Doyle Sager, a Word&Way columnist and the lead pastor at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri, passed away Friday (Jan. 22) after a battle with cancer. He was 69.
Word&Way Editor Emeritus Bill Webb, who led the publication from 1996-2016, reflected on knowing Sager for the last quarter-century. Sager served on the search committee that chose Webb as editor.
“Not too long after I accepted the editorship of Word&Way, Doyle became pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, of which we were new members,” Webb said. “For nearly 20 years I addressed him simply as ‘pastor,’ and he always represented that calling faithfully to my family and others.”
“Doyle reached out tenderly to us when health and various issues in our lives called for his attentive pastoral care. As a Baptist editor, I turned to him for guidance and support regularly,” Webb added. “Doyle was a disciplined and dedicated spiritual leader who knew how to extend grace and mercy in times that needed his example. He served Baptists locally, nationally, and internationally during two or three generations of major Baptist conflict. I will always be grateful for both his courage and his wisdom.”
Bob Terry, who served as Word&Way editor from 1975-1995, also offered remembrances for Sager, who first started writing for Word&Way during that time.
“Doyle’s Sager’s death is a loss for Baptists everywhere,” Terry said. “He embodied the best for which Baptists are known. He was an excellent pastor-preacher. His long-tenured pastorates speak for themselves about his relationship skills, his unpretentious manner, his ability to build confidence in others and to lead a congregation in innovative ministries.”
“But I knew Doyle best as a leader among Baptists and other Christians,” Terry added. “Doyle stood for what was right. Many times I saw Doyle speak truth to power, even when it was costly to him personally. I don’t think I ever saw him succumb to intimidation. He was one of the few people I have known who had the courage to lead just because it was the right thing to do.”
Sager, who served on staff of Baptist churches in Missouri for 50 years, also served as president of the Missouri Baptist Convention, co-founder and president of Mainstream Missouri Baptists, president of Churchnet, a member of the national coordinating council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and 19 years on the board of trustees for William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.
Ken Satterfield, who served on staff for Word&Way from 2003-2020, is also a member and deacon at FBC Jefferson City, where Word&Way’s offices are located.
“Doyle Sager was always a person who valued the power of communication,” Satterfield said. “His writing and messages captured his passion for sharing the cause of Christ, especially in historic Baptist principles, racial reconciliation, and his desire for Christ-like dialogue (with an occasional shout-out to the Kansas City Royals slipped in). I will miss him tremendously as a Baptist leader, shepherd, and teacher, but most of all, a friend who I love.”
Sager also engaged in advocacy through Bread for the World and Missouri Faith Voices, addressing issues like predatory lending, immigration, racial justice, Medicaid Expansion, city transit needs, voting rights, environmental justice, and global food security. He served a five-year term on the Baptist World Alliance’s Commission on Social and Economic Justice, and was elected in 2020 to a five-year term as vice chair of the BWA’s Commission on Creation Care.
“When I became editor of Word&Way, I ‘inherited’ Doyle as a columnist, much as I had gained him as a pastor just two years earlier when we moved to Jefferson City and started attending First Baptist,” Word&Way Editor Brian Kaylor said. “Always driven to improve, his writing in recent years was sharper and richer than ever. With this writing ‘pulpit,’ he ministered to people he never met as he opened up about his life, including moments of pain, doubt, and discouragement. And yet, as in real life, his joy always came through.”
“He also became a conversation partner as we wrestled together with issues of faith, culture, and the Bible — and usually in a way that ended in laughter as one of us teased the other about some position or comment,” Kaylor added. “We advocated together for social justice, and we traveled across the country and around the world for times of worship, learning, and fellowship with other Baptists. Along the way, I inherited much from him as he passed down his ministry insights.”
Note: You can hear a 2018 interview with Doyle Sager on the Word&Way podcast “Baptist Without An Adjective.” His last Word&Way column, “The Cancer Journey,” ran it the December 2020 issue.