I sold my first piece of writing at age 21—which led the national youth magazine that bought it (Campus Life) to offer me a real job with a real paycheck. I’ve been earning my living in Christian publishing ever since.
Understandably, I guess I’ve assumed along the way that if you’re really good at your craft, you’ll get paid for it. When people or publications have asked me to write something for free, I’ve thought that was something only amateurs did. I’ve usually found a polite way to say I “couldn’t work it into my schedule just now,” or some other excuse.
But what about some of history’s greatest authors—Moses, David, Isaiah, or Paul? So far as I know, they collected no royalties. (Their current publishers are doing just fine, however.) What about John Wesley, who wrote as an old man, “I have laboured as much as many writers; and all my labour has gained me, in seventy years, a debt of five or six hundred pounds”?
This past winter, I stepped out of my professional persona and decided simply to give something away to the Body of Christ. After all, the economics of publishing are in upheaval these days, anyway; the Internet has wrought huge changes in all our formulas for remuneration. Maybe I could afford to skip that headache for the benefit of a nine-session course I’d taught at my church, which had been well received.
The result has turned out to be a free curriculum posted online, where anybody can download it. It’s called “GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES—What 19 Centuries Tell Us about the Holy Spirit’s Gifts in Action” (see www.greatcloudcourse.com). It offers full-scale leader presentations plus 80 PowerPoint slides, links to several custom-edited YouTube clips, and a dozen handout sheets for attenders.
What would be a reasonable retail price for this package? I haven’t bothered to calculate. Other projects are paying my bills these days, and meanwhile, I’m willing to let God do with this course whatever he sees fit.
Back when I was a teenager, I sensed a call to ministry one day through what Jesus told his disciples: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8). I had freely received the blessings of growing up in a Christian home with devout parents who had provided a Christian high school education, music lessons, and tons of encouragement. Now it was time to start giving back. I turned down a paying job that summer to travel and sing with a music group for next-to-nothing.
Now these decades later, I’ve taken another step in the generous life by putting this course online for no charge. Will it be a big success? Down the road, will it pay me back somehow? I have no idea. The value instead is in the sharing, the insights passed along to those who will engage with the material. For me, that’s reward enough.
Dean Merrill is the author or co-author of more than 40 books, including national best-sellers. He has served in leadership posts at Campus Life, David C. Cook, Focus on the Family, and International Bible Society (now Biblica). For the past eight years, he has worked independently from his home in Colorado Springs, where he lives with his wife, Grace. (For a full roster of his books, see www.deanmerrill.com.) He was assisted in developing the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” course templates by Generous Mind.