Tributes are typically reserved for the retiring and the deceased. Dr. James T. Draper retired from LifeWay Christian Resources on Feb. 1, 2006, and the tributes were voluminous. And Dr. Draper certainly does not fit the category of deceased as he remains more active in ministry than ever.
This tribute thus has no special occasion unless one would categorize an overflowing heart as a special moment. You see, I learned and continue to learn so much from my predecessor. In the 100 days we had together, to the e-mails and calls I receive today, I owe so much to Dr. Draper. He is my mentor in many ways, and his influence is especially profound in the lessons on integrity I have learned from him.
None of these lessons are new. Others have written many volumes on the topic. But I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to see them in real time in the life of a great man. Allow me to share but a few of these lessons.
1. Be a person of prayer. Every conversation I have with Dr. Draper ends with his encouraging words: "I love you and Nellie Jo. Carol Ann and I are praying for you." I believe without a doubt that Dr. Draper prays for me and many others. I know that he is a man of prayer. And one of the primary reasons he has led a life of blameless integrity is his commitment to stay in communication with our Lord.
2. Keep your word and tell the truth. I have never heard Dr. Draper say an untruth. I have never heard someone else say they have heard him speak an untruth. He keeps his word. He tells the truth. His commitment is firm.
3. Put your family before your work. Dr. Draper is moved to tears when he hears yet another story of a fallen minister. He reminds me again and again to take care of Nellie Jo before I take care of LifeWay. "Family first" is not merely a slogan in Dr. Draper's world; it is reality that has shaped his life and ministry.
4. Learn to love others, even when they seem unlovable. Dr. Draper tried to prepare me for the scrutiny that would come. He attempted to show me how this position was often subject to intense criticisms. I nodded my head knowingly when he would tell me of these matters, but I really did not learn this lesson until I sat in the "hot seat" he occupied for 15 years. I stand amazed how he remained kind and gentle, even when he was under attack. "Be kind to everyone, because they all have their problems too," he would remind me. Dr. Draper taught me by his actions the principle of unconditional love.
5. If you must offer a critical comment to someone, do so one-on-one. "I will never speak a critical word of you, Thom, unless I do so to your face," he promised me. He has kept that promise to me. And he has maintained that same standard of integrity with others. In the hyper-critical world in which we live, the actions of Dr. Draper are not normative, but they are a breath of fresh air.
6. Do not put yourself in places of temptation. Dr. Draper had strict but necessary standards at LifeWay concerning the interaction of males and females. And he led not merely by policies, but by example. He was always financially responsible, and held himself highly accountable for every financial matter in which he was involved.
7. Be willing to admit your mistakes. I am always amazed how quickly Dr. Draper would admit he made a mistake, how he would assign blame to himself instead of passing the blame to someone else. He has no false pride that precludes him from admitting error. Indeed he is sometimes too quick to accept the blame for himself.
If the Lord gives me a 20-year ministry at LifeWay, I would do well to follow the example of my predecessor. But I have a long way to go before I even approach the type of life modeled by Dr. Draper. I thank God that he placed such a giant in my path. I have very big shoes to fill. And such an assignment cannot be successful by might or by my power, but by the Spirit of the Lord God Almighty.
Dr. Thom Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist.