On Launching a Book: The Stirrers and Saints Story

Posted by on Jul 7, 2024 in Blog | 3 comments

There is a fair chance you already know that my latest book, “Stirrers and Saints: Forming Spiritual Leaders of Skill, Depth and Character” was recently launched. It’s my 7th, and I like to remind people that in the Bible 7 represents a complete or perfect number – so hopefully that says something about the book.

People often ask me why I write, and what it takes to write a book, and what it feels like to launch one – so I thought I’d use this post to speak about that. Hopefully these thoughts will be helpful, and not simply self indulgent.

So why do I write? It’s a good question.

Contrary to what people often assume, it isn’t for the money – for I would have become frustrated and cynical a long time ago if I did! Those who know me are aware that I enjoy playing around with numbers, and a year or two back calculated that I earn around 5 Australian dollars per hour I spend writing each book. To put it in perspective, my hourly rate is 20.7% of the Australian minimum wage – however, I can’t sue myself for paying me less than the legal minimum! Of course, $5 an hour is $5 more than I earn from writing this blog, so I guess I really don’t write for the money.

Back to the question. Why do I write?

In the first instance I write for me.

My first book on leadership, The Tortoise Usually Wins, was my attempt to come to my own view of leadership – a view that provides space for people who don’t see themselves as natural leaders or who approach leadership with some trepidation and reluctance, but who are willing to give it a go if they sense that’s where God is prompting. I have a special respect and love for quiet leaders (and see myself as one), but wanted to figure out why. I’m happy with how Tortoise turned out and am grateful that it seems to have helped many people. Someone even sent me a photo of a toy tortoise they have kept on their desk since they read it, saying it reminds them that leadership is a step at a time process. Tortoise even got itself translated into Indonesian – which was a very pleasant surprise.

I’ve also written on Christian world view (The Big Picture – my attempt to make some sense of the way Christianity fits together as a whole, and a book which is often prescribed in introduction to theology courses). I then asked why some forms of faith bring so much life – while others are destructive (When Faith Turns Ugly: Understanding Toxic Faith and how to Avoid It – a topic that is more important than I would like it to be), before writing on the credibility of faith in Why Christianity is Probably True (I wanted to engage in apologetics without sounding dismissive or alpha male like – and worked hard on tone… I actually think it works – but then, perhaps I would!) A lot of my devotional writing comes together in Could this be God? which is the book I pick up when I need encouragement or to simply smile as I remember the incidents I write about. Like many from an academic background, the first book I published was my PhD – which was an exploration of Stanley Grenz’ theological method and his effort to revision evangelicalism – a more specialist work to be sure, but one that continues to be cited in other academic studies around that topic.

Writing a quick summary of the other 6 books I’ve written reminds me of why I write. Books do make a difference. They offer a window to the world of ideas. They draw you into a conversation. Readers don’t always agree with you (I’ve had a few one star ratings!) but many do, and find the ideas unpacked liberating (and give five star ratings!) When I write I remember what those before me have said – but I’m also struck by how often I’m now able to add my own insights. I love the creativity of it – it’s the dance between the impact others have had on you, and the way your own voice has developed.

“But tell us about your latest book”, I hear you ask impatiently!

Stirrers and Saints started as my Sabbatical project when I was a visiting scholar at Spurgeons College in the UK, all the way back in 2018. I was due to finish it during the second half of my Sabbatical as a visiting Professor at Carson Newman University in the USA in 2020 – ah, but who can write 2020 without remembering what happened that year? Rosemary was with me and as gloomier and gloomier predictions were made about a strange new virus, we wondered if we could wait it out in the wonderful haven of Jefferson City where Carson Newman is located. At that point it was a tranquil and serene setting – but we sensed it would not last. Fortunately we decided we must return to Australia and after many, many hours on the phone we managed to get ourselves seats on what turned out to be the second last Qantas flight out of Dallas before the Covid lock downs came in with a vengeance.

With my Sabbatical time dramatically curtailed, my writing schedule slipped way behind – and truth to tell, I’m rather glad. My own world changed with the merger of Vose Seminary and Morling College – and as I stepped away from 17 years as principal of a theological college into helping form and direct a leadership consultancy (AVENIR) I was introduced to a new world of leadership opportunity and insight. In a very short space of time I was meeting with leaders from a diverse range of for profits, not for profits and educational institutions – each consulting with AVENIR about how to be more effective and responsible in their leadership. Stirrers and Saints was initially meant to focus on the spiritual formation of pastors for leadership – but with my broadened horizons I started to write with a wider brief. I’m glad I made the shift, for spiritual formation for leadership is not simply for pastors – it is for all who want to make a difference, be it in the church, the workplace or the wider world.

People tell me Stirrers is not a book to read quickly, and I think “good”, because it wasn’t written quickly. You are meant to read it a chapter at a time and then to allow yourself (or your group) to dive into the questions raised. And by and large, they are not theoretical questions – but searching personal ones… the ones we often forget to ask – but then get tripped up by.

Whatever the long term sales of Stirrers, it has already been successful in the sense that it has birthed the Stirrers and Saints podcast. My goodness – it’s fun being part of that. It’s now on series two – having attracted enough interest to justify carrying on after series one finished with the book launch. People sometimes ask me what I’m doing to keep fresh and young (thank you for thinking that I am!) and “embarking on stretching but worthy new projects” is always included in my answer. You’ve got to be willing to try new things. The Podcast explores the questions raised in Stirrers and Saints in fair depth – and also introduces some additional concepts and ideas. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think and how we can improve – and no, this is not a commercial as podcasts also don’t provide any income – well, not unless they are mega-successful, and we aren’t in that category – yet (he adds hopefully).

The actual launch of the book was a wonderful, warm affair with good wine, good food, good friends and good stories. There were also really good sales – so that was heartening. Timber cafe was a great venue for it – so a shout out to them.

I’m told there is an author inside everyone – a story that sits there, waiting to come out. There are different strokes for different folks, but if you want to make sense of your life and learning, why not risk being part of a wider conversation? Start jotting your thoughts down. Externalising them often helps with perspective. At times it is about creativity, at other times its more about therapy! It could be that you are the only one who reads what you write – or perhaps you will find a forum that includes others and invites them to interact with what is going on in your head.

Writing is an act of hospitality. It says, “Welcome to my world. Does it have some similarity to yours?” It’s worth remembering that when you give a rating. You are a guest reviewing the work of another. That doesn’t mean there is no space for critical pushback, but don’t forget that someone had the courage to put their ideas out there – and courage deserves respect, even though it doesn’t require you to be blind to flaws.

It’s said authors are either primarily plotters, or pantsers. Plotters carefully plan where everything is going, pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, confident it will all come out in the end. I’m more of a plotter for my books, but a pantser for my blogs. The pantser in me senses I’ve gone as far as this post should go… so I will simply end by encouraging you to find your own writing voice. I hope you have a creative, writing-filled week – and thanks for being a reader.

As always, nice chatting…


  1. Comment *Thanks for this post. It has urged me on to finish my 2nd book writing about my time as a prison chaplain. Your thoughtful insights are truly inspiring .

    • Glad to hear this Joy. I imagine there are some extraordinary stories to tell from that time.

      • Comment Yes, there certainly is! My first book is called `An inside job; the life of a prison chaplain`.

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