If it’s happening in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), there’s a good chance Jonathan Howe and Amy Whitfield are talking about it.
Amy Whitfield and Jonathan Howe, center, interview Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, on the podcast “SBC This Week,” which reaches its 100th-episode milestone April 28.
Howe and Whitfield host the podcast SBC This Week which celebrates its 100th episode April 28. The show, for roughly 30 minutes each Friday, features a roundup of “news and views” from across the SBC.
“Our goal is to help people understand that the SBC exists for the other 363 days of the year,” Howe said. “We get all worked up about what happens for two days in June [during the SBC’s annual meeting], but a lot more goes on elsewhere that influences the direction of the denomination.”
SBC This Week was born out of Howe and Whitfield’s passion for all things Southern Baptist, coupled with a desire to see their generation more deeply engaged with the convention. At 36 and 40 years of age respectively, Howe and Whitfield straddle the edges of Generation X and the Millennials. Howe is director of strategic initiatives at Lifeway Christian Resources; Whitfield is director of communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina and, during the SBC annual meeting, an assistant parliamentarian.
“There is such a rich history in the SBC, whether it be the personalities, the decisions, the entities or the achievements,” Howe said. “We’re just trying to make sure we don’t let our generation forget where we came from, so we can learn from past mistakes and build on successes.”
Though SBC This Week launched in 2015, the conversations that created the show’s blueprint began years earlier, when Howe and Whitfield worked together at Lifeway.
“We’ve been having these conversations for years, the only difference is that we turned on a microphone,” Whitfield said. “It is amazing to me that people are still listening. When we started it was one of those moments where you think, ‘This could be incredibly boring.’”
But listeners didn’t think so. In fact, the podcast’s audience has quadrupled over the past two years. Another surprise is who is listening. Howe said denominational employees comprise one of SBC This Week’s largest audience segments.
“They see it as a quick way to get a pulse of what’s going on around the denomination,” he explained. “We also hear from a lot of pastors that are the same way.”
Baptist Press is the podcast’s primary go-to place for content.
“We have a big appreciation for the folks at Baptist Press; it’s the place you are going to find the most stories that are going to hit our entire listener base,” Whitfield said. She and Howe also scour entity websites, newsletters, magazines and other sources for SBC happenings and potential interviewees.
There’s rarely any shortage of news. In addition to national SBC entities, Howe and Whitfield cover the state Baptist conventions but purposely shy away from what Howe calls “blog wars,” not wanting to get bogged down in an online argument.
“Unfortunately, Southern Baptists have a bad rap for infighting,” Howe said. “The last thing we want to be is the caricature that many people see us for. Instead, we want to be seen as people who care, who are missional, people that want the world come to Christ.”
Both Howe and Whitfield acknowledge that SBC This Week is unapologetically upbeat, and their chemistry as hosts plays to this. Howe describes the dynamic as a Laurel and Hardy-type duo: the straight-man and the funny guy.
“The straight man’s job is to set up the funny guy with jokes,” Howe explained. “I see myself as the straight guy. … My job is to set it up for Amy to discuss the stories. Ninety percent of the time it’s me talking about the headline and Amy explaining it. She’s the smart one. I move us from bit to bit.”
“I do know when Jonathan is provoking me, trying to get something out of me,” Whitfield said with a laugh. “Sometimes when he asks questions I know he is trying to stump me.”
While a news cycle’s unpredictability means the lineup for each podcast is unique, there are a few show staples. Each week Howe invites Whitfield to “blow our minds” with a segment called “This Week in SBC History.”
“That’s one of the things that we get the most feedback about,” Whitfield said. “I thought it would be fun to do and we just ran with it. I don’t even remember when Jonathan started saying ‘blow our minds’ but it just caught on.”
Whitfield admits that digging through entity archives to ferret out interesting bits of convention history feeds her inner SBC geek. Events range from sober topics, like missionary Adoniram Judson’s death at sea, to the unusual, like the first state executive with his own airplane for business travel (it was donated).
SBC This Week always wraps with another staple, “Resource of the Week,” which Howe jokes is selected by whatever new material lands on his desk at Lifeway. Whether a book, video, website or other resource, Howe said the resource is sometimes strategic, sometimes random and sometimes personal. “We try to show a little love to each entity,” he added.
Howe and Whitfield won’t share everything they’re planning for the podcast’s 100th episode but are excited about a special interview with Danny Akin, president of Southeastern seminary.
“We blinked and we’re 100 episodes in, and now here we are prepping to cover our third annual meeting [in Phoenix],” Howe said. “It’s been fun to have the access and the interest, and the interest hasn’t abated. … I am more excited about the SBC now than I was 100 episodes ago.”
The SBC This Week podcast is available at sbcthisweek.com and on iTunes and Google Play.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Schueler directs marketing and communications for The Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma.)