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Set parameters in ministry by making Christ priority, Jimmy Draper says

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–A Christ-honoring ministry hinges largely on establishing some non-negotiables, said the president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

James T. Draper Jr. said effective ministry in the 21st century involves two fundamental issues: “renunciations” and “proclamations,” in March 22-23 Spring Conference lectures at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.

Renunciation — refusing something, giving up the rights to something or declaring a position on something — is a prerequisite for ensuring godliness and holiness in the ministry, Draper said. Conversely, a minister must unequivocally affirm or proclaim certain truths as well.

Draper warned that delaying to establish non-negotiables in ministry until confronted with a situation typically ends in failure, “and ministers are failing all across this country in record numbers,” Draper said. “It happens every day, all the time. Lives are coming unglued because we have not made some renunciations.

“The minister must set some parameters for his life — you just have to do it, and don’t hold open some options,” Draper counseled. “You have to draw some lines. You have to say, ‘I’m not going to do this. I will not go beyond this. There are some guidelines for my life.’ You have to take a stand that is permanent and that is final because a minister is responsible to God and is a messenger to [God’s] people.”

An effective minister must think ahead concerning certain situations and “renounce those things that can compromise you or in any way compromise the message of Christ,” he said. Such line-drawing will not keep a minister from being tempted, he said, “but it means you have already declined the temptation before it comes.”

Draper cited the apostle Paul’s admonitions in 2 Corinthians 4 of five things a minister must renounce:

— Hidden things — because “the moment you begin to hide anything it begins to hollow your heart. It doesn’t matter what it is, [and] it may be something innocent.”

— Shameful things — things that “if everybody knew about it would embarrass you, or shame you, or dishonor you, or cause disrepute to the name of Christ or be scandalous in any way.”

— Subtle things — or “deceptive actions or attitudes, … manipulations or schemes or devices to provoke human response.”

— Fraudulent things — or “fraudulent use of the Word of God,” such as manipulating a passage of Scripture.

— Selfish things — ministers should not preach themselves but Christ Jesus the Lord. Draper quoted someone as saying selfishness is “the last temptation of otherwise noble minds.”

“Every minister of the gospel has to make some renunciations,” said Draper, who pastored churches for 35 years before becoming president of LifeWay in 1991. Draper said preachers tell him, “It’s nobody’s business what you do,” but Draper said, “It is everybody’s business what you do.”

Like it or not, a minister lives in a glass house, Draper said. “People see your life. They watch you, day in and day out, and there are some things that you have to do.”

Effective ministry in the 21st century also requires making certain affirmations ahead of time, Draper said. Continuing in 2 Corinthians 4, he said affirmations should include a commitment to:

— Manifest the truth of the Word of God in your life.

— Affirm the power of the Word of God in your ministry.

Ministers should never feel their job is “to somehow help the Bible out,” Draper said. “It’s a terrible burden for us to have to carry when we feel that we have to make the Word of God powerful, that we have to ensure human response, that we have to prop up the kingdom.”

Citing the apostle Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 1, Draper said, “You have to find the focus of your life in Jesus Christ,” not in ministry. “Your priority is the one thing that holds it all together and gives everything meaning. I’m afraid … many of us … in ministry are endeavoring to have a lot of priorities and all we have is chaos and confusion. Your priority has to be Jesus Christ.”

Ministers should realize instead that “the kingdom of God rolls on like a mighty river,” Draper said. “At the beginning of our ministry, we launch our frail craft onto that river, we do not carry the river, the river carries us. And at the end of our ministry, we disembark but the river rolls on.”

Draper warned that disaster strikes churches when a minister fails to be what God intended. When that happens, laypeople become “cynical about the gospel,” and it “gives a tool for the gods of this world to blind the minds of those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or who do not believe,” Draper said.

“God’s minister is a servant and don’t you ever forget [it],” Draper said. Ministers “are not some superstar, some prima donna cast in some organization as the hotshot leader of that organization. You are the servant of God’s people.”

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  • Debbie Moore