NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Morris H. Chapman reflects on the joys and challenges of serving as president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee in response to questions posed by Baptist Press.
Chapman retires Sept. 30 after 18 years of leading the Executive Committee, the SBC entity responsible for providing coordination to the work of the Southern Baptist Convention nationally and internationally between annual meetings, and for promoting cooperation among the different entities of the convention, and among SBC entities and those of other conventions, whether state or national.
Chapman expressed deep appreciation for the opportunity he has had to minister to Southern Baptists and on behalf of them, and for their ministry to him.
“I love Southern Baptists,” Chapman said. “There are no greater people on earth.”
Chapman called his 20 years of public service as SBC president and SBC Executive Committee president “a true blessing from our Heavenly Father.”
“I have felt the prayers of God’s people every step of the way.
“I have profound gratitude in my heart for the infinite wisdom and the mature biblical convictions of those Southern Baptists who have taught me and lived exemplary Christ-like lives around me.”
The balance of the interview follows below:
Q: What have been the greatest joys in the 18 years of your presidency of the Executive Committee?
A: In short — the fulfillment of the Executive Committee and its staff resolving problematic issues before they become large enough so as to otherwise burden all Southern Baptists.
Due to preaching throughout the country, I became more aware of and grateful for the collective body of Southern Baptists who worship on Sunday morning free of the weighty issues with which the Executive Committee members and its staff are confronted on a regular basis. I found joy in knowing most Southern Baptists are able to concentrate simply upon worshipping the Lord in God’s House Sunday after Sunday rather than be encumbered by issues that could be resolved prayerfully based upon policy, polity, ecclesiology, history, biblical principles and tradition.
I am especially grateful to the Lord for completing this stage of my life in good health, for my wife’s good health, and for God’s care and protection of our children and grandchildren through these years. It has been a joy to watch our grandchildren grow into faithful and productive Christians. Having all of them live close to us has been a wonderful blessing of God.
I also have the joy and comfort of sensing God’s wisdom in the multitude of decisions that had to be made on behalf of Southern Baptists. The responsibilities of the Executive Committee president are far too complicated to tackle without God’s wisdom and a conscious dependence upon the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide you.
Because I have always believed so strongly in the Cooperative Program, I was grateful that Cooperative Program promotion and Stewardship education returned to the Executive Committee. Southern Baptists historically have returned the assignment of Cooperative Program promotion to the Executive Committee each time it has been transferred to other entities. At the last Southern Baptist Convention, the messengers approved a vision that removes from the Executive Committee all but a token responsibility for Cooperative Program promotion and transfers it to the state conventions. If it proves to be a beneficial and healthy decision, I will rejoice. If not, I will be deeply disappointed in what may become the erosion and ultimate demise of the Cooperative Program as we have known it.
The new mission initiatives that were born during the last 18 years: Empowering Kingdom Growth led by Ken Hemphill and Global Evangelical Relations led by Bobby Welch.
Q: What have been the greatest challenges?
A: The Executive Committee is the only body in the SBC which is charged with making decisions based first and foremost on what is in the best interest of the entire Convention. “What is best for the entire Convention?” is the question that should guide every decision made by the Executive Committee regardless of the issue. Of course, in so doing, one segment of the Convention or another may be disappointed, even angry. Because of its vast operations, no one decision is likely to please everyone at once.
The constant politicization of the Convention by leaders and their followers who adopt agendas through which they view every decision and every election is a longstanding problem in the Convention. Under these conditions, I am uncertain God will ever believe us ready for a great revival among Southern Baptists. The Executive Committee members (trustees) and staff constantly face political posturing, pressures and lobbying, sometimes with smaller issues, but always with issues of any magnitude. Those so politically inclined strive to build a political base from which they draw more political strength while the base continues to promote certain agendas to even more potential followers. The challenge of the Executive Committee is to make sound, Spirit-directed decisions in spite of the pressures. Those who are elected as members (trustees) of the Executive Committee should be men and women who pray fervently to know the “will” of the Lord in each decision regardless of the necessity to refuse to cater to political agendas. If a decision is the right one, it will sometimes agree with those who apply political pressures, but then again, it will sometimes disagree.
It is difficult enough to make informed decisions with all the facts on the top of the table, but it is nearly impossible when unseen, political agendas are being maneuvered under the table, behind the scenes, or wherever a specific agenda may be at any given moment.
Q: How would you describe the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention?
A: From my perspective, the Convention experienced 25 years (1979–2004) of the crusade phase of the Conservative Resurgence. Since 2004 the Convention has gradually made progress toward a peaceful coexistence among most Southern Baptists and a growing focus on missions and evangelism. There was a sense in which the Convention had reached a certain stabilization which would well serve as a platform for the possibility of a spiritual awakening in our nation and hopefully around the world. Only the Lord knows whether it will happen.
A number of the most recent leaders of the Convention see it differently. They seem to favor almost no institutional organization within the Convention framework. In spite of the intent of the Great Commission Resurgence recommendations, a growing number of SBC leaders seem to regard the Cooperative Program as an outdated method of supporting missions around the world and are promoting designated giving to the exclusion or at least to the de-emphasis of the Cooperative Program.
The Convention is in flux. “Missions” is the stated purpose behind the proposed vision approved at the SBC last June and I have no reason to doubt the main purpose. Unfortunately, some of the decisions being made in the effort to challenge Southern Baptists to a greater responsibility in missions may lead to a dismantling of some aspects of the Convention that are more critically important to the overall focus on missions than the proponents realize. Only time will tell and I am praying that my present concerns will prove to be invalid and that we literally become the greatest missions force the world has ever known.
Q: What makes you hopeful about the SBC’s future?
A: God is in complete control. In His timing, He can turn Southern Baptists in any direction He chooses. Perhaps that is what He is doing at this very moment. If so, I hope all Southern Baptists who may have had reservations will see the light and rejoice in the power of our God. If not, I pray that God will drive us to our knees asking Him to do those things through us that we cannot do for ourselves.
Q: What stirs you to prayer about the SBC’s future?
A: For years I have prayed for God to send a spiritual awakening to Southern Baptists and to this nation, believing that it will spread then to the ends of the earth. There has been no national spiritual awakening in my lifetime. Our country is in dire need of such an awakening. I continue to pray we will experience the mighty moving of God’s Spirit upon the peoples of this land and that our society will be dramatically transformed one person at a time by the preaching and teaching of Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of each and every person.
Q: How are you praying for Frank Page as he assumes leadership of the EC?
A: Dr. Page is a highly capable person who has a deep love for our Lord Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that he will seek daily to know God’s divine will in whatever decisions he may face. My particular prayer is that God will strengthen him physically, emotionally and spiritually each day and give him the wisdom to know the heart of God and to be true to his own heart before the Lord. I pray that God will give him the stamina to be a powerful yet compassionate leader and preacher of the Gospel.
Q: What are some chief lessons you’ll take away from your time as EC president?
A: Follow Jesus at all costs.
Listen to the still, small voice of God.
Depend daily on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Once God convicts your heart, speak courageously and without fear of any man regardless of what may be said about you or what the costs may be. The Lord will not fail you.
Maintain your integrity and when you speak, speak honestly. If you speak honestly, you will never have to remember what you have said.
Do not gossip about others though they may gossip about you.
Trust no man who talks to you about others. He will also talk to others about you.
Find your confidence in the Lord, not in man.
Do not fear man; reverently fear the Lord.
Speak well of others, let God judge them.
Q: What are your initial plans as you enter retirement?
A: In the last several years, God has burdened me about the growing need for private Christian schools and homeschooling. Our society has lost its way. We are wandering in the wilderness and we must prepare our children to be strong in the Lord. The home is often in disarray with so many demands upon it that parents fail to make sufficient time to rear their children in the ways of the Lord. The church sees the children only once, maybe twice a week. I thank the Lord for the many Christian teachers in the public schools systems, but we are still losing the battle for the minds and hearts of our children.
Christians must respond to this emergency and one of the best ways to do so is to teach our children five days a week lessons that are based upon the principles of God’s Word and the true facts of history and science. I hope to help generate a renewed vision for teaching our children while they are in the nurturing stage. Although our colleges have been important to the complete development of our young people, we must prevent our smaller children from being overexposed to the valueless and immoral ways of a wayward world. We must first solidify their convictions before sending them out to face the cold, cruel temptations of the world and its crowd. In today’s society if we simply wait until college age to teach them, we will have waited too long.
I hope to be one encourager of Christian schools and homeschooling for the sake of our children and grandchildren. I have a burden for the future of this nation and hopefully I can still make a lasting contribution to its welfare. Our children are precious in the sight of the Lord and to us. They can only become outstanding Christians if we intentionally nurture and admonish them in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are going to face a different world than we have encountered. They need as much biblical foundation as we can possibly give them.