By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBC
Tennesseans are a pioneering people, and a hearty people. It took resolve to come over the Appalachian Mountains and settle a wild and rugged territory. It took a greater resolve, bolstered by a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, for Tennessee Baptists to root the gospel in the hearts of people and stay at Great Commission work in the face of daunting challenges.
And our Baptist and Reflector newspaper was there recording and reporting Baptist work in Tennessee from nearly its beginning (although the paper was called, “The Baptist” then). This year, 2015, marks the 180th anniversary of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector, making it exactly 40 years older than the founding of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. It is also one of the oldest continuously published newspapers in the United States. That is something about which we Tennessee Baptists should be extremely proud.
In his four-plus years as executive director, Randy C. Davis has looked for models for what our state convention and its Executive Board ministries need to be to reach people for Christ in greater numbers in Tennessee and around the world. He’s consistently come back to our own Tennessee Baptist forefathers as the best model for our future. They refused to be slowed by the many challenges they faced and pressed on for the cause of Christ. Thankfully, the Baptist and Reflector recorded it all so that we’d have a record of their faith.
“The field before us is large and white unto harvest,” wrote founding editor R.B.C. Howell in the first edition published exactly 180 years ago this month. “For wisdom and strength to cast a sickle and reap, our confidence is in the Lord God of Hosts.”
Our present editor, Lonnie Wilkey could make that same observation today and it would be just as true. It is because of the Baptist and Reflector’s continuity and legacy that we can reach back and see that those early Tennessee Baptists were just as on mission as we strive to be today.
Howell strongly believed that a newspaper prepared and consistently distributed would break down barriers of isolation across the state and that it would be a voice that would inform readers in such a way that it could mold the denomination. I believe today’s Baptist and Reflector continues that legacy under Lonnie’s able and committed stewardship.
Let’s be honest, Tennessee from the Mississippi River to the Carolina border is a deeply diverse state. Throw in the rapid growth of international cultures rooting themselves in the Volunteer State and you have a mix of people our forefathers could never have imagined. However, our Baptist distinctives regarding the gospel and God’s Word bind us together as one people. The Baptist and Reflector is the single best way to keep us all informed.
Howell also recognized the importance of our story as a people being recorded, saying, “The living voice may arouse generous emotions, may produce high and holy determination, but it soon passes away. Not so, however, with the printed page. It lives and talks to present and future generations.”
We stand at a moment in our convention’s history when we are coming out of our recent Summit having affirmed as a network of churches the Five Objectives. These objectives are the direction we have decided to move as a people by 2024. We want to annually see at least 50,000 baptized and set on the road to discipleship. We want to see at least 500 churches revitalized and 1,000 new churches added to our number. We want to see Cooperative Program giving reach at least a 10 percent average from each church and we want to see the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions reach at least $3 million annually. These are huge goals and we face huge challenges, but like Howell said, “Our confidence is in the Lord God of Hosts.”
However, we need the Baptist and Reflector marching along beside us, telling the stories of how God is moving in the lives of Tennessee Baptists and Tennessee Baptist churches, reporting how we’re doing in relation to those goals and recording what will become our legacy while extending its own. Yes, along the way it will evolve and adjust to the times just as it has throughout its history to become relevant to future generations. Even now plans are on the board for changes that will — I believe — enable us to see the coming of the Baptist and Reflector’s best years.
This is an exciting time to be a Tennessee Baptist. I believe the journey we’re on will witness God’s Spirit sweeping across our state. Trust me, it will be worth reading about. If you don’t already have one, get a subscription to the Baptist and Reflector because you don’t want to miss out.
— Turner is director of communications for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.