Just received word that I am now a member of two editorial boards. The first appointment came as a surprise this past summer when invited to serve on the journal Theological Education, a journal sponsored by the Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting agency for most seminaries and divinity schools. I have to be honest and say that the invitation did not set in till I opened a copy of Theological Education today and found my name listed as part of the 2012-2014 Editorial Board.
The second honor came as I was wrapping up my year as president of the Religious Education Association. Jack Seymour, editor for the journal, invited me to serve on the editorial board of that association, titled Religious Education. This journal is one of the most prestigious in its field and it is an honor just to have a publication much less serve as one of the editorial board.
I know that this post seems like a bit of shameless self promotion but I want to use it in part to encourage others who aspire to write. While books are important, I want to encourage people to write as often as possible for academic journals and other settings that push for scholarship. Both forms of publications have their place but I have found few people equally accomplished in both settings. Journal writing takes a lot of effort in creating a tightly focused, well researched, argument that often contributes specific knowledge for a smaller learning community of scholars and teachers. These articles may prove strategically valuable. I still remember to this day an article by Michael Warren in Religious Education that argued for media’s role in education. At the time I had left broadcast journalism to pursue Christian education. In a very tightly focused treatise, Warren reminded me that media and technology were a part of Christian Discipleship as well as popular entertainment or journalism… I have never forgotten that admonition.
Since going into academic teaching, I have written articles, reviewed articles for journals in my field, and served as senior editor of Didache: Faithful Teaching for almost twelve years. Editorial work is not easy and often thankless. Personal writing projects are left on hold while articles are read for content, edited for copy, and sometimes completely reformatted because the author never checked the submission guidelines (argh!!!!!). Still, I love this work, particularly because Didache: Faithful Teaching allows me to invite new scholars, educators in isolated global areas, and close friends to share ideas that might not otherwise see print in the fashion that exists in that journal. It reminds me that we are here to cultivate a new generation of scholars and leaders for the sake of each craft (theology, education, ministry) and for the sake of the broader church and world.
Similarly I know a couple of exceptional book editors personally (Kathy Armistead and Bonnie Perry, please take collective bows) who approach book publications with the same passion. And I think the quality of solid academic text, or even smaller monograph, can contribute in a much more enduring fashion than an article (one reason I helped to start an upcoming book series titled Horizons in Religious Education). But I am still a fan of journals, in part because of less pressure to “sell” an audience.
Book publishing is under the gun (unfortunately) to make each book profitable. Gone are the days of books published by major companies for small readerships, unless the book is self published primarily through an e-vendor. I remember sitting in a car with a rather popular young speaker and author, one who has had multiple popularly-oriented, “general trade,” books. He was lamenting over a friend and fellow scholar who was working on a significant academic treatise, one that had to be published under an academic imprint to please the scholar’s University president. It sparked a brief conversation on publishing, particularly general market or “trade” books. The speaker noted that academic journals existed only for people who had to “publish or perish” for academic promotion, and were read by usually less than three people per article (not true). The young speaker stated, “if the book doesn’t sell at Walmart, what good is writing it?” While I have no beef with Walmart at all, I know that sometimes when you write for popular readership… eventually that popular readership owns you. With that orientation alone you can find yourself writing less to advance knowledge, but to entice readers for your next offering.
Journals tend to ask first the quality of the knowledge and worry less about the scope of the readership (or the sale of the edition). To me the issue was less publish or perish, but publish to thrive… to continue to explore new realms of research and insights, and return them to the community that first gave many in research and teaching their life. Academic journals keep teachers and scholars honest, forces them to give back to the very communities that shaped them in the first place, provides a place for new creativity in tightly packaged arguments. I guess that is why I have always enjoyed writing for other journals, reviewing submissions for other journals, and editing Didache: Faithful Teaching.
Serving on Editorial boards may not seem like that important but it is a symbol to me that a labor of love can include a margin of recognition.