By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
I was recently talking to a pastor in Tennessee whom I respect as much as any pastor I have ever known. We discussed a variety of topics and as we were saying our goodbyes, he told me, “Keep writing for Jesus.”
Those words came during the month that I am celebrating my 20th anniversary as editor of the Baptist and Reflector. Actually, I became interim editor on April 1, 1998 (yes, I know it was April Fool’s Day) and was officially elected as editor five months later.
What’s more, in May I will celebrate my 30th anniversary with the B&R and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
My friend’s challenge was indeed timely and made me think. I had never thought about what I did in that terminology before, “writing for Jesus.”
I have always referred to “telling His stories” and “telling the story of Tennessee Baptists.”
But, in reality, over the past 38 years I have been “writing for Jesus.”
When I graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1980 I wanted to become a sports writer. God had other plans. I began working that fall in denominational journalism for the first time with North Greenville College (now University). A year later I moved to Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) in a writing/public relations position. The next year I moved to Nashville as director of communications for the former Southern Baptist Education Commission where my primary duties consisted of writing and editing.
As I look back, I can see how God used every position I had (even those unrelated to the denomination) to prepare me for my ministry/career in denominational journalism.
Life as a denominational journalist has not always been easy. Not long after I joined the paper in 1988 as associate editor, I received a phone call and later a not so nice letter from a Baptist pastor unhappy with how I handled a story. Over the years I have gotten a few more “not so nice” letters from pastors and Christians who hopefully later wished they had not written some of the words they mailed me. The one that I’ll never forget is from the pastor who said he was “praying for my salvation.” That one still stings, but it taught me not to judge another person’s salvation based on whether or not they agree with me on an issue.
I have had letters from people unhappy with stances I have taken and notes from people who canceled their subscription because I was too “liberal,” or too “fundamental/conservative.” I have been accused of both over the past three decades.
But, in nearly 30 years with the paper, the number of positive letters, notes, and phone calls have far outweighed the negative. The reason for those wonderful notes of affirmation is not because I am a great writer. The reason for the affirmation is because people have understood that I have tried to write about Jesus over the past 30 years. As with any publication that deals with news, there have been stories that had to be told and they weren’t always pleasant. But, for the most part, the stories that really mattered were the ones that brought honor and glory to Jesus — stories that told how Tennessee Baptists and Tennessee Baptist churches were sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to reach a state and world that desperately needs Jesus.
The journalism landscape has changed dramatically over the past three decades. In 1988, I used an electric typewriter and we had typesetting equipment to prepare copy that had to be “cut and pasted” on layout sheets and then hand delivered to our printer for publication.
Now, it’s all done electronically. That has been a blessing.
But the world of technology also has been a curse to journalists. Many people feel they don’t need print publications anymore. The world of the Internet, blogs, and Twitter has made everyone a journalist. Unfortunately, there seems to be more rumors, opinions, and innuendo than well researched, factual stories.
I had the privilege of speaking recently during the 20th anniversary meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Historical Society. I noted that the newspaper industry as a whole is in trouble. Denominational print publications are no exception, but we have the advantage of being “niche” publications. The Baptist and Reflector tells the story of Tennessee Baptists who are sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why we exist, and hopefully will continue to exist for many years in both print and digital formats. No other publication has that assignment.
It’s been a privilege and honor to have been your editor for 20 years and to have been involved with telling the story of Tennessee Baptists for nearly 30 years. Age is creeping up on me (I’m now the third longest tenured editor in the 183-year history of the paper), but my hope and prayer is that I can continue to “keep writing for Jesus” for a few more years. Join me in praying that the B&R can faithfully continue to tell His stories for decades to come. We will need more Baptists willing to subscribe and support their state paper.
God has blessed me more than I ever could have imagined. Thank you, Tennessee Baptists, for your support over these three decades. May you “keep reading about Jesus.”