One Author’s Quest for Tribal Leadership

This is a guest post by Mary DeMuth. She is an author, speaker and book mentor with eight published books, including her most recent, Thin Places. Mary also mentors writers on her Wanna Be Published blog. She is also active on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

The quest started over dinner with my agent. “You need to stop,” she told me. “You’re doing too many things. Stop spreading yourself so thin.”

Aerial View of a Crowd - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #10098861

Photo courtesy of ©

That was last summer, culminating a stress-induced year of running after every opportunity, not considering if it fit the way God made me or my mission. I see now that so much of what I chased after was based on fear, particularly worry over money. So I said yes to everything. And gave myself a nice little ulcer.

So I gave a few things up, but as winter crept forward, I turned off my “No” and embraced my “Yes” again. Which was fine, since I am one of those crazy high-capacity people. But eventually burnout erupted, and I decided it was time to revisit my agent’s advice. But how?

I read Tribes, by Seth Godin. And I resonated with his words. Tribes are the people we lead. A tribe can be a small group or large. It’s the group of folks you influence.

A little background: I’d been through a lot of marketing training by this point, but I hadn’t given myself permission to truly allow myself to decide who I am. I tended to bend to the experts and acquiesce to their words, yet deep down I knew the tribe I wanted to lead. And since it didn’t fit a particular “safe” model, I was afraid to name it. So I kept safe, twittering and Facebooking all over the map.

Enter Thin Places. The book of my heart. My memoir. I poured my life, my soul onto the page. When I read for the audio book in Nashville, the producer stopped recording partway through. He said, “Why did you write this book?”

“I don’t want people who struggle to feel alone.”

Something resonated when I gave that answer.

And when I started getting email upon email (far more than I’d ever received from other books) and phone calls and gifts from strangers. I knew the readers of Thin Places were my tribe.

Still, I needed direction. So I orchestrated a few strategies that may be helpful to you as you discern your tribe:

  1. Ask your tribe. The readers of my ezine, Inside Renewal were the closest folks to my tribe in one place that I had.

    So I asked: “What is my one thing?” My inbox flooded with answers, almost all of which had to do with communicating in an authentic way so people who struggled would find healing. Bingo!

    You can do this same thing by sending a wide variety of people you know an email asking them to help you define you and your ministry.

  2. Seek professional help. My friend Guy Richards at Abiah walked me through this process. In the end, after he asked me amazing questions, I wrote this: “To craft and communicate stories in such an authentic way that strugglers find healing and no longer feel alone.” Wow, that was so me! But it took someone gifted in brand management to get me to that place.

    I also asked my friend Sarah Markley for her expertise in analyzing my blog. Her input helped me change the way I do things. Just this week my traffic tripled because I wrote posts specifically geared to my tribe.

    My friend Randy Ingermanson spent several hours with me helping me define my tribe and how I could better minister to them. These were folks God placed in my life. My hunch is that He’s placed strategic people in your life who can take you through this process.

  3. Do some soul-searching. Frederick Buechner says that the place that you ought to serve is “where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” So define that.

    In your opinion, what is the world’s greatest need? (Everyone’s will be different). What is your greatest joy? How do they intersect in your life right now? How would you like them to?

    Another exercise: List your three favorite movies. (Don’t think about it; just list them.) Now look over your list. What is the common thread in all three? That common thread is typically your passion colliding with the world’s greatest need.

So what does this mean? It means I had too many tribes, so I’ve had to say goodbye to some followers. It means I finally have given myself permission to be the woman God has called me to be—to share with men and women the healing God can bring to broken lives. It means I now have focus. It means that my story has meaning in the great scheme of the kingdom of God.

And it means I can rest in God’s sovereignty as I pray for the success of Thin Places. My hope is that it hand sells, struggler to struggler, much the way Blue Like Jazz or Same Kind of Different as Me touched folks. I have no doubt those authors knew their personal collision of the world’s greatest need with their greatest passion. And it’s my sincere prayer that you would discover the intersection too as you seek to define your one thing, your tribe, and the direction of your ministry.

Questions: What do you see as the world’s greatest need? What is your greatest passion?
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  • @meganwillome

    So good, Mary! It's about calling, not what the "experts" say. Of course, my 3 favorite movies are "Little Miss Sunshine," "Almost Famous," and "A Room with a View." Hmmm … I may need to ponder in my own blog post. Thanks for the food for thought.

    • Mary E. DeMuth

      But it is good and helpful to listen to the experts. My branding friend Guy has helped me tremendously. And my friend Randy has given of his time to help me figure out ways to develop my brand.

      Enjoy analyzing your movies!

  • @David_LeDoux

    Michael, thank you for sharing this. After reading Mary's post I feel as though another piece has dropped into place in the greater puzzle (for me) of figuring out the why's and wherefore's of the many forms of social media/networking and personal branding and how they all fit together. I sincerely appreciate your continued efforts of educating the uninitiated who are just beginning their struggle to figure it all out.

    • Mary E. DeMuth

      David, I'm curious to hear how you see them all fitting together?

  • Kate Johnson

    Mary, how timely. I have been struggling with this for a while now, saying yes to what I really don't feel called to and doing so much that takes me away from my passion – providing help, hope and healing through my writing and speaking. So this post will help me clarify… Dan Allendar says your passion is that thing which makes your heart shout YES when you do it! I need to shout yes more often.

    • Mary E. DeMuth

      Great idea from Allender! Now, to shout more today! :)

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  • Jenny

    Mary, I am so glad a friend of mind pointed me to your blog when I finally admitted I am a writer. You have been an inspiration and a instrument on my journey. I don't know what the world's greatest need is–enouraging fellow Christians. My passions: deep Bible studies, children, reading and writing. My top three movies: Mary Poppins, Lethal Weapons, X-Men. Hmm, not sure about a common thread there. I am working on being a regular contributing writer on Granola Bar Devotionals, my own Creatively Loving Kids blog (I want this to be a published devotional, i also want it to be a mainstream, non-devotional version just don't know how that will work), writing preschool Bible character scripts for my church, and I'm going to be doing reviews for Book Sneeze. I continue working on my christian children's sci-fi book. I'm not sure how it all fits together or works, but I do know I'm doing exactly what God wants me to do. i know I'm in the middle of God's will.

    • Mary E. DeMuth

      Great things you're doing Jenny. It sounds like a lot of what you do has to do with kids. Can you streamline that a bit? If you could have a line of products for kids, what would they be? Why?

      • Jenny

        I want to write stories that show kids how to live the Christian life everyday and the apply the Bible to every day problems. Because I think it can be hard for kids to figure out how a book with stories from thousands of years ago can apply today. I also want to help kids with self-esteem and help parents avoid undermining their children's self-esteem and discover new ways to build their child's self-esteem. i struggled with self-esteem issues and want to pass on what I learned to parents and kids.

        • Mary E. DeMuth

          Let me push a little further. Define self-esteem. What do you mean when you say you struggled with self esteem issues?

          • Jenny

            Self-Esteem is feeling good enough about ones-self to be able to cope with basic challenges of life. In highschool I didn't feel good about myself. I never really fit in. I didn't understand the social code–I didn't understand inuendos or popular terminology (I grew up in the 80's/90's). My parents kept me sheltered from most things (popular movies, books, music) so I couldn't participate in small talk. I didn't know how to carry on a conversation. I was afraid to talk on the phone. I didn't think anybody liked me for who I was, they just wanted help with homework–I was a nerd. I also learned that I didn't understand my faith. My short temper flared in the face of criticism. Even when I was encouraged, I didn't know how to take it.

          • Mary E. DeMuth

            Very interesting, Jenny. One of the books I wrote had to do with this idea of parents helping kids engage the culture. We start with a lot of control, then continue to release it as our kids get older.

  • Alisha

    Mary & Michael, this is exactly what I needed to read this morning – thank’s so much! I was just sitting down to write a proposal for my own memoir (using both of your non-fiction tutorials of course!) and struggling to focus what I’m trying to say. This post reeled me in from my tendency to be all things to all people and challenged me to be and do what I was created for. Thank you so much for sharing your journey towards tribal leadership. :)


    • Mary E. DeMuth

      My pleasure Alisha. Thanks for using my proposal tutorial (and Mike's too). Combined, you should have a good representation of your book.

  • Kathleen L Maher

    Funny how this post jibes so well with Rachelle Gardner's this weekend about what you gave up for writing. Passion is about focus, and focus requires narrowing and homing in. God must have really wanted me to get the point with this double barreled assault on my scattered focus. Ha! This deserves more exploration. Three movies. . . greatest need, one thing. . . I have my homework for the week. THANK YOU! :)

    • Mary E. DeMuth

      Kathleen, I hope you find your focus. These exercises will help you. Also, do remember to ask your friends. That's very valuable information.

  • John Richardson

    Thank you Mary for an insightful post. I took your advice and put down my top three movies and it really opened my eyes up. What a brilliant strategy for personal introspection. I did a post about it here

    • Mary E. DeMuth

      Thanks, John. I saw your post. Good job! I went through the exercise over a year ago, and I've been using it ever since to help folks understand their mission.

      • John Richardson

        I've been asking the question "what are your top three movies," to my co-workers and friends. It's always a conversation starter and the answers have been very insightful. The results have been all over the place, but "John Wayne Movies," Shawshank Redemption," and "The Sound of Music," have been repeated over and over. Do you have any additional information or resources on this particular exercise? Someone should put together a movie guide that could help refine the outcome. Lots of fun!

        • Mary E. DeMuth

          I don't. I'm so sorry. I participated in it via a writer's loop a while back.

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  • Charissa Steyn

    Thank you for this post!! I just read the book Tribes and was very challenged to seek the Lord even more about how he wants to use me specifically in His kingdom. I know it starts in prayer, and walking in perseverance to touch the people he has placed in our lives. Nothing we do for His glory is wasted!

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  • Bruce

    Kathleen, I hope you find your focus. These exercises will help you. Also, do remember to ask your friends. That’s very valuable information.

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  • Ebony

    I really, really love this. I've been having some issues with moving forward because I have too many interests and share in too many different directions. My 3 movies are Rocky, View from the Top, and Music & Lyrics, just off the top of my head, Underlying theme I see? Pulling out your inner dreams and rocking your calling…

  • Jason Vandehey

    Thank you for posting this link on coachradio discussion. I’m glad that I read it. Jason

  • Lisa

    OMG, I have had such an epiphany. Thank you so much for your posts.. I will now give myself ‘the luxury of field duty’… Might even work up the courage to blog about it..  non-annonymously.

    Thank you again

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