Principles for Christian Leaders

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In my humble opinion Jimmy Draper was and is a statesman among Southern Baptists. As a pastor, as president of LifeWay, and even in retirement, he is an E. F. Hutton that people tend to listen to closely. Dr. Draper was my boss at LifeWay for many years, and he is one of my heroes.

In 2000, he completed a half century of vocational service. He used the occasion to create a list of principles for Christian leaders. The list is worth studying closely.

1. Don’t neglect your personal walk with the Lord. No one will make the time for you to stay fresh and growing in your relationship with the Lord if you don’t do it. If you neglect this, you will go about doing the work of God but not doing the will of God.

2. Make time for your family. As a pastor I put my wife and children on my calendar for dates and events and held them as consistently as I would any other appointment. Don’t care for everyone else and lose your family.

RR—Youth leaders need at least two full evenings a week at home and a full Saturday—or the equivalent of a Saturday—free each week. We only need one Messiah.

3. Practice the ministry of encouragement. My dad always admonished me to “be kind to everybody because everybody is having a hard time.” Kindness and sensitivity to those you serve are vital.

4. Never make a decision when you are discouraged or depressed. If you do, you will seldom make the right decision.

5. When your heart is right with God and you are confident in that relationship, understand that “doubt” never means “yes.” Doubt always means “no” or “wait.” God doesn’t lead us through doubt.

6. Be open and honest. People need to see a “real” person. Let people see you the same in public as you are in private. Be transparent. It is worth the risk. Some people will take advantage of that, but for most it will be the key to effective ministry.

7. Always return your phone calls and answer your mail. This is a small thing that will bring great rewards as it sharpens your discipline and enhances your relationships. No one is too important to be unresponsive to others.

RR—Parents and volunteers tend to make a mental jump from “the youth minister is very slow returning my messages” to “probably not competent with teenagers or youth ministry.”

8. Don’t let anger be a pattern of your behavior. Treat people with courtesy, especially those that disagree with you. Firmness need not be brutal.

9. e quick to excuse mistakes; work with people to help them not to repeat their errors. Few people make mistakes on purpose! In fact, I don’t know of anyone who does. Don’t be hostile toward those who do make mistakes. You will need forgiveness and correction yourself.

10. Let your preaching/teaching flow from the Bible. Don’t “discover” topics that need to be addressed and then try to find Scripture to substantiate your message. Start with the Scripture. Careful and regular Bible study will always keep you on the cutting edge of both Scripture and contemporary needs.

11. Always be prepared to preach/teach. Most people will only see you in the pulpit, so be prepared to give a word from God. By the way, you will have to fight for that time, and you must do it. It took me twenty-five to thirty hours of preparation every week to prepare the messages I preached to my congregation over the thirty-five years I was a pastor.

12. Don’t flirt with temptation. Determine now that you will not allow yourself to do things that will discredit you or disgrace the Lord. Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:27 is vital: “Don’t give Satan a place in your life.” In 2 Corinthians 4:2, Paul declared that he had “renounced” some things. He used the aorist tense, meaning that at a point in time he “renounced” or gave up his right to do certain things. Don’t wait until you are tempted to take a stand against temptation.

13. Cooperate with your fellow believers. None of us can fulfill the Great Commission by ourselves. The Southern Baptist distinctive of cooperation is the best way to express your faithfulness to your calling. The year after I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention, I served as vice-chairman of the Tarrant Baptist Association, and the chairman was a pastor who had once been my intern. I did not feel I had taken a step down. I was just exercising the privilege of cooperation with fellow believers.

14. Be a steward of your position and influence. Whatever God has brought into your life and ministry, whatever He has allowed you to do, whatever success you have had, whatever disappointments and failures you may have endured all form a tapestry of experience you are to share. Many pastors feel they are too busy to go to pastors conferences or mentor those just getting started in the ministry. We are stewards of our influence as well as our physical possessions.

RR—Youth ministers can apply this same principle to the youth volunteers. In addition, some youth ministers are in churches that can afford interns. Youth ministers can view interns as grunt workers, or they can make a lifetime investment in those interns.

15. Pour your life into a few people. Invest in them to develop real leaders in the church and the kingdom at large.

RR—Youth ministers always need to ask, “In the weeks after I leave, which leaders will be trained to provide continuity and quality youth ministry into the future?”

16. Cherish and protect friendships. Be a friend and then protect those relationships. Everyone needs a friend(s).

17. Give credit to other people. Recognize your staff and coworkers. Give them praise and applause as worthy partners in ministry, always giving glory to God.

18. Keep confidences. Do not share with anyone what has been committed to you in privacy and confidentiality.

19. Lead by example. “Do as I say and not as I do” never has worked and never will.

RR—If you want teenagers to pray more deeply every morning, then pray more deeply every morning. If you want teenagers and families to bring lost friends to church, then bring a lost friend to church.

20. Practice servant leadership. There are no prima donnas in God’s service. We earn the right to lead as we serve those God places with us.

21. When you are wrong, admit it. “I was wrong,” “I’m sorry,” and “Forgive me” are wonderful expressions for the leader to use when necessary. I have had to apologize on more than one occasion for words and actions that were inappropriate in their spirit and content. Most people will readily accept such an acknowledgment when it is genuinely and freely given.

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