I smiled when I read the news that long-time Baptist journalist and longer-time friend of the family Bill Webb had decided to retire.
I did not smile because he was leaving Word & Way, or not even because he had chosen to retire and spend time with family and other pursuits of passion. I smiled because of the overwhelming gratitude that I felt watching him end this chapter of his vocation.
Bill has been a journalist in the midst of a time of tremendous change in the field of journalism over the last decades. From his early days of black and white newsprint, to the new frontier of digital media and eight-second attention spans, he has been a man of integrity and quality journalistic work. He has seen so many changes in his profession in just a relatively few short years.
He is not alone. So many of us have seen the advent of digital media change the way that we operate in our own vocations — and lives.
I recently decided it was time to let go of my back-issues of the magazine Outdoor Photographer. As I leafed through the pages of magazines from a few years ago, I realized how obsolete they were. The transition of film to digital, of ever-increasing megapixels and of HDR and mirrorless technology means that I might as well be pulling off the shelves the old Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedias that I used back in high school.
How many of us have had some experience of change that overwhelms our senses and ability to keep up?
With such exponential change happening around us, I have a deep sense of gratitude for those who can keep their heads above water, much less their high standard of integrity in the midst of change.
And I smiled, too, because as I read the news, I had in my lap several books (yes, physical books…don’t judge!) that I was using to research my sermon for Pentecost Sunday.
And it struck me that we are by far not the first generation of faith that has had to make significant changes to the way that we understand the world.
The apostles must have found themselves in a dizzying and confusing time, transitioning from faithful Jews to Jesus-followers to Spirit-receivers.
In one of those books, Justo Gonzales writes about the story of the choosing of Matthias immediately preceding the story of Pentecost. Matthias is chosen to replace the betrayer Judas in the few days in between Jesus’ Ascension and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.
According to Gonzales, Mathias was not chosen because Jesus had told the apostles he needed to be. He was not chosen because the Spirit had led them to. He was chosen because they simply couldn’t handle the fact that there were only 11 disciples, one short of the round number — and symbolically important — 12.
Gonzalez suggests that part of the reason that we never hear another word in the New Testament about Matthias after that story is that it is an unfortunate example of the way that the people of God sometimes choose structure over mission.
Instead of waiting on the Spirit to come, they rushed to fill the spot, unable to wait even 10 days with a hole in the staff roster. If they had waited on the Spirit to lead and direct them, perhaps they would have seen a different need and approached the situation differently.
It is an important lesson for how we might face the anxiety of change in our world today. How quickly we rush to fill holes, to run back to former structures, to yearn for our country or our church or our world to be “Great Again!”
But what if we paused long enough to ask how God might be molding us in this liminal time to be a part of a greater mission — not just a part of the “same old” structure.
I read the news about Mr. Webb on my phone, by the way. As a part of Word & Way’s commitment to mission and not structure, they have understood the need to branch out to forms of digital media. And while I appreciate the accessibility and brevity that the form allowed, I also appreciated reading the full story in print in my Word & Way that arrived later that day.
As we who call ourselves Christ-followers find ourselves in a world that so often seems is not our home, may we wait upon the power of the Spirit to give us peace and wisdom to navigate these times. And may we look to those who have shown us the way with integrity and humility, smiling as we enter a new day.
Matthew Sturtevant (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lawrence, Kan.