As he tells the story, the call came after hours, when everyone else already had left the office – he was the only one who could answer the phone.
As he tells the story, the call came after hours,
when everyone else already had left the office – he was the only one
who could answer the phone.
The person on the other end of the line had a
routine request – could an item be placed in the “People, Places and
Events” section of the Louisiana Baptist Message?
Certainly, it could, replied Lynn Clayton, editor of the statewide denominational newspaper.
“What is the item?” he asked.
The man explained that his church was seeking a new
pastor. He gave the necessary information – the name of the church and
where to send the resumes.
As the conversation wound to a close, almost by
chance, Clayton asked the caller, “What happened to your previous
pastor? Why did he leave?”
The response was unexpected.
“Oh, he’s still here,” the caller said. “We just need to find a younger pastor with more enthusiasm.”
For Clayton, that episode ranks as one of the
funniest moments of his 27-year tenure as editor of the Baptist Message
– and yes, he did explain to the caller that this particular “minister
wanted” request could not be published.
But the exchange certainly is not the only memorable
moment for Clayton, who has announced plans to retire from his
newspaper post at the end of the year.
Some of the moments bring laughs. Some are serious.
However, as Clayton nears the culmination of his
journalistic career with the Louisiana paper, all are close at hand,
ready for his choosing and recalling.
He remembers Raymond McDaniel, a late editor of the
Shreveport Times. For a period of time, McDaniel served on the Baptist
Message board of trustees, including a stint as chair. He and Clayton
formed a quick friendship.
“He understood newspapers and was a close personal
friend,” Clayton says, citing McDaniel as one of the most influential
people enabling his Baptist Message ministry.
Clayton also credits McDaniel with introducing him to one of his favorite personal pursuits – fishing.
“He told me, ‘Lynn, you need to take up fishing and
get away from the pressure – I wish I had done it earlier in my
career,’” Clayton recalls.
The next week, McDaniel died of a heart attack.
“The week after, I bought my first boat, and that fall, I went on my first elk hunt,” Clayton recalls.
“Having something to get excited about besides work
has been invaluable and renewing. My life would have been better if I
had started earlier.”
Those who read the Baptist Message weekly know what
else started with the new pastimes – plenty of “On Second Thought”
articles about the ensuing experiences. In addition to editorials,
Clayton has used “On Second Thought” to offer usually humorous insights
into life and faith.
Those who have visited Clayton at the Baptist
Message offices also have witnessed the result of McDaniel’s
encouragement – deer heads mounted on the walls.
What happens to those now remains to be seen,
Clayton admits. “My wife says that when I retire, I
can come home, but my mounted deer heads cannot,” he notes.
While that day of reckoning for the deer heads is
nearing, retirement was far from Clayton’s mind when he arrived at the
Baptist Message in 1978.
He moved to the state from Kansas, where he had
served as editor of the Baptist Digest newspaper and director of
evangelism for the Kansas/Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists for
six years. Previously, he had served as a youth/college minister in
Texas and as a pastor in Kansas, after receiving degrees from Baylor
University in Waco, Texas, and Southwestern Baptist Theological
The move to journalism was one of progression, says
Clayton, a Southern Baptist preacher’s son. While serving in church
positions, he had been a weekly columnist for a paper in Texas and had
contributed to various Southern Baptist publications as well. He also
had written “No Second Class Christians,” published by Broadman Press
“I love to write, and doors continued to open,”
Clayton says. “My first job as editor was teamed with being state
evangelism director, so, the transition from the pastorate was much
The transition from Kansas to Louisiana also went
well, Clayton recalls. “I could not believe how open, friendly and
welcoming everyone was (in Louisiana),” he says. “I loved the diversity
of the people and the churches.”
Twenty-seven years later, that opinion is unchanged.
“I have an even deeper appreciation for the people
and churches now because I know them so much better,” Clayton explains.
“Where else can you go to an ice hockey game and have a bowl of gumbo
as you watch?”
Still, in 1978, Clayton admits he had no idea his
tenure would extend so long – to the point that he currently is the
dean of Southern Baptist editors. “Believe it or not, I had
opportunities to do other things but never felt God’s leadership to
leave,” he recounts.
Instead, Clayton focused on fulfilling the pledge he
offered to Louisiana Baptists in the first editorial of his Baptist
“With the very best that is within me, I pledge
myself to strive toward producing the best possible state paper,” the
July 27, 1978, editorial reads. “The challenge is worthy of years of
striving, and I look forward to them.”
In ways, the years certainly did prove to be ones of
“striving” – Clayton arrived just as the Southern Baptist Convention
controversy burst full force in 1979.
The resulting turmoil would mark the next 20 years
for Southern Baptists – and prove a time of testing for state
newspapers reporting the events. “The controversy began my first year
with the newspaper,” Clayton notes. “Through the years, I tried to
guide the staff to report without bias what was happening. I sought to
direct the staff to be fair and balanced without using pejorative words
Clayton says he knew the effort was key.
“The strength of a state paper is in the news it reports and how it reports it,” he insists.
In the midst of the controversy, Clayton also
focused on solidifying the newspaper finances, so that it currently has
about six months of operating reserves.
He also sought to increase the coverage of Louisiana
Baptist events and news, reaching the point in which a majority of each
weekly newspaper was focused on the state and/or written by the
But the conflict of the convention – and its spread to Louisiana in subsequent years – constantly loomed.
There were moments of tension regarding the
reporting of events. Clayton recalls. However, he grades the newspaper
well in performing its task, crediting the staff for its reporting of
issues and events.
“We have followed our guidelines to stay honest with
our work,” Clayton says. “We have no desire to harm anyone, and we have
tried to treat everyone as we would want to be treated if we were
quoted or what we did was reported.”
In addition, Clayton has devoted considerable time
and effort in building bridges with others through the years.
“I have made it a point to know as many Louisiana
Baptists as possible and to be in as many churches and associations as
possible so that I would know their hearts, and they would know mine,”
he says. “I have listened to people on both sides of the controversy to
understand their concerns. I hope people know I will be fair to them,
even if I might disagree with them personally. I also hope people know
that the person responsible for the paper is their friend and that
disagreements cannot make me stop being their friend.”
Still, events of the past 27 years have caused some
sleepless nights and a few irate phone calls, Clayton admits.
But he adds, “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Now, Clayton looks back with firsthand perspective.
In doing so, he voices a hope that Louisiana
Baptists will focus on areas of agreement – not disagreement. “I am
often amazed at how easily we find ways to divide ourselves rather than
find ways to be united,” he emphasizes. “Our fellow Christians – and
fellow Baptists – are not the enemy.”
Louisiana Baptists still face some challenging days,
Clayton predicts, citing the drift of people away from denominations as
a key hurdle for the convention to overcome.
In addition, the state convention is in a state of
transition, as new LBC Executive Director David Hankins continues in
his first year of leadership. It also faces the prospect of having to
recover from the devastation of a pair of recent hurricanes on the
southern part of the state.
But in the midst of the challenges, there could be a
positive reshaping of the convention, Clayton notes. “Executive
Director Hankins has the opportunity to lead into uncharted waters,” he
says. “Also, population migration (from the storms) will provide a more
receptive audience for the gospel.”
As for the general outcome of the controversy for
Southern Baptists, Clayton reminds persons that seldom is any
occurrence totally positive or totally negative.
“I think that has been true in the Southern Baptist
Convention,” he says. “Obviously, the convention is going the way the
majority of Southern Baptists want, and it is good that the convention
generally reflects its constituents.
“But it has not been good in that events of the last
30 years have caused suspicion among Southern Baptists and have tried
to force everyone to choose one side or the other,” Clayton continues.
“Now, there is a greater degree of exclusivity. If you are on one side,
people of the other side tend to exclude you from leadership. I also
think people have only so much time, and time spent on convention
politics has taken away from a focus on evangelism and missions.”
For Clayton, the latter emphases are key – and that
importance has been reflected in his missions editorials and articles
through the years. In addition, Clayton has continued to serve as
interim pastor of congregations throughout his Baptist Message tenure,
seeking to remain tied to the local church and its needs and issues.
He currently serves as pastor at New Life Baptist
Church in DeRidder and says he plans to continue there in retirement.
Clayton also voices hopes of spending more time with his wife, Leah,
and his children; of engaging in short-term missions; and of devoting
time to hunting, fishing and working around the house.
“I might even write some,” he adds.
Such plans seemed much more unlikely several years
ago when Clayton underwent surgery to drain a brain abscess. The
experience was a frightening one in which the serious possibility of
Clayton cites his faith, family and friends for
supporting him through the ordeal. “God has never forsaken me,” he
says. “And people have been so wonderful and understanding and helpful.
I love people more and am grateful God has given me some more years to
love him and people more.”
Upon recovery, Clayton was able to return to what he
says has brought such pleasure through the past 27 years.
Indeed, when asked what he has enjoyed most about
the last 27 years, Clayton answers quickly – “The joy of coming to work
every day and getting to know so many wonderful people and something
about how they serve the Lord and sharing that with others.”
He is just as quick to cite his proudest accomplishment.
“When I became editor, the paper never ran
photographs of people of color, except if the person were in a missions
setting and the people of color were recipients of the missions
actions,” he says. “I changed that the second week.”
Clayton also cites the newspaper’s work with the
Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation to impact the moral climate of the
state and keep persons informed about legislative issues. “We have been
able to mount efforts to affect legislation through the years,” he
notes. “But I must admit, people do not respond as strongly nowadays as
Likewise, Clayton says he has been disappointed in
the lack of support for the paper by many. “There are many factors
involved,” he notes. “Louisiana Baptists want a strong state Baptist
paper, but they have not supported the Baptist Message with
subscriptions as perhaps they should.”
Thus, as Clayton prepares to leave, the newspaper
faces the challenge of increasing subscriptions – as well as the
prospect of a key structural change. A proposal to be put before state
convention messengers this week calls for dissolving the newspaper’s
separate board and placing the publication back within the
However, Clayton says he hopes the newspaper can
maintain its separate board while receiving the support necessary to
meet the challenges of the future.
But those are challenges to be faced by another. To
that person and others in Baptist journalism, Clayton urges that they
view the work as a sacred ministry and seek God’s leadership daily.
“The paper is not a platform for personal or political agendas but a
tool that God can use for the good of his kingdom’s work, …” he
“Remember, you serve God first and then, primarily,
Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots Southern Baptist, not people in denominational
leadership. A paper’s primary owners are the state’s Baptists. You are
first responsible to God, then readers.”
To persons aspiring to enter the field of
journalism, Clayton urges them to learn as much about the craft as
possible, to find a good editor to help hone their skills, to read
voraciously and to expect low pay and long hours.
“But it’s a fulfilling field,” he emphasizes.
At age 65, Clayton says if he could speak with the
37-year-old who arrived at the Baptist Message as editor in 1978, he
would tell him – “Work hard at your craft, and strive to know your
For Clayton, those admonitions have marked his
27-year tenure – but the time has come for a new voice, he says.
As he reflects on the coming change, Clayton insists
he never really thought about how his tenure would end. “But this is
about as good as it can be,” he says. “I have loved being editor, and I
look forward to retiring.”
However, he has not looked forward enough to plan
his final editorial, he admits. When asked whether he has considered
what he will say, he quickly answers no. “I will not know until a
couple of hours before its deadline,” he says.
So, who knows – that final issue could feature not
only an editorial but a parting “On Second Thought” column as well,
perhaps a saga of yet another fishing trip.
After all, there remain tales to be told – and re-told.
Indeed, when asked how big the “one that got away”
really was and how it got away, Clayton confesses – “The biggest fish I
ever lost was really, really big and gets bigger every year I tell
about it. I lost it because my line broke.
“That’s my story – and I’m sticking to it.”