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CWG – The Rest of the Story

There is misleading information circulating online about the recent demise of Christian Writers Guild. Some of what has been written is blatantly false and a reckless use of the power of communication. Words like “rumor” and “threat” pique human interest and appeal to our basest selves. They may be good for clicks, but they do not dwell on what is lovely, noble, pure, or of good report. They do not lift one another up. They do not encourage.

As many of you know, I sold my 9-year-old for-profit company, Glass Road Media, to Dave Sheets in June 2014. Dave was one of the partners in the Christian Writers Guild. The only other partner was Jerry B. Jenkins. CWG was failing and I was asked to join in on the discussions to try and determine its best future. Those discussions allowed me to be privy to information that I am about to share because – and ONLY because – the best way to combat rumor is with truth.

Let me be clear. I am only sharing this level of information because of the misinformation that is circulating in the industry about why and how the Guild was shut down.

Jerry B. Jenkins and Dave Sheets became business partners in September 2013 after working together on a few consulting projects. They’d known each other since Dave’s days at Tyndale House Publishers, during the Left Behind heyday. Dave had always admired Jerry’s work and the work of Christian Writers Guild.

Their vision for the new partnership was to help authors who were coming through CWG with additional resources that would help them independently publish their books if that was their preferred route.

In their legal partnership, Dave was asked to be the managing partner (making the day to day operating decisions) while Jerry remained the majority partner. As has been said in other places, he felt, “that he was ready to return to his primary occupation and calling, that of full-time writing.” He wanted all the benefits of being the expert-in-residence without any of the responsibility of running the company. Understandable.

During this same time, Dave bought an independent publishing company to provide services to CWG authors. At his expense, he moved his family to Colorado to take on the CWG work as well.

Dave saw CWG as an underperforming organization, with a long track record of helping students and yet a very poor track record of financial performance. It had never posted a profit in the 13 years Jerry owned it prior to their partnership. This was due to very aggressive marketing expenses, sponsorships of events in the trade, and a highly expensive (and unprofitable) writers conference.

As has been said in many places, Jerry is generous with his resources in supporting author causes. He believes in the power of writers and the importance of educating them and ran the Guild according to that passion, without a need to experience profit. Essentially, his support carried the organization.

Dave shares that same passion for serving writers, but is a businessman who was brought into a for-profit company as a partner. A for-profit company that had not posted a profit for 13 years. (I have no knowledge of its financial state prior to that.) He felt that this could be turned around with a lot of effort, some new thinking, and other resources that he was bringing to the equation.

CWG moved to less expensive office space, trimmed staff, recalibrated the services and began the rebuilding process. In late 2013, Dave had a conversation with Jerry about the Writing for the Soul conference which Jerry had organized and operated for the previous dozen years. WFTS had always been a destination for authors looking for some of the best speakers and teaching in the industry, and it came with a commensurate price tag. Dave worried it was not a sustainable conference and knew it had proven to be a financial loss in previous years. Even with this knowledge, he was encouraged to commit to the 2014 conference, and it lost money again.

As these losses kept mounting, and anticipated course restructuring didn’t produce the revenue needed quickly enough to sustain the organization, Dave began taking financial resources from his publishing company to prop up the Guild. After a short time, he had to accept reality: The Guild model as a for-profit company was irreparably broken, and either needed to be reorganized under a nonprofit model, or shut down completely.

Dave and I had discussions with Jerry in July 2014 and provided a plan in August that outlined how the organization could transition with minimal changes, but needed some additional resources to make the transition. The bottom line was simple: a for-profit company needs to make a profit. While generosity and passion had kept it afloat for 13 years, this was not a sound business model. Dave had reached the end of his ability to financially prop up CWG, Jerry (understandably) had reached the end of his will to prop it up, and its history would not instill confidence for potential investors to keep it going.

After a number of weeks, however, Dave still hadn’t received final approval from Jerry on a plan. CWG costs mounted weekly. Dave was tapping out his company’s financial resources. A decision to shut down, move to a new structure, or continue with a single donor financing CWG was needed.

Finally, in September, Jerry and Dave agreed on a plan – to shut down CWG with the understanding that a nonprofit would be created to take care of the existing students, mentors, and CWG commitments going forward. Both men held true to one main concern: that the writers and mentors would be taken care of. I agreed to use my nonprofit experience and resources to help with this. Jerry agreed to help fund that transition through the nonprofit, to assist CWG in finishing well by the end of 2014. Together, the three of us began making phone calls to the mentors and other key people and informing them.

In October, Jerry asked for all of the shares of CWG back and withdrew his financial commitment to the nonprofit. I don’t know why. Dave effectively resigned from CWG as President and Jerry took it back 100%. Dave and I continued what had already begun under the agreed-upon plan – the formation of TheBelieversGroup which included both a nonprofit and a for-profit model.

That’s it, folks. That’s what I know to have happened. Now, to just combat some of the false information out there:

  • To my knowledge, Jerry and Dave are still friends.
  • Dave was the sole business partner with Jerry. There isn’t anyone else who had any stake in the Guild.
  • Jerry and Dave co-owned the organization since 2013 until he asked for his membership shares and control back.
  • Dave was not a rogue agent…Jerry and he made decisions about CWG together.
  • The students were getting served with all the services they paid for until the end of October when Jerry shut the Guild down. As far as I know Jerry has committed to continue those services.
  • We had a plan to serve these students under a nonprofit model which would have expanded their services and the value the Guild carried. This was not implemented. We have created BelieversTrust, a nonprofit which educates and equips writers, but we have not done so with the use of CWG resources.
  • The Guild never made a profit (it was single investor supported), and even with good effort, it never recovered enough to be profitable. The organization was in the red by hundreds of thousands each year before Dave ever entered the picture.
  • Both men invested significant dollars and time in the Guild’s success, at serious personal and professional cost. They did so because they truly believe in serving writers well.

If you know me, you know I tend to just say things out loud. I’m not good with the white elephant standing all lonely in the middle of the room with no one to acknowledge it. Especially when everybody is tripping on its trunk and bumping into its backside.

So, I’ve spoken the relevant truths that I know. I’m sure there is plenty of truth I don’t know, and that’s okay in this situation. Had there not been blatant misinformation out there that could harm Dave and all of the employees, writers, and mentors who depend on him and his organization, I’d have not spoken these truths. What I do know isn’t what was being gossiped, so I’ve spoken.

I hope – I pray – really, really hard that speaking all of this serves the purpose of focusing on good, noble, right things. I don’t intend to speak of any of this again and instead will focus on continuing the good work that began this year in the formation of TheBelieversGroup and its service to content creators. Their words create better culture for Christ.

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Posted by on December 12, 2014 in Industry Reflections

 

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Dead End Places

Those of you who know me are aware of the recent upheaval in my world. Those of you who don’t probably know upheavals of your own, or are praying someone through a world turning upside down.

Questions from within and without became a barrage as I navigated through the intricate maze of emotion, faith, reality, and action. Had I done something wrong? Should I have seen this coming? How would all this affect my career? My family? My finances? Relationships? Reputation?

Ultimately, every question came back to the same place: Did I not hear God correctly?

When I found myself backed into what appeared to be a dead end, I couldn’t help but wonder if my feet had somehow slipped from the path He carved for me. Surely if I’d followed him correctly, I wouldn’t be here. Right? I felt like Job, eagerly listening to all his friends espouse their views, sifting through the words to find the elusive wisdom.

On the day I went to move out of what had become my former office, (hubby at the wheel and me firmly ensconced in my passenger seat with reading material) one thought kept popping into my consciousness: Exodus 14.

Exodus 14. At least I’d grown enough in the faith to recognize this prompting as being Holy Spirit-driven. So, I inwardly responded, “Yeah, yeah, be still, be quiet, be amazed. I get it, God.” And then that quiet voice again. Exodus 14.

Since embarking on this major career expansion two years ago, I’ve lived in Exodus 14 and various passages in Nehemiah and Isaiah. Comfort could always be found in reading again how God called His people, then equipped and provided. So, when I heard Exodus 14, I remembered well how the Israelites came screaming at Moses with the Egyptians bearing down on them. They were panicked, asking him why he brought them into the desert to die when they could have done that in the comfort of their own homes back in Egypt, thank you very much. Moses responds with some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture,

“Do not be afraid. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”

Exodus 14.

Yeah, God. Be still. Be quiet. Be amazed at the deliverance.

Exodus 14.

Okay, fine, evidently I’m missing something.

I grabbed the Bible from the dashboard and flipped to Exodus 14. Here’s what I read:

“Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ Then I will harden Pharoah’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.’” (vs 1-4)

Hmm. God sure was specific about exactly where He wanted them to go camp. Crazy specific. Did you catch that? God told them to go to a place of death. He sent them to a dead-end place. Hemmed in by the sea, there was no escape if the enemy came against them. No earthly escape, anyway.

With moving boxes tucked under an arm, I climbed the three long flights of stairs to my office, my dead-end place, and stopped just before the final seven steps. Did I believe God led me here? Yes. Absolutely. I’d never moved without talking to Him and asking for His direction, submitting myself to it.

If I believed that – if I believed that God sent me to this place, then running to Moses screaming wasn’t necessary. I knew what Moses would say.

Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord…

If you are in a dead-end place and you know that you didn’t get there as a result of disobedience or not seeking God’s will, you might want to consider – is your Red Sea moment almost here?

And if that could be true, then remind yourself: even when the dry ground comes, you’ll still have walls of water on both sides and an enemy bearing down from behind. Step firmly on that dry ground. There’s a bank of freedom on the other side.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Life Lessons

 

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That pesky outcome problem…

Divorce sucks. A dear, fantastic, beautiful woman I love (“Joy”) is going through it. She and I headed off to lunch recently so she could catch me up. Little did I know we were headed into a veritable shouting match about God’s attributes.

My life’s ups and downs could rival those of Trump’s career. I’ve been loved. I’ve been divorced. I’ve been hugged. I’ve been hit. Sung to. Screamed at. Birthed new life. Had life die within me. Securely debt-free. Crazily debt-ridden. Mt Everest to The Dead Sea. That’s me. Lots of lessons learned along the way. The one that caused Joy’s eyes to blaze with anger and forehead to wrinkle: outcome is not our responsibility.

She’s faced with a tough choice. A ministry unaware of her husband’s infidelity (with a major donor to that ministry while he was in charge of the ministry’s development) submitted an affidavit on his behalf which affected the custody dispersal of their children. Her dilemma is whether to make the ministry aware of the circumstances that caused his abandonment of her and their children. I urged her to, at all times, speak truth in love. Operate from a motivation of love. Stay in truth. She’s a former client of and donor to that ministry. She has a responsibility to provide truth to them. She’s scared of doing anything that will further affect the custody situation. I told her that outcome was in God’s hands, not hers. Her job is to speak truth, be motivated by Godly love. She ultimately realized her motivation right now would be vengeance, so she’s got some more discussing to do with God. 🙂 Our conversation, though, is still churning through my mind.

I used to cling to the façade of control. Take Action A, follow with Action B, Outcome C will occur. Follow rules: pain and suffering remain at bay. Take the medicine: sickness leaves. Eat correctly: get a healthy body.

As a Christian, though, I have to accept that my life is no longer ordered this way.

God is in charge of the processes and He’s anything but predictable in action – only in motivation. His motivation is always love, but it’s not always a love I can comprehend given my lack of His perspective and overall purposes. He’s a God who says, “Yes, I know you’ve never known a man, Mary, and it’ll wreak havoc with the man you’re engaged to, but you’re going to give birth. Trust me.” He says, “Yes, I know you can’t speak well and there’s no discernible food or water out there in the desert, Moses. Trust me.” He says, “Yes, I know you’ve no concept of rain or flooding or need for salvation from such, Noah. Trust me.” He watches Elijah have those four jars of water filled and poured on the 12 altars three times, then produces a blazing fire on them. Over and over He makes no sense on this side of the lesson. Over and over we see His glory as a result. His awesomeness. His ability, not ours.

It’s easier to give up the need to control outcome if we value His outcome over the one we can dream. If His outcome hurts today, we have to be confident of the tomorrow that reveals His glory. We have to long for that glory more than our comfort. God glorified must be our source of peace.

I ache for Joy. I know the overwhelming hunger to control. To prevent pain – of self and of those under my care. To believe myself a failure if I don’t shield them from hurt or a bad outcome. Ultimately, it’s a reflection of our design. We’re made in the image of a God who controls. And I think it becomes an offering to Him when we sacrifice that particular part of our design back to His authority…trusting that He can do something more fitting with circumstance than we could dream.

Joy reminded me if she pointed a gun at my head and pulled the trigger, I’d die.

I reminded her that would only happen if God allowed it. And, if He did, He’d ultimately be glorified in it.

She reminded me of an abused boy, chained to his bed for years, recently discovered by authorities. “Was that God’s will? You think God’s going to be glorified in that?”

I reminded her of some of my Dead Sea moments. A client who recently reneged on $19,000 that was supposed to help move my family nearer my in-laws’ who need our presence and help. A former boyfriend who thought pushing and slapping were acceptable ways to keep me in line. Another one who made me long for the days of just pushing and slapping.

“You think all that was God’s will?” Her beautiful blue eyes opened wide.

“I think God allowed it,” I responded. “I don’t think I can know fully why. I don’t have His mind. But I can tell you I have a good sense of how He hurts because I’ve hurt. I can think of that man who owes me money and hurt for the impact his ministry will experience as a result. I can feel that more honestly than I can want justice from him. I can think of the men who hurt me and ache for how lost and scared they must be more than I want them to be hit back. And I know that’s God. The world tells me if I’m hit to hit back harder. If I’m cheated, to exact vengeance. But God says to love your enemy. He says to turn the other cheek. I’ve learned that doing so gives Him freedom to be seen. And Him being seen – and known – matters more than me. There’s freedom in that.”

She shook her head.

We sat back in our chairs.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Life Lessons

 

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