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A husband first, father second; then an evangelist to families

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Jerry Drace made two commitments to his wife Becky when he started his ministry as a fulltime evangelist.

He promised he wouldn’t accept more than 25 meetings a year after they had children. He promised he’d lead the family in daily devotions and prayer, even when he was on the road.

“Before I am an evangelist, I’m first a husband and second a father,” Drace said. “I don’t have any right out preaching the Gospel to other families if I’m neglecting my own. That’s just been my priority.”

It’s a priority Drace has embraced for three decades, and his commitment to his own family has spilled over into his ministry, as Drace spends most of his time these days with family evangelism.

“We need daddies who model in front of their children what they’re professing on Sunday morning,” said Drace, whose 30th year in fulltime evangelism was celebrated during a late-February pastors’ breakfast at his home in Humboldt, Tenn., and a banquet featuring Focus on the Family Vice President H.B. London at Englewood Baptist Church in nearby Jackson.

“[Parents] can have good communication, and you can be committed to each other, but if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you’re just a good, committed, secular home,” Drace said. “Jesus Christ has to be the central focus of the home — His teachings, His way of life, His instructions.”

Drace knows the value of a good home because he grew up in one. His father was a Baptist pastor in West Tennessee for 60 years. He made his way through Union University in Jackson with plans to be a doctor, but God began to place a call on Drace’s life. He remembers telephoning his parents with the news that God was calling him to the ministry.

“Daddy’s first words were, ‘Are you sure?’” Drace recalled.

As for his mother, she had suspicions all along that Drace would end up in the ministry. But she kept quiet, because she knew her inclinations meant nothing if her son didn’t think the call was from God.

After graduating from college Drace went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His first position after seminary was as a youth minister in Jacksonville, Fla.

He hadn’t been in that role long until he started to get several invitations to speak at conferences and revivals. After much prayer and consideration, he decided fulltime evangelism was where God wanted him. So in February 1975, Drace resigned from his church. He had $200 in the bank and four people who had pledged to give him monthly gifts of $50.

“That’s why they call it a faith ministry,” Drace said.

One of Drace’s close friends, the late T.W. Wilson of the Billy Graham evangelistic team, offered three tips on how to stay afloat in the field of fulltime evangelism: Develop a network of prayer partners, create a board of men for accountability purposes and always support the local pastor.

It was advice that has served Drace well, as “evangelism with integrity” has become a slogan for his ministry.

In 1993 Drace conducted a survey of pastors all over the country. He wanted to know specifically what their greatest need was as pastors. He didn’t expect the results he got.

“The predominant answer -– and it shocked me –- was how do we minister to the families in our churches?” Drace said.

So Drace developed a program called Hope for the Home, and now 80 percent of his speaking engagements are conferences designed to strengthen families.

One of the two major problems in families today is lack of communication, Drace said.

“When you don’t talk, you don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives,” he said. “Parents don’t talk to their kids, and the kids aren’t talking to their parents. When we’re dating, we talk all the time to each other. When we get married, we stop talking, and the men start grunting -– and the women wonder what the grunts mean.”

The other problem is lack of commitment.

“Why do marriages break up?” he asked. “We’re not committed. There are more people today who are cohabitating than there are people who are getting married. But the facts show that people who cohabitate are more likely to divorce once they do get married. Why? No commitment.”

Drace said too many boys today will grow up to be poor fathers because they don’t have a good father in their house to learn from. Divorce is something young people are beginning to embrace as part of life.

He encountered one 12-year-old girl at a church who told him she was saving up for her “divorce fund.” When Drace inquired, the girl told him her father had walked out on the family when she was 4, leaving them very poor. She told Drace, “I think someday when I get married, my husband will probably walk out on me,” so that’s why she was saving her money.

“That’s the mentality of many young people today,” he said.

Drace’s Hope for the Home conferences are designed to address some of these problems. Over a weekend, Drace and his wife will lead sessions for people in all different stages of life -– husbands, wives, senior adults, divorcees, teenagers.

The whole point of the weekend conference is to get fathers to commit to three months of daily devotions with families. Drace said studies show 92 percent of Southern Baptist families do not have daily devotions together. The conference is built toward getting fathers to change that trend by accepting their role as spiritual leaders.

“Why are we so engrossed on building big churches if we’re not ministering to our families?” Drace asked. “To stand and preach to thousands may be exciting, and it is, but they’re individuals you’re preaching to. They’re not masses. You have husbands who are hurting and wives who are hurting and kids who are sitting there saying, ‘Give me an answer.’ They need hope.”

Drace cited statistics indicating the average father spends less than three minutes a day with his children. He said too many fathers are too busy watching TV, reading the newspaper, playing golf or doing other things instead of fulfilling their responsibilities as a parent.

“I often tell men, you can be home physically and not be at home,” Drace said. “You’re body’s there, but your mind and heart aren’t.”

That’s why a family devotion time is so important to Drace and why he emphasizes the practice so much.

“If you bring your family around you once a day and you have that Bible verse and you have that prayer, you’ve done more than most daddies in building a model for your kids,” Drace said. “The foundation has to be a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

And that’s why Drace insisted on the practice with his own family, even when it had to be over the telephone.

“One thing I’ve learned is that priority with my family to this point has really paid off,” Drace said. “God’s given us two great children. Both of them have a passion for the Lord and His work.”
Information about Drace’s ministry is on the Web at www.HopefortheHome.org.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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