NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“Fulfilling the Great Commission will take all of us, working together, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit,” said James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In presenting LifeWay’s report to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 12 in New Orleans, Draper told the crowd, “In today’s world where the needs are overwhelming, we have the greatest good news that has ever been proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. … Southern Baptists, LifeWay wants to join you in being about our Father’s business!”
As one example of how LifeWay is seeking to assist plateaued and declining church membership, Draper called on Gene Mims, vice president of LifeWay Church Resources, to address the restructuring of the LifeWay division.
“Serving the churches is a great privilege at LifeWay,” Mims said. “We have realized that we cannot be content to focus alone on providing the best possible services and resources. We must also be concerned with how the growth and vitality of our churches are impacted by the things we do. We must ask ourselves daily, “Are the people attending our churches having a spiritual transformation?”
Mims said LifeWay Church Resources is seeking to accomplish three specific goals:
— To better position LifeWay to assist churches to carry out the Great Commission at the highest level.
— To interact with churches in new ways. “We want to listen, learn and support churches in their efforts to reach people for Christ.”
— To relate to churches “in a way that will allow us to facilitate and measure growth numerically and spiritually,” Mims said.
“We need to make disciples, mature them and multiply them to push the kingdom of God,” Mims said. “For decades, 70 percent of our churches have either plateaued or declined. The driving force behind this reorganization is the urgency to support churches in seeing that every person has a chance to hear and respond to the good news of the gospel of Christ.
“Clearly, this can only happen as God leads and moves among us,” Mims continued. “The kingdom is his, the work is his, the churches are his. We want to build healthy, growing, transforming churches. We want to work with you side by side to help you reach your communities for Christ. When you need biblical solutions, we want you to think LifeWay…. [T]he days ahead are going to be our best.”
Draper also addressed traditional areas of LifeWay’s ministry that are expanding and growing. A group of children from six New Orleans churches sang “Truth Trackers and the Secret of the Stone Tablets,” the theme song for the 2001 Vacation Bible School material.
“After all these years Vacation Bible School is still the number one evangelistic outreach for Southern Baptist churches,” Draper said. “Last year churches reported 91,000 professions of faith in VBS. More than 500,000 prospects for Bible study through the Sunday school were discovered.”
In another area, Draper addressed the growing special needs of Southern Baptist churches and introduced Leigh Scott of Fairfield Highlands Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Scott worked with LifeWay to produce a Braille hymnal, which consists of two three-inch-thick, three-ring binders, containing hymns, responsive readings and information on how to become a Christian.
“On behalf of the many blind and visually impaired people, I thank you and I thank LifeWay, for partnering with me to be able to put together this wonderful instrument for blind people to use,” Scott said as his guide dog, Kaili, stood by his side. “You have added greatly to our ability to participate in worship in our churches.”
Turning to the ministry of LifeWay Christian Stores, Draper announced that the 100th store would be opening in Knoxville, Tenn., in July.
“We are grateful for our numerical growth,” Draper said following a short video presentation of store employees. “But we are even more pleased with the way our LifeWay store employees are being used in ministry in those stores. It just shows you what can happen when store employees meet in the morning to pray, ‘God, send someone into this store that I can minister in Christ name.'”
Draper also shared about as an Easter promotion in which LifeWay’s Broadman & Holman publishing arm and LifeWay Christian Stores joined forces to provide a Holman Christian Standard New Testament free to anyone who came into the store and asked for one. Those same Bibles also were available to convention messengers at the LifeWay exhibit.
In another area, Draper addressed the revitalization that LifeWay conference centers are currently undergoing.
“It has been 30 years since there has been any major construction at either conference center, so we were long overdue,” Draper said as he introduced a video segment featuring Mike Arrington, vice president of the corporate affairs division.
Arrington announced that Byron Hill has recently been hired as LifeWay’s national director of the conference centers. Hill has 20 years of experience in the hospitality business.
Arrington also reported that construction has begun on the Rutland Chapel at Ridgecrest, which will be completed next December. A 120-room hotel and conference facility is scheduled to open in June 2002.
Draper also stated that this fall Campers on Mission will be partnering with LifeWay to provide labor for the remodeling of existing facilities at both conference centers.
Addressing the growing influence of the Internet on today’s society, Draper introduced LifeWay’s free website service, LifeWayLINK. Four months ago LifeWay began offering free websites, and more than 800 churches have responded. Four pages are included to present information about the church, its services, ministries, events and staff. The program has been designed to be user-friendly, requiring only simple word processing skills to use.
On a different note, Draper spoke on the growing problem of school violence.
“Today one of the things that shocks and concerns me most is the violence that is taking place in our schools,” he admitted. “Did you know that in the last 15 years the number of teenagers arrested for murder has tripled? Each day 13 children and youth are murdered. It is reported that 2 million teenagers carry knives, guns, clubs or razors, and as many as 135,000 take them to school. And we know what the results are when weapons are taken to school.”
Draper shared a recent incident when LifeWay gave 2,000 24-Hour Counselor CDs for distribution at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., immediately following a school shooting. Randy Fields, a youth minister at First Baptist Church, Mira Vista, Calif., told of the experience.
“I don’t know any more than you do about why these things happen,” Fields said. “But I do thank LifeWay for giving us a way to minister among these trials. But most of all, I thank God … for to God be the glory for great things he has done.”
In closing, Draper recounted the story of Derek Redmond of Great Britain, who was on the verge of achieving his lifelong dream of winning a gold medal in the 400-meter race in the 1992 Olympics. Shortly after the race began, a torn right hamstring sent Redmond sprawling face down on the track. He struggled to his feet and began limping to the finish line, only to be joined shortly on the track by his father. Jim Redmond finished the race with his son, offering his shoulder for physical and emotional support.
“Derek Redmond did not win the gold medal that day,” Draper said. “But he walked from the race with something far better, the memory of a father who loved him too much to stay on the sidelines watching him suffer — a father who came down out of the stands.
“We at LifeWay are blessed in our role of supporting churches in the mission of telling the story of our heavenly Father,” Draper said. “One who loves us too much to just look down from heaven to see us stumble and fall. He has come to us!”