Author Interview: Chris McKinney and The Importance of Small Groups

Can you tell us about your professional background or training and what led you to writing?

I had four courses in college which helped me learn some writing skills. They were composition courses, literary courses, and communications courses. Some of what I learned is still useful. Some of it I’ve had to unlearn.

The much more important training I got came through working with a group of Christians on some large writing projects. One of them had been a staff writer and editor for some of the major Christian publishing houses for many years. I was blessed with the opportunity to be personally mentored by him. He edited all of my work daily for three months. We spent many hours on the phone and of course going back and forth through editing notes, chat messages, etc.

At first, I was very resistant to the process because our views were so different.

But it turned out to be a huge blessing. He was a very tactful, very patient mentor who I came to respect greatly.

Once I submitted to God’s process, it opened up something new and different in my writing. When I look back now, I’m still amazed at what God did through that process.

And before you ask, I don’t share any of it because the founder of the ministry strongly desired that all of the writing remain anonymous.

Why are small groups so important to you that you wrote a book about it?

We’ve been blessed with a thriving small group culture at Church of the Highlands. It’s a large church, so we rely on small groups to make personal connections. It’s all about walking through life together with other believers. It’s about being there for one another, helping each other, strengthening and sharpening each other. Maybe more than anything else, it’s about finding acceptance and fellowship. The enemy wants us to believe we are rejected. But, the truth is all of us are accepted, chosen, equipped, and called.

God pours out His acceptance and fellowship through tight-knit groups of believers. Jesus spent a lot of time with His small group, so it’s important. We need each other. 

I can’t think of any group within the body that needs to experience the fullness of God’s acceptance more than Christian writers.

Is that also why you became a member of Called Writers? Can you tell us about the group and its goals?

We’re just a group of Christian writers working together to see where the Lord takes us. We got together in a small group and went through the Calling All Writers! small group curriculum together. CalledWriters.com is what came out of that. The purpose of our website is to encourage, support, and inspire other Christian writers. As for our group dynamic, we help each other with our books and things like that. We have a lot of ideas for where we could go with all of it, but I think we have to stay flexible in regard to how the Lord leads us. It’s good to develop a clear vision if you can, but I’m constantly reminded that I can’t see clearly into the future. I have no idea which doors will open down the road and which ones will close. We’re very much in a “let’s try this and see where it goes” sort of phase right now.

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In your opinion, can a Christian writer ‘make it’ on their own?

Absolutely not. My pastor, Chris Hodges, says something to the effect that, “God will develop you [spiritually] when you’re on your own, but He won’t use you until you’re on a team.”

There is plenty of scripture to back up that statement. Most notably, 1 Corinthians 12:21, which says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”

I built a chapter in my book around that scripture.

And I’ve come to see how true this principle has been in my life. Whenever I have tried to do ministry on my own, it always fell flat at best or was humiliating at worst. But whenever I’ve worked with teams, God has been able to use me to help others.

Even with something as personal as prayer, scriptures such as Matthew 18:19 make it clear that we are much more effective when we bind together.

What resources could you recommend for people to read on the subject?

I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask since I think everyone in the world should buy and read my book. I may be slightly partial. Honestly, I really do believe it turned out to be a good book, which God can use to help others discover and develop the gift of writing. It also serves the purpose of getting people on teams and helping them learn how to work together.  

Besides that, we’re doing an online study of Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace 12th Edition in our Facebook group. It’s a college textbook, so it’s not the easiest thing in the world to read. But, I’m getting some good things out of it, and some of the other Facebook group members seem to be as well.

What were your biggest challenges writing the book?

The biggest challenge was that our personal lives went completely nuts as soon as I finished the first manuscript. Around the same time, we were starting up our writing small group. One of my co-leaders and I were also starting the ministry training program at Highlands College.

A few weeks into those things kicking off, life started throwing a lot of weird challenges at my family out of nowhere.

In the midst of these challenges, I was still trying to finish revising the book. Then, the fun of learning about self-publishing and marketing began. Those ended up becoming more trials and difficulties.

But praise God, He is greater than every challenge we face. In the end, pretty much none of the things we worried and got so upset about had any lasting effect. I think maybe God was trying to teach me not to worry so much, and also to live by principle rather than pressure. That’s one of the things we’re taught at Highlands College.

What major lessons did you learn?

Don’t rush your work or give in to pressure. We should have a holy determination to complete our God-given assignment. But if we’re feeling pressured or rushed, that probably isn’t coming from the Lord.

Next, don’t take an idea or approach God gives you for one project and try to apply it to other projects where it doesn’t fit. Try to remember why and in what context He gave you the idea so that you’ll know how to apply it.

Last and most important, I would say, we shouldn’t despise advice or words spoken into our lives that come from other believers. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 tells us not to treat prophecies with contempt, but to test them and hold onto what is good. Sometimes, a personality clash can cause us to want to prove someone else wrong, even if a lot of what they’re saying is good. So, always be open to feedback, even if the delivery of the information makes it difficult.

This is an ongoing struggle for me. I find it difficult to change course after I’ve already put a lot of thought and prayer into making a decision.

And of course, none of us is perfect in this area. Sometimes, I think we will have to learn through trial and error. But we can normally save ourselves a lot of trouble by being open to feedback.

What are your future writing goals?

Interestingly enough, last Sunday’s sermon at my church was about dreaming big dreams for the Lord. My pastor encouraged us to write out our dreams. I did that, and what I got down on paper blows me away. I can share at least a few of those dreams.

Along with a team of other believers, I would like to start a Christian publishing company that publishes 1,000 different authors.

I would like to author and teach a ministry writing course.

I would like to be involved in the writing, editing, or publication of 70 small group curriculums. I see the way God gave one to me, and I think there’s got to be many more curriculums out there. They’re inside the people around me, and they’re just waiting to get out. I’ve been helped tremendously through small group curriculums, and I know a lot of other people who have as well.

Another dream I wrote down is for everyone in our small group to become bestselling authors. The idea is that I want all of us to have a lot of influence and do big things for God’s kingdom.

There are other dreams I have which would depend on God opening specific doors.

Our God is big, amazing, and powerful. We should believe Him for big, amazing, and powerful dreams.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Christian writers today?

The same ones all Christians face. Trying to do the right thing for the right reasons. Realizing that no matter how much you want to live up to God’s standard of righteousness, you can’t. That can be tough until we remember it’s not about our righteousness anyway.

Failing. Making mistakes. Making mistakes that feel very public.

That brings me to a good point. We can’t unwrite something. Once we publish it, it’s out there beyond our control. I think that can be intimidating until we realize God is watching over us and pouring out His grace on our mistakes.

We also have to realize that we are normally our own worst critics.

I recently watched a Steven Furtick clip which helped me a lot. He said something to the effect that we should stop beating ourselves up over our mistakes because, “no one’s thinking about you anyway—they’re too busy thinking about themselves.”

I think there’s a good bit of truth in that statement. No one else thinks about my writing as much as I think about my writing. Except maybe God. He never stops thinking about us. 😊

ChrisM

About Chris McKinney:

Chris McKinney has a wonderful wife and three awesome little boys! He attends Church of the Highlands, where he is also in a ministry training program. He has served in the areas of outreach, correctional facility ministry, and on the campus host team. He also leads small groups and is very passionate about helping others discover their purpose!

Professionally, he writes books, blogs, and articles for the Lord. He also helps other authors tell their stories through coaching, editing, and proofreading.

You can find his writing group on Twitter @CalledWriters. They also have a Facebook group for Christian writers here: Called Writers Facebook Group.

 

To see my mini-review on McKinney’s book, Calling All Writers! small group curriculum, click here.

— Delia

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