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Morris H. Chapman: A legacy of leadership & vision

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–On Oct. 1, 1992, the SBC Executive Committee inaugurated a new president and chief executive officer who would not only lead them into the next century, but would have a profound impact upon the denominational structure and spiritual focus of the Southern Baptist Convention.

On Sept. 30, 2010, after 18 years of distinguished and vital service, Morris H. Chapman will retire from that office.

In June 1991, Harold Bennett announced his retirement as executive secretary-treasurer of the Executive Committee. At the time, Chapman, pastor of Wichita Falls First Baptist Church in Texas, was completing his first of two years as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, during which he aggressively promoted prayer for spiritual renewal and the need to address the fractured condition of families both in churches and in America. After eight months of prayer and deliberation, the EC presidential search committee nominated, and the Executive Committee overwhelmingly approved, Chapman as the fifth Executive Committee president and treasurer.

A native of Kosciusko, Miss., Chapman became a Christian at age 7, was called to Christian vocational ministry at 12 and was called to preach at 21. He was licensed to preach by First Baptist Church in Borger, Texas, and was ordained to the Gospel ministry by Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Prior to his tenure at the Executive Committee, Chapman served on staff of four churches over the course of eight years and as pastor of four churches over a span of 25 years. He was pastor of First Baptist Church in Rogers, Texas, from 1967-69; First Baptist Church in Woodway, Texas, from 1969-74; First Baptist Church of Albuquerque, N.M., from 1974-79; and First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls, Texas, from 1979-92.

Each church grew significantly under his leadership. While in Rogers, he baptized nearly 5 percent of the town’s population. At Woodway, he initiated an aggressive ministry of evangelism and reached many families with the Gospel. In Albuquerque, he led the church to reverse its decline. The church expanded its ministries to the homeless, internationals, the business community and the University of New Mexico, growing exponentially through evangelism and ministry.

During each of his 13 years at Wichita Falls, the church’s baptisms and Cooperative Program gifts were both in the top 1 percent in the Southern Baptist Convention.

As pastor, he participated actively in the work of the state Baptist conventions where he served. He served as a member of the Executive Board and was elected to two terms as president of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, was a trustee of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, eight years, and was a member of the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas five years.

While in Wichita Falls, Chapman led the church to increase its CP giving to more than 16 percent of the church’s undesignated receipts. In addition, he came under a profound conviction that the church should do more for the denomination than just to give generously, as important as that was. Accordingly, he led the church over a six-month period to pray by name for each of the 36,000 Southern Baptist churches and their pastors and for all Southern Baptist Convention entities. Over the course of those six months and following, the church received hundreds of responses from across the nation testifying to the powerful, beneficial impact of the effort.

Chapman carried his strong advocacy of the Cooperative Program into his role as the president of the Executive Committee. During his tenure, Cooperative Program allocation budget receipts distributed to the convention’s entities grew by 44 percent, from just over $138 million in 1992 to nearly $200 million in 2010. Contributions exceeded annual budget 15 years in succession from 1994 though 2008, falling off slightly during the global economic crisis of the past two years.

Before his arrival at the Executive Committee, Chapman served the Southern Baptist Convention in numerous roles, chairing the SBC Committee on Order of Business in 1985, serving as president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference in 1986, being selected to preach the annual Convention Sermon in 1989, being selected to preach in three annual SBC Pastors’ Conferences, including its 50th anniversary celebration, and being elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As SBC president, he played a pivotal role in the continuation of the Conservative Resurgence, an initiative to return SBC entities to their historic conservative stance regarding God’s Word. Working with Home Mission Board leadership, he instituted the annual Crossover evangelistic emphasis at each year’s SBC annual meeting, and issued a call for thousands of volunteers to flood the nations in short-term mission projects. He also appointed a Family Ministry Task Force designed to strengthen families, issued a call for spiritual awakening and challenged convention churches to work with the Home Mission Board to plant 1,000 new churches in the United States on Easter Sunday 1992.

In his first two years as president and chief executive officer of the Executive Committee, Chapman recognized the need for the SBC entities to be restructured in such a way that denominational ministries would be more efficient and effective in the 21st century. Under his leadership the Executive Committee established the Program and Structure Study Committee (PSSC) to study the need for and viability of such an undertaking. The PSSC presented the Covenant for a New Century to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1995, and it was approved overwhelmingly.

The plan called for a reduction of the number of separate entities from 19 to 12. Part of that plan called for the combination of the Home Mission Board, the Brotherhood Commission and the Radio and Television Commission into one new entity, the North American Mission Board. The Executive Committee established an Implementation Task Force (ITF) that was assigned the role of overseeing the transition, and in 1997 the reorganization was successfully completed.

As a result of the changes wrought by the Covenant for a New Century, the Southern Baptist Foundation was brought under the oversight of the Executive Committee. Chapman has been chairman of the Southern Baptist Foundation Board of Trustees since 1997.

In 1998, Chapman led the Executive Committee to establish a website for the SBC, with a vision to unite every aspect of the denomination under one Internet umbrella. Since its beginning, the site has become a central hub for all things related to the Southern Baptist Convention.

In 1999, he promoted the recognition and celebration of the Cooperative Program’s 75th anniversary, assigning the theme Partners in the Harvest to mark the momentous occasion. The Southern Baptist Convention celebrated by embracing aggressive goals in evangelism, volunteer ministry and increased giving to SBC mission causes through the Cooperative Program.

In his address at the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Fla., Chapman challenged Southern Baptists to a passionate commitment to pray for revival. After the convention, he initiated a website dedicated to facilitating his challenge to prayer, offering the opportunity for visitors to submit prayer requests and to commit to a specific, consistent time of prayer. This site continues to be the most frequently accessed site in the SBC.net family of pages.

In 2000, he also challenged the Southern Baptist Convention to embrace a united commitment to family renewal and spiritual health, noting the rapid and alarming decline in the state of America’s families. As a result, the Executive Committee recommended, and the Southern Baptist Convention approved, the establishment of the Council on Family Life, which launched a multifaceted strategy to call families back to God’s design for healthy and wholesome families.

Working with state convention, Executive Committee and SBC entity leaders, Chapman led the Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention to overwhelmingly adopt and embrace a new vision for the SBC. At the 2002 convention in St. Louis, he introduced Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG), a call for Southern Baptist churches and members to wholeheartedly pursue the Kingdom of God above all else. Heralding Matthew 6:33, he indicated that his hope was that the vision would filter down and take root in individual hearts, then “bubble up” to sweep across the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation and the world. At the time, he observed that of all his efforts and emphases at the SBC Executive Committee, “Nothing in 10 years is more significant than EKG because it puts the focus where it needs to be.”

In 2002, Chapman led the Executive Committee to implement legal recognition and designation of the Southern Baptist Convention as the “sole member” in each SBC entity’s corporate documents, effectively preventing the potential for any SBC entity to declare its independence from the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In 2003, the Executive Committee initiated the Funding Study Committee, which sought to address concerns over the percentages of SBC Cooperative Program receipts distributed to the convention’s entities. He also worked extensively with the Cooperative Program Ad Hoc Committee, initiated by several state convention executive directors, in 2005.

In 2005, Executive Committee members unanimously approved the use of all Cooperative Program funds received for national SBC causes above the 2004-05 budget for assisting in hurricane relief. Contributions exceeded the approved budget by $12,496,728.55 and the extra amount was redirected with 50 percent to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (to aid faculty and students recover from losses and to help rebuild the campus), 25 percent to the North American Mission Board (to support the extensive hurricane disaster relief operations) and 25 percent allocated according to need among the Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama state conventions (to keep ministers in the field and to assist churches in recovery).

In 2007, following the SBC decision to end its funding of the Baptist World Alliance, he initiated the Global Evangelical Relations (GER) effort, demonstrating the SBC’s ongoing priority and commitment to maintain strong fraternal relationships with likeminded Christian groups around the world.

From the earliest days of Chapman’s ministry, he has been motivated by compassion for those who do not know the Lord. At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he received the Stella P. Ross Award in evangelism. In his professional labors and personal evangelistic service, he has traveled and spoken extensively in 42 nations. He has participated in international evangelistic ministries in six nations on four continents, baptizing thousands of new Christians in the Indian Ocean in Mombassa and the Han River in Korea. In addition, he has preached widely in revivals, conventions and conferences in the United States.

Chapman has taken seriously his ministry to pastors and others in local church ministry, having written or compiled four books: “Faith: Taking God at His Word” (1992), “The Wedding Collection” (1991), “Jesus: Author and Finisher” (1987) and “Youth Affirm: The Doctrine of Christ” (1985).

Chapman graduated from Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss., and received master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.; Mississippi College; and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz.

Chapman has received numerous honors recognizing his contributions, including being awarded the M.E. Dodd Award for Distinguished Service to His Denomination by Union University in Jackson, Tenn. (2006); being named the 2003 Distinguished Alumnus of Southwestern Seminary; receiving the Good Shepherd Emblem from the Association of Baptists for Scouting for his commitment to spiritual, physical, mental and moral development of Baptist youth (2001); and being awarded the George Washington Medal of Honor by the Freedoms Foundation for his sermon titled, “Hear This Word, America” in 1980.

Chapman has been a respected civic leader in each community he has served. While in Rogers, he led a series of one-day “religious retreats” at nearby Fort Hood, where he received “Soldier of God” citations from both the 1st and the 2nd Armored Divisions. At Woodway, he served as the on-call chaplain for Holiday Inn, Waco, and was on the local Honor America Day committee. In that capacity, he was selected to represent the city at a Washington D.C. rally.

During his ministry in Albuquerque, Chapman served as the chaplain for the University of New Mexico Lobos basketball team, was invited to participate in numerous governor’s prayer breakfasts, worked with the city government to resolve the “panhandler’s problem” by developing a vibrant inner-city ministry and was a frequent speaker on moral issues before the city administration and at civic clubs.

Early in his ministry in Wichita Falls, he was thrust into visible leadership as his church responded in the wake of killer tornadoes that tore through the city. In Tennessee, he has served in many advisory roles, including service as a member of the Advisory Board of Directors for Regions Bank since 1993, and has been an advisory member or a trustee with several Christian colleges, including Union University in Jackson.

He is married to the former Jodi Francis, a registered nurse, of Memphis, Tenn. Jodi has also distinguished herself as a recognized leader, serving as a trustee of the Baptist Sunday School Board, an officer for the Ministers’ Wives Conference and a member of the strategic SBC Peace Committee. The Chapmans have two married children, Christopher Morris and Stephanie Suzanne, and eight grandchildren.
Compiled by John Revell, editor of SBC LIFE, the journal of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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