Thinking Out Loud

March 21, 2019

America’s Last Significant Christian Bookstore Chain, LifeWay is Shutting Its Doors

On January 6th, 2018 the iconic James Draper Tower of the LifeWay complex in downtown Nashville was demolished. Thursday’s announcement of the closing of the retail chain sends even bigger shock waves. [Source: Tennessean – see below]

Yesterday, Religion News Service reported:

LifeWay Christian Resources announced Wednesday (March 20) it will close all 170 of its brick-and-mortar stores this year.

That comes as LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, shifts its resources online.

Local news media The Tennessean reported:

The company plans to shift to a digital strategy as consumers increasingly rely on online shopping, a challenge that retailers face nationally. LifeWay resources, such as online Bible studies and worship plans, will be offered at LifeWay.com, through the LifeWay Customer Service Center and through its network of church partners

“LifeWay is fortunate to have a robust publishing, events and church services business. Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels, which are experiencing strong growth,” [CEO Brad] Waggoner said. “LifeWay is moving into a new era with a strategic digital focus that will prepare us for the future and allow us to better serve our customers.”

At LifeWay’s Facts and Trends website, more details:

…The timing of store closings will vary depending on local circumstances. LifeWay expects all brick-and-mortar stores to close by the end of the year…

…In one month, LifeWay interacts with five times as many people through its digital environments as it does through LifeWay stores…

Unlike the 2017 closing of another Christian retail chain, Family Christian Stores, this is not a receivership. The FCS closing affected over 3,000 employees and also devastated publishers, music companies and giftware suppliers who were also sent reeling with the closing of Send the Light, a large wholesale distributor. FCS closed 240 stores in comparison to LifeWay’s current 170. In contrast, the website for Parable explains that, “Parable Christian Stores are locally owned and operated franchise stores run by people who desire to resource their community with Christian products.”

But there is no doubt the LifeWay decision will have an impact on authors, musicians, and a host of other creatives who make the products that Christian bookstores sell. It will also have ripple-effect repercussions on everything from how Christian products are marketed and promoted to Christian music concert tours.

But not every author, musician, or film producer is affected as the RNS story reminded us that many had their products outright banned by the chain:

[Rachel Held] Evans said Wednesday that she doesn’t rejoice over any bookstore closing and she is mindful that LifeWay’s closing means many people will lose their jobs.

But, she said, “for too long Lifeway’s fundamentalist standards have loomed over Christian publishing, stifling the creativity and honesty of writers of faith.

“I hope this news reinforces to writers, editors, and marketers across the industry that we don’t have to conform to Southern Baptist doctrine and culture to sell books. Readers are hungry for literature that embraces the complexity, nuance, and ragged edges of real-life faith and for bookshelves that reflect the diversity of the Church.”

Other people on Twitter responding to the closure didn’t share Evans’ compassion and were outright gleeful that the chain, long known for its restrictive practices was shutting down. “News we can celebrate;” said one, while @SBCExplainer, an official SBC account, countered with, “[L]et’s band together to dispel any notions that LifeWay is ‘going under’. LifeWay will continue to be the largest Christian resources provider in the world.” 

Patheos blogger Jayson D. Bradley, who himself once worked at a Family Christian store, observed, “Without intending to, LifeWay and Family Christian Stores helped create an evangelical ghetto. By choosing what was orthodox enough to sell and then only carrying what sold, they helped create the hyper right-wing political evangelical culture we all get to enjoy now.”

As the story broke last night in local markets where the company has locations, several reports indicated that store management knew their closing date was coming at the end of May. SBCExplainer also noted that outlets on seminary campuses would also be closing. Also included in the closing is the new flagship store built less than a year ago in the new LifeWay building after the first property was sold and demolished. (See picture above.)

More information was being posted on the store’s FAQ page.

 

This is developing story; check back for updates.

 

April 5, 2013

Ken Wytsma: Evangelist for Justice

Sometimes books just show up unsolicited. When a copy of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma (with D. Jacobsen) arrived, my plan was to read about 50 pages and then thank the publisher (Thomas Nelson) with a passing reference in a “currently reading” blog post.

Pursuing Justice - Ken WytsmaInstead, this was literally a “can’t stop” book until, more than 300 pages later, I ran out of book. First time author Wytsma is president of Kilns College, an innovative school in Bend, Oregon which began with four night classes in 2008 and now offers 36 classes with a focus on missions and social justice. The website defines the purpose, “We didn’t want to simply provide a vocational Christian education. ”   He is also the founder of The Justice Conference, a two day annual event in Los Angeles which began in 2010 and will have its fourth event in Feburary, 2014.  He’s also a pastor at Antioch Church in Bend,  and writes at (K) blog.

Pursuing Justice is on the surface an easy to read primer on all the issues which social justice raises. Wytsma teaches philosophy, and approaches the topic from the vantage point of one wanting to know the heart of God in issues such as slavery, disease,  poverty, inequity, etc., but with a view to the “cluster concept” of the justice God desires that is rooted in the concepts of righteousness, ethics, integrity, truth, love, etc.  On closer examination, this title goes much deeper.

The book is a call to action on the part of the church, but that action has to be rightly considered. Don’t expect him to be a fan of your church’s next one-week mission trip unless the purpose of that trip is to build one-decade relationships. And I would add, don’t expect to grasp social justice through the reading of a book; Wytsma’s personal history in some world hotspots gives him both the credibility and the requisite passion on this subject; he has literally looked social justice in the eye.

And don’t think what happens a world away doesn’t matter, or that what we do in North America or Western Europe doesn’t impact the uttermost parts of the earth. In a visit to his daughter’s school — literally taking a friend from the Democratic Republic of The Congo for show-and-tell — a student asks if the visitor’s community has PlayStations. The African doesn’t get the question, and Wytsma actually tells the man to say no, but it’s really a lie of sorts because they do have the raw materials that make the PlayStations possible. It’s an awkward moment all round that underscores the complexity of life in a shrinking world.

As one who grew up at a time when Evangelicals neglected their social responsibilities, both locally and globally, Pursuing Justice is one of those books which, having read it, I need to start back at page one to fully absorb its  implicatons.  Each chapter is followed by an “interlude” and while the reason for that may have been artistic, it allowed some of us to catch our breath between topics in what is an incredibly complex topic.

Finally, while the book is certainly appropriate for a mass audience, its exhaustive examination of justice gives it a textbook quality. If you haven’t delved into this subject, or your reading is limited to one or two popular speakers, Pursuing Justice belongs on your bookshelf.

…Thanks to Wordle (and blogger Nicole) here’s another look at what the book is all about:

Pursuing Justice  - Top 25 Words

Watch a one-minute book trailer and read another excellent review at this blog.

July 31, 2011

Seriously Funny: Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas

When The Elephant Room conference and DVD happened, I suggested that this experience was much like getting to eavesdrop on the conversations pastors have with each other about pastor-type things.    In many ways, Seriously Funny by Jeff (Lucas on Life) Lucas and Adrian (Sacred Diary) Plass is the same kind of thing, only with just the two British pastors sharing a written conversation and offering a distinct British flavour to the discussion.

I actually mentioned this book in a link list on June 9th, 2010 — yes, over a year ago — and was sent a copy by Authentic/STL which I simply never got around to reading, much less reviewing.  But that changed this week, and in many respects, because the book deals with issues that are simply messy, this was a better climate in which to read the book.  Messy is in.  Questions are in.  Doubts are in and even pastors experience them, sometimes in mighty waves.

The book is simply an exchange of about a dozen letters each — one presumes e-mails — between the popular UK writer and speaker (Plass) and the sometimes UK, sometimes USA pastor and writer (Lucas) in which each letter is a response to ideas suggested in the previous exchange.  There’s even an amusing suggestion that it’s a good thing these letters are never going to be published.  Nice touch, guys.   The book is really neither rolling on the floor funny or deadly serious.  Instead it’s real, it’s transparent, it’s honest, and it gets you thinking about the mysteries of living the Christian life.

You can read a random (serious) excerpt here.  Definitely recommended for those who know Plass’ earlier or recent works, fans of which are legion; or fans of Lucas’ Creating a Prodigal-Friendly Church or Will Your Prodigal Come Home, or for my UK readers, the daily devotional booklets that bear his name.

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