God Moments (14): The High Cost of Success

[This is the fourteenth article in the series of God Moments in My Publishing Life.]

The last installment introduced the God Moments that transformed Here’s Life Publishers from a money-losing struggle into a profitable publishing house, however, as I will reveal later, the cost was higher than anyone anticipated. But before I reveal the details leading to the sale of Here’s Life Publishers I’ll introduce tools for evangelism and discipleship we published to enhance the ministry of our parent, Campus Crusade for Christ.

In installment 12 I revealed the development and publishing of a successful new series of evangelism follow-up discipling tools for campus ministries—and giving the Four Laws booklet a new title, Would You Like to Know God Personally? and friendlier content. I introduced Bill Bright’s Witnessing Without Fear and Josh’s apologetic books. We kept our eyes and ears open for book projects by Crusade staff that would foster the evangelism and discipleship that lie at the heart of their ministry.

A Disciple-Making Book

Personal Disciple Making

A God Moment came at Crusade’s biennial staff training retreat in Colorado. I met with Chris Adsit, then the national discipling coordinator for Athletes in Action, who had spent four years in discipleship activity with the Navigators. In 1975 Chris had been named all-American in the Decathlon and participated in international competition. As we faced each other over lunch he told me about the amazingly detailed personal discipling chart he had developed and his desire to write a book about personal disciple-making. We agreed a good start would be a 128-page book.

Months later Chris delivered a 500-page manuscript entitled Personal Disciple-Making. We wondered who, even the most committed disciple, would read a 500-page book! But since Chris was a key staff member of Crusade, we decided to edit out any “fat” we’d find—eventually delivering a 384-page final proof to our production manager. Our marketing team agreed we’d better put a high price on it, since they expected to sell only 3,000 copies. They had not counted on the impact of 17 endorsements by pastors, staff, and Dr. Howard Hendricks, nationally-known speaker and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. That first year our marketing team sold 12,000 copies, quadrupling their prediction, making it a financially successful book—and a ministry many times that of what was expected. Chris tapped into his international connections and added a ministry in South Africa with his book.

A Student-Oriented Evangelism Tool

Now we had a first-rate how-to book on evangelism and one on personal discipling, plus specialized discipling booklets, but what about a unique evangelism tool for campus ministry? The chairman of our Here’s Life Publishing board and executive vice-president of Campus Crusade for Christ, Steve Douglas, approached us with an idea, a book entitled How to Make Better Grades and Have More Fun. We engaged a former editorial staff member of Crusade’s Worldwide Challenge magazine, Al Janssen, to work with Steve and together they wrote the book. Steve decided we should put a challenge on the outside back cover. If reading the book and putting its principles did not help a high school or college students improve their grades by a full point, we’d return their purchase cost. No takers ever developed, but when a college or university campus team distributed it to new students on campus, inviting them to a meeting, Steve would fly out to address those who turned out. Consistently, 50% of those attending made a decision to accept Jesus as Savior. Publishing mission accomplished.

Working with Josh McDowell and a writer he enlisted, Don Stewart, we published a series of four books on cults and world religions that sold very well. We worked with Josh to develop and publish a book on personal Bible study.

Becoming Part of a Dream

Over the years we faced a number of staff crises and were forced to release several key members if we were to achieve our goal of keeping a godly team together. God then brought some genuinely effective professionals to our staff. We gathered the team on short notice if a prayer concern, like the illness of a staff member, arose. We met every week around God’s Word and prayer.

One day we learned that Dr. Bright was thinking of selling us to hopefully raise one million dollars to fulfill his dream of a New Life Center in Moscow. Over a year we had several publishers evaluate our performance and what we might bring to a publisher. Yet none were willing to pay cash at the level Dr. Bright wanted. He contacted Sam Moore, president of Thomas Nelson, and he sent a team to do due diligence, examining our accounting system, our marketing approach, the books we were publishing, our credit rating. The team doing the evaluation assured us we had the cleanest financial books they had seen in some time, they were astonished what our marketing people accomplished with limited promotional dollars, and our desktop publishing approach gave us  significantly lower production cost per book than they were experiencing.

When our board of two Crusade executives and three outside members met, they questioned the wisdom of selling a profitable publishing house producing effective tools for evangelism and discipling, the key ministries of our parent. Objections were over-ridden and the sale made to fullfil our president’s dream of a Here’s Life center in Moscow. Now my job was to keep the staff together and gain them a separation bonus based on years of service—which our parent let us provide. Remarkably, only one staff member left before we closed our doors. After 11 years in San Bernardino, CA I faced the uncertainty of finding a new job, but God had another few God Moments for me as a writer before I got back into publishing.

An International Opportunity

Over the years I had developed a good relationship with a Mr. Hui Lin, a Crusade staff member in Singapore who was a remarkable entrepreneur. He had developed a book distribution outlet for Christian publishers in the U.S. and the UK and served staff and Christian bookstores throughout Asia. He approached me about helping him develop Christian book authors in Asia. We agreed on a Friday evening and Saturday all day writers’ conference in a suburb of Manila, in the Philippines—and an all-day one on a national holiday in Singapore in the spring of 1992, the year our publishing house was sold to Thomas Nelson.

I arrived in Singapore after visiting a brother and his family doing church planting in Japan. I received a tour of Manila, a truly immense city. I learned that 250 writers had signed up for the conference, but the room could hold only 225. Even then air conditioning could not keep up and by mid-morning Saturday I was feeling weak. During the break I was taken next door and served a cold mango juice drink that quickly refreshed me. I was interviewed for a local newspaper article and met with seminary faculty that evening, where I experienced one of the rotating power outages because drought had cut down electricity output. After I left, a group of writers organized to encourage one another and put into practice some of what they had learned.

Sunday morning we arrived at the airport to airport controllers on strike. After sitting around all day Mr. Lin and I experienced a God Moment—we were able to board the last flight out of Manila for Singapore. The next day I led 125 Singapore writers in a series of workshops, later meeting several one-on-one to discuss their writing opportunities. A special privilege was addressing a group of Christian booksellers. Sightseeing for a day included a delightful visit to a bird park.

In the next installment we’ll tackle God Moments as a writer before he opened a door to an unusual opportunity as a curriculum managing editor.

Copyright, 2014, Les Stobbe

One thought on “God Moments (14): The High Cost of Success

  1. So many overlapping places and contacts (Bill Bright, Josh McDowell), I wonder if we’ve met anywhere along the line, Leslie. Enjoying reading your backstory!

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