I prefer refocusing to retiring


Dr. White gave me a call in January 2003 and asked me if I would pray about becoming the editor of The Christian Index. I prayed, and he called me back in May and asked me to meet with The Index Board of Directors. They were kind enough to extend an invitation for me to become the editor of your Baptist state publication and I said, “Yes!”

Dr. White and the Board of Directors took a chance in calling me to this job, because I had no experience in the field of journalism. I didn’t have a clue as to how to be the editor of a news journal. Joe Westbury will tell you that he had to put training wheels on me to equip me for the job.

My lack of experience in journalism reminds me of the story about Miss Jones, an elderly spinster who lived in a small midwestern community. She had the notoriety of being the oldest resident of the town. One day she died, and the editor of the local newspaper wanted to print a little obituary notice commemorating Miss Jones’s life.

However, the more he thought about it the more he became aware that while Miss Jones had never done anything terribly wrong (she had never spent a night in jail or ever been drunk), yet she had never actually done anything of note.

While musing over this the editor went down to have his morning coffee and met the owner of the tombstone establishment in the little community. He poured out his soul to him. The tombstone proprietor stated that he had been having the same problem. He wanted to put something on Miss Jones’s tombstone besides: “Miss Nancy Jones, born such-and-such a date and died such-and-such a date,” but he couldn’t think of anything of significance that she had ever done.

The editor decided to go back to his office and assign the first reporter he came across the task of writing up a small article suitable for both the paper and the tombstone. Upon returning to the office the only fellow around was the sports editor, so he gave him the assignment. They tell me if you pass through that little community you will find the following statement on her tombstone.

"Here lies the body of Nancy Jones / For her life held no terrors / She lived an old maid / She died an old maid / No hits, no runs, no errors."

I began my ministry at The Index with fear and trepidation, however, I must say that the last 15 and one-half years have been the most fulfilling years of my ministry. I loved being a pastor for 41 years, but the privilege of serving as the editor of The Christian Index has been a great blessing.

During these years many pastors have been gracious enough to invite me to preach in the churches of our convention. Getting to know Georgia Baptists has enriched my life. Having the opportunity to pastor and mentor young pastors has been an immeasurable joy.

Getting to be a part of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board has been an experience of monumental significance. It has been a great environment in which to work. Serving under Dr. White’s leadership has been an unspeakable pleasure. He has been my publisher, my mentor, my hero, and my friend.

I am confident that Thomas Hammond and his love for Jesus, his love for pastors, his love for the church, and his love for the lost will serve this Convention of churches extraordinarily well in the years to come.

We have not accomplished everything I had hoped we might accomplish, but we made an important transition from a printed edition to an online edition. Only time will prove the wisdom of that decision, but I am confident that we could not have survived without doing so. We came to the realization that while there were plenty of stories to tell, there were fewer people to tell them and fewer people who wanted to pay to read them.

We also realized that printed news was giving way to digital news. This year we will exceed 1.25 million pageviews. I am absolutely convinced that there are more people reading The Christian Index than there were fifteen years ago.

I am convinced that Scott Barkley will be a great Christian Index editor. He has been with The Index for fifteen years. He is as fine a Christian gentleman as I know. In fifteen years, I have observed him consistently display a kind, steady, unwavering Christ-like spirit. He is an award-winning writer and extremely knowledgeable about Christian publishing.

In three years, The Christian Index will celebrate 200 years of ministry. I look forward to joining in the celebration. The history of The Index is rich, and it has been humbling to join the ranks of such men as Luther Rice, W. T. Brantley, Jesse Mercer, Louie D. Newton, John Jeter Hurt, Jack Harwell (who stood on the opposite side of the denominational controversy of the 1980s-1990s, but a great writer and editor), and Al Mohler in being a part of this publication.

I want to assure you that I am not just retiring “from” something, but I am retiring “to” something. I have never relished the idea of indolence or laziness. Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired. Do you know what kind of exercise lazy people do? Diddly squats.

I trust the Lord will still give me more opportunities to preach. I still plan to do some writing. I want to spend more time in the Word of God and more time trying to win lost people to Jesus Christ. I also have 13 grandchildren I want to love and mentor.

At the funeral of George H. W. Bush, his son, the 43rd president of the U. S. said that his father’s goal was “to die young as late as possible.” I like that, but I also like the words found in Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address – it only contained 703 words, but he said, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in.”

With my retirement (I prefer to say, “a refocusing of ministry”) on the immediate horizon I prefer to say with the Apostle Paul, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

J. Gerald Harris, refocusing, retiring