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Lessons from 50 years in ministry recounted by LifeWay’s Jimmy Draper

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–In 50 years of ministry, Jimmy Draper, the president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, has learned a few lessons, 21 of which he shared with seminary students during a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 21:

1. Don’t neglect your personal walk with the Lord.

“Every day, there’s news that comes of another minister or church leader who has failed morally or ethically in some way,” Draper said, “and without exception, they will tell you, ‘It all happened when I began to neglect my daily bread.’

“You’re not smart enough, you’re not spiritual enough, you’re not deep enough to make it without daily time with God.”

2. Make time for your family.

“You can’t go through life taking care of everybody else’s family and lose your own, and you may very well do that,” Draper said. “You have to minister to your family.”

3. Be an encourager.

“Everybody’s having a hard time,” he said. “Kindness and sensitivity to those you serve is vital. Be thoughtful.”

4. Never make a decision when you’re depressed or discouraged.

If you do, “you’ll always make the wrong decision,” Draper warned. “You’ve got to be happy where you are before God will move you somewhere else.”

5. Doubt never means yes and always means no or wait a while.

God does not lead through doubt, Draper said. “If you can’t get peace, that is an answer.”

6. Openness and honesty are keys to effective ministry.

“People need to see real people,” he said. “They need to see us as we are. Don’t hide things.” Being transparent is worth the risk, he added.

7. Answer all your phone calls and mail.

“I am appalled at how many people don’t do that,” Draper said. “If somebody has time to call you or has time to write you, you have time to answer back. Many ministers lose a lot of credibility because they’re not responsible in returning calls.”

8. Don’t let anger be a pattern of behavior.

“Treat people courteously, especially those who disagree with you,” he said. “Firmness does not need to be brutal.”

9. Be quick to forgive people when they make mistakes and use their mistake to help them.

“Realize that few people make mistakes on purpose,” Draper said. “Don’t be hostile toward those who make mistakes, because guess what?” he added. “You’re going to need forgiveness and correction yourself sometime, and so you need to give it.”

10. Preach sermons grounded in the Bible.

“Don’t discover topics that you think need to be addressed and then try to find Scriptures to substantiate your message,” Draper counseled. “Start with the Scripture.”

Careful, regular Bible study will always keep preachers on the cutting edge of contemporary needs, he said. “God already knows what people need, and if you’ll preach the Word of God, he’ll speak to their needs.”

11. There’s no excuse for being unprepared to preach.

“Most people will only see the pastor in the pulpit, and you’d better be loaded for bear,” Draper said.

Saying it took him 25 to 30 hours to prepare for a sermon, Draper added that what makes preparation difficult is that “nobody thinks you need time to study. Everybody believes you just open your mouth, the Holy Spirit fills it and out it comes, all these wonderful messages and three points and poems, and all this stuff just flows out of the preacher,” he said.

“Mark out the time, bite the bullet,” Draper challenged. “Tell people that unless somebody’s dying or it’s an emergency, you’re with God and you’re studying the Word of God.”

12. Do not flirt with temptation.

The misconduct of many ministers today, Draper said, blasphemes the name of God in society.

“You don’t have to wait until you’re tempted to decide not to yield,” he added. “If you’re not careful, you will take each temptation as it comes along as an opportunity that you have to decide, ‘What am I going to do?’ No, you can decide now you’re not going to do it.”

13. Cooperate with fellow believers.

“None of us can fulfill the Great Commission by ourselves,” he said. “I don’t care how big your church is, I don’t care how many times you preach, I don’t care how many thousands of people may come through your doors.”

The truly distinctive aspect of the Southern Baptist Convention, Draper said, is cooperation.

“We agree to cooperate together for the greater good of the kingdom of God,” he said, even though Baptists will not always agree. “That’s the best way to express your faithfulness to your calling. Be a part of what God is doing.”

14. Be a good steward of your position and influence in all experiences.

“Whatever God has brought into your life, he brought into it to equip you to help somebody else,” Draper said, adding that ministers are called to find out what they can give to a situation, not what they can get out of it.

15. Devote yourself to developing leaders.

“Find some people that you can build relationships with, that will result in the development of real leaders for the church and for the kingdom of God,” he said.

16. Cherish and protect friendships.

“Most pastors don’t have a close friend,” and some people say that is how it should be, Draper said.

“Friendship is risky. Love is risky. If you love, you risk losing and that hurts,” but a minister needs friends, Draper insisted.

17. Give credit to other people.

“You need to recognize your fellow staff members and your church leaders,” he advised. “Give them praise and applause. Let people know they are worthy partners in ministry.”

18. Keep confidences.

“There’s more gossip passed around under the guise of prayer request than anything I know,” he asserted. “Don’t share with somebody else what somebody tells you in confidence.”

19. Lead by example.

“‘Do as I say and not as I do’ never has worked, and it never will,” Draper said. “You can’t ask people to do something you’re not doing.”

Ministers are going to pass along to their churches what they are and who they are, so it is important they set the right example, Draper said.

20. Be a servant leader, not a prima donna.

“Servant leadership is the pattern that God gave to us,” Draper said. “It has to be true today. You have to earn the right to be the leader. You are not the pastor just because your name’s on the sign.

“You serve people. You care about them. You minister to them. And as you do that, you earn the right to lead.”

21. Know that you’re not always right and admit it.

“Every hill’s not worth dying on,” he said.

Draper shared an incident when he got angry at a meeting over a question of how much money should be allocated in the budget for flowers. When he got home, God asked him whether the display was necessary. That same evening, he wrote letters to all the committee members asking for their forgiveness.

“Most people will accept [an apology] when they know that it’s genuinely and freely given,” Draper said.

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  • Cory J. Hailey