Every Chaplain Is A Recruiter

By Doug Carver

At the 1941 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) held in Birmingham, Alabama, the messengers overwhelmingly supported the convention’s request to initiate the endorsement of Southern Baptist chaplains into the Armed Forces. According to the Annual Report of the SBC for that year, the convention authorized the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) to appoint a Chaplains Commission to endorse Southern Baptist chaplains. Additionally, it directed the HMB to employ field representatives (now the SBC Chaplaincy Team) to lead and promote the ministry of the military chaplaincy in support of the United States Armed Services.

The Convention agreed there was “no greater soul-winning opportunity facing Southern Baptists than the thousands of young men pouring into the military training camps around the country” training for a potential war in Europe or the Pacific regions. Little did the messengers know that the United States would soon engage in a world war less than seven months after the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The denomination’s new chaplaincy ministry was hugely successful as Southern Baptist military chaplains recorded 299,342 professions of faith from 1941 to 1945, 82% of all the conversions reported by SBC churches during the same time.

The following year, the Home Mission Board began a major initiative to recruit and endorse Southern Baptist pastors into the United States Armed Services as military chaplains. According to a pamphlet, “The Chaplain” (Home Mission Board, November 1, 1942), the Chaplains Commission, in keeping with specific instructions by the SBC, focused its recruiting efforts on three specific goals:

  • To enlist enough well-qualified pastors for endorsement as military chaplains
  • To exalt the importance of preaching by SBC chaplains
  • To enlarge the evangelistic ministry of SBC military chaplains’ ministry by providing them with enough Bibles and religious education materials for their troops

The Chaplains Commission defined “well qualified” for SBC endorsement as those pastors who possessed “exceptional pulpit skills, leadership initiative, executive excellence in administrative actions, evangelistic zeal, effective pastoral skills and a compassionate heart.” In 1942, Dr. Alfred Carpenter, the HMB’s first director of the Chaplains Commission and superintendent of military camp ministry, introduced three major emphases that would serve as the primary focus of the SBC Chaplaincy ministry: (1) recruit chaplains, (2) gain better knowledge of the chaplain ministry environment and (3) support evangelistic activities, including revivals, pulpit supply, and chaplain training conferences. He also unveiled the SBC Chaplaincy’s first evangelistic slogan, “Carry Christ To The (Military) Camp.”

Our history as the SBC Chaplaincy bears serious reflection. First, with more than 3,300 endorsed SBC chaplains, we are the largest endorsing agency in the United States. Second, we only recruit and endorse the “best qualified” Southern Baptist men and women as chaplains. Third, the SBC Chaplaincy has expanded into all the major institutional environments, including corporate, community service, correctional, disaster relief, health care, military, and public safety chaplaincies. Fourth, Southern Baptist chaplains continue to prioritize evangelism in their ministry. Since 2010, SBC Chaplains have recorded 1,094,159 gospel presentations, 167,973 professions of faith and 35,399 baptisms.

Finally, we must renew our efforts to recruit Southern Baptists for endorsement into the chaplaincy ministry. We’ve often heard the saying, “Every chaplain is a recruiter.” Recruiting those in your sphere of influence who would be great chaplains must be one of your major ministry priorities. You’ll find them in your local Southern Baptist church, one of our SBC seminaries or colleges, and your ministry environment. Your motivation for chaplaincy recruiting connects to your calling into the chaplaincy ministry. As we continue to “Carry Christ To the Camp,” let us invite other Southern Baptists to “Choose the Chaplaincy!”

Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10, CSB).

Published September 26, 2023

Doug Carver

Doug Carver, NAMB Executive Director of the Chaplaincy, serves as the senior advisor to NAMB and the Southern Baptist Convention on the chaplaincy ministry. He leads the NAMB Chaplaincy’s Team daily support to over 3,300 endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains.