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Draper says greatest challenge is establishing, maintaining priority

KANSAS CITY, Mo (BP)–“The greatest challenge you are going to have in your ministry and your life wherever you go is getting first things first,” said James T. Draper Jr. during his chapel address at Midwestern Theological Seminary on April 26, 2001.

Draper, president and chief executive officer of LifeWay Christian Resources, was at Midwestern in conjunction with the three-day LifeWay Christian Resources Emphasis. Draper is also a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has authored a number of books including Bridges To The Future: A Challenge For Southern Baptists, Trusting Thy Word, and Authority: The Critical Issue For Southern Baptists.

Using Matthew 6:19-34 as his text Draper began by saying, “What Christ is talking about in this passage is the establishing of a priority. Maintaining a priority that keeps you on track is easy to lose sight of. It is very easy to get focused on means and forget what the end is. It is easy to get focused on the mechanics. The purpose of ministry is not for us to be pastor of such and such church, build this church, or do this mission work. The purpose of the ministry is to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and, out of our relationship with him, to minister the Word of God.”

Draper related a time in his own life when he served as pastor of Red Bridge Baptist Church south of Kansas City. On a cold winter morning he was scheduled to fly out of the old municipal airport in downtown Kansas City. Having been given wrong information about the flight time he arrived at the airport only a few minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off. He rushed through the double doors and out onto the tarmac. He was so focused on finding the airplane he was to board that he completely ignored the shuttle bus only six feet away that was to take him to the airplane. He had to ask an airport employee where he needed to go.

“On the flight to St. Louis I asked myself, ‘How could I have missed seeing the bus?’ And then it dawned on me. I did not see the bus because I was not looking for a bus. I was looking for an airplane,” Draper said. “Folks, it is important what you focus on. Because you are going to see in life what you are looking for. If you are looking for criticism and/or difficulty you are going to find it because you are going to see what you are looking for. The important thing is our focus.”

“What are we focused on? What is our priority? I want to use priority in the singular. I want to suggest that you should not have but one priority. Not a bunch of priorities, because that implies everything is of equal value. You need one priority and that is why Christ says in verse 33, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all of these others things will be added.’ You focus as your priority on Christ. Other things, important things, needed things will take care of themselves, but your priority is Jesus Christ.” Said Draper, “I beseech you, I urge you, I beg you to always make the priority of your life your relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Draper said that we can tell what our priority is by looking at three things; our choices, our anxieties, and our focus. In verses 19 through 24 there are three sets of choices mentioned; two places to store our treasure, two ways of seeing, and two masters to follow. In verse 25 Jesus warns us not to be anxious. Draper says that worry is damaging in four ways; “it causes us to distort reality (v 25), it devalues the individual (v 26), it is unproductive (v 27), and it reveals a lack of faith (v 30-32).” And in verse 33 Jesus states emphatically that our focus should be on the righteousness of God. Draper called us to “replace the desire for the things of the world for the desire for righteousness.”

Draper reminds us, “The important thing in Southern Baptist life is not the convention. The important thing in Southern Baptist life is not our institutions. The important thing in Southern Baptist life is our relationship with God. Our priority is to be on mission with God.”

At the chapel service, Draper also presented the LifeWay Pastoral Leadership Award to James Robert (Bobby) Albers, Jr., a Midwestern student. Albers is the interim youth minister at Greenwood Baptist Church in Blue Springs, Mo. He will graduate from the seminary May 19.

    About the Author

  • Larry B. Elrod