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See challenges as opportunities, Draper tells LifeWay trustees

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention faces perhaps more challenges than at any time in the last decade, James T. Draper Jr. told the agency’s trustees during their semiannual meeting Sept. 10-11.

Draper, president of LifeWay since 1991, told trustees at LifeWay Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center that, like Nehemiah, the Old Testament prophet, LifeWay employees see opportunities when they are faced with obstacles.

When Nehemiah cried out to God to rescue his people in Jerusalem, God answered by making Nehemiah part of the solution of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Draper said.

“Throughout the process, Nehemiah faced one challenge after another, but instead of seeing problems, Nehemiah saw possibilities,” Draper observed.

Among five challenges Draper cited for LifeWay is economic uncertainty. He said LifeWay is managing finances and budgeting “amid the reality that, after years of rapid economic growth, we don’t know what the future holds for the economy.”

“Some experts say that we, as a nation, are awash in money. But we read every day of companies closing plants, cutting back on new initiatives and laying off employees. We are only being good stewards of our resources to take these realities into account.”

However, he continued, in addressing this problem LifeWay employees and trustees can learn from Nehemiah.

“Today, we serve a God with all power, all knowledge and all resources,” he said. “No challenge is too great for him. We must manage our business and our ministry amid financial realities. But we must also move forward each day with courage and vision because God is our Father, Jesus Christ is our Savior and the Holy Spirit is our enabler.”

The second challenge, he said, is that of stable and declining churches. He observed that approximately 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches fall into one of the two categories, a percentage that has remained consistent in the last 10 years. Churches also are facing crises in family life and lifestyle issues, he added, citing a recent study indicating Christians divorce at about the same rate or even higher rates as non-Christians.

“Both of these realities illustrate that the culture is influencing us more than we are influencing the culture,” Draper said.

The purpose of the LifeWay church resources division change process is to help identify churches’ needs and to provide solutions to meet those needs, he continued.

Like Nehemiah, Draper said, LifeWay’s church resources division staff has refused to accept the status quo; they see divine initiative, allowing God to work through them, Draper said.

Publishing a Bible translation, the Holman Christian Standard Bible was cited by Draper as the third challenge facing LifeWay. The New Testament was released earlier this year and the Old Testament is expected to be released in 2004.

“This has involved a large investment of resources, but it was something we strongly felt God leading us to do. By not owning a Bible translation, we have been at the mercy of others,” he observed.

For example, Draper said B&H has to secure the permission of the copyright holder of any modern language translation before printing an edition of the Scripture. When permission is granted, B&H must then pay royalties on the sale of every Bible published in any translation except the King James Version.

“Even more important, those who own translations have the option of making changes in the content that might weaken it from the standpoint of biblical accuracy,” he said.

In the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Draper said LifeWay is combining the highest principles of biblical accuracy with excellence in readability.

“Like Nehemiah, the staff of Broadman & Holman sees the necessity of the task, and God’s timing is always perfect,” he said.

The fourth challenge cited by Draper is ministry through LifeWay Christian Stores.

“I recently participated in celebrating the milestone of 100 stores with the official grand opening of a store on the west side of Knoxville, Tenn.,” he said. “Standing in that beautiful new facility, I was reminded that in 1973 the Sunday School Board opened two retail stores named LifeWay. Both closed within a few years and, to some people, the idea may have looked like a failure. Instead, it was a dream before its time. We stand on the shoulders of those who went before.

“In addition to growing the business, LifeWay stores are places of ministry. Employees start each day in prayer, and customers regularly pray to receive Christ while in our stores,” Draper said.

“We know that when a chain of stores is making an impact, the pressures increase from competitors. We are experiencing some of that, but our leaders are responding with a Christlike spirit. Like Nehemiah, they see opportunities, not obstacles,” he said.

The fifth challenge, he said, is revitalizing LifeWay Conference Centers at Ridgecrest, N.C., and Glorieta, N.M.

The need has never been greater for places where people can get away from their busy lives and schedules, seek God’s will and hear him speak, Draper said.

“Our prayer and our goal is that every person who sets foot on these conference centers will sense the presence of God,” he continued.

“But no matter how big the obstacles appear, they are no greater than those facing the man who, a little more than 50 years ago, dreamed of bringing a national Southern Baptist conference center to this state.”

Draper said Harry Stagg, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico in the 1940s, influenced the formation of a committee to identify a western assembly site. He found the Breese Ranch at Glorieta and mortgaged the state convention building to buy it, but he couldn’t get the committee to come to the state to look at it.

When the committee recommended Harrison, Ark., Draper said Stagg worked to bring a minority report recommending Glorieta. Messengers agreed overwhelmingly in what is believed to be the only time a minority report has been adopted at a Southern Baptist Convention.

“Years later when Stagg was in his 80s, he observed, ‘With all the problems involved and all the impossibilities that lay behind this selection, God guided and the impossible was accomplished.’ Harry Stagg was a 20th century Nehemiah,” Draper said.

“While our culture has changed dramatically in the last 50 to 60 years, many of our churches have stayed basically the same. In the past, when people faced crises they turned to churches for help. Today, many look anywhere but the church. LifeWay faces the challenge of our changing society. As we stand with churches, we must change to minister, not to conform. We are to shape culture, not be shaped by it.

“We need the eyes of Nehemiah to see possibilities, not problems, opportunities, not obstacles,” Draper concluded.

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis