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This issue celebrates ten years of LEADERSHIP Journal. During those years, we've never run a letters column-mostly because readers' insights are found all through the journal. But we do get letters.
My assignment on this page-to highlight the journal's impact over ten years-might best begin by looking at themes in those letters.
"Uncanny" timeliness. A young man "struggling to get off on the right foot" in his first pastorate wrote, "I had no sooner received the issue on 'Family Ministry' than the phone rang. A member's granddaughter was fuming from a marital conflict. Several articles helped me develop just the right approach. The granddaughter and spouse have been to church since and are prospects for further ministry."
Another wrote about an article on handling fallout from infidelity. "A year ago, I would have just breezed through it, but three days before it arrived, two women came to me about affairs-one had had one, and the other's husband was having one. Since both of these families are among our closest friends, I was not just professionally challenged; I was personally devastated." He went on to describe "slow but definite progress" being made with both couples. "I am hopeful. Thanks for lending a touch of stability when I really needed it!"
Another pastor wrote, "Every issue seems timed to the tick of my spiritual clock. I struggle with purity. It's encouraging to know a lot of brethren do. 'The War Within Continues' reminded me of the need to reconnect with my wife. Nothing has helped me more consistently since seminary than LEADERSHIP."
Maybe this timeliness is why we've heard so often statements like this: "Four times a year when LEADERSHIP arrives, it becomes a red-letter day. It is uncanny how your theme hits home, particularly 'Worship,' which arrived while we were wrestling with the topic. As pastor of a shrunken urban church, issues of loneliness, frustration, rejection, and failure are constantly with me. LEADERSHIP articles have been a real encouragement."
Sex and anxiety are practical? LEADERSHIP is "a practical journal," and we've found that all the human aspects of a church leader's life, from anxiety and doubt to identity and ambition, are practical challenges. The editors work hard to face these topics realistically.
Even sex is a practical concern. Here's an unusually honest letter from a 25-year veteran regarding the edition on "Sex": "Dealing with sexuality is very, very difficult. I have thought I'm 'over-sexed.' Who does a minister talk to? Not his wife. (She hears it all too often from me.) Not the church board; not a member. No, I haven't had an affair, but the temptation has been great. Thoughts of sex pervade my mind a great deal of the time. I wish we could talk about it more openly."
Not everyone has been happy about LEADERSHIP's open talk. Although it was well received by most readers, the article on lust, "The War Within" (Fall 1982) also got sharp criticism. Yet, its sequel, "The War Within Continues" (Winter 1988), was the highest rated article in LEADERSHIP'S first ten years.
A fraction behind it was "Closing the Evangelistic Back Door" (Spring 1984), an article on ministry skills-also practical, but thoroughly different.
Editor Marshall Shelley sees three types of articles in LEADERSHIP. One deals with the minister's spiritual and personal life. A second discusses ministry skills. The third type offers apt metaphors or images to help pastors perceive their function anew. As Fred Smith says, "Nothing is more practical than a good theory!" These articles not only explain, dignify, and uplift, they also illustrate the vital function pastors serve in society.
The journal strives to keep realism in all three types of articles. One pastor wrote that LEADERSHIP, "rather than publishing success stories of super-saints, involves us all in a common humanity with common failings." Many pastors say LEADERSHIP touches their deepest concerns.
Seriously funny. Almost everyone who talks about LEADERSHIP mentions the cartoons. Each reader has a favorite. One of mine pictures a doleful fellow with a sign behind him, "116 days without a compliment."
The cartoons, of course, are more than comic relief. They are warp and woof of a way of looking at life and ministry, one of the building blocks of the original concept for LEADERSHIP. Again I'll quote Fred Smith, who's helped shape the journal from the beginning: "Humor is one alternative to tears." He pointed out humor's power to alter our perspectives. If LEADERSHIP has helped readers gain perspective through humor-and to use humor in ministry-we will have done well.
In pastors' shoes. One more letter: "From the first edition of LEADERSHIP, each issue is like sitting down with respected peers and hearing them talk-picking their brains about the meaning and manner of ministry. This week, as I read the story by Kevin Miller, 'The Exacting Price of Ministry,' I couldn't put it down. Except for some minor details, Kevin's story was mine. Thank you for continuing to put yourself in our shoes."
Maybe that sums it up. LEADERSHIP editors not only have ministry training and experience; they continue to put themselves into the shoes of those on the front line. I'm tempted to quote statistics about LEADERSHIP's numerical success, which far outstripped our original estimates. But first and foremost, the editors care about ministering to those who are giving their lives to the local church.
Harold L. Myra is president of Christianity Today, Inc.
Copyright © 1990 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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