Today I have something different to share with you – an interview with Shannon Ethridge. She is a best-selling author and international speaker. Not only that, but she shares what she has learned about writing books and speaking with others seeking to honor God in the same way. This post is much longer than normal, but I wanted you to hear about her program called BLAST.
Did you know that over 80% of the population believe they have a book inside them, yet less than 1% ever sit down to write it. Why? Because most don’t have a clue how to get started, and there’s no existing roadmap to guide someone on such an adventure.
If you’re one of those 80% that believe you have a story to share with the world, imagine receiving three hours of inspirational wisdom and practical guidance each month for an entire year from one of the most successful author/speakers of the past decade… having the opportunity to schedule one-on-one coaching sessions with that experienced professional… getting the inside scoop on the best books for aspiring writers and speakers to read… being partnered with a small group of like-minded individuals with similar ministry goals who can cheer you on… having the opportunity to submit speaking samples and a polished bio for professional critique and feedback, etc.
Where can you find all of these things? Through B.L.A.S.T. (Building Leaders, Authors, Speakers & Teachers), Shannon Ethridge’s online mentorship program for those looking to launch (or strengthen) their writing and speaking platform. I talked with Shannon recently about how she started the program and what kind of encouraging words she could share with my readers…
1. You seem to have so much going on with your own writing and speaking, so what motivated you to launch the BLAST program?
Wherever I speak, one of the most common questions men and women ask is, “How can I do what you do?” There is no “two-minute answer” to that question, and there’s no college class or training program where I could refer people seeking to become an author or speaker. For years I didn’t know how to respond except to point them in the direction of the Sally Stuart Christian Writer’s Marketing Guide and offering a prayer.
However, as Shannon Ethridge Ministries blossomed more fully than my husband or I ever imagine possible, I felt such an overwhelming debt of gratitude toward the handful of people who’d really taken an interest in my mission and helped me navigate the waters toward getting published. The only way I could imagine “paying them back” was to “pay it forward” like they had done. So in 2008 we began brainstorming all of the things I’d learned along the way, especially the things I only wish I’d learned much earlier in my career. We began visualizing how to pass this plethora of information along to aspiring writers and speakers, and realized we had an entire year’s worth of valuable teachings that we could offer to those who are really serious about launching or strengthening their own writing or speaking platform.
As much as my own ministry continues to grow, I’m constantly reminding myself that this is “not about me.” It’s about what God is doing, and there are many other voices that God wants to speak through besides mine. The more I can help others “find their voice,” the more glory God gets through our collective ministry efforts. We’re all on the same team, so I want to help my teammates excel!
2. What’s been your greatest joy as you’ve watched people progress through the 12-month program?
Of course, it’s always a thrill to hear that someone’s finally completed that book proposal that’s been swimming around in their head for years… or that someone’s proposal is being seriously considered by a full-service publishing house… or that they’ve been invited to speak at a major conference. But there’s lots of “smaller victories” that bring me just as much joy, such as when a BLAST participant realizes what they’re passionate enough about to commit their whole life to speaking or writing about it… or they sense the Holy Spirit pointing them in a crystal clear direction as they develop the foundation for their own ministry … or they simply learn to surrender and trust God more fully and completely than they ever have before. All of these are major steps in the right direction, and I love celebrating the baby steps as much as the giant leaps forward!
3. Remembering back to your own days of trying to get your first book published, what were your biggest challenges?
When you’ve never published anything before, it feels like a Catch-22 situation. Publishing houses prefer published authors, but you can’t become a published author until a publishing house takes a chance on you! And trying to get a full-service publishing house to seriously consider your proposal — well, it’s easy to feel like a tiny grain of sand on an entire continent of beach. The idea of someone noticing YOU among all the other voices out there clamoring for attention can be oh-so-discouraging. I remember sending 13 query letters to 13 different publishers, and within 3 months receiving 13 decline letters. But I kept trying, and through random circumstances that could never be explained except to say that God orchestrated a major miracle, I just happened to send my manuscript to a literary agent that represented Stephen Arterburn and the Every Man’s Battle book series. Little did I know that they were searching for a female voice to write the Every Woman’s Battle series. All that to say, regardless of how many times you hear “no,” you only need ONE “yes!” And God is in the business of calling attention to tiny grains of sand!
4. How has the publishing industry changed since then? What challenges will aspiring writers & speakers face now?
It’s no longer just about having a message that will preach. Publishing houses expect that you are preaching/speaking about it already – not just on a stage, but on social media outlets. Publishers want you to have your own “following” or “tribe” that you communicate with regularly through your website, blog, facebook page, twitter feed, etc. Speaking and creating a following before you are published can be challenging, but it actually makes sense. Testing your material over and over in front of live audiences, getting lots of feedback, and gathering personal stories from audience members are keys to really honing your message. Some people think you have to publish a book first before becoming a speaker. That’s absolutely backward. I spoke for many years before writing a single word, and I believe the words I finally sat down to write were much stronger because of those years of speaking to groups and investing in one-on-one conversations.
5. Describe how your own ministry has grown over the past 15 years, and to what do you attribute that growth?
I started out speaking to youth groups of 20-30 in my own backyard in Dallas, Texas in 1996. Now I travel as far as Australia and New Zealand to share my testimony, and recently spoke to an audience of 12,000 for Women of Faith. Since signing my first contract in 2001, I’ve published 19 books that have collectively sold over 1 million copies – or as I prefer to say “impacted over 1 million lives!” Some titles have been published in 18 languages, which boggles my mind that through my writings, I get to minister to people in countries I’ll probably never set foot in. But I know that this ministry wasn’t born out of any special gifts or talents that I possess. Tons of people can write and speak effectively. I believe it was born out of my own sin, and my willingness to be honest and vulnerable about that sin and God’s redemption of it. My ministry is really all about how God wants to take our lemons and make lemonade. Proverbs 11:25 says, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” and I’ve found this to be oh, so true! The more we focus on others, the more God focuses on expanding our reach!
6. How can someone really discern what God wants them to speak or write about?
That’s one of the first items on the BLAST agenda – helping people discern their calling, crystalize their message, and develop their own voice in sharing that message. My best advice is that we need to look at our own lives. God doesn’t call us to speak about something that we haven’t experienced personally. He doesn’t want you to “theoretically teach” about some random issue. He wants you to show the world what HE has done in YOUR life or in the life of someone close to you. That’s how I knew God wanted me to speak on sex and love addiction. That was my greatest misery, but God turned it into my greatest ministry. Not everyone’s message will be as “messy” as mine, but it’s got to be something you’re passionate about – something that has impacted you on a deep and personal level. Doing a “life mapping” exercise where you chart the highs and lows of your life and how you saw God working through that season is a good place to start.
7. To the person questioning, “Can I really do this – can I really be a speaker or writer?” what do you say?
I’d say you’re asking the wrong question. Why can’t you be a speaker or writer? God spoke through rocks… through a donkey… through a man who murdered Christians with glee in his heart until he was blinded and given new sight. As we see over and over in scripture – it’s never about the messenger. It’s always about the message. There are no “perfect vessels” for God to use, so He uses broken ones, or “cracked pots.” Writing or speaking is something that most people have the ability to do. What we need to focus on is hearing God’s voice and discerning WHAT and HOW he wants us to write or speak for the sake of His people and His purposes.
8. Writing and speaking can feel very discouraging to those who have big dreams (they feel God given ones) and their writing and speaking platforms seem to be going nowhere. What would you say to those seasoned writers and speakers who get good feedback, but still their ministries seem small?
I don’t think we can ever measure success in terms of numbers. I remember showing up to speak at a youth retreat and only five teenagers were there, but it was one of the most powerful ministry experiences having that intimate of a setting and spending more one-on-one time with each student than usual. Our only job is to be faithful and “show up prepared.” It’s God’s job to prompt people to attend our event… or read our blog post… or receive what we have to offer. I’d like to think that I received just as many stars in my crown that weekend for speaking to those five as Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer did speaking to their five thousand. It’s all about being faithful to what’s been entrusted to us, regardless of how great or small.
And remember, the game of life isn’t over yet! Just because you’re not seeing tons of spiritual fruit today doesn’t mean that it won’t be growing out of your ears tomorrow! Or that it’s not growing like crazy deep inside people’s hearts where you can’t see it, but God can.
When you feel yourself getting discouraged about the size or scope of your ministry, meditate on Luke 16:10 — “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…” Be faithful. Praise God for the fruit you do see, and trust Him for what you hope to see.
Shannon Ethridge, M.A. is an AACC-certified life coach, best-selling author, and international speaker. Her ministry focuses on her three passions: sexual integrity, sexual intimacy in marriage, and spiritual intimacy with Christ. Although grateful for the opportunity to impact others through her writing and speaking, she’s most passionate about being a cheerleader to her husband of 23 years, Greg, and their two children, Erin (21) and Matthew (18). Learn more about her books and ministry resources at www.shannonethridge.com. For more information about Shannon’s BLAST Mentorship Program, go to www.blastmentoring.com.
Blog friends you can also check out BLAST on Facebook or follow Shannon on Twitter. I hope Shannon’s words encouraged and inspired you to follow the dreams God laid on your heart and maybe step out in faith and start the BLAST program.