The Debt We Owe to the Past

The Lord called me to preach in 1951. I preached my first sermon one week later at the First Baptist Church of Mixon, TX. Carol Ann and I were called to our first church 4 weeks after we married in 1956. My grandfather, L.M. Keeling, preached for 54 years before his death. My father, James T. Draper, preached for 36 years before his death. These two spiritual giants implanted in me principles that have proven to be effective tools for the ministry God has given me over the last 65 years. My dad often told me, “The debt we owe to the past is to leave the future indebted to us.” Preaching the Gospel has been part of my life since I was confronted with God’s call at the age of 14. Let me share some of the things my father and grandfather taught me about ministry and serving the Lord — that is what I owe to the past.

1. Always minister with a strong sense of God’s call on your life. Preaching is a terrible vocation, but a wonderful calling!

2. Remember that your first line of ministry is to your own family. Don’t take care of everyone else’s family and lose your own. Your family is the prototypical family for those you lead and should always be an accurate picture of what every Christian family should be. Honor your wife. Lead your children to honor the Lord in their lives.

3. When you stop getting nervous when you preach, it is time to stop preaching! The message we have been given is God’s message, and to have the privilege to declare “Thus says the Lord” is to handle carefully and faithfully the Word of God. We must always be aware that we are delivering God’s message. That keeps us always on our knees and depending on the Lord for His anointing. Our confidence is in Him and not in ourselves.

4. Wherever you are serving, assume you will spend the rest of your life there. You probably won’t, but you will have given it a lifetime kind of effort when you leave.

5. Value people. Treat each person with respect. Work hard to build relationships with the people so they will know you love them and want God’s best for them. If they know you love them, they will follow your leadership.

6. Be kind to everyone because everyone is having a hard time. Lead as a hurting man leading hurting people. All of us struggle with the pain of human weakness and we all need kindness and leadership that helps us understand the love God has for each of us.

7. Understand that Biblical leadership is servant leadership. We have no authority in our position. Our authority is in the Word of God we proclaim. Both Jesus (Luke 22:27) and Paul (1 Cor. 3:5) described them selves as “servants”. Both chose the word diakonos to describe themselves. That is the word for “deacon” and means someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to serve. God’s leader is one who serves those that he leads. We are saved by grace and we serve by grace. There is no place for arrogance in ministry.

8. When you make a mistake then admit it and don’t make the same mistake twice. People will respond to integrity. None of us is perfect, so no need to think you will always be right.

9. Be accessible and available to those you lead. Remember names. Pay attention when you meet someone so you can call them by name when you see them next. That will endear you to everyone you serve.

10. Always return calls, answer mail and emails. The quickest way to tell someone you don’t care about them is to ignore them.

11. Let your preaching always flow from God’s Word. Shortly before my grandfather’s death, I visited him and spent a week with him. One of his close friends had a daily radio program that he produced and asked me to preach so my grandad could hear me preach. When I returned from doing the live broadcast, he told me, “That is the same Gospel I have been preaching for 54 years.” As we sat and talked he asked me, “Would you like to know where to find a good sermon?” I had been preaching for several years and was always looking for a good sermon, so I replied that I would. He picked up his Bible and cradled it in his arms like a mother holding a newborn baby and said, “From Genesis to Revelation.” From him and my dad, I learned the necessity for preaching the Word of God. God promised to bless His Word!