LifeWay Challenges SBC to Include Younger Leaders

The Southern Baptist Convention may undergo a fundamental demographic shift in its leadership, thanks to the efforts of one of its longest-serving leaders.

"We have often allowed our churches to become country clubs for members instead of rescue stations for the lost," said James T. Draper, Jr. president of LifeWay Christian Resources. "We are slow to venture beyond the safety of our walls."

Draper, who retires next year after serving the SBC for over 50 years, toured the nation speaking with younger leaders in conversational sessions for the last 12 months.

The series of sessions ended earlier this month with a younger leaders gathering held prior to the SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Draper concluded with a call to include younger leaders in the denomination to block the "exodus" of youth from the church.

"Younger ministers are going where the action is, building relationships and bringing the wounded to the feet of Christ," he said.

The SBC is wrong, he said, if it allows younger leaders to walk away from the denomination by not engaging and involving them.

Draper plans to involve younger leaders in top positions in LifeWay, which he said is just the beginning for the denomination.

Four new trustees will be under age 40, with one being 27. LifeWay will also create a new position, someone to work with younger leaders and continue the dialogue to find ways for partnership.

"The point is this: They’ve asked for a seat at the table and LifeWay is pulling up some chairs." He said, "I encourage every church and entity in the SBC to do the same."

In addition, Draper outlined the challenges facing LifeWay and its new president, including internal priorities, such as funds and leadership.

LifeWay wants to continue to recruit the "best and the brightest." It also seek to operate profitably in order to remain a strong ministry, and become successful at raising funds from those interested, according to a statement released by LifeWay.

More importantly, the publishing-arm of the SBC wants to intensify efforts to have greater spiritual impact in the nation and the world.