I’ve received numerous messages, emails, and texts in the days since the announcement that I would become the next editor of The Christian Index. For all of those I’m extremely humbled.
Since walking into The Index offices on my first day of work on January 4, 2004, I’ve undergone a continuing education on who Georgia Baptists are and for what they stand. You know what I’ve learned?
We’re more different, yet the same, than you’d think.
My apologies, former grammar teachers and peers in the English Department at Woodland High School in Cartersville. I know that sentence was a mess. But at times it appears to best describe who we are. Georgia Baptists come from big churches and (many) small ones. We’re old and young. Urban and country. We preach a single gospel from our pulpits in up to 24 different languages. Overwhelmingly, our political leanings go in one direction, yet many of us hold different opinions in that area.
So yeah, we’re a little more diverse than one may expect. Over the last 14 years I’ve observed that can cause conflict. But, I’ve also seen it bring an understanding that God’s kingdom can look and sound bigger than we think.
When we get a grasp of that, we do things like take the gospel to dangerous places. Concepts like age don’t matter as much as availability. Walls come down when we see Christ at work in places that look different from our own.
Reading those observations of mine, you may be wondering, who is this guy?
I grew up in northeast Alabama, but have had enough Georgia connections to where I felt part of the state even before my wife and I moved here in 2001. I was born in Rome. My dad worked third shift at a paper mill in Coosa. My uncle is a UGA graduate and (proudly) one of you obnoxious, woofing Georgia fans whose son, another UGA grad, at one time wore the Harry Dawg costume.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church but didn’t began to really grow in my faith until my time in the Baptist Campus Ministries (Alabama’s term for it) of Jacksonville State University. Bible studies, being challenged by friends in prayer groups and discipleship classes, and various outreach and mission trips helped me see the scope of the gospel.
I worked as a youth minister at a few different churches in college before living in Cheyenne, WY with my wife for a couple of years through NAMB’s US/C-2 program. Here I’ll give a quick shout-out to Max Janzen and Jeff Buscher, two guys who showed a lot of patience and mentored me in presenting the gospel in a frontier location.
With our time as US/C-2ers coming to an end in the summer of 2001, my wife and I prepared for our next move. I explored seminary options before settling on Southwestern. I applied and was accepted, but ended up not going.
Instead, we decided to put our JSU Education degrees to work while I attended New Orleans Seminary’s extension program in Atlanta. At the time Georgia was hurting for teachers and even offering signing bonuses in some systems. It came down to offers in Carrollton and Cartersville. We liked both places and – in basically a coin flip – ended up putting us in Bartow County.
I only taught public school for 2 ½ years, but that was long enough for me to develop a heartfelt appreciation for teachers. The beginning had its rough spots, but by the time I cleaned out my room the final day I’d grown to love the job. I held on to one of my roll sheets and looked over it each morning my first year at The Index, praying over the students. Other keepsakes from those years made their way to my Index office, including a football signed with well-wishes by my last class.
During that time my wife and I had our first daughter. A few years after that we became an adoptive family with our son, Jackson. Soon we’d add another son, Bryce, and a daughter, Charlotte, both of them also through adoption.
I’ve had to learn a lot in becoming a father of four. In addition, the multiethnic makeup of our family has led me to become more sensitive to other cultures. It’s been a learning curve I don’t take lightly.
We’ve experienced our own learning curve at The Index in recent years. Before, it was difficult to know for certain how our print publication was being read. We sure didn’t know who was reading it beyond the name on the subscription label.
According to Google Analytics, most of our readers are in the metro Atlanta area. From there another Georgia city doesn’t appear on the list until the mid-teens. Cities before that include Birmingham, New York, Nashville, Orlando, Jacksonville, Houston, and Chicago. In 2016 we relied heavily on social media, with 64% of our traffic from that route while only 33% came through direct access to our site (bookmarks) or search engines. This year those numbers have flipped, with only a quarter of our traffic arriving via social media while 72% of visits come through direct clicks and search engine results.
I’m greatly encouraged by those trends as well as how Georgia Baptists are positioned to minister among those in our state and beyond. Sure, we can appear to be different, but we have so much more in common, starting with a message of hope and salvation for all through Jesus.
The possibilities are only limited by our belief that God is capable of taking us, with all of our differences, to share the gospel. The Christian Index will work to tell of the impact of that work among Georgia Baptists, and the impact of Georgia Baptists throughout the world.