Under 50, Don’t Write That Book

by Greg Wiens

No one under 50 should be allowed to write a book.” I have said this in several contexts, half joking.  But now I need to modify this some.

In reading Luke 9-11, it occurs to me that Jesus sent out the 12 to do some missionary work at one point. He had obviously spent some time with these apostles, equipping them before sending them out. Then a little while later, he sends out 72 to do some missionary work. In both cases, these followers of Christ saw God do unique and miraculous things through their obedience to Christ and the words they spoke.

It would seem to me the 72 whom he sent would not have been as well equipped as the 12. That being the case, God worked through them just as he did the 12. It wasn’t their time with him or their equipping that provided the power, but Jesus’ presence and word in them. This is a significant point. Obviously, this doesn’t exclude the importance of maturity and a person’s walk with Christ. But it is the presence and word of Christ that changes things. Ironically, Jesus tells the 72 that they should not be so excited about what God did through them (i.e. the miracles), but rather that they were now a part of God’s Kingdom.

So I guess this moderates my position that no one under 50 should write a book. Great books have been written by those under 50. However, it is an example of what we see above; Christ’s presence and words can do significant things in a person’s life if they submit to him. Surely those under 50 can submit wholly to Christ.

I think the principle behind my statement about young people writing books is that external “success” metrics do NOT necessarily qualify someone to write a book. As we see above with the 72 that were sent out; the fruit was a result of God’s work and they should only take pride in being part of God’s Kingdom. In contrast to this, it is these kinds of external metrics of success that often causes younger leaders to write books. I don’t think the size of a church or the number of followers are necessarily qualifiers for writing a book. It seems in our culture that fame, fortune, or a following qualify you to write a book. I don’t see this in Jesus’ teachings. Surely, he saw fruit in his less mature disciples, but the fruit was transformed lives. He focused on the quality of transformation and their being a part of his team, not on the quantity of information.

This is what John Izzo found in his research for the book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. He started with over 5,000 names to do research on understanding what were the secrets of significant impact people. Through some vetting, they reduced the size down to 400 individuals, then began an extensive interview process with each person. However, early in the interviewing of these individuals, they noticed a marked difference between the answers shared by those under 60 years old and those over 60 years old. They noticed those under 6o were still trying to state things in a way to justify their significance, while those over 60 were much more at peace with where they were and free to share their foibles and failures. In the end, only two individuals under 60 were included (57 & 58 years old).

The point is well taken, age-appropriate maturity produces sage-appropriate wisdom. However, in our culture, we don’t necessarily want to know wisdom; we want to know what works. So we intentionally seek those who have produced something that works, and we try to learn how they did it. 

In other words, people want to know just what works and how to do it for themselves. They don’t desire wisdom that requires them to think deeply about how it could/would impact their life and ministry. They just want the three or four keys to open the doors of successful ministry, not the tools to build their own impactful ministry given their own gifts. As Gordon MacDonald said a long time ago, he didn’t like speaking on Christian campuses because they only wanted to know “how.” Rather, he loved speaking on secular campuses (often state schools) where students asked the question “why.”

I think this is one reason individuals become lifelong learners; they continue to ask the question, WHY?

This is the question that really bothered my mom; I always asked why. In fact, at one point, she told me I couldn’t ask any more “why” questions. Where does that come from? I am not sure what causes individuals to continue to ask why; however, at times, it did get me in trouble. I would pursue activities or lines of reasoning to find out the why. At the University of Michigan, my undergrad education surely reinforced this thinking. We were challenged not to take a professor’s word for something but to pursue the truth. We were encouraged to ask the profs, “why?”.

So go ahead and write your book at whatever age you may feel so inclined. However, ask if your motivation for doing so is because of what you are learning about being a child of God, or because of the things you have seen accomplished through you? It would seem that Jesus cautions all of us to not take too much credit for what happens around us. This may be a fine line of distinction, and it has been the years of living through different seasons which has taught me the difference.

4 Replies to “Under 50, Don’t Write That Book”

  1. Now this article is a great discussion starter at any age, but especially in mixed age groups!
    We must get clear on WHY before we jump to HOW.
    HOW is hard. WHY is harder.
    We need the WHY and the HOW, else you have a weaker, dysfunctional organization.

    I need to write a book. Haha.

    Thanks for the article.

    1. Thanks, Mark, I have used that comment to stir up conversation in groups predominantly comprised of folks younger than 40. I think the “Why?” versus “How?” question also has something to do with personality types. But, it seems to me, from the mid-1970s forward the emphasis has been more and more on the “How?” perspective. This is why I think we are where we are today. You should write a book. You are over 50!

  2. Being in the over 60 crowd, what I’ve discovered is a softening of hard lines. Had I written down many of the things I felt I knew with 100% certainty in my earlier years, instead of just speaking them, I would be embarrassed today!
    We seem desperate to nail everything down and understand it all when we’re younger. Today I’m thoroughly captured by mystery.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I love Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward. The sad thing is that he admits so few individuals make it to the second half of life spirituallly.

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