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LifeWay global reach fuels former rock star wannabe

NASHVILLE (BP) — As a college student in the early 1980s, Craig Featherstone dreamt of becoming a rock star. His band Chezwick — named for a character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — played gigs across the Southeast, from small town bars to Atlanta’s Fox Theater.

Among their favorites to play were songs by Aerosmith, Bad Company and the Led Zeppelin, particular the latter’s classic, “Stairway to Heaven.”

“We just crushed it,” Featherstone said. “I wanted to be the new Robert Plant.”

But his musical ambitions were derailed by a summer spent selling Bibles door-to-door in Mississippi.

A friend convinced him to give it a try, though Featherstone — now director of LifeWay Global Resources — didn’t have much interest in matters of faith at the time. He’d grown up Catholic but never had any personal discipleship.

Still, he thought he could make a few dollars selling Bibles with his friend. As it turned out, the experience changed his life.

During training with the Varsity Company, then part of Thomas Nelson, Featherstone learned sales techniques and some details about the Bibles he’d be selling. But he was also introduced to the Gospel.

The head of the program talked about his own faith during the training, which intrigued Featherstone, then a student at Auburn University in Alabama.

“He talked a lot about what real success in life was about,” Featherstone said of the message that stuck with him as he sold Bibles over the summer.

He’d been plopped down in Columbia, Miss., with a faux-leather case of Bible and resources to knock on at least 50 doors a day. The job was commission-based; the first week, he worked 92 hours and made $140.

“You figure in how much money I spent on gas and food and rent, and I lost money my first week,” he said.

But Featherstone had a knack for selling. Many of the people he talked with wanted a Bible for their own personal study or to pass on to a family member. Some wanted to buy an abridged encyclopedia that Varsity also sold to help their kids in school.

“I learned to attach sales to things that people needed,” Featherstone said.

What struck him, however, was the hospitality and kindness of some of the people he met. Many invited him to have something to eat or to visit their church. One of them was the pastor of a small Pentecostal church who invited Featherstone to sing at a revival meeting even though he wasn’t a believer.

“There I was, in this tiny Pentecostal church, singing ‘Sail On’ by the Imperials,” he recounted. “They had to teach it to me before the service.”

By the end of the summer, Featherstone had become one of the program’s most successful salesmen. And he was ready to accept Christ.

Back at Auburn, he joined the Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ. The Navigators taught him to love the Bible while Campus Crusade taught him the importance of evangelism. Those two themes, along with the skills he learned selling Bibles door-to-door, shaped his career.

Featherstone worked at an ad agency in Atlanta, serving Fortune 500 companies like Coca-Cola and Christian ministries like Focus on the Family. That led to a marketing job at Thomas Nelson.

While at Nelson, he worked on a project called “Voices of the Faithful,” a series of daily devotions written by IMB missionaries and edited by Beth Moore. That project opened his eyes to the work of the church overseas. Before then, Featherstone hadn’t cared much about missions.

“The Lord used that to soften my heart,” he said.

About 10 years ago, Featherstone came to LifeWay to work with its B&H Publishers trade books division. One of his hopes was to help expand LifeWay’s international presence.

His experience selling Bibles door-to-door is still paying off. In those early days, he talked with Christians of all kinds, from Presbyterians to Pentecostals, which he credits for preparing him to serve Christians around the world.

“Most Christians in the world are neither Southern nor Baptists,” Featherstone said, but they still need the biblical resources LifeWay provides.

Featherstone, who is 53, didn’t give up music completely after leaving Chezwick. He continued to lead worship for years and still enjoys singing. But he’s happy in his work and in spending time with his family. He and his wife Kathy, who’ve been married 29 years, have three grown children and a pair of grandsons.

“At our house, we say we’re living the dream.”