By Shannon Baker
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Pointing to 1 Peter 2:9, Senator James Lankford, a Southern Baptist and Republican from Oklahoma, urged Baptist communicators to live godly lives in an increasingly secular society.
“You and I have the same task in a lot of ways,” said Lankford, addressing members of the Baptist Communicators Association (BCA), a professional organization of communicators who serve in a variety of editorial and visual communications positions principally within Baptist agencies and institutions. BCA members met with Lankford in the Russell Senate Building on April 19 during their annual workshop in Washington, D.C.
“Christianity’s been counter-cultural from the very beginning,” Lankford said, explaining Peter wrote a very counter-cultural letter to those in Asia Minor.
Lankford paraphrased the apostle’s message: “This is going to be jarring, but I’m going to challenge you to live differently. And when you do, you’ll have opportunities to be able to represent the love of God.”
How do you stand out in a culture like today’s culture?
“Honor authority,” said Lankford. Because no one else does that, he explained, “you’ll have an opportunity to be able to talk to someone about how your life is different, and how God’s changed your life.”
The senator acknowledged, “Our challenge is challenging authority and honoring authority at the same time.”
Accordingly, Lankford urged the Baptist communicators to not confuse their calling.
“It’s to a person, not a place,” he stressed. “At the end of the day, every government rises and falls. But God still has a kingdom and a plan.”
That plan, shared Lankford, led him unexpectedly into politics.
Before his time in Washington, D.C., Lankford served as director of student ministry at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and director of the Falls Creek Youth Camp, the largest youth camp in the United States.
“We have 51,000 guests that come through that camp every single summer, and it’s a great meeting place for ministry,” he said, noting many International Mission Board missionaries were called to ministry or saved at the Oklahoma camp.
“I can assure you, I never expected this would be the place that I would be serving,” Lankford shared. “I was a youth minister for 22 years. I’ve yet to ever hear anyone say, ‘If you really want to be a United States senator, you should be a youth pastor.’ No one sees that as a route.”
But it is what God called him to do, he affirmed, noting especially his calling to represent Christ in today’s culture. Of which, some have said, “Hey, you’re not a minister anymore. You’re now in a secular position. You need to take that hat off.”
His response? “I smile and say, ‘Well, constitutionally, I’m not required to do that. We have free exercise. We also have Article Six (‘no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States’), which allows elected officials to still put their faith out.’”
Lankford reminded his listeners: “Your faith is your faith. It affects your whole life. So, if your faith is only something you do on weekends, that’s not called faith; that’s called a hobby.”
Nonetheless, Lankford said he cannot be effective in communicating a godly message if he’s not good in his day job.
“If I just walk the halls and preach all the time, no one’s going to hear me. Because in this community, the people that are effective in what they do are the people that get work done. So, I better be the best legislator on the Hill, because that will open up platforms for ministry as well,” he said.
To that aim, Lankford said he participates in a weekly Bible study with other legislators. They’ve spent about a year and a half going through the Sermon on the Mount and two years going through the book of Philippians. They’ve recently started a study on the book of James.
Another group of about 20 senators gather weekly for a prayer meeting that had its start in the Eisenhower administration. The leaders gather to share what God has done in their lives and how to think through faith issues. They also share prayer requests and sing songs.
“A lot of the media focuses on one person yelling and the other person yelling back at them, but there are a lot of people that that’s not how they live life here,” Lankford said.
In closing, at the request of one of his listeners, Lankford shared two prayer requests for the group: prayer for his family, and prayer for discernment and favor.
“There are a billion things you can work on everyday here,” he said. “I can’t do a billion things; our team can’t do a billion things…. We need the discernment to say, ‘That’s somebody else’s, but this is ours. And if we don’t get this done, it doesn’t get done.’”
He added, “There are things that we really feel very passionate to do, but they’re not going to happen if God doesn’t give us favor with [the right] individuals to get it done.”
Other guests at this year’s BCA workshop included Kevin Smith, executive director for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; Brian Autry, executive director for the SBC of Virginia; James A. Smith, vice president of communications for National Religious Broadcasters; and Shannon Bream, host of the prime-time program, “Fox News @ Night.”
To learn more about the Baptist Communicators Association, visit baptistcommunicators.org.