a sharp eye and experience!

Weekly team meetings

‘Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God’ by Conrad Mbewe, a forthcoming Langham Preaching Resource, is such a title. Conrad Mbewe is a Baptist minister in Zambia, who also helps with Langham’s preaching training programmes.

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Editing a book takes hard work and a sharp eye.

While working on this book, Conrad invited a team of 8 African pastors to meet with him weekly to discuss a chapter each meeting. He commented at the time:

“This is (1) giving me faces to think about as I write, (2) forcing me to write a chapter a week, (3) enabling me to discuss with actual pastors the chapter before ‘banking’ it, and (4) giving me a team who are reading on preaching and drawing attention to some issues that I may need to include.”

“Also, they [the pastors] are finding the meetings very helpful as well because they are refining their own ministries as we meet. And so far we have not lost a single one of the team”, he said.

An experiment

There was no tight publishing deadline for this book. So it did not end there.

Next, Isobel Stevenson (Senior Editor of Langham Literature and Editor-in-Chief of Hippo) identified it as a good title for an experiment in ‘team editor training’. She explained:

“The book was very well written, and didn’t have major structural problems, which meant it would be ideal for training new copyeditors. I had come across Dahlia Fraser [from Jamaica] some time ago, and she had editing experience but said that she was not good at details. This was a good book to focus on detail.

“Meanwhile a contributor to the South Asia Bible Commentary (SABC) had written to me about working as an editor. I wanted to test his skills and give him some training. We also had a theological student who was recommended to us as a potential editor.

Virtual challenge

Isobel referred to the SABC contributor as “S” and the theological student as “K”. She said that working as a virtual team was challenging:

“Dahlia copy-edited a chapter at a time, and I gave her VERY detailed feedback … S was an observer. He sent in chapters as he edited them and I gave him feedback only on issues that weren’t addressed in my feedback to Dahlia. I copied him my responses to Dahlia’s editing. I did the same for K, but she found it hard to juggle the work with her studies.”

This resulted in Isobel’s work being tripled. But she said the outcome was good:

“It is a good method of training and of discovering the strengths and weaknesses of potential editors. Dahlia, who worked very hard, showed a lot of progress and benefitted from the interaction with S. S too found it beneficial, but I feel I failed K who was very promising but needed more detailed feedback than I could provide at the time. I found having three trainees on one book put too big a load on me. So the process needs fine-tuning.”

Courage needed

S later wrote back to Isobel: “This editorial journey through Conrad’s manuscript (with you and Dahlia) has been an incredible experience of learning … I praise God for the opportunity … Thank you so much.”

It takes courage to trial a new way of working, and it is very exciting to see Langham Literature investing in cutting-edge opportunities like this.

‘Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God’ by Conrad Mbewe is due to be published in January 2017 in Langham Preaching Resources.

By Elria Kwant

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