Several decades ago the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee completed a readership study of the state convention newspapers. Subscriptions were declining and leaders wanted to know why. Ultimately there were several reasons, but one caught my eye.
Most state newspapers targeted pastors and church leaders as their primary subscribers. This was understandable because the denomination’s leaders needed to know what was happening throughout the SBC and in their states. The information would help them as they shepherded their flocks.
But this created one of the problems for the decline in subscriptions: the laity were not participating. Why? The study determined that the state newspapers were perceived to be exclusively for pastors and denominational leadership. Indeed, there was little for the laity.
When I became editor, I felt God wanted me to make The Pathway more accessible to the laity, while still providing information pastors and denominational leaders needed to know. The Pathway exists not just to inform, but to offer encouragement by articulating a biblical worldview of reality. The laity longs to see what God is doing through our churches, giving them a sense of being part of something bigger than one’s self.
The internet has impacted the way we communicate. Pastors and denominational leaders can now converse directly. Why “snail mail” when you can “Zoom?” But this is not true for all of the laity. The Pathway commissioned a readership study a few years ago and – to our surprise – discovered that many readers do not own a computer.
When the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board hired me in June 2002 I told them that The Pathway did not belong to me, not the state convention staff, nor the executive director. It belonged to the churches it was created to serve. We have strived to maintain that philosophy.
I suspect, understandably, some pastors were suspicious, waiting for us to prove we could be trusted. I believe we have succeeded in doing that, and it has contributed to our circulation growth. We are the fourth largest paid circulated newspaper in Missouri. Only God takes nothing and does something like this.
The Pathway’s steady, theologically conservative approach to Christian journalism has given Missouri Baptists a reliable and respected voice. I am privileged to frequently have lunch with Gov. Mike Parson and members of the Missouri General Assembly. I am honest with them about concerns Missouri Baptists have with issues like abortion, religious liberty, sex trafficking, aging, race, adoption and foster care. The Pathway reflects this by telling stories and offering columns that teach what the Bible says about such matters.
Missouri Baptists have come to trust The Pathway in an era where distrust of the media is common. Even I often feel like I am drowning in a torrent of lies and deceit, some perpetrated by the media. Yet The Pathway stands against the winds of relativism and deceit.
I love talking to Pathway readers because I want to know what they think. I want to know what they are doing. I want to know our readers trust us.
It warms my heart to get a note from a reader like the one I recently received from Donna Fude, a member of Yellow Creek Baptist Church in rural northeast Missouri. She wrote a beautiful story about how Missouri Baptist volunteers had gathered to rebuild their church building. Now why did she do that? Because she wanted The Pathway to tell you what God is doing at Yellow Creek. Donna teamed-up with talented Pathway freelancer Richard Nations to tell you all about it here.
I am so thankful for our pastors, and I love it when they contact me, as well. I recently got a note from Rick Sharp, pastor of Fairport Baptist Church in Dekalb County, where he also serves as the chaplain for the county sheriff’s office. Here is a snippet from his note: “Our county has had a rough past several months. We have dealt with the virus shutdowns along with the rest of the nation, but we also have been devastated with the tragic death of our sheriff in a crash while pursuing a suspect in the line of duty. I am heartbroken for our small community for we have had to deal with a murder and a suicide all in the past two weeks. With our community and the nation in such turmoil God was laying on my heart to call our community together for prayer.”
Turns out God was speaking to other area pastors, too, and on Sept. 26 Rick and others will lead in a community-wide service they are calling “Prayer Event 2020.” Rick hopes Missouri Southern Baptists throughout the state will pause that day to pray for their hurting community, racial reconciliation, protection of law enforcement and for our state and nation.
This is your Pathway. It exists to serve you to the glory of God our Father and the one, true king, Jesus!