NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Morris H. Chapman has announced his plans to retire as president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee effective Sept. 30, 2010.
Chapman, upon retirement, will have led the Executive Committee 18 years.
Chapman, 68, announced his retirement in a letter to Executive Committee members on the opening day of their Sept. 20-21 meeting in Nashville, Tenn., writing that after giving “serious and prayerful thought to my retirement date” in recent years, “the time has come.”
His tenure has spanned junctures of:
- theological conviction, such as the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
- heightened denominational effectiveness, such as the streamlining of the SBC’s entities during the mid-1990s and an invigorated emphasis on the Cooperative Program and stewardship.
- cultural relevance, such as the SBC’s racial reconciliation resolution in 1995 and a multi-year emphasis on family ministry that began in the latter 1990s.
His announcement comes on “my 50th anniversary in the ministry,” Chapman wrote, connecting back to his work on church staffs as a teenager followed by his first pastorate in Rogers, Texas, at age 26.
“To be called of God … in serving all Southern Baptists was one of the greatest honors of my life and yet one of the most humbling challenges I had ever faced,” Chapman wrote of assuming the EC presidency on Oct. 1, 1992. “I knew that except for depending completely upon God’s Spirit to guide me, I could fail miserably. Listening to and remembering the word of the Lord heard by Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6 was paramount if I were to fulfill the duties of my new office in a way that truly honored the Lord Jesus Christ. In His Word, God said, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.’”
Each year of service with the Executive Committee, Chapman wrote, “has been a strong affirmation that God led us together.”
Chapman noted in his letter, “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.”
To members of the Executive Committee, Chapman wrote, “‘Thank you from the depths of my heart’ … for working with me, encouraging me, teaching me, advising me, and honoring my leadership. No man could be more blessed than to conclude his ministry among Southern Baptists as president and chief executive officer of the Executive Committee and treasurer of the Southern Baptist Convention. Had I not lived it, I would not have believed it to be possible.”
And Chapman expressed thanks to his wife Jodi, “grateful that God allowed us to share this journey together…. These 46 years of marriage she has loved me, cheered me on as my biggest fan, sacrificed some of her own dreams in order to stay home with our children and traveled with me extensively, advised me from a wealth of biblical and medical knowledge, helped me never to lose sight of the practical aspects of life, and continues to make progress in reaching her goal of making me a real person.”
Of his tenure at the Executive Committee, Chapman wrote, “I have sought to administer the operations of the Executive Committee in a way that would be pleasing to Christ while advancing His Kingdom by facilitating the varied assignments for each and every entity of the SBC. I sought also to educate the churches on the importance of the (Executive) Committee’s ministry assignments. The SBC Bylaws and other legal documents were instituted for the purpose of guiding the work of the Southern Baptist Convention and its various entities. If I have faulted in my interpretation of these official policies, it has been on the side of caution. My question always has been, ‘Why have policies if they are to be ignored?’”
Addressing the assignment of promoting the Cooperative Program that was placed with the Executive Committee in 1997 and, later, the promotion of stewardship, Chapman wrote, “Although the Executive Committee has not had sufficient dollars always to do everything we needed to do, we have made great strides in both areas. In 1925, God gave our forefathers a vision for the Cooperative Program. The idea was a God-send and saved the Convention from financial ruin. The Cooperative Program kept our missionaries on the field and seminary students in the classrooms.
“I believe deeply that if the Cooperative Program is ever tossed aside to be replaced by a strong promotion of societal giving (designated funds) or if both undesignated and designated funds from our churches are counted as Cooperative Program gifts, we will have abandoned the greatest vehicle for supporting missions and theological education in the history of Christendom,” Chapman wrote.
“The Cooperative Program represents Southern Baptists at their finest, enabling many of our churches to give voluntarily in order to do together what they could not have done separately. No one entity may have all it wishes at given times, but neither will any entity be forced to declare bankruptcy as long as Southern Baptists embrace the Cooperative Program, a plan intended to be a pipeline through which a percentage of the church’s budget (undesignated gifts) flows to the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Chapman was elected as Executive Committee president while concluding two years of service as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1990-92). He had preached the convention sermon at the 1989 SBC annual meeting in Las Vegas, served as president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference in 1986 in Atlanta and chairman of the SBC Committee on Order of Business for the 1985 SBC meeting in Dallas.
Chapman was pastor of First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas, from 1979-92 and pastor of First Baptist Church in Albuquerque, N.M., for five years, serving as president of the New Mexico Baptist Convention from 1976-78. Earlier, he had led First Baptist Church of Woodway in Waco, Texas, and First Baptist Church in Rogers, Texas.
He holds doctor of ministry and master of divinity degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is a native of Kosciusko, Miss., and a graduate of Mississippi College.
He and his wife have a son, Chris; a daughter, Stephanie; and eight grandchildren.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)