NASHVILLE, Tenn. — James T. Draper Jr. has an office complete with all the accoutrements typical of an executive's working space. It's rare, however, to find him there.
Instead, take a look through the doorway of what appears to be an adjacent closet. In the midst of a cozy space warmly cluttered with family photos and heavily weighted bookshelves, Draper checks his e-mail, greets many visitors and otherwise conducts his business as the veteran president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"He's almost too good to be true," said John Perry, author of "Walking God's Path," a biography recounting Draper's life and ministry, released by LifeWay's Broadman & Holman division. "His life really is, I think, an especially anointed life," Perry said.
Perry wrote the biography after examining numerous items from Draper's colorful life, including photographs and small mementos. He also conducted multiple interviews with the people closest to the well-known Southern Baptist leader and carefully read through about five decades worth of correspondence between the biography's subject and any number of people in his life.
"Anybody who reads this book will find the story of a man who has devoted his life to God and to Christian service and who is really an inspiration," Perry said. "He's a humble person who has spent his life seeking God's will."
Draper said he understands people read biographies to gain inspiration from the experiences of others but "can't imagine anyone wanting to read about my life."
Perry, however, can't imagine who wouldn't want to read about the life of a man who has been so intimately involved in the largest Protestant denomination in the country – a denomination known for influencing the morality and values of an entire society.
In the biography, Perry chronicles Draper's life from his pastoral lineage to the legacy he hopes to leave behind when he retires from LifeWay in 2006.
After preaching his first sermon in a small Texas church at age 14, Draper moved on to seminary studies and the pastorate and, eventually, the presidency of the SBC and, currently, of LifeWay. But he is quick to point out that he and his wife, Carol Ann, would have been happy serving at a small country church throughout their ministry.
"I hope [readers] can see we really have spent our lives trying to live God's will," Draper said, adding that he never intended to procure the prominent positions that have come his way.
Throughout the last 50 years, Draper has found himself serving as a pastor at both large and small churches, serving as SBC president during some of the convention's most difficult and divided years, guiding LifeWay as it became a $400-million-plus organization, and acting as an advocate for younger leaders within the SBC.
While he realizes the status of some of the positions he has held, the distinction was never important to him. "I never tried to dwell on my importance because I think you develop a false personality," Draper said. His goal is now and has always been "just to be faithful where I am."
Draper has spent more than half a century devoted to serving in some capacity within the Southern Baptist Convention. His name rings bells from the Arkansas town where he was born to small villages in remote regions of Africa, but he seldom refers to only himself when discussing the last 50 years.
"It's been a team effort. I've never felt I had a ministry apart from her," Draper said referring to his wife of nearly 49 years. "God put us together, and it's been a great journey."
© 2005 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.