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FIRST-PERSON: The frog isn’t cooked yet

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A skinny little fellow realized he’d never collect paychecks from a professional football team. It didn’t keep him from success. He wrote out a list of 100 things he wanted to accomplish in his lifetime, and more than 30 years later has done nearly all of them. Lou Holtz, of course, is best known for his success as a coach, but his intentional pursuit of specific goals is inspirational.

I’ve never created a list like Holtz’s. If I had, I can assure you that being president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention most likely would not have appeared anywhere in the top 100. Stick with me; you’ll learn why.

About a month ago I wrote a column titled, “Is the SBC a frog in the kettle?” In it I expressed my concerns over the decrease in baptisms as reported by Southern Baptist churches (which I believe reflects a lack of evangelistic emphasis) and the lack of denominational loyalty on the part of younger ministers within our convention.

The column created quite a stir and I’ve personally received hundreds of messages from people across the country, nearly all of which have been positive. What I said struck a chord, so much so that I’m going to take up my own challenge: “What [am I] going to do about it?”

More on that in a bit, but first back to my Lou Holtz analogy.

Holtz’s list inspired him to reach new heights and lifted him to a place of prominence. He is an easily recognizable sports figure. Conversely, I never aspired to be president of LifeWay, president of the SBC or any other position of influence. All I ever wanted to be was the best local church pastor God would help me to be. I still believe it is the most prominent position anyone in ministry can hold. My dad, whose wise counsel still influences my ministry, told me when I was starting out 54 years ago to give myself totally to the local church and be an active participant in my association. I can remember loading several older widow ladies in my car and making my way down dusty roads to associational meetings.

God’s chosen my path, and I’ve held on for the ride. He brought me to LifeWay and I gladly serve Him as He directs me. The point is, I never set out to get here. I simply invested myself where I was and got involved locally. And that is my challenge to younger ministers. Get involved and begin making a difference nationally by making a difference locally.

John Loudat, editor of the Baptist New Mexican newspaper, astutely observed in response to my column that for the SBC to overcome the challenges I expressed it will take all of us doing our parts: older ministers opening doors and younger ministers walking through them.

Younger ministers, you have got to be agents for change, right where you are first. There is such a minuscule probability that you will become the president of the SBC, LifeWay, the International Mission Board or any other denominational entity. Do the math: there are a handful of entities — including seminaries — and more than 42,000 pastors alone.

Instead, I recommend the challenge given by John Piper in his excellent book, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.” Piper says our aim should be “to spread a radical, pastoral passion for the supremacy and centrality of the crucified and risen God-Man, Jesus Christ, in every sphere of life and ministry and culture.”

Younger minister, if you want to see change within the Southern Baptist Convention, change it within your sphere of influence — at a grassroots level — and take the SBC along for the ride. That’s one of the beauties, and delights, of our denomination: We’re not a “top-down” organization; we honor the biblical principle of the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church. It’s pastors, staff, deacons and laypeople in local churches who drive the Southern Baptist Convention. So, be a part of the process. Don’t sit passively by and wait for someone else to initiate change. You do it!

Which brings me back to my challenge to myself: “What am I going to do about it?” This: between now and Sept. 15 I want anyone so inclined to send me a message (e-mail, letter) with your contact information and let me know you want to be a part of the solution. Send me the names and contact information of others in your sphere of influence. I want to listen to what you’ve got to say and to what ideas you have. I may come to you or I may figure out a way for you to come to me; probably both. I’m not real sure at this point how we are going to get it done, but what we are going to do is start a face-to-face dialogue. Now is your opportunity to step up to the plate. I’m willing to, but I need your commitment.

The frog may be in the kettle, but it’s not cooked yet. Together I believe we can get the frog hopping out in the world where the frog most needs to be.
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • James T. Draper Jr.