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Communicator shares lessons from ‘Univ. of Southern Baptist Life’

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–A veteran Southern Baptist communicator, recalling her career, told trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention on Sept. 10 lessons she has learned in the “University of Southern Baptist Life.”

Linda Lawson, communications department director for LifeWay, was introduced by LifeWay President James T. Draper, Jr., who announced her early retirement after more than 31 years with the agency.

Lawson cited 10 lessons she has learned over the years “through the words, the eyes and the lives of some who have gone before. Some of them I did not know personally. They had passed from the scene long before I got here, but their impact lives on — especially through their stories.

“I have had the privilege of knowing personally some of heroes of the past, within LifeWay and the Southern Baptist Convention at large,” she said.

The 10 lessons and the persons who inspired them are:

1) When two Christian leaders of opposing viewpoints can put something larger than themselves ahead of their own views, agreement once thought impossible can be reached: Virginia Pastor J.M. Frost and J.B. Gambrell, editor of the Mississippi Baptist Record, who reached a compromise in their differences on establishing a Sunday School Board and brought a joint recommendation to the 1890 Southern Baptist Convention.

2) When a dream that you believe God gave you dies, don’t despair. He may have another role for you to play in making that dream reality: John Broadus, Southern Baptist statesman, teacher and writer who started a Southern Baptist publishing venture which died due to lack of funds and the onset of the Civil War. After the 1890 vote, Broadus, who had spoken in favor of the proposed Sunday School Board, sat alone in his chair at the SBC meeting, sobbing over a dream fulfilled.

3) If you are doing the Lord’s will and are faithful to his calling, you do not have to settle for failure: B.W. Spilman, who became known as the “Sunday School Man” for his crusade for the all-age Sunday school. Warned by his state leader that his efforts were sure to fail, Spilman marked the word “failure” out of his dictionary and, later while working at the Sunday School Board, took the campaign for all-age Sunday schools nationwide. He also was the driving force in the establishment of the Ridgecrest conference center in North Carolina for training Sunday school leaders.

4) Don’t hesitate to call on others for help when you are pursuing a goal you believe God has given you. Cooperation is not easy but is never achieved through compromise of convictions: Annie Armstrong, corresponding secretary of Woman’s Missionary Union before the turn of the 20th century. Armstrong disagreed with Sunday School Board President J.M. Frost over the impression WMU was doing work the SBC had assigned the Sunday School Board. In asking Frost’s support, she wrote, “If I am in the wrong, I trust grace will be given to cause me to make any acknowledgments, no matter how trying, but if in the right — and I thoroughly believe I am entirely in the right in this matter — I do not propose to yield one iota.”

5) Taking a stand for what is right may be costly in human terms, but for a follower of Christ it is obedience: James L. Sullivan, president of the Sunday School Board from 1953-75, who took a stand against racism in the 1950s and 1960s out of a longstanding conviction and in support of the board’s African American employees. He soon became the target of hate mail and death threats at work and at home, which led him to move his family’s home for their personal safety.

6) You may climb to the pinnacle of a career by staying in the same place: Josephine Pile (Broaddus), who came to the Sunday School Board in 1944 as an assistant editor of Sunday school materials and 39 years later retired as a design editor of youth Sunday school materials. She touched an incalculable number of teenagers by the materials she edited. Throughout her career, she taught teenagers at Nashville’s First Baptist Church because she loved young people and she believed she needed firsthand experience with teens to be an effective editor. She also trained hundreds of writers and mentored other editors.

7) The true test of creativity comes in bringing a fresh approach to something you have done before: Floyd Craig, who in 1974 represented the SBC Christian Life Commission on the editorial board for “event,” the magazine for youth that Lawson edited. Craig advised Lawson, who felt after 30 issues she had done all that could be done with the publication, that the real test of creativity may come in being able to address the same subject with a different approach multiple times.

8) Whatever your circumstances and limitations may be at a given time in your life, God has a place of service and ministry for you if you have the spiritual eyes to see: Harry Piland, retired director of LifeWay’s Sunday school division, who despite the diagnosis of a returned brain tumor gave his testimony about extended time granted to spend with his wife, opportunities to teach and serve despite illness and God’s faithfulness throughout his life and ministry.

9) We must serve the people inside LifeWay with the same Christlike spirit that we serve the people and churches outside: Jane Shelton, a recently retired 20-year LifeWay employee who managed the assembly unit in the logistics department, a component that serves other LifeWay employees. While Jane could cost out a job in her head when others required a calculator and a computer, mostly importantly her fellow employees knew her as kind and courteous. Once after having back surgery, she returned to work too soon and was experiencing pain. Her supervisor found her one day stretched out on a chaise lounge in her office, continuing to work.

10) If you believe God is leading you, move ahead, even if it makes you really nervous: James T. Draper Jr., LifeWay’s president, who allowed employees to explore a new name for the Sunday School Board. While he expressed reservations and concern about changing the name, he allowed employees to move ahead. After a group discussed using John 14:6 as the theme verse for the LifeWay name, Lawson discovered among the Scripture medallions at the agency’s main entrance is John 14:6, one of the verses selected more than 30 years earlier to reflect the work of the Sunday School Board. For Lawson, that was a confirmation of God’s direction in the process.

“We truly do stand on the shoulders of those who went before,” she reflected. “Sooner than we can imagine, new generations will serve on the LifeWay staff and on this trustee board. And while they may not know many of our names, I pray that our shoulders will have been broad enough to offer a foothold as they use methods not yet dreamed of to carry the timeless, unchanging good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

Lawson, who has directed LifeWay’s communications department since 1993, will retire effective Feb. 1, 2002. She and her husband, Pat Still, plan to be involved in missions projects following her retirement.

“Linda has been a strategic leader at LifeWay,” said Mike Arrington, who as vice president of the corporate affairs division is responsible for the communications department. “Not only has she provided direction to her department, but also she has been a valuable asset to all LifeWay components, especially in the corporate affairs division, with excellent planning skills and communications strategies. She has provided a solid foundation for those who will follow her in communicating LifeWay’s ministries in the years ahead.”

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis