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Draper entreats trustees, leaders to intensify evangelism effort

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources has significant work ahead if it is to be a relevant organization in 10 years, LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. told those attending the semiannual trustee meeting held here Sept. 13-14, but said he believes the organization has the foundation on which to build the future.

“LifeWay has considerable equity,” he said and listed favorable factors as LifeWay’s commitment to Scripture, committed and talented employees, financial resources (the company is debt-free), relationships with primary customers such as state conventions, the possibility for growth in non-traditional markets, a purposeful vision and trustees dedicated to completing that vision. But he warned the road ahead wouldn’t be easy.

“Our pursuit should be to complete the task God has given us to do,” he said, “but to get there we’ve got to lay it all on the line and ask ourselves every day, ‘What’s it going to take?'”

Draper recounted details of an interview between SBC President Bobby Welch and a national women’s magazine. The editor told Welch that 29 million people who answered a survey indicated they believe in God and the Bible but are unaffiliated with a church. Welch was asked, “What’s the church going to do about that?”

“What’s LifeWay going to do about it?” Draper asked the trustees. “What will LifeWay do to intensify its involvement in helping people and churches seek and save that which is lost?”

He said Southern Baptists are often slow to respond to cultural trends: “Too often we talk about being relevant tomorrow but what we need to do is find ways to be relevant 10 years from now.” In relation to how that long-term vision affects LifeWay, he said “We need to be out there ready with resources for people and churches when the crises hit instead of reacting in hindsight to the challenges they face.”

Draper recounted the challenge he issued to the Southern Baptist Convention in June and has since revisited in his LifeWay@Heart columns. The challenges, he said, within the denomination are to recapture a passion for evangelism that leads to salvation and baptism, and incorporating younger leaders –- men and women — into positions of influence within the denomination. Draper told trustees he’s been inundated with hundreds of e-mail responses and letters.

“We’ve got a whole generation — or two — of ministers out there who are grieving because they want to be a part of the SBC’s future but feel they are being shut out,” he said. “Southern Baptists must become intentionally focused and generationally inclusive if we are to overcome the challenges of reaching people for Christ and passing along the baton of ministry.”

Draper then extended the same challenge to within LifeWay. “We’ve done some great work here at LifeWay over the past several years but many of our ministry products are aging. We can’t just recycle what’s been done. I knew full well when I challenged our denomination that LifeWay was going to be evaluated to see if we are practicing what I preach. I believe that within LifeWay we have the human resources necessary to get us to where we need to go.”

To indicate how forward thinking LifeWay needs to become, he quoted British racecar champion Stirling Moss: “To achieve anything you must be prepared to dabble on the boundary of disaster.” However, Draper said “we are no where as near that boundary as we need to be if we are going to design a LifeWay 10 years in the future. We are way too conventional in our thinking and we’ve got to break out of that.”

Draper said it is going to take leadership to overcome the resistance confronting large organizations when seeking to keep pace with their surrounding environments. “You leaders in this room and those who lead our various divisions have got to be secure enough in your leadership to release those in your charge to pursue radical, unconventional ideas,” he said. “We need to reward free thinking. Unfortunately I still hear of too many good ideas that get squelched by a well-meaning department head because, ‘we haven’t done it that way before.'”

One way to increase LifeWay’s ministry relevancy and to overcome competitive challenges is to work better cross-divisionally, Draper said. “I believe if we’re all honest with each other we would admit that we still work within too many silos. We’ve got to find ways to better cooperate, and I challenge you trustees to hold us accountable for getting there.”

Guidance must come from God, Draper said, and added that all employees must constantly evaluate how deeply they are relying on the Holy Spirit’s leadership. “We’ve seen record growth over these past several years but it scares me to wonder if I or anyone else at LifeWay has ever touched glory due God. So I ask myself, ‘How will I respond to God when He one day asks me what kind of steward I was with the ministry He’s given me here at LifeWay?’

“That’s sobering. So much so it fuels a fire in me to completely give myself obediently to God’s leading. I want you to know that I’ve got absolutely no intention to coast to the finish line of retirement.”

Draper said he’d be “lying” if he said he had all the answers to the challenges facing both the denomination and LifeWay, and added that if LifeWay is going to tout itself as having, “biblical solutions for life, we need to understand that life is moving a lot quicker than we are.

“So I ask again: What will LifeWay do to intensify its involvement in helping people and churches seek and save that which is lost? A spiritually desperate world is waiting for our answer.”
Rob Phillips, Chris turner and Brooklyn Noel contributed to this report.

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