May we never be neither ‘hot nor cold,’ lest we are spit out
Don HinklePathway Editor
November 4, 2003
Marvin Olasky, a distinguished professor of journalism at the University of Texas , author and editor-in-chief of WORLD magazine, offers a stinging indictment of the state of Christian journalism in his book, Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism. After years of experience in secular journalism and serving as a judge in Evangelical Press Association contests, Olasky concludes, “Many newspapers have little news. Many publications that deem themselves Christian are neither hot nor cold, but tepid. Thoughtful readers thus spit them out.”
I hope Missouri Baptists will never view The Pathway in such a manner. Let it ring from every Ozark mountain and valley that The Pathway has planted its flag firmly in the fertile, conservative soil of the Missouri Baptist and Southern Baptist Conventions. For unlike our secular cousins in this craft called journalism, we reject the illogical notion of relativism. Our faith compels us to confess the existence of absolute truth for we know it comes from our Maker who is the ultimate absolute Truth. Rather than trust the fads of an increasingly secular culture, our guide is the Holy Spirit as He leads us in our quest for excellence in accordance with the inerrant, infallible Word of God. I emphasize these contrasts with deep humility, for we too, are fallen and finite creatures. Yet we have the unmerited privilege of unceasingly drawing from God’s marvelous and matchless grace.
Referring back to Olasky’s analogy of Rev. 3:16, I pray that Pathway readers will never view us as being neither “hot nor cold,” lest they “spit us out.” Like the church, our “first love” is Christ and it is He who is our focus. Indeed Olasky expresses the hope of every Pathway staffer when he writes, “Those who hope to build God’s kingdom through journalism need more than good intentions and more than a secular journalism-school education: They need to see how to hold every thought, and every part of their editing and reporting process, captive to Christ.”
A few weeks ago, while speaking at the state-wide semiannual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Directors of Missions (DOMs), I stressed that — despite whatever its critics may say — The Pathway will be predominantly a publication focused on evangelism, church planting and missions. To be sure there will be stories on unpleasant legal matters, church and state issues and other moral concerns as The Pathway strives to be “salt and light” amid what some have called “a culture of death.” But the preponderance of coverage has – and will always be – on Great Commission ministries.
To prove my point I shared with the DOMs the findings of some recent research completed by The Pathway’s Lead Ministry Assistant, Rose Credille. Her research of all of the more than 450 articles published in The Pathway this year shows approximately 90 percent dealt with – in some fashion – evangelism, church planting or missions. Do not misunderstand. We are no where near where we want to be as a Christian publication, but it does suggest we are on the right track.
The first 10 months of this journalistic endeavor has yielded countless surprises and blessings. Perhaps the greatest surprise has been the speed with which subscriptions to The Pathway have grown. Paid circulation has rocketed from zero — when we launched the print edition in mid-January — to about 14,000 by the time messengers gathered in St. Louis Nov. 3-5 for the MBC’s annual meeting.
This rapid growth flies in the face of what some other — more liberal — Southern Baptist state convention newspapers have experienced in recent decades. Bill Webb, editor of Word & Way, testified in his July deposition in the case involving the MBC and its five renegade agencies that W&W’s circulation had fallen to 19,500. That is a far cry from the 60,000 it is believed to have been in the 1980s. Other state convention newspapers, like The Baptist Standard, news journal of the Baptist General Convention of Texas , also have lost tens of thousands of subscribers in recent years.
I have not personally researched the reasons for such declines in circulation among state convention newspapers throughout the SBC. In the past some state newspaper editors have blamed the decline in circulation on the myth that fewer people are reading newspapers.
Olasky is instructive on this subject: “Too often evangelical publications, instead of exhibiting the journalistic excitement of the hunt, are content to print public relations releases and carry on their business in a joyless manner that makes them resemble a proctologist’s press. Too often they fall from a proper seriousness of purpose into solemnity, so that readers who page through them do so out of duty rather than pleasure. And many in search of news do not bother.”
It is true the percentage of American adults who read a daily newspaper each day has declined significantly since 1970, but the number of non-daily newspapers and “niche” publications, like The Pathway, have skyrocketed. Since the 1960s, Olasky notes, total circulation of weekly newspapers has almost doubled, from 30 to 55 million.
While The Pathway’s rate of growth has been a bit of a surprise, the blessings certainly have not. Perhaps the two greatest blessings to which I can point while reflecting on the past 10 months are: (1) The privilege of traveling from St. Joseph to the Boot Heel and all points in between, meeting so many interesting and loving people and (2) working with a staff that is passionate about The Pathway and truly lives out “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” In coming months Pathway staffers will travel to Mexico, India, Romania and Iraq to not only write Great Commission stories about how Missouri Baptists are ministering in those countries, but to personally share the “Good News” whenever given the opportunity. Indeed The Pathway is composed of Christian journalists, but we are also ordained ministers of the Gospel, preachers, teachers, lecturers, deacon servants and missionaries.
Speaking of opportunities, The Pathway Web site has provided us with a new way of disseminating Great Commission stories and other information. It too has experienced exponential growth since it was first launched in June 2002. The number of people visiting The Pathway web site, www.mbcpathway.com, has grown every month since its inception and our research shows that we are read by people in more than 40 nations. Also, The Pathway was blessed earlier this year to receive the Golden Web Award from the International Association of Web Masters and Designers.
It has been a wonderful first year for The Pathway. We are grateful to God who made it that way. I pray The Pathway will always be an encouragement to its readers — to the honor and glory of our Lord, Jesus.