By Art Toalston
Contributing Writer, B&R
FRANKLIN — More than 70 years ago, William “Bill” Oakley began reading the Baptist and Reflector.
His father, W.B. Oakley, a Baptist preacher, had introduced the family to the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s paper. And the B&R had even more relevance to Bill Oakley when he surrendered to God’s call to the ministry in 1950.
“Throughout all these years the B&R has been a vital part of my life,” said Oakley, whose ministry has included pastorates in Halls and Blytheville and service on the TBC Executive Board when he chaired the committee that gave oversight to the Baptist and Reflector.
Oakley, in reflecting on the B&R’s value, tapped the paper’s name to note:
“BAPTIST: The B&R has been and still is without apology Baptist and serves the Baptist people in Tennessee as our media for news representation among our people.
“REFLECTOR: The paper is vastly important to Tennessee Baptists and the work within the TBC because of the following reasons:
- “It has and does faithfully REFLECT truth without bias or prejudice, and does that cushioned in love.
- “It REFLECTS the news of the work and ministries of Tennessee Baptists through our state convention organization and other entities, thereby keeping us well informed and challenged.
- “And most of all, it REFLECTS the Lordship of Jesus Christ in both our TBC network and also in the “grassroots” Baptist people across our state.”
THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
Amid the nation’s COVID-19 crisis, the Baptist and Reflector’s use of technology has given added reach to its ministry.
The B&R’s enhanced website, which will mark its fifth anniversary in October, recorded 167,300 visitors, in online metrics, during the first six and a half months of 2020, compared to 83,100 during the same period in 2019.
Year-to-date page views stood at 343,900 compared to 209,600 in 2019.
Additionally, visitors using mobile devices accounted for 63 percent of the B&R’s cyber reach so far this year, compared to 53 percent last year.
Lonnie Wilkey, the paper’s editor since 1998, noted, “Five years ago, we realized that print publications may cease to exist, but there would still be a need for distributing news and feature stories. That has proven true as several Baptist papers have ceased print publications including The Christian Index in Georgia and The Baptist Record in Mississippi among others. Our desire is to continue printing a publication for as long as possible but we knew we had to plan for the future.
“We put an increased emphasis on our website, both with design and content,” Wilkey recounted, noting that the number of page views and site visitors have grown steadily each year.
“I believe we are reaching as many people now with both web content and the print publication as we did with only print about 10 to 15 years ago. Our desire is to be relevant and accessible to Tennessee Baptists both now and in the future,” Wilkey said.
“Regardless of whether our readers view it in print or online, it is imperative that we continue to tell the story of Tennessee Baptists because we have an amazing story to tell — a story of how God is working through the churches of Tennessee to see His work accomplished in our state and around the world,” Wilkey said.
Chris Turner, director of communications for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board who grew up in Millington, said the B&R is “as relevant today as it was when it first started connecting Tennessee Baptists 185 years ago.
“The mission has not wavered in providing news that keeps Tennessee Baptists informed about important issues. We’ve definitely seen that mission fulfilled this year with issues like the COVID-19 pandemic … serving pastors and churches through delivering timely news that helps them make sound decisions during this challenging time.”
THE FRONT LINES
Randy C. Davis, president/executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, describes the B&R as “our communications lifeline. It keeps us connected with grassroots Tennessee Baptists.
“Our online presence has met a great need and has seen enormous growth, but the print edition continues to meet a great need and maintain a large audience,” Davis added. Both channels were important, for example, “during events like the destructive tornado outbreaks in Middle and Southeast Tennessee back in the spring and during the current pandemic.”
“Faithful readers of the B&R are well informed about what is happening around the state,” he said. “While these readers appreciate national SBC news, they have a healthy appetite for wanting local stories about what God is doing in Tennessee.”
Three words reflect Davis’ outlook toward each edition of the Baptist and Reflector: “Inspiration. Information. Instruction.” In his regular column, he has written about such topics as “Pastoral Leadership in the Coronavirus Storm” in May; “Beyond Anti-Abortion to Comprehensively Pro-Life” in July 2019 launching the I Stand for Life petition drive for legislative action at the statehouse; “Depression: It’s time to talk about it” in 2018, providing his cell phone number for any pastor needing help; and “A Plea for Unity and Cooperation” in 2017 voicing concern over divisiveness in the SBC.
The B&R covers a large geographic swath, and Tennessee Baptists are “a diverse bunch,” Larry Robertson, senior pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church in Clarksville, noted. “We need to be reminded that God is not confined to any particular locale or church size, and neither are we.
“Honestly, I need the balance that the B&R brings,” Robertson, a former TBC president, said. “The story of Southern Baptists, as a whole, reminds us that the global task is not finished and there’s still much work to do. But the story of Tennessee Baptists, in particular, reminds us that lost people go to hell from Tennessee, too. C.T. Studd said, ‘The light that shines farthest shines brightest nearest home.’ I believe that. We need to think both globally and locally; and the B&R helps us do that.”
Robertson added that the B&R provides “the opportunity to dialogue about matters that matter to us as Tennessee Baptists. Guest columns, for instance, invite perspectives from the front lines where the daily labor of ministry happens. We need those views, and we need those voices.”
“With the deluge of information at our fingertips — some true and some not true, some helpful and some not helpful — it can be hard to know how to think Christianly about certain current issues. I’ve treasured the work of our state paper to help us as pastors, for instance, articulate a biblically consistent, gospel-centered message in these turbulent times,” Robertson said.