Out of print - 'The Commission' magazine nears its end

The Commission no longer goes to the ends of the earth - at least not the printed Southern Baptist version. What that means for Southern Baptists' efforts to carry out the Great Commission remains to be seen. The Commission no longer goes to the ends of the earth - at least not the printed Southern Baptist version. What that means for Southern Baptists' efforts to carry out the Great Commission remains to be seen. In June, citing a $10 million budget shortfall, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board cut 37 jobs and suspended publication of its 250,000-circulation magazine, The Commission. Projected annual savings include $800,000 in printing and postage costs, in addition to an undisclosed amount for the salaries and benefits of terminated staff members. The board's communications staff bore the brunt of the layoffs. By one count, 14 employees from the department responsible for publication of the 65-year-old magazine were terminated, including several with more than 30 years of agency experience. An on-line edition of The Commission will continue. The cuts came despite the fact that research showed The Commission played a significant role in raising money for the board, recruiting career missionaries and informing church leaders about missions. The Commission "has as her most lasting legacy the untold thousands of Christians who found their concern for missions heightened by what they found in her pages," said longtime Editor Leland Webb, now retired. "Because of (The Commission), many advocates of missions bowed their heads in prayer and reached into pocket or purse to give extra dollars." The Commission also was the only Southern Baptist publication consistently to earn respect and accolades from the secular media. More importantly, Webb said the magazine "earned a hearing for the gospel and missions in the editorial offices of some major publications whose staffs respected quality wherever they saw it." Former International Mission Board photographer Charles Ledford was a new Christian when he applied for a job with National Geographic. "They didn't have any openings but encouraged me to contact The Commission, since it was doing great things visually," said Ledford, who last year was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in photography for his work for USA Weekend. The Commission was a training ground for photographers, designers and writers, such as Pulitzer-nominated Joanna Pinneo, who left the board to become a photographer for U.S. News and World Report. Of course, the high cost of the glossy, color publication always attracted the attention of budget cutters, Webb admitted. However, until now, the value received was judged to justify the expense. Webb said his research indicates 46 percent of career missionaries surveyed between 1986 and 1993 said the magazine played a part in their career decisions. A 1993 report also noted the board had received more than $10.5 million in trusts, wills or other types of gifts from contacts first made through The Commission. One former Southern Baptist missions leader said loss of the magazine was like losing a family member. Several terminated employees declined to discuss the matter. The severance agreements signed by the former employees reportedly limit what they can say about the board and the magazine. Mission board spokesperson Mark Kelly said nothing has been said about whether the magazine might resume print publication. The final regular issue of the magazine will be distributed in August. The November issue also will be produced to support the annual missions offering. Kelly said the move does not affect the board's overseas correspondent system, which employs journalists and photographers as career missionaries. The correspondents were frequent writers for the magazine. "We still have the on-line version as well as many other channels of communicating with Southern Baptists," he said. The Commission "was not afraid to compete with the big boys from the secular world of journalism," Webb recalled. The magazine frequently garnered national awards alongside National Geographic, Newsweek and Life - including top honors for photography and editing. The demise of the magazine gives former managing editor Kathy Wade pause "because I know the impact (it) has had on individual lives, individual ministries and individual decisions to be stronger believers in Christ," she said. "It's not just 56 pages of stories and photographs winning all types of journalism awards," added Wade, whose position was cut recently. "It's been a testament of how God is continually working through his people." (ABP)