Highlighting the theme, “Together Again,” the Association of State Baptist Publications held its annual meeting Feb. 7–10 in Key Largo, Florida. It marked the group’s first in-person gathering in two years after the 2021 meeting was moved online due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
ASBP, the professional organization of editors and staff of state Baptist news media, is designed to provide professional development, inspire high journalistic standards and build fellowship and mutual support among participants across the nation.
ASBP President Brian Hobbs, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, presided over the four-day meeting. In his president’s address, Hobbs acknowledged that “we’re all tempted some days, some weeks to give up.” Urging fellow editors and communications directors to “never give up,” he said, “I just encourage us: Stay close to the Lord. Stay close to your church. Stay close to one another. … Let’s remember in everything we do that our work is ministry.”
‘Helping your readers reason better’
Keynote speaker Trevin Wax addressed the issues of “Editorializing for the Good of the Church” and “Growing in the Craft of Writing.”
Wax, vice president for research and resource development with the North American Mission Board, said, “When you write an editorial, you’re really doing two things — you’re providing information and you’re offering insight.
“The success of a good editorial is not in having all your readers agree with you,” he added. “The success of a good editorial is in helping your readers reason better.”
Wax said keys to achieving that goal include consistency before controversy, reason over “the rush” and truth more than tribe.
“Consistency is a virtue cultivated through spiritual disciplines,” he said. “Be brave enough to not fit neatly into anyone’s camp. … Truth is complex.”
Warning that “a person can be right in their opinion and wrong in how they hold it,” Wax declared, “Any fool can be a flamethrower. Only the wise can be fair.”
Hitting the ‘reset button’
Willie McLaurin, interim president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told the Baptist editors, “In this season, the Lord is allowing us to hit the reset button. He’s allowing us to really just say, ‘What is it that we’re really trying to do?’”
McLaurin, who previously served two years as the Executive Committee’s vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization, was elected to his interim role following the resignation of EC President Ronnie Floyd as well as executive vice president Greg Addison and chief financial officer Jeff Pearson.
“We’ve just got to allow the Lord to really strip us and get us back to how and why He designed us,” McLaurin said. “Southern Baptists, if we’ve been about anything, we’ve been about cooperating together, we’ve been about missions, we’ve been about soulwinning.”
Finding a path forward
Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, discussed “one thing Southern Baptist editors should know” in a Zoom session with ASBP members.
Citing controversies in SBC life ranging from political divides to racial issues and sexual abuse, Stetzer said, “We will make it through. The question is how we’ll get through it and what the SBC will be on the other side.”
He pointed to decline statistically, disconnection culturally and division internally as major concerns. “A denomination perpetually at war with itself cannot survive,” Stetzer cautioned. He added, however, that “the SBC, as it clings to the gospel, as it stays focused on the mission will remain this powerful force, this worthwhile force to partner together for global missions.
“We need to find a way to stop the bickering and the infighting,” Stetzer said. “Part of what we can do is to talk to each other, not at each other. I think it would be a good thing to say, ‘Here is where we disagree. Can we find a path forward?’”
Calling on denominational leaders to “work together to promote cooperation,” Stetzer said, “The vast majority of Southern Baptists just want to reach people for Christ in their churches and communities.
“The SBC is its people,” he concluded. “Tell them what they need to know to be effective and faithful in the job that they do.”
‘Truth with compassion’
Describing The Baptist Paper as “the best of what you remember about your state Baptist paper” and “truth with compassion,” Jennifer Davis Rash shared about partnership opportunities through the new national publication that debuted last May.
Rash, editor-in-chief of The Alabama Baptist and The Baptist Paper, told her fellow editors the new communications resource “is basically an extension of what you already do.”
“I just wanted you to know that the partnership is real,” she explained. “The name is simple — The Baptist Paper — because it really is pointing to what the purpose is, and that’s just to slide into what you’re already doing” to communicate with Baptists across the nation.
Shannon Baker, director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of BRN United, was installed as ASBP president for the coming year. Kevin Parker, director of media services for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico and editor of the Baptist New Mexican, was named president-elect.
Resolutions and other business
ASBP members adopted resolutions honoring Terry Barone and Gary Ledbetter, two longtime members who recently concluded their service as editors.
Barone retired Dec. 31, 2021, after serving 30 years in communications leadership for the California Southern Baptist Convention, including 17 years as editor of the California Southern Baptist newspaper. He served more than 40 years with the CSBC and the Baptist General Convention of Texas in their communications ministries.
Ledbetter transitioned at the end of 2021 from his 21-year role as editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, the official publication of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, to become project manager and senior editor for High Street Press, a book publishing imprint of the Missouri Baptist Convention. He has served churches and denominational entities in Texas, Indiana, Arkansas and Missouri for more than 45 years.
New editors and communications directors introduced to the group were:
- Sarah Graham, director of communications for the California Southern Baptist Convention.
- Craig Jenkins, editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.
- Ben Jones, communications team leader for the Illinois Baptist State Association.
- Jayson Larson, editor of the Southern Baptist Texan.
- Travis McCormick, managing editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.
- Brandon Porter, associate vice president for convention news for the SBC Executive Committee.
Groups coming alongside ASBP to help sponsor the meeting were the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Send Relief, North American Mission Board, International Mission Board, Lifeway Christian Resources and GuideStone Financial Resources.
The top two “gold-level” sponsors were Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and The Baptist Paper.