Why Podcasts Matter
As Christianity Today seeks to expand our global reach by providing expansive reporting—like that of our November 2016 cover story featuring Christianity in India and our June 2017 cover story highlighting dispatches from Cambodia—we also seek to increase our offerings by continually producing quality content across new mediums.
Spearheading one of these efforts is Assistant Editor Morgan Lee, the host of one of CT's three podcasts, Quick to Listen (QTL). Along with The Calling and Monday Morning Preacher, CT's podcasts amass more than 25,000 listens each month—an impressive number considering QTL, the oldest and most frequent podcast, has only 67 episodes and launched in March 2016. And listeners are responding with more than just downloads; all three podcasts are receiving high praise for their thoughtful, unique takes.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted that everyone who wasn't listening to The Calling was missing out, and Beth Moore, bestselling author and speaker, replied that she, too, was listening, and she weighed in with her thoughts on Richard Clark's conversation with Tish Warren, his podcast guest that week. In light of all this feedback from others, I decided to sit down with Lee to discuss her role here at CT and how she contributes to the mission of expanding our global reach and equipping the local church in the ever-expanding digital age.
What is your role with podcasts here at CT?
I host Quick to Listen with our editor-in-chief Mark Galli. Our podcast is a weekly, current-event show where we discuss something that's in the news that feels contentious and also relevant to the church and Christian leaders, and where our readers will likely have strong opinions on the topic. Our job on QTL is to find experts who can speak into this and give our listeners more information and also to ask a lot of questions of those experts.
What parts of podcasting do you enjoy?
I am a verbal processor who appreciates a place where my ability to think on my feet gets to be used in a professional setting. Publishing is about being thoughtful, well read, and applying lots of things you have processed into the work and ideas that you're trying to shape. And I am using those skills when it comes to podcasting, but I'm using them in a much rawer way. We do have a producer who comes back in to reorder things, but he never chops up my sentences or even paragraphs. For the most part, my train of thought is preserved when it shows up in the podcast. So it's really special to sit behind a microphone, facilitate a conversation, chime in with my own voice, and have that kind of extemporaneous thought be something that I can contribute as part of my work.
The other thing I like is that we're a current events driven show. And while I don't always feel an emotional connection to what we're talking about, I often do, so to be able to sit with someone and ask questions that I personally am trying to think more carefully or thoughtfully about and having that kind of work-life alignment is a neat feature. It's also great to see others enjoying these conversations as much as I am.
I also love working with Mark. I've had such a great time having him as my cohost. We get along really well. I write the scripts, and he edits them. And I appreciate the feedback he gives me every week. We're at different life stages, but I think it makes the show more robust and interesting because we can speak from different perspectives.
How do you see podcasts equipping or reaching people in ways that articles can't?
My father has been pretty frank with me that he doesn't like reading articles and doesn't plan on reading CT because he does not compute or understand information when he gets it from an article. It doesn't register with him, and he doesn't like reading for pleasure in the way many of our readers do. I don't think my dad is in any way alone—at all. I think there are many people who, for whatever reason, don't want to spend their time reading articles, and they skim over the sentences we've been belaboring over. But we've found a way to bring our thoughtful Christian journalism skills to a different space and unpack ideas with that same depth and nuance.
One thing that the ministry of CT has succeeded in is bringing context to stories. We are often looking for people who can give context, so we have a disproportionate amount of intellectuals, historians, and professors over thought leaders who may only have a platform or pithy quote. So first we look for context, then we also look for practitioners. Who's doing the work out there that can bring in their own real-life examples in a helpful way? A few weeks ago we brought Bob Roberts on the show, a pastor in Texas. He's not only a pastor, but he's engaged in Muslim-Christian relations. Part of the point of having him on was wanting him to tell stories of the work that he does in a "show not tell" way, and I think history is its own "show not tell" story.
How do you see podcasting fitting in with CT's cause of Beautiful Orthodoxy?
The Calling is a podcast for Christian thought leaders hosted by Richard Clark. There may be some overlap between QTL and The Calling, but not much, because The Calling is an in-depth look at vocation and how people make decisions in their life, about where all those things converge or haven't converged, and that's Beautiful Orthodoxy.
Judging from the feedback we've gotten, not only are the guests wrestling through the tension between the lives they live and the lives they aspire to but so are our listeners. We don't do much first-person narrative at CT, but this is a way for us to do curated personal narrative, allowing people to think deeply. We're encouraging people to lean into the bigger tensions of their lives, and that's what Beautiful Orthodoxy is all about. Hopefully people can engage with our publication and find tensions and gaps between what they're aspiring for and what they're actually heading for. We're not seeking to bring condemnation—we're seeking to bring redemption.
Joy Beth Smith is a managing editor at Christianity Today.
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