NASHVILLE, Tenn.–The Southern Baptist leader who pledged from the start to “speak the truth in love” has announced his retirement effective Sept. 30, 2010, when he completes 18 years as president and CEO of the SBC’s Executive Committee. A former Wichita Falls pastor, Morris Chapman, 68, was elected to lead the convention’s administrative arm in 1992, four days after completing his second term as SBC president.
Chapman made his announcement in a letter he read to Executive Committee members, gathered in Nashville on Sept. 20-21 for their fall meeting.
During his tenure, Chapman has presided over the Executive Committee with the added role of chief executive officer. The convention operating budget grew from $4.2 million to $9.4 million. The ministry assignment grew as well to include CP promotion, stewardship and the Southern Baptist Foundation.
Chapman also enlisted the help of prominent Southern Baptists to work under the auspices of the Executive Committee to champion efforts in global evangelical relations and “Empowering Kingdom Growth.”
Veering from a dry statistical account of the year’s activities, Chapman passionately delivered his reports to the annual SBC meetings, leaving no doubt where he stood on theological issues or methodological practices in the denomination. Most recently, he asked whether calls for a “Great Commission Resurgence” offered a clear objective and transparent process for achieving its objective.
Chapman told EC members he had sought to address issues about which Southern Baptists were expressing great concerns. “My reporting was visionary in which I made an urgent and impassioned appeal from God’s holy Word. The pastor and preacher in me seemed never to be far removed from my reports. Most of the time I was able to hold my passion in preaching in check,” Chapman added.
Praising the vision God gave Southern Baptists to launch the Cooperative Program (CP) in 1925, Chapman said the idea saved the convention from financial ruin, kept missionaries on the field and seminary students in the classroom. “If it were ever tossed aside to be replaced by strong promotion of societal giving through designated funds, or if both undesignated and designated funds were counted as CP, we will have abandoned the greatest vehicle for supporting missions in the history of Christendom,” he insisted.
“Morris Chapman has been influential in Southern Baptist life for the last 30 years,” SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the TEXAN. “His election as president of the convention in 1990 finalized the effort to redirect the SBC toward a more conservative theological perspective. He deserves our gratitude for his strong stand on the Word of God and his contributions in denominational life.”
Chapman noted in his letter of resignation, “I reserve my greatest thanks to God. His grace has been sufficient and He has supplied all my ‘need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:19). Every direction I have led and decision I have made, the uppermost question in my mind has been, ‘What is in the best interest of the entire Southern Baptist Convention and its Executive Committee.’ My prayer is that God will bless and lead the Executive Committee in its every deliberation and decision in the coming months and years. I pledge my prayers and encouragement to you and to the one who shall succeed me.”
At the time of Chapman’s election in 1992, the denominational bureaucracy was beginning to feel the impact of the conservative resurgence as trustee boards looked for opportunities to elect entity heads who shared their theological convictions.
“I see myself as carrying out the will of the majority and carrying out genuine healing among Southern Baptists,” Chapman told the trustees who elected him without dissent to succeed Harold C. Bennett.
He left a 13-year pastorate at First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls to become the fifth president of the entity charged with conducting business for the SBC between annual sessions. Other pastoral experiences placed him in the Texas towns of Rogers and Waco, as well as Albuquerque, N.M.
EC Chairman Randall James of Florida waited until the close of the recent meeting to announce the search committee tasked with finding Chapman’s replacement. Joining James are EC members Martha Lawley, a member of First Southern Baptist Church in Worland, Wyo., an author and recent speaker at SBTC women’s ministry retreats, Clarence J. Cooper, pastor of Brandon (Miss.) Baptist Church, David O. Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler which is uniquely affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Doug Melton, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Jay R. Shell, an attorney from Batesville, Ark., and member of West Baptist Church, and Danny S. Sinquefield, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett, Tenn.
James said he hopes the committee will be able to present a nominee by next June’s SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Names submitted to the committee will be held in “the strictest of confidence,” James said, requesting that potential candidates’ names be submitted by Dec. 1.
James said the names of nominees for president of the Executive Committee can be addressed to Presidential Search Committee c/o SBC Executive Committee, 901 Commerce St., Nashville, TN 37203, or to him at First Baptist Church, 3000 S. John Young Pkwy., Orlando, FL 32805.
Noting the coinciding of leadership transitions at three SBC entities, James said, “I think it’s the most important time right now in Southern Baptist life. I’m asking each of you to pray that God will direct our steps, that he will guide and guard our tongues, and that everything we do and say will bring honor to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“The world will be watching us,” James said. “We have an opportunity to let the world see Jesus through how we carry out our business as the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Chapman told EC members he would devote his final year to promoting a prayer initiative to support the Great Commission Resurgence, calling on Baptists to each pray by name for one person to be saved. Identified as an early proponent of the annual Crossover evangelistic outreach in convention cities that began when he served as SBC president, Chapman told Baptist Press that Southern Baptists seemed to have lost their passion for personal evangelism.
Imagine, Chapman said, if every church in the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a commitment to pray, “’Just one more soul, dear Lord. Just one more soul,’ we would see an increase of 45,000 baptisms next year, moving us from 341,000 to almost 400,000.”