In May 1941 the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention happened in Birmingham, Alabama. During the convention proceedings the messengers voted to affirm an historic recommendation: “…that Southern Baptists make direct contact with the Government in the appointment of Southern Baptist military chaplains” and that the Home Mission Board serve as the SBC’s executive agent to endorse chaplains into the Armed Forces. (SBC Proceedings, 1941, pp. 52-53)
The following year, Dr. Alfred Carpenter, the Home Mission Board’s first director of the Chaplain Commission and superintendent of military camp ministry, unveiled the chaplaincy ministry’s new evangelistic slogan: “Carry Christ To the Camp.”
Its primary purpose being to send the gospel to our armed forces through and with Southern Baptist chaplains. He also introduced three major emphases that would serve as the primary focus of the SBC’s chaplaincy ministry:
- Recruit more chaplains to support the war effort.
- Gain a better knowledge of the field of military ministry.
- Support a major evangelism campaign, including camp-wide revivals, itinerant preachers, and training conferences.
By the end of World War II Southern Baptist chaplains, having responded to this Great Commission challenge, reported that 299,342 US troops made professions of faith in Jesus Christ. These conversions represented 82 percent of those reported by all Southern Baptist churches during 1941-1945. Additionally, SBC chaplains reported that 1,037 American service members answered the calling into the ministry during that same time.
Today, 80 years after the Chaplain Commission of the North American Mission Board first began endorsing chaplains, the role of Southern Baptist chaplains has expanded beyond the military to community service, corporate, correctional, disaster relief, healthcare and public safety institutional settings. However, their primary ministry to these communities remains the same: to actively engage in evangelistic opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those under their pastoral care and point new believers to affiliate with a local Southern Baptist church.
During the SBC this year in Nashville, Tennessee, NAMB will celebrate your truly remarkable evangelism efforts, especially over the last decade. From 2010 to 2020 Southern Baptist chaplains recorded 978,502 Gospel presentations, 154,220 professions of faith and 33,086 baptisms. We, your Chaplaincy Team, sincerely thank each one of you for the eternal impact you are making in the lives of those Almighty God has placed within your institutional settings. We pray, in the words of the Apostle Paul, that you continue to “do the work of an evangelist (and) fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5, ESV)
Rear Admiral James Kelly (US Navy, Retired), 12th Navy Chief of Chaplains and Home Mission Board Director of Chaplaincy (1972-1977) reminds us of the timeless standard of the chaplaincy: “Somewhere out there across the land is a local church—a church that ordained you to preach the Gospel of our precious Lord. The members of that church have you in their prayers. And then, too, there is your congregation where you are today—a faraway island, a foreign country, a ship, a Marine division, an Army post, an air base, a hospital, a prison, an institution—they look to you and believe in you. You have a mission like no one, at any time, ever before in the history of the world. LIVE it! PROCLAIM it! SACRIFICE for it! GUARD it!”
Published May 18, 2021