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FIRST-PERSON: It is His story

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A number of years ago as I was coming out of Old Town Mombasa, Kenya, our team saw an old blind man feeling his way along a wall across the street. We went to him and shared the Gospel. When we finished he asked, “If this is true, why have you waited so long to tell me?”

That question has driven me ever since to see beyond my little world and see the people of the world with whom God has sent us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

A chapter of my life ends at the end of this month when I retire as president of LifeWay Christian Resources, ending 55 years of full-time ministry. It has been quite a story written by a Great Savior. He has given my life meaning beyond what I could ever have imagined. He took this mischievous, skinny kid growing up in some small towns and churches in Arkansas and Texas and literally took me around the world. I feel like He’s let me peek behind the curtain to see all He’s doing to redeem His people, and it’s amazing. What a privilege it’s been to serve. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for calling me. I pray I’ve brought glory to Your Name over these years.

This past year I’ve reflected a lot on my time at LifeWay and on my time in ministry. So many people and so many opportunities come to mind, it leaves me humbled and shaking my head thinking “Wow!” I’m overwhelmed by a gratitude that consumes my soul.

My beautiful bride of 50 years, Carol Ann, has in every way been the essence of a Proverbs 31 woman. “She is far more precious than jewels.” She has indeed honored me with good all the days we’ve been together. I believe only God can fully probe the depths of my heart and understand the gratitude I have for the life partner He gave to me.

My other partners are my children. I’ve got great kids. I think back over all the times we’ve shared and I can’t imagine the joy I would have missed without the three of them. We’ve had great times as a family. Just thinking about some of the stunts they’ve pulled or jokes they’ve played on me gives me a chuckle. I couldn’t be any more proud of the godly adults they’ve become. Their spouses are our children, too, and the grandchildren are … well, just grand!

Of course, ministry is not a job done in a vacuum. I praise God for the co-laborers I’ve had these 15 years in our LifeWay trustees and employees. Paul writes to the Philippians: “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5, HCSB). I can’t improve on that expression of gratitude as I think of the trustees with whom I’ve served. They are absolutely the finest in the world. I simply “Amen” what Paul has said as I think of them.

The Southern Baptist Convention has been blessed by God to do His work. It isn’t the denomination itself that is great — it’s the people in it. I’ve been blessed to work with the gifted leadership partners found at other SBC entities. Never has the SBC had stronger or more gifted leaders. I think of the state executives and directors of missions and associational leaders scattered across our country, many serving in out-of-the-way places. I love them because they labor not for recognition but to fulfill their calling of God.

Pastors, you are my heroes. All I ever wanted to do was be faithful to my calling as pastor of a local church. It is the highest calling in the world. You have a tough job in today’s culture, but you have the most important job this side of heaven. God has called you to a special and hard place of service. You have never been far from my thoughts and prayers in what we’ve done here at LifeWay.

As a pastor, the Lord has allowed me to be caretaker for His bride. I think of people with whom I’ve served on staff and the thousands of people who’ve been members of the churches of which I’ve been pastor, and I pause in overwhelming gratitude. What great folks. I have been far more blessed by these churches than they have been blessed by me. How each of the places I’ve served has given me such great joy. My prayer for each of these special places of service and the people in them is that they “may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding so that [they] may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10, HCSB).

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past two years talking to “younger leaders.” These are men and women who love Jesus, are willing to go to the hard places for the Gospel’s sake and have the creativity to finish His work. These younger folks have energized and encouraged me. The future of the Southern Baptist Convention is bright. There are tremendous leaders coming into maturity and they are the promise of our future.

Finally, I am tremendously grateful for Thom Rainer. I had no part in choosing my successor; the trustees did that. But as I survey the denominational landscape I can think of no other leader so uniquely qualified to lead LifeWay into the future. He is a man of tremendous gifts, but also a man of deep character. I have said I believe LifeWay’s best days lie ahead and I am confident that under Thom’s leadership God will make that become reality. Thom, I appreciate the way you have honored me. I’m humbled, and grateful. As Paul challenged Timothy: “In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus … I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Timothy 6:13-14, HCSB). Stay the course, broaden the horizons, swim in new oceans, climb to new heights, reach further than you’ve ever reached, dream greater dreams than you have ever dreamed, knowing that our Savior leads the way for you. These co-workers here at LifeWay will make the journey with you, and the Lord will be praised and glorified.

I am retiring from this phase of ministry but the old Kenyan’s question echoes in my mind: “If this is true, why have you waited so long to tell me?” I’m sure he’d heard many stories in His life but none like the story we shared. Millions more wait for one of us to share the story — His story — with them.

The best way I know to express my gratitude to Jesus for the life He’s written for me is to be faithful in my relationship to Him. From that I’ll never retire as I look forward to one day being promoted into His presence.
Draper is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • James T. Draper Jr.