September 21, 2009
Dr. Randall James, Chairman and
Members of the Executive Committee
901 Commerce Street
Nashville, Tennessee 37203
Dear Dr. James and Members of the Executive Committee:
In February 1992, the then members of the Executive Committee elected me to serve as the president/treasurer of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to succeed Harold C. Bennett upon his retirement, September 30, 1992. The Executive Committee, in its September 1992 meeting, recommended that the title of the position be changed to “president and chief executive officer.” On my inaugural date, I also became treasurer of the Southern Baptist Convention and treasurer of the Executive Committee. Later, I became chairman of the Southern Baptist Foundation when it became a subsidiary of the Executive Committee in 1997.
From July 15 through September 30, 1992, I served as the president-elect and then assumed full responsibilities of the office of president and chief executive officer on October 1, 1992. Dr. Bennett served in this significant position for 13 years, the same 13 years that I served as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas. To be called of God and approved by the Executive Committee to succeed Dr. Bennett 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. 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.”
This year marks my 50th anniversary in the ministry. Although I served on church staffs from the time I was 18 years old, my first pastorate began in Rogers, Texas, at the age of 26, a few months prior to graduating from Southwestern Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. Approximately 165 people attended Sunday School. During my first full year there, I baptized 5% of the population which was slightly over 800. My succeeding churches were the First Baptist Church of Woodway, Waco, Texas; the First Baptist Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico; and the First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas. I became pastor of the church in Albuquerque in 1974 and received my Doctor of Ministry degree from Southwestern in the spring of 1975. As was the experience in coming to the Executive Committee, each step of the journey, I believe, was ordered by the Lord.
Over the last 17 years, I sought to make my president’s report to the Convention about those matters most important to the messengers. On occasions, they were mostly statistical reports. On other occasions, I spoke about issues for which Southern Baptists were expressing great concern.
On still other occasions, I relayed to the Convention the bylaws and policies that guided the Executive Committee in its recommendations. And finally, sometimes 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 too far removed from my reports. Most of the time, but not always, I was able to hold my passion for preaching in check.
Each year of my service with the Executive Committee has been a strong affirmation that God led us together. For that, I am deeply grateful to God and to you, the members of the Committee.
I could not write this letter without acknowledging how much I love my wife, Jodi, and am grateful that God allowed us to share this journey together. From the first moment I saw her on the Mississippi College campus, I was smitten with her enthusiasm for life, her bright mind, and her beautiful red hair that signaled a zest for doing the unexpected. I hasten to say that she has been a most worthy representative of red-haired women throughout the world! I love her more than life itself. 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.
For several years now, I have given serious and prayerful thought to my retirement date and shared with the present chairman and his immediate predecessor my anticipated intentions. After 17 years and 51 regularly scheduled meetings of the Executive Committee, the time has come for me to announce that date as I embark upon my 18th year. I will vacate the office of president and chief executive officer of the Executive Committee at midnight, Thursday, September 30, 2010, a date that marks the end of the Committee’s 2009-2010 fiscal year. On Sunday evening, September 20, 2009, my retirement date was presented to the Executive Committee officers who concurred with its appropriateness.
My heart’s desire has been to be a faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 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?”
In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention reassigned the promotion of the Cooperative Program to the Executive Commitment and several years later transferred the Stewardship promotion from LifeWay Christian Resources. 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. 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.
I wish it were possible to say personally to every member of the Executive Committee since 1992, “Thank you from the depths of my heart.” I am grateful to all of you 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. Someday my journey to heaven will be but a millisecond compared to my long, but meaningful journey from Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee.
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.
Sincerely yours in Christ Jesus,
Morris H. Chapman