Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Your local Christian bookshop: 3

So far:
Your local Christian bookshop: Intro,
Your local Christian bookshop: 1 (Complaints considered) and
Your local Christian bookshop: 2 (Calling offline)
Now as promised,

The ministry of the Christian bookshop

In my second post, I encouraged us to pray for the reformation of our Christian bookshops. So what does a reformed Christian bookshop look like? What is its ministry? Before considering, in our next post, the ministers of such ministry (shop staff), here follows an article I wrote for the Evangelical Presbyterian magazine last year, which will give a 'testimonial' picture:

The excitement of summertime

During the summer, many young people engage in missions. Similarly, last summer, and for a week this summer, I joined in an exciting mission team - in the Evangelical Bookshop. Many of you will be aware that this July we rearranged the books topically, so things should be easier for the customer to find. But that wasn't our mission, it merely serves it. The mission of the Evangelical Bookshop is found in serving people like the following:

- An elderly gentleman who noticed an evangelistic book in the window, "Where is God when things go wrong?" We were closed, but when he mentioned this book we ran after him to give it to him, whereupon he told us that his wife had died a few months previously.
- A young African student asking for a Bible, clearly his first one - we were able to sell him one very cheaply which was in English easy for him to read (his English wasn't great), guide him to start reading in Mark, explain why and gave him a copy of Read, Mark, Learn with it.
- A Vicar wanting Bibles to give at infant baptisms - rather than providing him with little pastel coloured ones which parents use as pretty keepsakes and never open, we guided him to several varieties of My First Bibles, which the parents might actually take off the shelf and read to the children. He went away arms laden!
- German tourists wanting postcards: we gave them copies of Ultimate Questions in German, while guiding them to a nearby postcard-selling shop. (We give out many copies of UQ in many different languages this way.)
- Ministerial students with reading lists for the Autumn term, wanting advice on which books would be most helpful for their studies.
- A lady wanting a Bible which her Granddaughter would be likely to read and understand.
- Hundreds of children, from both Christian and non-Christian families - served through bookstalls sent out to summer camps.
- A lady, by phone, needing several books and booklets on starting out in the Christian life for a friend who had just become a Christian.
- Ministers seeking advice on which commentaries to get on certain Bible books, for their forthcoming sermon series.

Serving Christians and non-Christians with Bibles and Christ-exalting books is tremendously exciting! It has possibly the furthest-reaching effect of any mission team, reaching to all denominations, and through all those Christians, to so many different non-Christians. Praise God for the ministry of the shop and for the staff, and please remember to pray regularly that this may long continue to God's glory, in the building of his Church.

The mission? "The Evangelical Bookshop has as its mission to bring glory to God by the promotion of the Evangelical and Reformed Faith by circulating as many Bibles and Christ-honouring books as possible within an organised structure."

[NB: my goal in this post is not particularly to plug the bookshop mentioned here. I love it and its ministry, but it also has its problems and more to the point, in all likelihood it isn't your local Christian bookshop. This is inserted as an example of what the ministry of a Christian bookshop may look like, from an article previously written.]

So if that's the testimonial on the ground, what about the theory? What about the stock?

"They can only stock what sells"

This is often cited as the reason why Christian bookshops can't stock better books. In part, it is true. A bookshop has overheads to cover - staff to pay, ground tax or rent and bills to pay and so on. A bookshop must make enough to cover its overheads. However, surely none of us are as naïve as to think that a shop's stocking policy must be only 'stock what sells'? Every shop has a more specific stocking policy than that! I'm told that hard drugs sell remarkably well, but no supermarket stocks them. Yet a Christian bookshop sells books as harmful and addictive in the realm of thought and belief.

Think of a major music chain. It doesn't just stock what sells - it also decides what will sell by the music it prominently displays, the music it plays, how it arranges its shop floor (which categories it puts where), what it advertises, what it puts on offer... to some degree responding to demand, and to another creating demand. On what criteria will it recommend music? Will it have a top 20 wall? A 'staff's choice' (like Borders bookshop)? Feature a different genre each month? No-one simply responds to demand. Every shop has to decide a mission statement somewhere on the respond to demand - create demand scale.

So a Christian bookshop has a mission (as does every shop - ask management trainees!) What I am calling for is that a Christian bookshop should have a mission in line with the gospel. Its stocking policy (on the respond-create demand scale) should be in line with the gospel. That will effect its shop layout, its publicity, its prices, and so on: creating demand. But when it comes to responding to demand, we don't buy the line, "We have to stock what sells, and lots of Christians are Mormons now so we stock Mormon books." Why is this ridiculous? Because it doesn't measure up to the gospel yardstick. So why should anyone go with the line, "We have to stock what sells, and lots of Christians don't believe Jesus died in their place now, so we stock books which deny this or leave it out", or "We have to stock what sells, and lots of Christians believe at the end of the day that they can please God by what they do, so we stock books which affirm that." Or "We have to stock what sells, and lots of Christians want to be conformed by the comforting of their mind so we sell nice books for that." What?? It would be no excuse for a preacher to say, "They want to hear X so I preached to them X", if X were heresy. Why is it an excuse in a Christian bookshop? Why demand that our churches are governed and measured by the gospel, and let our Christian bookshops be governed and measured by what our itching ears want to hear?

Of course there is interaction with what the customers want. Hence my suggestions for action in the previous post! But it never be at the expense of the Christian bookshop serving the greater mission of building Christ's church. May the yardstick always be the gospel.

-> Pray for a reformation in Christian bookshops, to produce bookshops which have as their mission to bring glory to God by the promotion of the Evangelical and Reformed faith by circulating as many Bibles and Christ-honouring books as possible within an organised structure. Pray for ministry as in the above examples to happen through your local Christian bookshop.

In the next post: the ministers of this work - AKA shop staff. [Or 'The Reformed Minister' (no apologies to Baxter).]


Scott said...

This is good stuff. I've had numerous interactions with the Christian bookstore in my town, which stocks very few quality titles and resources. I admit to having asked for a book, and when I found they didn't have it going home and getting it off Amazon (it was faster and cheaper).

Sometimes the volume of rubbish in there is a little overwhelming. Even if they started stocking some good books, it would be massively outweighed by the rest. To effect any significant change, one would have to be employed in the store.

Rhology said...

Encore une fois je suis content de lire tes commentaires - j'en suis tout a fait d'accord!
Et j'ai ecrit une entree dans mon propre blog pour me plaindre des librairies chretiennes... mais j'en ai ecrit qu'une. Tu as pu expliquer avec plus de clarte que moi...

étrangère said...

Rhology - merci. Si j'en ai pu ecrire avec plus de clarte c'est et parce que j'ai pris plus de mots(!) et parce que pendant toute ma vie mon pere est gerant d'une librairie chretienne et moi aussi j'ai travaille pour lui en ete etc. Nous considerons le travail de la librairie vraiment comme ministere et j'ai reflechi bcp a ce sujet. Je pense a ecrire un peu de temoinage concernant mon pere demain, comme epilogue a cette serie de posts. Dis-moi, vous etes francais, vous deux? Au japon, blog couramment en anglais, aussi couramment en francais...?

Mikey C said...

Bookshops are a business and as caught up in whatever that means as any other shop. The whole way they work with the publishers, the marketers and the customers is so ingrained that unless someone is subsidising the shops I can't see what can change. A record shop which only sold records I liked would go under pretty quickly.

Rhology said...

Bonjour encore,

Bref, on est americains mais bcp influence par le "missions bug," et donc nous voici au Japon. Nous avons tous les deux etudie en France et en universite et pour ca parlons francais couramment. Ma femme parle egalement espagnol couramment et moi je le parle avec proficiency mais je dirais pas couramment. Maintenant nous sommes tentmakers au Japon...
On n'ecrit pas au blog en francais parce qu'on n'est pas sur qui parmi nos amis francais saurait se servir de l'Internet ou du blogosphere - on n'habitait pas Paris; peut-etre que Clermont-Ferrand n'est pas du tout le centre technologique de la France.
Allez, bon courage! Sens-toi libre de laisser des commentaires en francais a notre blog!

étrangère said...

Mike, a record shop does not have the charge of keeping the gospel; a Christian bookshop, as part of the ministry of the church of Christ, does. It is quite possible to run a business in line with the gospel and still survive. You do need gospel partnership from believers (ie that they get off the internet and actually join in rather than leave it to the dogs) but it's possible. I mean, you've got the mark-up to cover overheads just like everyone! But sure, if you find you need subsidising then it should be subsidised. What I'm proposing is that first and foremost, a Christian bookshop is a gospel ministry of the church and therefore is subject to the gospel. I reject that it must be subject firstly to business criteria. Nothing else in the church is - the church is planted, built and grows in the gospel.

Rhology - ah, ca l'explique, merci! Ce n'est pas tres bien connu, des americains qui parlent courrament d'autres langues comme ca! Si jamais vous quittez le Japon, pensez a venir en Belgique - hmm comme la France en tant que christianisme, mais pire, vraiment pire.

Mikey C said...

After I posted that I realised I was missing your point a bit, but I was thinking along the lines that really Christian bookshops are inevitably forced to operate as businesses which in turn leads to Bad Things being sold.

With this in mind, why should we expect bookshops to be reliant custodians of the Gospel and sound teaching anymore than we expect HMV to only sell good records?

I propose that churches themselves sell the books... do we need Christian bookshops at all?

Rhology said...

Mikey C-

ISTM that "if a bookstore is operating as a business, THEREFORE bad things will be stocked/sold" is a non-sequitur. It might be true that to turn a huge profit you have to stock Benny Hinn, Jabez and Schuller, but not just if you're operating like a business would. Why do you say that?