A straight-line decline in membership for more than 50 years should sound an alarm for Southern Baptists, something several ardent researchers and ministry leaders in the convention have attempted to do in various ways for many years.
What could be the reason for the consistent decline?
Did we get so caught up in growing the numbers for numbers’ sake that we forgot to focus on making disciples?
Have we spent most of our energy recruiting church members rather than sharing Christ with those who don’t know Him and helping individual believers grow in their faith?
Do we use the church statistical data to judge each other unfairly and thus push people away?
Have we overcomplicated and overextended what it means to be part of a church family?
The Church and politics
In his 1997 book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” author Philip Yancey noted, “In the 1950s and 1960s, mainline denominations moved away from proclaiming the gospel toward a more political agenda, and the pews began to empty, cutting membership by half.
“Many of these disaffected churchgoers sought out evangelical churches, where they heard messages more directed to their spiritual needs. It would be ironic indeed if evangelical churches repeated the error.”
—Jennifer Davis Rash
Graduates, the nugget I want to leave with you today is the importance of holding on to the capability to learn.
As the Class of 2020, you are being touted as the class above all classes because of what you experienced during your final semester. You know, that little pandemic thing.
You’ve proven you’ve got what it takes.
You learned in only a few months what most of us had the luxury of a few decades to learn — how to adapt and still flourish when life doesn’t work out like we planned.
But with this praise comes a great deal of pressure and responsibility, which can be managed with success if you maintain a spirit of teachability.
The ability to continue learning at every step of your journey will always serve you well.
Some days, good enough truly is good enough, but most days should be about excellence, no matter how insignificant the tasks of the day may seem.
Part of being excellent is owning up to mistakes.
Mistakes are part of the journey so being mature enough to own yours will lighten the load for everyone involved, including yourself.
It’s also important to learn from them — yours and others.
One mistake we all make at some point is to believe the world revolves around us.
And while today is rightfully all about each of you — most days are not.
In fact, the more we focus on helping others instead of ourselves, the more at peace we will be.
Being a graduate of a religious institution of higher learning means you know a bit about the Bible, so you already know Scripture teaches our greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
And the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
As you leave the college nest and prepare to tackle the world, clinch tightly to those commandments.
And recognize that to achieve both, you must also love yourself.
Scripture is clear that each one of us is created in the image of our Father, the almighty God, so humbly loving ourselves reflects our love for Him and teaches us how to love others.
You only have one life to live here on earth, and you’ve started well.
I urge you to commit today to also finish well — with confidence in who you are and assurance of Whose you are.
The fact is, we need you.
We need your light. We need your kindness. We need your smarts. We need your energy. And we need your teachability.
A few ABCs for the road …
A — Always be honest but be kind in the process, and always give people the benefit of the doubt as your first response.
B — Be forgiving and able to let go of past hurts.
C — Calm the chaos around you by giving more than you take and being part of the solution.
Congratulations, Class of 2020. You are beautiful. You are valued. You are loved. You are strong.
And remember, we need you — the very best version of you God has in store.
Editor’s Note — Commencement address delivered by Jennifer Davis Rash at Judson College in Marion, Alabama, on June 27, 2020.
By the time we realized March Madness for the year 2020 would not describe basketball brackets, rivalries and surreal roundball moments, the normal activities of life as we know it had practically shut down.
COVID-19 became a household term, and our homes, offices, schools, churches and devices might just be the cleanest they’ve ever been.
Online screenings and drive-thru testing centers emerged seemingly overnight.
Many conferences, classes and church services were canceled, rescheduled or moved online.
Airlines and hotels removed all rescheduling and cancellation fees. They even made it super easy to go online and click through the necessary items in a matter of seconds.
Leaders at all levels assessed, reassessed and worked hard to make the best decisions they could for the people for which they were responsible, as well as for the businesses and organizations they lead.
And when Alabama’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced this morning (March 13), the assessments narrowed to an even more laser-focused stance.
While our team at TAB Media is working to stay up on all the latest reports and announcements, we also are performing appropriate assessments related to our staff and office as well.
Crisis management plan
Past experiences of unforeseen difficult events, such as the Snowpocalypse winter storm of 2014, the April 2011 tornado devastation in Alabama, the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009 and other experiences through the years, provided opportunities to develop crisis management plans we still use today.
As crises emerge along the way, we always try to dust off our existing plans and put those into play while also adapting as needed to the current situation and accounting for new techonology and resources available to us.
Learning from each experience makes us better and more prepared for the next event sure to come our way. Having a crisis management and communications plan prevents panic and uncertainty because team members trust the leadership and are informed early, consistently and with clarity about what to expect and how to prepare.
Even a basic plan such as knowing who is in charge during a crisis and naming one person to handle all outgoing and incoming communications gives an advantage in focusing quickly on determining priorities.
Opportunity to shine for Jesus
As we find our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m confident history will report amazing stories of people of faith shining for Jesus.
Volunteers trained in medical missions and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief will undoubtedly be on the front lines.
Believers with a chaplain’s heart will work to calm the masses, and people of prayer will unite across the globe to call on God to lead us through this journey.
And I believe the best of each of us will surface as we come together.
Take this opportunity to calm your heart and mind and sling some Jesus all around.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
Stepping into this new year and new decade brought a significant milestone for me personally.
I’ve now spent half my life serving Alabama Baptists through The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media — and I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather been.
I joined the TAB team on Jan. 1, 1996, at 24 years old, and on Jan. 1, 2020, I celebrated 24 years with TAB.
Countless people have poured into me through the years, and many continue investing in my growth, something I truly treasure as a big believer in mentoring and cross training.
A quick look back over the years shows clearly how God was working all along the way.
‘If God called me …’
While I had no idea how the calling would work itself out nor what all would appear along the path, I trusted that if God called me to do it, He would guide me step by step —
and He has been faithful.
He has provided continuous opportunities to learn and grow, and He has put many amazing mentors and co-workers in my life to teach me along the way.
The deep friendships formed through the years fill my heart and make me even more grateful to be part of the broader Alabama Baptist family.
But how did I get here?
Drawing a line down the middle of your story can be an interesting exercise. For me, there are two sets of 24 years.
In the first set, you will find my growing up years on a farm in Phil Campbell, Alabama — a rural community in the northwest corner of the state.
During those years I thought the norm for all children was to grow up in a safe, loving environment with plenty of food and parents who taught life skills and a strong work ethic.
Experiencing life outside those early years has taught me many people didn’t have that opportunity and what a privileged upbringing I had.
Also in my first set of 24 years, you will find two years spent studying at Northwest Community College and another two years spent studying at the University of Alabama.
And while I grew up in church and part of a large extended family of believers, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I truly gave my heart and life to Christ.
It also was during college that I surrendered to a call to full-time Christian service, which led to a search for what that meant.
After college graduation, I spent two years serving with the International Mission Board as an editorial assistant with Caribbean Christian Publications focused on the English-speaking Caribbean.
God provided intense opportunities for me to grow spiritually, professionally and relationally during those two years. When the term ended, I found my 24-year-old self at TAB with no idea where that would lead.
Reflecting on my current mid-point marker and these past 24 years at TAB helped me realize just how many strides have been made by a variety of different team members who were under the direction of Bob Terry for most of those years. What a gift to get to tag along for the ride.
Since 1996, the TAB team has moved from focusing on one product — a weekly newspaper — to becoming a full media group with multiple daily deadlines in 2020.
The first webpage came along in 2000 and a fully functioning website in 2004. TAB found its way onto social media platforms in 2007–2008 and then launched the digital version of the print publication in 2010.
Augmented Reality was added to the mix in 2015 and lasted for a few years, along with several attempts at live streaming and video newscasting.
A robust new multilevel website was developed in 2016 along with the debut of a new logo and rebranding effort.
In 2018, the TAB News radio show and podcast hit the airwaves, and in 2019 a visually impaired cartridge and new glossy magazine were added.
Granted, technology advancements allowed for much of the expansion to take place, but it also took vision, courage and training to make the moves.
With the various new elements in the picture, it could be easy to let the print product slide away, but the focus on the newspaper continues to be an important part of the team’s work.
We plan to continually polish the 177-year-old weekly newspaper currently entrusted to our care. It has won more than 250 national awards in less than 25 years, and we are determined to keep it among the best available.
We also are excited to introduce a trickle of new glossy magazines being produced by TAB for special events and specific emphases.
Coming to the airwaves will be more podcasts available on the TAB Media channel as well as more growth in the audio digest version of TAB for the visually impaired.
And our online presence through social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube), web resources and the digital version of the paper will no doubt continue to adapt to that constantly changing realm.
What changes will we see in the next 24 years? I’m not sure, but I’m confident we are ready to figure it out step by step.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
We are at the front end of a pristine new 20s. Whether we refer to our new decade as the “twenties” or the “twenty-twenties,” we have been handed the opportunity to blaze a new, yet healthier, path by learning from the past.
What will history write about the 2020s one day? What statement will we make? How will we be branded?
We truly can shake off the past, let go of whatever is holding us back and make this our decade. Why not make it our goal to see and live with the clarity of 20/20 vision in the decade of the 2020s?
Read the full My Rashionale piece here.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
When I sorted through the mail a few weeks ago and discovered a four-color Christmas catalog for toys — Amazon’s Ultimate Wish List — my mind jumped immediately to my childhood when we received the annual Sears Christmas Wish Book.
Everyone received the Wish Book back in the day. It’s how we made our list for what toys and gifts we wanted for Christmas — that and the commercials on Saturday morning of course. The Wish Book had all the latest toys displayed in four color.
The Sears Wish Book is no longer printed but even if it were I can’t imagine it would have the same impact as it did then — with no internet and no mobile devices with which to compete.
While it seems ironic that in this high-tech, digital age an online sales company mails out print catalogs, it does make sense as a way to stand out. Children and their parents are bombarded with digital screens in every part of life now so the promotions and ads all kind of run together sometimes.
‘Strength overdone becomes weakness’
Multimedia offers countless positive aspects and we at TAB are excited about ways we will continue growing our digital presence. But the saying “strength overdone becomes weakness” applies in the area of multimedia as much as any other.
Too many hours a day looking at a screen, especially without proper body alignment and rest breaks, will cause physical issues that come with any type of overuse situation. And emotionally and mentally the scars from overuse will no doubt run deep.
A few moments talking in person rather than texting and silencing the nonstop dings around us might just be our new “apple a day” remedy for the negative side effects of too much screen time built up over years of use.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
My granddad used to grab my hands and hold them still when he needed a break from my nonstop chatter.
He would joke with me that I wouldn’t be able to speak if he handcuffed me — and that’s not far from the truth.
Recently I kept a tight grip on my hands during a video shoot to not only stay within the time restrictions but also to slow down my pace.
The more free my hands, the faster I talk and the more animated I become. It’s as if I need to draw the story for you in the air as it rolls out of my mouth.
And I do talk really fast especially when I’m excited about what I’m sharing.
Active listening takes concentration and intentionality. It requires focus, processing what is being said for understanding and the ability to respond appropriately. And if you are able to actually remember what was said, then you know you succeeded.
To listen for understanding of what is being said and not merely being polite by letting the other person talk may be more rare than we realize.
Try it out this week. You’ll know when you are only hearing the other person rather than truly listening and you’ll start noticing when it happens to you.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
My coworker and friend asked if I had ever tasted “these” as she pointed to a package of scuppernongs at the farmer’s market.
I didn’t recognize the look nor the name so I answered no — until she said the name aloud. Once I heard it pronounced I knew exactly what it was and realized how long it had been since I had seen, tasted or even thought about a scuppernong.
We had scuppernongs in our backyard when I was growing up and mom and dad would let my brother and me taste them from the vine.
That memory flooded back to me the minute I heard the name but I couldn’t remember what they tasted like so I bought some the next day.
And the same thing happened — as soon as I tasted one of these muscadine grapes I was right back there in our backyard with mom or dad pulling scuppernongs off one at a time, hoping the sweet flavor wouldn’t vanish as quickly as it always did.
The same thing happens to me with figs. Memories of the fig tree we could see out Papa and Granny McCaig’s kitchen window becomes front and center in my mind when I taste a raw fig.
We always had our fill of figs when the tree was producing — and Granny spent hours making a winter’s worth of fig preserves.
She loved that fig tree and because of that I always think of her whenever I’m around anything related to figs.
Our senses help us hold on to special memories. Let’s all be known for something endearing in our sensory legacies.
—Jennifer Davis Rash
The buses are rolling and those new backpacks won’t be crisp and clean for long now that school is back in session.
With the start of a new school year comes a combination of excitement and nerves for both students and teachers. And in many cases the exhaustion has already set in for teachers — exhaustion from burnout, discouragement and endless frustrations.
Think about the school teachers who made a difference in your life.
Also think about those who had lost their joy for teaching by the time you were in their class. How many opportunities to change the life of a child for the good did they miss? Did their lack of energy and enthusiasm for the role end up holding students back in life at some point down the road?
I’ve known several people who truly wanted to make a career out of teaching. They love kids, enjoy teaching and embrace the milestones that come with watching a child learn and grow.
But the overwhelming administrative requirements, overcrowded classrooms and the volume of difficult life issues impacting so many around them finally beat them down.
Making a difference
While the school boards and governmental leaders debate the structural and financial details of how to improve schools and teachers’ salaries, church groups and community members can continue helping in small ways such as sending notes, volunteering and donating. We all can help in a big way by praying for the teachers in the school near us by name.
It’s not hard to find out what a school district or individual school needs most. From there, follow the proper channels to help and encourage others to join the effort.
After all, teachers are molding the minds and lives of our children as much as anyone.
Shouldn’t we want teachers at their best?
—Jennifer Davis Rash