NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources’ trustees immediately will begin the search for a new president following the Feb. 7 announcement by James T. Draper Jr. that he plans to retire from the position effective Feb. 1, 2006.
“For many years I have asked God to make clear to me when I need to retire,” Draper told the full board of trustees during its semiannual meeting. “My prayer has been that He’d allow me the strength to finish well, serving Him until He sees fit to bring me home. In that regard, retirement from LifeWay is simply a transition from one ministry opportunity to another. I believe there are exciting days ahead for both LifeWay and for me.”
A presidential search committee was formed following Draper’s comments. Members are chairman Rick Evans (Ala.), vice chairman Phil Neighbors (Calif.), secretary Ken Jones (Tenn.), Mark Anderson (Miss.), Bill Henard (Ky.), Melvin Pugh (Pa.), Roger Willmore (Ala.), Tom Woodson (Okla.). Ex-officio members are Wayne Hamrick, trustee chairman; Ed Ethridge, trustee vice chairman; and Bobby Welch, Southern Baptist Convention president. The committee will begin accepting resumes and recommendations immediately. Deadline for having applications to Evans is April 15, 2005, and can be sent to his attention at Dalraida Baptist Church, 3838 Wares Ferry Road, Montgomery, AL 36109.
Draper said an approximate timeline is for the committee to bring a candidate to the full board at its next meeting, Sept. 12-13 in Nashville, with the intention of approving the candidate as president-elect.
Draper said he will work side-by-side with the president-elect until Feb. 1, when he’ll step down and the new president will assume full responsibility for the position. “I am looking forward to this process and to a smooth transition of leadership,” he said.
Draper, who will be 70 in October, told trustees his decision to retire is borne out of his “love for LifeWay” and his “commitment to do what is best” for the organization and its Kingdom ministry. February 2006 will mark his 15th year as president, and he stated it is time for new leadership.
“We are seeing a great response in our effort to connect with younger leaders across our denomination,” he said, “and we need a younger man who can lead this organization to continue that trend. The younger leaders are ready to be Kingdom leaders, and LifeWay should reflect a full commitment to partner with them as they follow God’s call.
“We need a younger man with great vision, one who will not rest upon the great resources of this organization and maintain the status quo. We need a younger man who sees future possibilities through God’s eyes. We need a younger man who can guide LifeWay to be a relevant resource for the church for decades to come as the church faces tumultuous cultural times. One thing is certain: We cannot become what we need to be by staying the way we are.”
Draper cautioned trustees to diligently seek God’s direction in filling the position, saying that many people will “tell you they know who ought to be here and what you ought to do. Listen graciously to them, but realize that the decision is yours alone. None of you should have a personal agenda, and do not entertain the agenda of others.”
Draper recounted how reluctant he was to leave the pastorate when approached about taking the president’s position, saying the greatest job in the world is being the pastor of a local church. He offered trustees the following counsel: “Find somebody who has no ambition to be here, and when you come across someone actively pursuing this position, run from him. Your only purpose is to find God’s man.”
Draper said he has no desire to choose his successor or to interfere in the search process in any way. Rather, he said he wants to be available to share his insight with the presidential search committee when asked. His “strong desire,” he said, is to make the transition “efficient and effective.” He said his passion is to pass to the next leader the legacy that had been passed to him, beginning 114 years ago with founder J.M. Frost.
Draper said the next president must lead LifeWay to engage six strategic challenges as LifeWay’s ministry moves deeper into the 21st century. Draper said LifeWay must:
1. Continue to grow in its understanding that it is a Kingdom enterprise.
2. Intensify its effort to have a greater spiritual impact in the SBC and in the United States.
3. Continue to attract and retain the best and brightest people in order to sustain and grow the ministry and business.
4. Operate profitably in order to remain a strong ministry and to continue being a viable competitor in the marketplace.
5. Champion Southern Baptist doctrines and values and be a unifying force that pulls Southern Baptists forward and together as a denomination.
6. Become successful at capital fundraising, recognizing that there are a number of ministry opportunities available to LifeWay that would greatly multiply its spiritual impact but currently cannot be engaged because they fall beyond the scope of LifeWay’s operating budget.
“These are serious times and there is a desperate need for serious organizations staffed by serious people,” Draper said. “LifeWay must be a serious organization as we move deeper into this century if we are to turn these six challenges into opportunities. I sense we are gaining momentum in some of these areas and this presidential handoff needs to be an explosive surge forward.”
Draper stated he has no desire to retire to a life of leisure. “Listen, don’t cue the sunset and launch into a verse of ‘Happy Trails to You,’ he said. “Retirement from an administrative position in today’s world may sometimes be construed as a departure from labor altogether. In no way is this my intention. As a minister, I will never retire. I cannot retire from ordination, the call to preach or the compulsion of the Holy Spirit to work and witness as a Christian minister.”
Draper indicated there are no current plans for what he might do beyond his retirement from LifeWay.
Draper reassured trustees that there was no truck waiting in the parking lot in which to load his office belongings. “I told you last year during this address at our trustee meeting that I’ve got as much energy and vigor now for this ministry as I did when I came into this position. I don’t intend for this last year to be a farewell tour. I don’t intend to back away from getting in there and mixing it up. We must aggressively pursue the ministry opportunities God has placed before us by being the most efficient business possible. I said these are serious times and I deeply want to be a serious person.”
Draper closed his address by challenging trustees to make the next several months some of the most intensely focused months of prayer they’ve ever spent with the Father.
“I have unwavering confidence that God will honor your humility in prayer and deliver to you the man who is to lead LifeWay in the very critical years ahead,” Draper said. “May the Father be glorified by our actions over the next several months.”