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Fitness can affect witness, ministry, Jimmy Draper says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Shortness of breath and a dose of old fashioned guilt brought Jimmy Draper to the point of improving his personal fitness.

Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, recalled recently that he had never weighed more than 200 pounds until he left the pastorate to head the SBC publishing agency in Nashville, Tenn.

The change in his ministry focus in 1991 also resulted in several lifestyle changes, including many more hours sitting at a desk, in meetings, on airplanes and in automobiles. The result was an increase in his weight to 212 pounds.

Two years ago, he said, friends listening to him preach at First Baptist Church, Dallas, commented that he had seemed out of breath. Shortly thereafter, a retired preacher who had heard him on the radio made a similar observation. Within a period of six weeks, several persons who did not know each other had commented to Draper that they were concerned about his health. Among those was LifeWay’s wellness consultant, Tommy Yessick.

“I had heard him preach at the National Conference for Church Leadership, and I could hear a rhythmic wheezing as he preached. I made an appointment and I told him, ‘This is kind of awkward, because you are my boss. But I want you to stay around. Let’s see what we can do.’ I made a chart of things he could do, and we met periodically to check on his blood pressure and other measures of progress.”

“The most obvious thing I could do was lose weight,” Draper said.

To make matters worse, he said, “I not only felt bad; I also felt guilty. Before I could deal with my weight, I had to look at it as a sin. It was a matter of spiritual stewardship, a matter of example. How we maintain our physical well-being is a testimony to our faith. Our appearance conveys some things about our discipline and self-control.”

Yessick worked with Draper on some lifestyle changes he could accommodate in his travel schedule and long in-office, desk-bound days in Nashville. Those included modified eating habits and increased exercise.

“I’m not a flat belly or a marathon runner,” Draper said. “Realistically, I’m probably 10 pounds heavier than the doctors want me to be.”

But at a weight that hovers between 25 and 30 pounds less than he weighed two years ago, Draper said he has learned that fitness, like faith, is a journey, not a destination.

“My goal is not a certain weight, but a certain level of health,” he reflected. “I’ve learned I can manage my weight and my diet. I am not dieting. I could go on a diet, but if I go on one, I gain again when I go off of it.”

Instead, Draper has modified his approach to eating, watching fat grams, rarely eating fried foods, eating more fruit, almost never adding salt to foods and drinking more water and fewer caffeine drinks. He walks 45 minutes on a treadmill every day that he is at home, and he takes some vitamin and mineral supplements. An additional exercise tool is an elastic exercise band to do resistance exercise and tone muscles.

On the road, he walks whenever he can. If time permits between flight segments, he walks between arrival and departure gates and terminals rather than riding trams and trains.

“I can walk airport concourses, and if I have stair access, I try to walk up stairs,” he said. “I work exercise in where I can.”

Draper said like others of his generation, he was taught to clean his plate. Now he has broken that habit, eating only what he wants and leaving the rest.

“I’m not a slave to it,” he said of his new eating plan.

Now 65, Draper said his age was a motivating factor. He lost his father at 52 and a brother at age 47.

“When you find yourself huffing and puffing, that’s not the way you want to live,” he said. “Steps can be the hardest. At my former weight, it really wasn’t easy. I had to ask myself if, in my older years, I wanted to be where I couldn’t do a lot of things without unnecessary pressure.”

Today, he said he feels better, has more energy, and an added benefit is that his snoring, which was contributing to sleep apnea, is improved.

Yessick said Draper’s accomplishments are documented in the results of annual physical examinations.

“His heart rate has gone down by 10 beats per minute, and his good cholesterol has improved,” Yessick said. “His time on the treadmill, part of his annual physical, has increased by 2 minutes, thereby raising his fitness category from good to excellent for a person his age.”

Most ministers are so consumed with what they do, they fail to take care of themselves, Draper believes.

“Nearly every pastor is a slave to his job, ” he observed. “He has no time for himself or doesn’t know how to use the time he has. No one has any more time than anyone else. It’s how we manage our time. But pastors feel so many demands.

“I know I am going to die some day,” he acknowledged, “and I know God is in control. But while I am alive, I need to be as fit as I can so I can do as much as I can.”

LifeWay offers resources to assist persons who want to improve their personal fitness. Through LeaderCare, a ministry of personal development resources for ministers and their families, wellness consultation and resources are available by contacting Tommy Yessick at [email protected]. LifeWay’s discipleship area offers “Fit 4,” a goal-oriented educational health plan that stresses a balanced approach to wellness. For more information about Fit 4, visit www.fit4.com.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: DRAPER – BEFORE and DRAPER – AFTER.

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  • Charles Willis