Where there’s money, there will be manipulators of any system.
on Feb 11, 2014 · 8 comments

Money PulpitA television news station, WCNC, in Charlotte, NC, ran an interesting story on February 8th, titled “Elevation pastor sells books from pulpit.” In that article, James Duncan, an assistant professor of Communications at Anderson University, is quoted saying in reference to getting on best seller lists:

“So you’ve got this explosion of sales and it looks like this is the most amazing book,” said Duncan. “Totally they gamed the system.”

“People in publishing know it’s a game,” said Duncan.

It is common knowledge that publishers buy front-store space for their select “bestsellers.”

They buy prime slots on the home pages of Barnes & Noble’s and Kobo’s sites. Through pre-ordering they can ensure a month or two of sales get compressed into one week for a better chance at hitting the bestseller lists, though they are starting to lose this advantage.

For years the readers have often used the bestseller lists to check for books they would like to read. But have readers using these list been manipulated all these years by publishers? Would those “bestsellers” be such if put on an equal footing with other books?

Some might point at the indie publishing movement as the solution. There is no doubt a lot of books are coming out that venue that traditional publishers wouldn’t have taken. Some of them qualified to be published. The reader would tend to think this more democratized process would weed out manipulating readers by “gatekeepers.”

Then we remember all the sock-puppet reviews, the paid-for-reviews. How many “marketing” books have come out which amount to nothing more than how to game Amazon’s best seller list calculations to climb on top?

Where there’s money, there will be manipulators of any system.

Even if that system is a church. In this case, a mega-church.

“Almost all the mega churches – their pastors tend to have books,” said Brewster. (Sally Brewster, a veteran independent bookseller at Park Road Books in Charlotte.)

I wonder how many of them hawk their books from the pulpit? That’s what I would have a problem with. To be fair, the pastor claims he makes no money off books sold in and through his church, nor do any of the books bought for the church through his author discount count toward bestseller’s lists. However, the church is making money from the books. There is always the chance he is getting a hidden kickback in his “salary”.

But this doesn’t let the pastor off the hook, in my opinion. For one, the money-changers and sellers in the temple that Jesus chased out with a whip were earning money for the temple. If nothing else, the publishing house is earning money from church sales. That the church earns money but not the pastor doesn’t justify it.

The bigger issue is manipulation.

It may be a fine line to walk at times between promotion and manipulation. However, standing before one, two or more thousand people on Sunday morning as their pastor and using that position of influence to sell books, looks and smells like manipulation to me. I don’t say he shouldn’t mention it, but not from the pulpit. Maybe the Church newsletter, or his Facebook page. But a church service is God’s time, not his. He’s speaking on behalf of God from the pulpit. Or should be.

Do you as a reader feel you’ve been manipulated in what to read? How do you ensure that doesn’t happen to you? Have you experienced “selling in the temple” before, and if so, how did you feel about it?


As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and The Virtual Chronicles series, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines.Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following:Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.
Website ·
  1. bainespal says:

    The game is definitely rigged in favor of megachurches and celebrity pastors. My church is not a megachurch, and my pastors have never had anything to gain either for themselves or for the church by hawking books, but they still have hawked them for the Evangelical Cheese.
    My church does Wednesday night Bible studies, and they use CBA books/workbooks that they encourage participants to buy. Additionally, when the pastor likes a popular Evangelical book, he might mention in his sermon. Same for Sunday school teachers. Suddenly, everyone at church is reading the book. (Though to be honest, not everyone buys the books. A few people will buy the book and pass their copies around until almost every family as seen it.) This happened a while ago with Respectable Sins, and then with Already Gone, which I kind of hate.
    Sometimes the Bible study book and the pastor-supported fad book happen to be the same one. There’s social pressure to buy the book and attend the Bible study. The old pastor even used to say that the cultural Christians are the ones who come on Sunday morning, but the real Christians are the ones who show up for Wednesday Night Bible Study. (This is the kind of talk that makes my blood run cold.)
    My church seems to have sufficient wealth for its infrastructure and basic needs, even though I doubt we have extra money laying around. But I can imagine that there are hundreds of smaller and poorer churches around the country that have the same social dynamic that encourages congregants to throw money into the Evangelical Cheese industry. I think this is wrong.

  2. R. L. Copple says:

    If I’m reading you right, that is a different but related issue which, I agree, can be abused as well. However, there is “gray” areas there I think. I certainly don’t think it is an inherent problem if a church wants to do a study using a book, especially one not written by the pastor.  I can see your point though on the inappropriateness of a pastor’s influence on such matters that can create a knee-jerk reaction that if you’re in the “in” and truly holy group, you’ll get and read the book the pastor mentioned.
    That said, I can also see a valid application for such book studies for certain topics. Like marriage for instance. There are some decent books out there, though admittedly, the Christian one’s I’ve read have not been as good as their general market counterparts by and large. But some of those could be a real help to people.
    But if a pastor writes a book, I’m sure a good number in his congregation will want to read it. But promoting it during a Sunday morning or evening sermon is inherently bad for obvious reasons: using his position and authority from the pulpit to promote his own book. It may be a very good book. It might help lots of people. But a sermon isn’t the appropriate time to promote it.
    Good points, though. We should all be more discerning when whoever recommends books to us. That’s why a lot of people ended up reading The Shack, which has questionable theology. And pastors take on the risk of promoting bad books when they use their influence to sell them.
    My pastor has yet to mention one of my books in a homily. 🙂

    • notleia says:

      The Shack wasn’t horrible. At least it managed to be theologically questionable in an interesting way, though I haven’t heard many people’s specific problems with it.
      And there are way too many books on marriage, Christian or otherwise, and a lot of them are pretty much the same and chock full of inaccurate sexist assumptions: Women are like spaghetti and men are like waffles or whatever. They seem to forget that women and men are different from other women and men just as much as women and men are different from the opposite gender.
      /feminist rant

      • Jill says:

        “Women are like spaghetti and men are like waffles”
        LOL. What is it about people foisting marriage manuals on poor couples who just want to live in peace and do their thing? I’ve been given SO many over the years, and their advice ranges from “Don’t worry about giving (sexual) pleasure to your wife; women are satisfied just from the intimacy” to “Men were given vocations from God and women were not. Men are oriented toward the world, and the woman toward her husband [so stay home and serve your man because God said so]”. Gag. Misogynistic bull-puckey, all of it.
        Ahem. Were we speaking about manipulation??? I think the pastors who write these books are doing a fair amount of projection, as well as manipulation. If they can manipulate women in general, using their pastoral authority, to do what the pastors wish their wives were doing for them, then they’ll *feel* as though they have a happy, successful marriage, too.  

      • R. L. Copple says:

        Generalizations can sometimes aid understanding, as long as one keeps in mind it is a generalization and won’t apply to everyone. A book like Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars I did find helpful in learning how to communicate with my wife.
        But I’ve read one book by a well known Christian pastor that amounted to not much more than platitudes and Christianize. I didn’t finish it because it was worthless.

        • Jill says:

          Generalizations in marriage manuals are like horoscopes. They might very well touch on exactly what you’re going through, but they’re just as likely to be meaningless. That probably wasn’t the best analogy, but it’s workable on a certain level. The thing is, if you generalize about “the way women are”, chances are there are enough women with those personality proclivities for it to be helpful to some men. But, unfortunately, if your wife’s personality is not as described in the book, it’s just as likely to prove harmful or unhelpful. Being misunderstood is frustrating, to say the least. My husband and I have found personality tests to be much more helpful than marriage manuals in learning to communicate with each other. It’s a more individual approach. Christian marriage manuals are especially bad about wanting to erase the individual from gender relations. Because Paul. Or something like that.

          • R. L. Copple says:

            Unlike horoscopes, correct ones tend to be true more often than not. If such can help men to understand how most women view things in principle, as well as women men, I think that is a good thing.
            But applying them is a simple matter of asking, “Hey honey, is that how you think?” And she’ll tell you about herself, where she might sync with said generalization, and where not.
            Having now dealt with people recovering from infidelity for nearly 3 years, I’ve seen the evidence of the generalizations mentioned in that book. As well as exceptions. But they do tend to be the exceptions, not the rule.
            Of course, that is but one tool for exploring a better understanding of each other, and individualized therapy will more directly address the issues (or should) where marriages are failing, which can be many and varied, and have nothing to do with general differences between the sexes.
            But that doesn’t negate whatever value there is in understanding general differences. It’s not an either-or issue.

  3. Jill says:

    I have a hyper 6th sense for manipulation. I don’t like it. And, yes, I feel manipulated by advertisers. Well, no, I don’t. If I’m manipulated, it’s under my own conscious radar. I don’t think I’m manipulated, but who knows? Maybe I was just manipulated into clicking this link (by E. Stephen Burnett, who may not be a pastor, but certainly knows how to write blurbs that push me into clicking). Click. Click. Advertising=manipulation. That is probably why I’m not a good marketer.

What do you think?