NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The glory of the Southern Baptist Convention is that the design of its organizations is to preach the Gospel to the whole world, said James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources. But, he added, “We have often allowed our churches to become country clubs for members instead of rescue stations for the lost. We are slow to venture beyond the safety of our walls.”
Draper’s comments came June 21 during LifeWay’s presentation at the SBC. The report focused on the role and involvement of younger leaders in the SBC and the role of LifeWay in the future under the leadership of a new president. Draper will retire in February 2006.
“Younger ministers are going where the action is, building relationships and bringing the wounded to the feet of Christ,” he said. “We need a healthy infusion of their passion to awaken in us the passion that drove the renegades who founded our denomination 160 years ago. We must set aside our territorialism, regain our focus and venture out into our culture. I’m banging this drum of younger ministers because I do not believe God is finished using the SBC, and that our best days lie ahead.”
The SBC is “wrong,” he said, if it allows younger leaders to walk away from the denomination by not engaging and involving them. Draper said he did not want to witness their exodus, and the multiple listening sessions in which he participated with younger leaders will continue to impact him and the future of LifeWay. He encouraged other entities to make changes, as well.
“I’ve taken to heart what I’ve heard and we are making changes at LifeWay,” he said. “We are beginning with our trustees. Thanks to the committee on nominations we are getting four new trustees under age 40 and one of those is 27. We will hire someone who will focus on working with younger leaders. Also, we will continue our dialogue with younger leaders by involving them in well-planned listening sessions that lead to partnership and involvement opportunities.
“We have other plans on the drawing board but this is just a sample,” he said. “The point is this: They’ve asked for a seat at the table and LifeWay is pulling up some chairs. I encourage every church and entity in the SBC to do the same.”
Draper briefly addressed the SBC’s endeavor of reaching a million baptisms, calling the goal a “sign of healthy churches; a measure of how effectively we are relating to the lost and sharing the difference Christ makes.” He added that if the SBC’s aim is to reach a million baptized to say it hit its goal, “it reveals we were focused on the wrong thing and baptisms then become an end.”
CHALLENGES OF THE FUTURE
Draper then shifted to addressing the future of LifeWay and the challenges the entity and its new president face in the future beyond his retirement:
1. LifeWay must continue to grow in its understanding that it is a Kingdom enterprise. “… As God works through us” must be more than the introduction to LifeWay’s vision statement. It must be the intention of the organization’s service.
2. LifeWay must intensify its effort to have a greater spiritual impact in the SBC in the United States and in the world.
3. LifeWay must continue to attract and retain the best and brightest people in order to sustain and grow the ministry and business that God has entrusted to them.
4. LifeWay receives no Cooperative Program money and is self-supporting, so it must continue to operate profitably in order to remain a strong ministry. It must continue providing the finest, biblically based materials, events and services while being a viable competitor in the marketplace.
5. LifeWay must continue to be a champion for Southern Baptist doctrines and values and be a unifying force that pulls Baptists forward and together as a denomination.
6. LifeWay must become successful at raising funds for ministry from interested individuals.
Draper said he’d continue to be actively involved in the fund-raising effort beyond his retirement, but flatly stated that the focus will be on individual donors and not on churches, respecting the SBC’s policy regarding soliciting churches for funds.
ENGAGING MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES
“There are a number of ministry opportunities available to LifeWay that would greatly multiply our spiritual impact,” he said, “but we cannot currently engage in them because they fall beyond the scope of our operating budget.”
He said that LifeWay had identified a number of opportunities including: expanding the reach of the recently formed Holman Bible Outreach International; making a more intentional global push with True Love Waits; creating the LifeWay Leaderships Institute to provide biblically based leadership and management development; and expanding the reach of “Share Jesus Without Fear,” an evangelism tool that has proved effective in various cultures.
“These are serious times and I deeply want to be a serious person,” he said. “I will step from this position February first next year, but I do not intend to back away from getting in there and mixing it up. We as LifeWay and we as Southern Baptists must aggressively pursue the ministry opportunities God has placed before us.”
Draper closed the LifeWay presentation by asking messengers to pray for the LifeWay trustees on the presidential search committee as they narrow candidates. “Pray also for our denomination, that we will humble ourselves before God and focus our energy on fulfilling the Great Commission,” he said. “Pray that there will be a whole bunch of chairs pulled to the table and all generations of Southern Baptists to join together to aggressively seek to reach the world for Christ.”
In other LifeWay business, Draper recognized the retirement of Jim Carter, vice president of the finance and business services division. Draper acknowledged Carter as the key person in implementing LifeWay’s employee mission trips. Jerry Rhyne, a 32-year LifeWay employee will replace Carter. Rhyne most recently served as director of finance and corporate comptroller.
Draper also introduced John Kramp as vice president of the church resources division. Kramp has been with LifeWay 13 years and previously was director of the church ministry solutions area in the church resources division.
Four new department heads were also introduced:
— David Francis, director of the Sunday School department, has been with LifeWay eight years serving in various educational positions at LifeWay and local churches.
— Jay Johnston, director of the FAITH and discipleship department, has been with LifeWay 17 years and has previously served on staff with the Florida Baptist Convention, in the local church and other ministry positions within LifeWay.
— Mark Marshall, director of leadership training and events, has been with LifeWay eight years and previously served as pastor in churches in Texas and Georgia.
— Mike Harland, director of the music department and LifeWay Worship Music Group, has been with LifeWay two months, joining LifeWay from his position at First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Texas.