SBC chaplains train in evangelism, pray for Israel at North Carolina conference

By NAMB Staff

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) – With many of their colleagues on alert for potential deployment to growing hot spots near Israel, more than 365 Southern Baptist chaplains and spouses gathered to train in evangelism and pray for peace in the Middle East.

“I pray, Father, for you to take away our fears of a potential global war and the agonizing question of ‘why’ regarding the carnage we have seen from the attack on Israel. Lord, we pray that you will turn the eyes of the nations and our national authorities to see that you are the only source of peace, to see that you are the Lord of the nations,” prayed Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Doug Carver, executive director of chaplaincy at NAMB.

Southern Baptist chaplains pose for a photo during an October 23-25 training event at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. More than 365 chaplains and spouses attended the conference, which was one of two regional training events NAMB held in 2023 for SBC chaplains. NAMB photo

Those gathered, including chaplains serving in the military, public safety, disaster relief, health care, prisons and private corporations attended the three-day training conference at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. The training event focused on religious liberty and its impact on evangelism.

“This has also been an opportunity for our chaplains to pause for corporate worship and prayer, to network with fellow chaplains, to receive pastoral care, and to be equipped in chaplaincy ministry training,” Carver said. “Many of these chaplains provide ministry alone in their institutional settings. Some of them work seven days a week. One of our primary goals for this training event was to allow the Lord to re-energize and refresh the souls of these chaplains who engage in Gospel conversations and specialized ministry within institutional settings.”

At the outset of the conference, Carver, who once served as the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, announced that SBC chaplains had reported sharing the Gospel more than 61,000 times in the first nine months of 2023. Chaplains also prayed with nearly 8,000 people who made professions of faith during that time.

“Thank you for continuing to share the Good News of Jesus Christ,” Carver told the chaplains.

Chaplains share their stories

Attendees also heard ministry stories from fellow chaplains during the conference, including Paul Davis, a prison chaplain from Jacksonville, Fla. Davis, a well-decorated Vietnam War veteran, flew more than 700 combat assault missions. During his service, he earned two purple hearts and 34 air medals, including a Bronze Star, two distinguished Flying Crosses, and a Silver Star.

But Davis focused his remarks on his 45 years of prison ministry. He described opportunities to share the Good News about Jesus with people who are often at their lowest points. Many times, he added, God uses the consequences of their decisions to make the prisoners he is reaching more open to the Gospel.

“I don’t talk about [my wartime service] to draw attention to myself, but to draw attention to the Lord because He has saved my life many, many times,” Davis said. “I’m telling you, all the battles that I was in, the 22 men that I flew with, that I watched killed next to me, saw them crash and burn to death. None of that compares to sharing Christ with men and women in prison.”

Later, chaplains broke into affinity groups, praying together and discussing topics specific to their chaplaincy ministry, such as their relationships with local churches, mentoring and their sense of calling.

Religious liberty for the sake of the Gospel

Andrew Walker, associate professor of Christian ethics and public theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., led four sessions and participated in a question-and-answer session on religious liberty.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Doug Carver (right), executive director of chaplaincy at NAMB, facilitates a question-and-answer session on religious liberty with Andrew Walker, associate professor of Christian Ethics and Public Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During four previous lectures, Walker had laid out the Baptist case for religious liberty and its significance in evangelism for SBC chaplains. NAMB photo

Carver and his team chose the topic because many chaplains encounter religious liberty issues as they share the Gospel in secular situations.

The Great Commission, Walker said, is at the heart of the Baptist understanding of religious liberty.

“One of the simplest formulas I like to use to define religious liberty as a Christian is simply this: It’s the freedom to proclaim the Gospel, to receive the Gospel, and live out the Gospel … without fear of punishment,” said Walker.

In his first session, Walker discussed religious liberty in the context of the book of Acts.

“Paul was not focused on his liberty for liberty’s sake,” Walker said. “He was concerned with liberty for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel.”

Part of a big family

Nelson Chapman, who serves as a chaplain at the Veterans Administration in Eerie, Pa., said he appreciated the opportunity to get away with his wife for a time of refreshment and training.

“It has helped equip me to be a better chaplain, to feel affirmed as a chaplain in my calling, and then also it’s been very encouraging to be able to get to know my fellow Southern Baptist chaplains and to see that we’re not alone, but we’re on a big team and part of a big family,” Chapman said.

Col. Ted Wilson, an Air Force chaplain at Air Force Central Command, appreciated the focus on religious liberty and the opportunity to gather with other chaplains for fellowship.

“For us in the military, religious liberty is a huge issue right now,” Wilson said. “Engaging with people of the different chaplaincies and just hearing their stories, for me, is personally encouraging.”

A concluding charge

Bill Coffey, senior pastor of Pinecrest Baptist Church in Silsbe, Texas, concluded the conference with a stirring charge from Matthew 21, urging attendees to be people of purity, prayer, power and praise.

“The flesh is weak,” said Coffey, a NAMB trustee, who also serves on the SBC Chaplaincy Commission. “The flesh is going to fight your desire to live a life of purity. The flesh also is going to fight your desire to be a person who prays fervently. The flesh wants power. But he doesn’t want God’s power. He wants you to do it. I see what Bill Coffey can do, and it’s a train wreck. But I think what God can do is indescribable. And that’s what I want for my life. That’s what I want for you.”

Published October 31, 2023