News Articles

Be faithful, focused, editor tells colleagues

HORSESHOE BAY, Texas (BP)–Baptist state paper editors face an array of challenges, Gary Ledbetter, president of the Association of State Baptist Papers, said in his president’s address during the organization’s annual meeting in Texas.

Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN who also served as editor of the Indiana Baptist newspaper from 1989-95, urged fellow editors, “Remember your calling. Be faithful to and focused on the call of God in your life. We’ll have to spend some quality time keeping our various enterprises viable, no doubt. But don’t let that ever-present fact rob you of the joy and effectiveness prepared for you as you do noble work and follow a high calling.”

The full text of his president’s address during the ASBP’s Feb. 10-13 sessions in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, follows:

Last year in Hawaii, David [Williams, then-president of the Association of State Baptist Papers and editor of The Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist] led us in a theme of knowing one another. Granting that he had the terribly unfair advantage of being in Hawaii, I enjoyed the lighthearted and collegial nature of the program. As a companion to last year’s theme, I’ve built this year’s program with the intent of heartening us to find joy in our calling as well as in our fellowship. We all know the most important things we’re called to do but find that the less important things sometimes overwhelm us. The challenge of every person who follows Christ is to regularly value and rank the things that clamor for our attention.

God says, in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going,” and again in Colossians 3:23, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” We should do the thing we do “wholeheartedly” literally, “from our souls.”

I admit that I have sometimes taught this one-dimensionally. Do a good job, be excellent, show integrity and so forth. That’s fine if we are only talking to lazy people. This admonition, repeated in various forms throughout the Scripture, is much fuller than that:

— The crux of the Ecclesiastes verse is, for example, that we should hit whatever we attempt a good lick — overshoot if we need to but none of these halfhearted, grudging, hesitant efforts.

— We are further told in this passage that our time of work is short. In the context it is a warning — we are working for something worthwhile and have a limited time to do it. Jesus makes a similar statement in John 9:4. I take from that an encouragement that our work, whatever it is, has significance and some degree of urgency for our own sake as well as for others. It has eternal value because God has set it before us. That’s our work, too.

— In Colossians we have the further explanation that we should do our work as, in fact, we serve the Lord.

How are we to serve the Lord, then? Joyfully in 2 Corinthians 9:7. With all our strength, heart, soul, mind in Mark 12:30. Sacrificially, unto death in Matthew 16:24. Patiently in 2 Thessalonians 1:4. Just these few references of many tell the story that we are to be enthusiastic about the thing God has given us to do — our calling.

God is actually telling little people doing their mundane tasks, even under the compulsion of slavery to treat them as a life calling from God, as they truly are. That’s easy for us to exalt when we speak to a missionary commissioning or an ordination service, but what about to road workers and grocery store clerks? Isn’t that what He’s saying?

Many people who read our work and who may hear our preaching and teaching live lives they didn’t dream of as children. They didn’t spend years contemplating the call of God in their lives while attending seminary. They don’t have, or perhaps want, the occasion to study and meditate on what their message will be to those around them. What standards do we lift up to them in the locally prominent ministries we’ve been given?

When Chesley Sullenberger landed flight 1549 in the Hudson River last month, people hailed him as a hero, a professional, the very model of a modern major-general or something like that. I have no problem with that although I wonder what we would have said if he had done every single thing that he did but without the blessing of a mostly functional aircraft and a long straight stretch. I’m amazed at his focus.

He had to pay attention to:








rate of descent


the length of his runway

obstacles in and above his runway

He could have also been distracted by:

his crew (who he knew by name)

his passengers (who he knew in abstract)

people along the shore

emergency vehicles headed toward the river

buildings around the crash site

cursing his fowl luck

his career

radio chatter


thinking about his family

But for long enough, he focused on the one thing he needed to do. He adequately winnowed through all the sensory input to find those things that deserved his full attention and gave it to them at just the right moment. I admire that and find amazing all such stories where a person does a difficult thing just right in spite of a thousand good excuses to fail.

And here we are. Editors of print newsjournals and magazines in a time when many of our constituents and consultants and colleagues say that print is dead. We depend on the post office during a time when they can reliably deliver only higher rates and promises of declining service. Some of us depend on advertising while other businesses are desperately looking for places to cut spending. We have a lot to distract us. The temptation to find a new, less controversial and less challenging ministry — maybe missionary to the Taliban — haunts our imaginations.

Here are some things that try to draw me aside:

people who don’t like what I do

people who love what I do

a growing apparent apathy toward state papers

longstanding debates within the convention

managing people



multiplied opportunities to promote other peoples’ ministries

multiplied opportunities to run first-person columns by pastors and hobbyists

And while some of these things deserve our attention at the appropriate times, like any other ministers, we must not forget our calling. I, and many of you, was called to serve the body of Christ in a proclamation ministry. If you discerned no such call, you were called by God to the office you now occupy. The content of our paper is of primary importance. It is our ministry message — our prioritizing of news and opinion according to God’s leadership.

That work must not get lost in the clutter. The point of putting out our papers is not merely putting out our papers. Although we may state this in a variety of ways, our work is building up the body of Christ and supporting the Gospel work of our churches.

I can rationalize, maybe justify my occasional distraction by looming problems. In fact, I’ll admit that I sometimes go to seed on some secondary aspect of running a paper. I don’t do this because I love those secondary tasks, I very much don’t, but because I believed that I had plenty of time to return to my primary task. The hobgoblins that seem to threaten our continued ministries still remain. So do the archived copies of mediocre issues of newspapers that should have been better. My good intentions toward my work were not sufficient.

This moment in our diverse ministries no doubt seems like a crisis to many of us. To others it is merely a daunting challenge. Now is not the time to let hobgoblins command our time, even though they are more insistent than ever.

I’m also convinced our convention and our various conventions need us. The tendency of bureaucracies to lose their edge and devalue accountability is quite apart from their theology and regardless of their motives. If we are vigorous in our work and genuinely curious about the people who lead and serve us, we can be a benefit to the cooperative work of Southern Baptists.

Southern Baptists also need us to be informed observers to give context and perspective to the decisions of churches and institutions. That requires that we always develop our critical thinking, our understanding of God’s Word, and our network of people who inform us.

Friends, God put us where we are to be of positive service to his churches. Our work of encouragement is much larger than just looking for good news, although that’s a vital part of it. We can’t do that vital ministry if we are merely dissident. The work of our papers, newsletters and magazines will be of no use if we treat our leaders and institutions as prejudged adversaries. We’ve gone through that phase and it harmed our ministries and that of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Neither are we of positive service if we treat our leaders and institutions as if they are there to exalt us or even hire us. That careerist track presupposes that men place us in our roles rather than God. Our first commitment is not to our rabbis, and we all have them, nor to the First Amendment. Our first commitment is to God’s Kingdom and righteousness. I unapologetically desire God’s best for the Southern Baptist Convention and for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and I do for your state conventions and institutions. We may disagree about the precise nature of that best thing. We will certainly disagree with institutional leaders regarding that best from time to time. I’m convinced, though, that we should be, and mostly are, on the same side — even with our distinctive viewpoints.

Back to my theme: God has not called us to a ministry of fear or of self-promotion or disappointment or vengeance or tyranny of today’s hobgoblins. I see what Southern Baptists further east and on the west coast are facing and I hurt for you. We in flyover country will not be immune but for now we’re stronger. The alarms of today are maybe different, even more dire than those of a year ago, but they are not the first apparently insurmountable problems you or I have faced.

I’ll admit that chirpy optimists give me a rash. One such person is credited with being the first I heard say that there are no problems, just opportunities. Blah, blah, blah, but change does present opportunities for those who will see it. Our convention, your conventions, Southern Baptist institutions of all kinds collect baggage during times of prosperity that can be shed during times of crisis — perhaps to their benefit. Circulation and postage woes may motivate our papers to use broader variety in communicating our message. If your paper or mine must do less in order to continue, maybe we’ll be moved to do the most important things first and best. A thorough denominational crisis can be a refiner’s fire whereby we listen more closely to the Lord of all we govern. This could truly be the beginning of a revival for our work. We might not ask God for a hard time but we can seek His purpose in the circumstances He brings to us.

Remember your calling. Be faithful to and focused on the call of God in your life. We’ll have to spend some quality time keeping our various enterprises viable, no doubt. But don’t let that ever-present fact rob you of the joy and effectiveness prepared for you as you do noble work and follow a high calling.

    About the Author

  • Staff