Doug Trouten’s Farewell Address to EPA

Editor's note: At the May 3, 2013 business meeting in Nashville Doug Trouten gave his final Executive Director's Report after serving 11 years as Executive Director.

by Doug Trouten

This is my final report as executive director of EPA. It's been an honor to serve you in this capacity for the past 11 years, and to have been involved in EPA in other ways for 19 years before that.

It was actually 30 years ago that I began attending EPA conventions. I started working with what was then called the Twin Cities Christian newspaper in 1982, and Terry White informed me that he had drafted me to serve on the 1983 convention committee. Roger Palms, who was then editor of Decision magazine, told me that I was in charge of publicity. And then he told me that we really didn't want any publicity. It was a pretty easy gig.

In the three decades that followed I had opportunities to serve EPA in other ways, including contest committees, scholarship committees, convention committees, news service director, webmaster, and of course most recently as executive director.

Transitions are a hard, but necessary part of life. Being EPA director is not like being a Supreme Court justice -- it's not a lifetime appointment. And I'm not arrogant enough to believe that gifts that helped me serve EPA in the past decade are necessarily well-suited for the decade ahead. To everything there is a season. Lis and I have enjoyed our season with you, and now we are excited to see what God has for us next. We have the honor of serving a God whose approach is, "Imagine how great the plans are I have for you -- no, it's better than that."

Some have asked what we'll be doing now. The EPA director's job is a part-time position, and I do actually have a day job as a full-time journalism faculty member at Northwestern College in St. Paul, where I also chair the department of communication. So it's nice to have that to fall back on. We won't be in the streets asking people for spare change. I'll be finishing my doctoral dissertation this summer (thank you if you've already filled out my survey) and I've begun saying "yes" to additional writing and teaching opportunities that I've been saying "no" to due to the constraints of my schedule. Who knows -- perhaps some of you will have interesting writing assignments for me in the years ahead, and maybe I can even get back on the receiving end of EPA's awards after years of helping to hand them out.

I'm looking forward to seeing D'Arcy Maher step into the role of executive director. Most of you don't know this, but I actually suggested that EPA President Dean Ridings contact D'Arcy and urge her to apply. She's been an EPA editor, a board member, and a convention chair, and has a strong background in the association world and in event planning. In many ways she's much better equipped for this job than I was when I began 11 years ago, and I look forward to seeing her take EPA higher than ever -- that will certainly be my prayer for her and for EPA going forward.

Let me close by sharing a few hopes for the future of EPA.

I hope that EPA's conventions can become more and more a place of renewal and refreshment for our members. These annual conventions were a real life-line for Lis and for me during our deadline-filled days. They were an opportunity to step away from the day-to-day work and take a look at the bigger picture. These days we all carry our work with us on our laptops and on our phones, and often we never really step back from it. During my 30 years of attending EPA conventions I've seen a shift at the convention from people eagerly enjoying the company of colleagues, to people scurrying off to their rooms between sessions to catch up on email or finish an article. To steal an old Coca-Cola slogan, I hope EPA conventions can find a way to go back to being "the pause that refreshes."

A second hope is that EPA's members remember that EPA is an association, and that its strength comes from members helping members. At one of the convention's Fresh Start devotional sessions, Ed Stetzer talked about the trend in the church toward people seeing themselves as customers, rather than in co-laborers. It's a dangerous trend in the church, and a dangerous trend in EPA. EPA is not a company you get services from -- it's a community you join. We're not a vendor that does stuff for the industry -- we ARE the industry. But we're in danger of losing that. One of the major changes I've seen over the last 30 years is that people have less time for EPA than ever before. Our industry used to have a bit of what economists call "excess capacity," and people had time to put into volunteer work that benefited the entire industry. Today our member publications are shedding staff, even as they add digital expectations to the workloads of remaining staff members. The result is that it's harder to find time for things that seem like "extras," like serving on an EPA committee or engaging with EPA colleagues. But let me suggest that we may not be as busy as we think we are -- studies have shown that people who spend their days at a computer often do a lot less actual work than they think, because of the endless distractions of the online world. I challenge you to find ways to harness just a bit of your time and use it to serve the greater Christian publishing industry through EPA.

My final hope for EPA is that you remember how vitally important your work is. It's hard to remember that when your staff and budget are shrinking, and when experts are predicting the death of print and the dawning of a new post-literate age. But you have been called by God to serve Him with the written word. We serve a God who chose not to be represented by the visual symbol of an idol, but to communicate with his people through the written word. God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses as words written on stone tablets. The ministry of Jesus was foretold in the writings of Moses, and the prophets and the Psalms. And the life of Jesus was recorded in writing to reach the world for generation after generation. The written word holds a special place in God's plan for the world, and it's the tool you've been given to use for God's glory. You might sometimes wonder if your work is worthwhile, particularly if your publication only reaches an audience of a few thousand. But think of how many pastors pour out their hearts week after week for an audience of a few hundred. God has given you the gift of an influential position where you can serve Him, using words as your tools. Your work matters. And it's been in incalculable honor for me to be able to support your work in some small way during my time with EPA. Thank you.