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Morris H. Chapman: A leadership retrospective

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, has called on Southern Baptists –- every church, every pastor, every entity head, every Sunday school class or small group –- to pray this next year for “just one more soul” in a prayer initiative to support the Great Commission Resurgence. Thus, Chapman, who announced his projected 2010 retirement date at the fall Executive Committee meeting (September 21-22), will close his 18-year tenure with the Executive Committee in the same way he began — with a call for corporate prayer and personal evangelism.

In his 1991 address as SBC president, Chapman introduced to Southern Baptists the theme that was already a hallmark of his ministry — the theme of prayer. He observed that “through the years Southern Baptists have been known as people of prayer.” He then asked, “How shall we be known in our generation?” At the conclusion of the sermon, he reminded the messengers and guests of the intense season of prayer that preceded Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Reiterating his earlier question, “Down through the years Southern Baptists have been known as people of prayer. How shall we be known in our generation?” Chapman pleaded, “Oh God, give us America; Oh God, give us America; Oh God, give us America!”

Later that same year, he called for 1992 to be a “Watchman National Prayer Alert,” asking churches to “pray in” the New Year and through the entire year for a spiritual awakening in our country. He told his fellow Baptists, “Each hour we fail (to pray), another family is broken apart, another teenager contemplates suicide, another man or woman falls into immorality, another soul is lost to the Kingdom of God.” This prayer initiative concluded the second year of his SBC presidency and continued into his first year as President of the Executive Committee.

Chapman first emerged into national prominence with his historic response to the lieutenant governor’s welcome at the 1980 St. Louis SBC annual meeting. Asking the question, “What is Southern Baptist tradition?” Chapman answered, “Southern Baptist tradition is, on one hand, conservative theology and on the other, cooperative methodology!”

He continued, “Our conservative heritage is based upon the belief that the Bible is the authoritative, inspired, infallible Word of God, inerrant in the original autographs. Traditionally we have accepted by faith that when God revealed His Word, it was first recorded without error. When men have stood unequivocally upon this truth, their teaching has been enriched and their preaching empowered because God is a God of Truth.”

He added, “We have always been held together not only by conservative theology, but also by a cooperative methodology. Just as we are a people of the Book, we are also a people who are one in the bond of love. This tie that binds our hearts in Christian love has given birth to the cooperative program, cooperative missions, cooperative education, cooperative literature, and above all, a cooperative spirit. It is a spirit to be treasured and we must never lose it.”

Chapman also issued a plea for love to move us to action. “The world just waits for controversy to erupt among us, but what the world needs is to see the love of God explode within us.”

He closed his brief remarks with a call to prayer for the anointing of God. “We have come now to St. Louis with our people praying all over this nation that our heartbeat will be heard around the world, for we know that, although we have excellence in programming, a revival cannot be programmed up, it must be prayed down.”

Chapman’s challenge to the Convention merely reflected the spiritual convictions already deeply ingrained in his soul. During his 25 year pastoral ministry, he was an active evangelistic pastor and routinely called the churches he served to seasons of prayer. As a seminary student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chapman was awarded the Stella Ross Evangelism Award in 1966. During his first three pastorates (First Baptist, Rogers, Texas; Woodway, Waco, Texas; and First, Albuquerque, New Mexico) he sought to widen his personal evangelistic opportunities by serving as leader of the high school marching band (Rogers), implementing a volunteer chaplaincy program for the hotels (Waco), and serving as chaplain for the University of New Mexico Lobos Basketball team (Albuquerque).

Chapman led First Baptist, Albuquerque, to establish Vietnamese and Thai congregations and implemented an aggressive outreach both to singles and to the homeless. While serving First Baptist Wichita Falls (TX), Chapman led his church and challenged other churches to become “flagship churches” to plant new churches in unreached parts of the country.

Permeating this evangelistic activity were numerous calls to prayer, both locally and nationally. In addition to being invited to participate in state and national Day of Prayer programs, Chapman called the nation to prayer through the program “Hear This Word, America,” aired from FBC Wichita Falls on July 5, 1981, and for which he was awarded the George Washington Medal of Honor from the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge. In 1984, with a growing burden for revival among Southern Baptists, Chapman led FBCWF in a Revival Prayer Ministry. Over a period of five months, church members prayed by name for each of the 36,000 SBC churches along with the convention’s entities and institutions.

During his two years as president of the SBC, 1990-1992, Chapman challenged the Convention with numerous ministry goals. Hearing of the Crossover Australia ministry in the late 1980s, he asked the Home Mission Board to institute a “Crossover” event for the United States. From this was born the annual “Crossover” evangelistic emphasis in the host city of each year’s annual meeting, beginning with Crossover Atlanta (1991).

In addition to Crossover and his Watchman’s call to prayer for spiritual awakening, other presidential initiatives included a challenge of starting 1,000 new churches on Easter Sunday 1992, appointment of a Family Ministry Task Force, a consistent plea for genuine revival in the hearts and lives of our people and churches, and an equally consistent refrain of encouraging support for our cooperative missions through the Cooperative Program, which he led his church to support at more than 15% of its undesignated receipts.

Chapman brought this same zeal and visionary leadership to his role as president of the Executive Committee. Within weeks of assuming his responsibilities with the Executive Committee, the Convention began to face challenges to the Cooperative Program and the cooperative nature of how Southern Baptists work together. Groups such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Mainstream Baptists, Baptists Committed, the Southern Baptist Alliance — groups that objected to the annual election of a succession of conservative leaders as Convention president — and the “negative designations” of Cooperative Program receipts by some, threatened the health of the Cooperative Program and the unity of the Convention. Through these crises, Chapman demonstrated unswerving fidelity to the Word of God, unwavering support for the Cooperative Program, and unflagging efforts to rebuild unity within the Southern Baptist Convention around the Lordship of Jesus Christ and commitment to the inerrancy of God’s Holy Word.

Some of the significant accomplishments during Chapman’s watch at the Executive Committee include:

— Adoption of a measured approach to developing annual SBC budgets, allowing SBC entities to create their entity budgets with a high degree of confidence that, even in economically tight years, anticipated funds would be received.

— The work of the Program and Structure Study Committee and the subsequent adoption of the Covenant for a New Century, the first major restructuring of the Convention in its (at that time) 150-year history.

— Adoption of the historic 1995 Resolution on Racial Reconciliation.

— The Baptist World Alliance Study Committee report and recommendation.

— The Baptist Faith and Message Study Committees of 1998 and 2000.

— The launch of SBC Life, the Journal produced by the Executive Committee mailed to every pastor in the Convention, as well as each director of associational missions, state convention executive, entity head, and chaplain in the Convention.

— The launch of www.sbc.net.

— Appointment of the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life.

— Appointment of the Empowering Kingdom Growth Task Force and subsequent launch of the EKG Ministry Initiative.

— The launch of the Executive Committee’s Global Evangelical Relations.

— Promotion and adoption of Sole Membership by each SBC entity.

In addition, Chapman worked closely with SBC entities and state convention executives to strengthen relationships, promote the Cooperative Program and stewardship, and assure compliance with SBC bylaws and the Business and Financial plan.

Now, during Chapman’s final year as president of the Executive Committee, he has again issued a prayer challenge — “just one more soul!”

In a written statement distributed to the Executive Committee, Chapman noted numerous examples of evangelism woven through the book of Acts — stories that use “words like explaining, reasoning, testifying, preaching, persuading, demonstrating, teaching, proclaiming, heralding, warning.” He then asked, “What is the one thing each of these words has in common?”

He said, “In each instance, these were spoken words — spoken to individuals who were lost and in need of a Savior. Spoken with urgency. Spoken with passion. Spoken with confidence in the Lord’s willingness to save all who would come to him. Some believed. Some did not. The Apostles made no distinction in sharing the Gospel. They sought to win the lost at any cost.”

Citing an “imagine if” scenario, Chapman observed that if every church in the Convention adopted this prayer, “[we] would see an increase of 45,000 baptisms next year, moving us from 341,000 (the number of reported baptisms last year) to almost 400,000.” He continued by noting that if every Sunday school class adopted this prayer, we would see a “record year in baptisms … with little additional effort –- just one more soul per class, per church, per pastor, per Executive Committee member, per entity head.”

Chapman said, “I pray that 2009-2010 will be a year of Great Commission Resurgence -– a recapturing of the passion for lost souls.” He then asked, “Will you join me in praying this year, ‘Just one more soul, dear Lord; just one more soul.’? And, when he gives you one, pray it all over again. And when he gives you another, pray it all over again. And again, and again, and again.”

Chapman urged all pastors and heads of Southern Baptist organizational life to call their people together and, in a spirit of worship, “ask all who will to pray for one person every day until that person is saved or one of you dies.” He said, “If you will do this several times during the coming months, those who actively witness as members of your church or organization will multiply significantly. As a result, you may see hundreds, even thousands come to Christ. It’s worth a try. This would be a Great Commission Resurgence.”

Chapman, citing Ephesians 3: 20-21, expressed His deep desire that God be glorified in all things. He closed, saying, “My prayer is that we shall give our Lord Jesus Christ all the glory.

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention relations for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.

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  • Roger S. Oldham