My Beef With Ghost Writing & Ghost Preaching

Those of you who read Christian books probably aren’t aware that a fair percentage of famous Christian authors don’t actually write their own books.

They have ghost writers who do it for them.

Most of the time, the ghost writer’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the book. In fact, they are often paid not to have their names appear.

Sometimes the ghost writer’s name will appear on the cover in small letters under the “author’s” name, prefaced by the word with.

Example:

Frederick Champion

with David Yengling

Well, David Yengling actually wrote the book . . . so you can thank him. :-)

But in most cases, you’ll never know who the ghost writer is. And some of these “ghost written” books are best-sellers.

Not necessarily because of the content, but because the author has a large following (usually a mega-church pastor or a TV/radio personality).

Having written all my books myself, including the co-authored books I’ve done with other authors whose names appear on the covers prefaced by the word and, I’m not sure ghost writing should be practiced by Christians . . . unless the ghost writer is given her or his due. Without that, it seems to send the wrong message to the reader.

I don’t know about you, but when I read a book, I want to hear the author’s voice, not someone else’s.

The same goes for ghost preaching in my book. Yes . . . some pastors and traveling teachers have people write their sermons and messages for them.

I’m not talking about borrowing ideas from others. That’s quite normal and unavoidable. I’m talking about hiring someone to write sermons for you as politicians hire speech writers.

I remember back in 2007, one of my friends divulged to me that he wrote sermons for a very well known Christian speaker.

Yes, I was surprised. (I guess I’m naive.)

To my mind, a spoken message carries with it a part of the person who is preaching it. It’s not just the rehearsing of text.

For those who have others write their messages and sermons, I recommend reading Watchman Nee’s The Ministry of God’s Word. It will surely give you a paradigm shift if not a sturdy jolt.

So I’m not a fan of ghost preaching or ghost writing.

Where do I have it wrong?

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Comments

  1. Justice says

    Wait a minute… I love the bible and all the letters of the new Testament but isn’t our understanding that we know there were some “ghost writer’s” involved?

  2. says

    Thanks for your great post on ghosts. Perhaps an additional reason (not an excuse) for these practices: people I know that don’t write think that having the main idea for a book or sermon is practically like writing it. Christian writers realize that life-changing writing almost never occurs in the idea-brainstorming or rough-draft stages, but in the tedious effort of rewriting. If those big-name performers knew this, maybe a few of them would at least give credit to those who do the real work. Thanks again for bringing this issue to light.

  3. says

    I have to say I am surprised to hear about Christian books being ghost-written. Any book that is co-authored should have the co-author’s name on it. I have a friend who is a novelist and while she “co”-wrote another novel for a big name person her name was included as an author (although in smaller print). It then led to a publishing deal of more of her own novels.

    I was in a church once where the pastor used sermons he found online. He saw nothing wrong with it. We talked about it after I found out and then the next “series” he did mentioned he was getting info from a particular book (can’t remember which one). While I appreciated that he gave credit to that author, he still wasn’t clear that he was reading the chapters word-for-word!

  4. says

    I ran across an article by a friend of mine and thought he had copied it from a well known speaker/author. I asked him about it and turns out, he was a ghost writer for the guy’s sermons and it was his original idea. This happens more than we know and with some of the most popular names out there. I agree with you. They should be extremely transparent when they do this. I also appreciate the fact that you don’t.

  5. Rick Richters says

    Sally writes a book. Joe says he wrote it – his name is given as the author. This is called deception – a lie.

    Why would anyone want to read a book that starts out with a lie?

    I see nothing wrong with two or more working together on a book, but all who contributed should be mentioned.

  6. Bob Bedford says

    Someone might be able to deliver someone else’s sermon, but God sent us to deliver His message. Sermons rarely transmit grace, only knowledge. But a message flowing forth from a Spirit-filled heart will always have impact.

  7. john pearson says

    The pastor at a church I previously attended for 17 years did not write most of his sermons. I did not know this for about the first 7-8. He used sermons from well known pastors of mega-churches that he felt were well written and have been field tested for results.

    As a lay person who has done a lot of preaching/teaching I was kinda shocked he did not compose them. I cannot imagine trying to preach with passion a sermon not born out of my own heart. I had always wondered why he seemed to refer to a script sheet a lot while preaching. Also, his style was more teaching than preaching.

    In his defense though, he honestly felt these were the sermons God had led him to preach. Early on he preached them as written. Now he personalizes them and refers less to his notes than he used to.

    For me the bottom line comes back to the leading of the Spirit. Those preaching/teaching should proclaim the Word God puts on their heart.

    Bless God

  8. says

    I struggle with this subject. I agree that one should not misrepresent, saying what others have written are their own. However, we hand bible study leaders and sunday school teachers curriculum and tell them to teach it. In the early church they were instructed to read the letters from Paul to the church. In the Old testament they brought out the law and read it.

    The body of Christ has many gifts, the “ghost writers” may have the ability to write, but not speak, so is it possible that this is a more accurate use of all the gifts of the body. We know an actor does not write the lines he/she delivers, is it just a matter of a paradigm change and rightly citing who has contributed? We know a singer does not write his/her own music often. Tell me why is this a big deal if the book or message is better? Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” It seems to me that it is wise to involve others in the writing because scripture teaches us that to work together, not as a lone ranger.

    • says

      The issue is stating where it’s coming from if it’s ghost written or ghost spoken. Curriculum does that up front. But when you read a book allegedly by “Pastor Marvin Snurdly” and David Yengling is the guy who really wrote it, I’m just saying Yengling should get credit. This really isn’t a big deal to me. Just a pet peeve. I do have a few of those. :-)

  9. says

    Haven’t read the other comments. I agree that if you co-author a book it should be advertised as “co-authored”. I dislike the idea of ghost written books whether by Christians or non-Christians. There is just a certain amount of dis-ingenuity going on. Why not give credit? I understand that someone may have the actual story and the broad outlines that need to be re-worked–but why not just be honest about it?

    Ghost-written sermons? I’m sorry, that’s a problem for me. I’ve served as a local preaching minister for 12 years before entering into the organization I work with now. I cannot imagine preaching someone else’s sermon! Not only does it feel wrong, it isn’t mine! If it isn’t your material then you are acting–performing–not preaching.

    This isn’t the same as presenting as a sales rep or trainer who has set material provided to present by his company. Most recognize you are required to cover what your company gives you. However, even then you should always make the material your own.

    Someone once said as a preaching minister/pastor you are called to be a theologian, a scholar, teacher, and a counselor. You will be those four things–the question is: will you be good? How can you be a scholar/teacher if you present material written by someone else? Again, that would make you a performer not a preacher.

  10. says

    Ultimately we have what we have because we received it from the Lord, from someone else, etc…
    I agree that intentionally having someone else writing a book for you and you taking credit for it seems dishonest especially if core ideas, thoughts and illustrations are not theirs but the ghost writers.

    Now I will say there is one form of ghost writing we should all be a part of and that is Holy Ghost writing :) All glory to God!!!

  11. says

    Thanks for a great post, Frank. I remember listening to a seminar by John Maxwell last year where he talked about how he writes books with his writer, Charlie Wetzel. (And yes, he literally calls him “my writer.) They did quite a long session on how it specifically works for them. All of the ideas in John’s books are his – - the outline, content, etc. But Charlie is the one who actually fleshes it out and writes the actual works in the book.

    One thing I do appreciate about their system is that John is very transparent about all of this. In every book, he thanks his writer by name at the beginning.

    I guess it depends on what it meant by “writing” a book or a sermon. Does it mean the main content, ideas, outline, etc.? Or does it mean the one who actually writes each word on the page? And what about the editor, who certainly has a big hand in shaping the content and the words?

    I don’t have any issue if the co-writer or writer is recognized by name. The most important thing is 1) Being honest and transparent about who actually wrote it, and 2) What creates the best end product? If the “main” author or speaker has a great message but isn’t a particularly good writer, I wouldn’t want to read it no matter how good their ideas. If they can find someone who expresses the ideas better and is a better writer, more power to them. But people of faith should absolutely be transparent about the whole thing. If your name is on something, you should have a major role in shaping the content and the words.

  12. says

    I have mixed emotions on the ghost writing thing. I know some books are simply sermons made into books. Having someone do that transcribing and then if thoughts need to be added spend time with the original source, seems okay. The author/pastor still poured himself into that book. Credit MUST be given though to the ghost writer-either on the cover or inside. Several preacher/author/ghost writing teams have been together for years. But I have NO mixed emotions about ghost preaching. That is a betrayal of the highest order and cannot be condoned whatsoever.

    • says

      Bill: You are talking about editing. That’s not ghost writing. If someone gives a message and it’s transcribed, and an editor cleans it up for the written form, there’s no problem with that at all as I see it. Then the author should also edit it. I think that’s a great way to write books. Ghost writing means someone else writes the book.

      Even if the basic ideas came from the author, I think credit should be given to the ghost writer in the preface or something. So the reader is aware of who was behind the book. That’s all I’m really saying.

  13. Ken Otten says

    The only twist I have on the subject is that believers should always have a ghost writer – as long as He is the Holy Ghost. The subject reminds me of the old explanation on crediting a source: The first time I quote someone I give them full credit – “As Bill said…..” The next few times its “I’ve heard it said….” And from then on its, “Like I always say….”

  14. Pete Hall says

    To my mind, the main reason to put the name of a Christian writer on any book is for accountability. If an author is saying something which is way out of line, then the rest of the body can warn him or her about it because they know who they are. Ghost writing undermines that.

  15. Wesley Schoel says

    Well said, Frank. I grow weary of fakes and phonies, too. They seem to be everywhere but why must they also be in Christian literature and in today’s pulpits? To me it brings to mind the question of motive.

    Why is this piece of literature being published or why is this sermon being preached? Was the author genuinely interested in giving the reading public a clear understanding concerning a truth God has given to him or her? Was the sermon a genuine revelation or just a rehearsed message that has been made a bit more eloquent for the sake of making the speaker look good?

    One wonders if the real motive had more to do with appearance or money than with the dissemination of truth. But we simply aren’t called to judge the heart of another brother of sister in the Lord. I think that is why the Apostle Paul addressed this issue in Philippians 1:15-18.

    “It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.”

    In the end I think authors and speakers should give due diligence to that which they present to the followers of Christ. Prayer and study should precede any publication or sermon. The world doesn’t see deception or misleading the audience as “wrong.” But we should. At the risk of sounding religious I would like us all to remember that we should be above reproach in all things. Integrity should dictate giving credit where credit is due and refusing to lie, deceive or mislead anyone.

  16. Richard says

    I guess I too am naive – I did not realize this went on in Christendom. I have certainly had content inspired by I have read others write on – or heard them say, and try to give credit where credit is due – often a simple “as so and so wrote or said” without going into deep academic citing of work title or page number … I too think it is inevitable to share ideas that “are not my original” idea. I agree that if I am reading I am looking for the author’s thoughts or voice,as you aptly put it. I would think my hearer’s are too.

  17. says

    Great post! As a freelance writer, I have always wondered where the fine line should be drawn on ghost writing. This is good stuff. My only contribution to this conversation is some churches that have a team of teaching pastors will many times collaborate for a message series (prayerfully and creatively), and then different pastors will preach a specific message. And if the team has a communicator gifted (more as a writer), then that pastor is the one who will primarily script the message. This has been my experience.

    But I will say that, even though it is a group effort, most of the time it is the one who is preaching the message that “takes ownership” of the message.

    Great stuff!!!

  18. Michal Eldridge says

    I appreciate your take and this and actually agree – even though I am a paid ghost writer for several individuals. I too wonder if the reader realizes that the “author” is not the one who actually wrote the book. I have not previously considered the idea of “misrepresentation” in the Christian world, but think you have a vary valid point. I know personally I want to read books that allow me to know the author – and that is one of the reasons I have loved your books, it helps me to know your heart beat. I appreciate you being genuine and brining this topic to light. I have to admit, I have felt funny writing Christian material for others, and now will rethink it in the future.
    Thank you!

  19. says

    Right! You have it right!

    Holy Spirit has a different “hue” of anointing and creativity to pour through each of us. We are “conduits” of His message and, I believe, “ghost writing” is dishonest for the writers and to the readers and to the Lord. When I or any other artist paints, we have a unique brushstroke. We apply colors in a unique way. It’s the same with writing. Our own story is in what we write and that is the way God meant it–who could argue with that? Ghost preaching is an even more insidious counterfeit. Anointing is anointing and it can fall upon us or it can bubble up within us through our life experience.

    I see God putting a “writer” with someone who has a story to tell but has some physical or technical issue. In that case “by ___________ as told to _________________ ” can be an honest effort.

    It’s obvious your heart and soul are in your books, Frank. It’s obvious you are co-writing with the Lord.

    I’m in the midst of writing a book right now and I even get a twinge of discomfort when my absolutely wonderful editor asks me to move a paragraph or insert something here or there. At the same time, I’m so close to the story that I need another set of eyes to make sure I don’t assume I said something I didn’t.

    Good insight!

    • says

      Jacquie, I love your point about painting! That leads to the question: would we accept “ghost-painting”? 8^)

      “Ghost-singing” got Milli-Vanilli in trouble, right? How about ghost-writing poetry or lyrics? It just gets silly after a while!

  20. Yolanda says

    I’ve often thought about this very thing. Not just with Christian writers, but all authors who take credit for a work they haven’t written themselves.

    Ghost preaching? I’m naive because I never heard of this. How do you deliver a message that doesn’t come from your own experience–that hasn’t dropped down into your gut? The sermon would then be more of a motivational talk or a fact-based teaching.

    Glad you put this subject out there.

  21. Sylvia says

    You have it right…..ghost writing has its place, but there should be an acknowledgement that the supposed author had one. I would be willing to take what someone has told me and put it into a form that was more suitable for publishing, which, while not exactly editing, it is not writing the same as writing material for them either.

  22. David Polk says

    I agree, especially with the “ghost preaching” part. How can you really preach/teach from what you’ve lived and lived through if someone else is writing your sermons? Isn’t that kin to reading the bible and not taking it personally? If someone else writes your sermons you might have the right words, but where’s the life in those words if they’re not from your own walk with the Lord?

  23. Alex says

    Frank,
    I totally agree. I have most of Watchman Nee’s books, including, “The Ministry of God’s Word,” where he argues that a preacher should speak prophetically to an audience in the sense of forth-telling something from the heart of God.

    Using a ghost writer violates that integrity because all books of prophecy in the Bible are a confluence of the two lives: the life of the prophet and the life of God. A ghost writer is one step removed from that confluence.

    Integrity and transparency are hallmarks of authentic Christianity. That is damaged by the use of a ghost writer and undermines the message that God might be using through the ghost writer. It provides another occasion for critics to disparage the Gospel, and another excuse for unbelievers to dismiss the Gospel.

  24. says

    Thanks for this post, Frank.
    I don’t know about anyone else but I had a lot of fun writing my own book. Plus, there is the added bonus of getting to learn a lot of new things that you never knew about (anyone who’s a writer will know what I’m talking about).

    • NATHAN BENNETT says

      I AM A GHOST WRITER…AND I AGREE, FRANK. IT CAN BE VERY MISLEADING TO THE READERS…FOR IN THE READING WE HOPE TO GAIN SOMETHING OF THE WRITERS PERSONALITY AND DEEPER THINKING. Big time TV ministries are full of the GHOSTS.

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