Christian Retailing

Ask the Exec: Selma Wilson talks social media, millennials Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 09:03 AM America/New_York

B&H Publishing Group president settles into role at helm of Nashville publisher

SelmaWilsonClose-upOfficialPhotoChristian Retailing was privileged to chat with B&H Publishing Group’s Selma Wilson earlier this year. Wilson took the helm of B&H in 2010 and oversees the company’s products, which include the Holman Christian Standard Bible; B&H Books—fiction, nonfiction and children’s; B&H Academic; Broadman Supplies; and Crossbooks’ self publishing. A former social sciences teacher, she is married to a marriage and family minister.

CR: could you tell us about your publishing background?

We launched a women’s magazine [in the early ‘90s] and then shortly after that, they asked me to lead all of our magazine work. ... I love all that we have to offer today with our women’s Bible study leaders who are teaching, curriculum, and our trade books that are written by women for women—we’ve come a long way.

CR: How are you using social media?

I just recently launched a blog and Twitter and all that. ... I’m surprised at the influence. I’m now dialoguing with people around the world. I now hear back from just a diverse group of people, and it’s really made me a better leader because I’m in the space.

CR: what are your thoughts about  where our industry stands now?

It’s all in! You’d better be in shape spiritually and physically. But at the end of the day, what we do has never mattered more, and we have more opportunity than ever before. The needs of people haven’t changed. In fact, people are reading now more than ever. They’re just reading differently, bytes of information. Who would have ever thought Twitter would be such a powerful communication tool? Then what’s happened with blogs and just the power of that. Now the down side of that is people can say whatever they think without any filters, but I’ve found that takes care of itself. You don’t throw away the baby with the bath water.

I think with our industry we have more opportunity than ever before. We’re going to have to adapt to the times that we’re in. I’m 58 years old. I boil everything down to [what’s] simple. I’m a simple country girl who was profoundly impacted by the gospel, and I haven’t gotten over it yet! If we really believe what God’s Word says, God’s not wringing His hands in heaven saying, “Oh my, the world is changing.” He is totally in control. He puts His people in every time and place throughout time to advance the gospel. So here we are today. The world is not too hard to God. I believe that He’s brought all this together. The vaults of content that this industry has, all the knowledge that this industry has, plus the digital revolution is going to give us opportunity to do more to advance the gospel around the world than ever before.

CR: “every word Matters.” how is that B&H motto put into practice?

One of our B&H logos for our team says, “Every Word Matters,” and I do believe that fundamentally. We have to be careful with our words and definitely when you cross cultural lines, you’ve just got to be sensitive to the words we use. To be careless with words can be so damaging to individuals, and I care so much that the words we say give people life and hope and help them, it’s so important.

We have to be very sensitive to think beyond ourselves. I really believe in diversity in the industry and on our leadership teams. We need gender diversity, age diversity, ethnic diversity. We need people who have been out in the world beyond Western cultural experiences. One of the things I love about the millennial generation—I love so much about them—[and] in my view, if you have any doubt about the future of the gospel, just go meet with the millennials. They’re worship-driven, they have a less-is-more mentality, they’re willing to sell everything to go, they just are bold in their faith, and it’s beautiful to see. We need those voices. They give us such hope. But the geographical walls have so come down for the millennial generation. It’s nothing for them to study abroad, to do mission work abroad, to go for years. I mean, it was kind of novel in my generation. Now it’s normal, and that’s a beautiful thing.

And the people groups that are here—I live in Nashville, Tennessee, the buckle of the Bible belt, as it’s been referred. We have over 100 different people groups in the Middle Tennessee area. The world is here. … I think there’s enough kingdom work for us to do, and we all matter. God gives us different assignments, different things that we’re good at. We refer people to other publishing houses all the time. We want to be good in the places that we’re strong in, but we don’t have to do it all.

CR: IS B&H moving more toward reaching millennials?

Yes, we’re partnering more and more with young pastors. I think about Matt Chandler, for example. We’ve just done a book with him, Recovering Redemption, such a powerful message of redemption, which is so central, but Matt’s a good example of how God has raised up someone in the millennial generation who is having such a huge impact in reaching many with the gospel. So we think about that intentionally. I think we in leadership who are older are going to have to be more intentional about developing and raising up leaders in the industry from that millennial generation so that we hand off the baton well. Our team has been doing that intentionally. You take the strength of those of us who have been in the industry for a long time—you don’t throw that out—but then you marry that with those who are passionate for the gospel, excellent in their space, and they just bring a richness to the team.

CR: LifeWay has its “groups matter” initiative. Does that tie in with what you’re doing at B&H?

We work strategically with our church resources partners. They have the primary assignment for doing the more in-depth curriculum for the church. … We know in trade publishing that a lot of people are not going to do the in-depth Bible studies, so we try to whet their appetite because we still fundamentally believe that it’s best for you to be in a group to study God’s Word. Yes, you can study alone, and we’re supposed to have our individual quiet times, but you just don’t get the richness of the group experience when you do a study alone.

CR: I’m not the first to ask about your being the only woman president in our industry, but what do you think about it?

Dr. Thom Rainer at LifeWay busted the glass ceiling for LifeWay. I’m the first woman in leadership in our history. Most of the time I don’t think about it. I’m aware of it. I’m honored. I do believe that we need more women sitting at tables. God has made us different and it’s in that different perspective that we’re better [together]. The men that I work with at LifeWay are incredible. They’ve taught me so much. I feel like an equal at the table. When you have to think about it, there’s a problem. When you can be yourself, [there’s not]. I had a dear friend who prayed over me when I got my leadership role at LifeWay. And one of her prayers, that word of wisdom, she said God didn’t put you in this role for who you’re going to be. He put you there because of who you are, so be yourself, and I love that. I’m a country girl; I was raised on a farm in eastern Tennessee.

CR: growing up, were you involved in a southern baptist church?

My mother was raised in a family where she didn’t go to church, and she came to faith in Christ at 15. She began to pray that God would give her a husband and that she could take her children to church. That’s my daddy. My mother loved the church with everything in her. We didn’t miss church, but I had the privilege of being discipled by Southern Baptist resources, and I grew up studying the Word, discipled in the Word from the time I was a little girl. [With] our missions emphasis when I was a little girl in this little country church, I learned that I was a part of something bigger, that we were united with other churches to advance the gospel around the world.... I had the privilege throughout all of my formative years of being deeply engaged with God’s Word, being a student of God’s Word and asking questions and digging deep. That’s my foundation, and I probably take it for granted because I’m so anchored there.  In God’s plan, here I am back in God’s institution that has provided those resources that impacted me.