O. Afton Linger is a retired Baptist minister residing in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

 

IN A former pastorate I took some news copy to the local daily newspaper. The editor of the society and church pages was a member of one of the leading churches of the town. Giving my story a quick once-over look, she re marked, "Oh, how I wish our pastor would hand in copy like this! He writes out his news stories with a pencil and on scraps of paper, and he uses atrocious English!" After a significant pause, she added, "But he is the best pastor we have ever had!"

That last statement set me to wondering. Can one be a really "good pas tor" and yet fail to communicate adequately with the public? Shouldn't a minister be an all round man as well as be trained in theology? As titular head of a congregation, shouldn't he worthily represent his church through the printed page as well as in other ways?

My maternal grandfather used to tell us boys, "Anything that is worth doing at all is worth doing right!" By the same token, every church news story that is worth telling should be told well.

Any communication submitted to a newspaper or magazine should be clearly typed, double-spaced, on good typewriter paper, size 81/2-by-ll inches, on one side only, with ample margins at the top and bottom of the page.

Here's How I Try to Do It

1. Always take plenty of time to be accurate. Make a thorough check of each piece of information submitted. After you have done your best to create a worthy story have someone else go over it. It is hard for one to see his own mistakes. It is trite but true that the best writing is rewriting, and even a church newsstory should be polished again and again.

2. Be as brief as a full presentation of the story will permit. Direct, simple language is always more effective than "fine" writing.

One popular Pentecostal minister tells a story he attributes to a Catholic professor. Purportedly, a group of Christian ministers met in a church to consult with one another as to what is wrong with the church. While they were discussing the subject, Jesus Himself appeared and asked them, "Who do you say that I am?" The reply was "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of being; the kerygma manifested in conflict and decision in the human process." Jesus looked at them and said, "Wha-a-a-at?"

3. Be crystal clear. Don't say, "The meeting will be held in the auditorium," but "at the Municipal Auditorium." One pastor we know spends good money to place ads in our local newspaper. I called him one day and reminded him that he failed to tell where the church is situated. He said, "Everybody knows where Tom's Hill is." Obviously, everybody doesn't know where your church is located. A visitor may be scanning the newspaper to find the church of his choice. Be so accurate that no one can fail to locate the church or building that you are mentioning in the story.

4. Be complete and grammatical.

Don't just say, "Mr. Johnson," but the first time it is used give the full name: "Mr. Wallace Johnson, pastor of the First Baptist church, Any City, Any State." When the name of a married woman is used, don't say, "Mrs. Mary Jones," but "Mrs. Jasper Jones."

5. Be creative. Don't use cliches. Say the unexpected. Use your imagination by employing effective comparisons, strong contrasts, striking illustrations, and catchy slogans—especially in the lead sentence.

6. Be timely. Promptness in the sub mission of church news stories means the difference between a published and an unpublished story. Few people are interested in what has already taken place in your church. Coming events have far more news value than things that have already happened.

7. Use pictures or drawings. If "one picture is worth a thousand words," think of the tremendous value that including a picture brings in the way of free space. Provide a glossy photograph of a visiting minister or guest speaker. Pictures of any nature, if good, will attract readers to your stories.

8. Be local. No matter how large your denomination may be, national pro grams and news releases are not likely to mean much to an editor or to your readers. Tie that national story into your local situation. The mention of denominational programs, such as "the Ingathering program," will likely mean nothing to the average reader. You should add the phrase "fund-raising plan of the denomination," to make it clear to everyone.

9. "Say it like it is." A deacon friend of mine used to say, "Pastor, it's hard to say a thing without saying it!" Yet, there are some people who seem to befog anything they say or write. Centuries ago, when people were still writing on clay tablets and potsherds, a Hebrew poet told people, "Write the vision, and make it plain . . . , that he may run that readeth it" (Hab. 2:2).

Once, for more than a year, I wrote book advertising copy for a weekly religious periodical. Some of my best suggestions came to me as I studied the ads in the slick-paper magazines. After all, didn't Jesus commend the "unjust steward," saying, "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8)?

There are many magazines that devote their entire space to teaching people what to write, and how to do it better. Correspondence courses and an abundance of city colleges leave no excuse for ministers to do slovenly, outmoded work in reporting church news.

"Preacher, how writest thou?"


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O. Afton Linger is a retired Baptist minister residing in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

May 1977

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