Honoring John and Hope Murdoch

Murdoch_LEADJohn Murdoch doesn’t like to talk about himself or his accomplishments. “I’m just a cracked pot trying to bring glory to God,” he says, alluding to one of his favorite New Testament passages, 2 Corinthians 4:7—“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” John is quick to deflect praise and to give the credit to God: “Whatever’s been accomplished in my ministry, it’s not been because of me. I have been totally dependent on the Spirit of God. And whatever’s been accomplished, it’s for His glory and because of Him.”

And yet, despite Chaplain Murdoch’s modesty, it is altogether proper that we recognize and honor him for his years of exemplary service to the GARBC as director of its Chaplaincy Ministries and to the God he seeks to honor above all else. High praise is also due to John’s wife, Hope, who has been his indefatigable partner in the work of the ministry. “We’ve been a team,” John says. “I know I’ve been the face of this ministry, but she’s worked just as hard as I have. She’s put in countless hours ministering to the chaplains’ children and wives, and her work in the office as my assistant has really kept this ministry going while I’ve been out traveling and speaking. So it has really been a team effort.”

John has moved in GARBC circles nearly his entire life. His father, Henry Murdoch, an immigrant to the United States from Scotland, pastored GARBC churches in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York while John was growing up. One of those churches was First Baptist Church of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, where John met fundamentalist leader and former GARBC National Representative Robert Ketcham. First Baptist was the home church of Mrs. Ketcham’s family, so Dr. Ketcham would attend services whenever he was in town. This led to the blossoming of a deep friendship between the Ketchams and the Murdochs, which John recalls fondly.

When John reached adulthood, he chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter vocational ministry. He studied at Baptist Bible Seminary (BRE, 1970) and later continued his education at California Graduate School of Theology (MA, 1986) and Great Plains Baptist Divinity School (MDiv, 2007; DMin, 2009). He was also granted two honorary doctorates by Great Plains Baptist Divinity School (DD, 1997) and Shasta Bible College (2000). But it wasn’t until after he had begun ministering in churches that he came to admit his need to trust Christ as Savior. “I had known all about the Lord, but I had never really applied the truths of the Word to my own heart, and I knew that,” John recalls. “The Spirit of God had put His hand on me and convicted me of my sin, and finally I responded and put my faith and trust in Him.”

From that point on, John had a renewed sense of mission and fresh urgency to impact the world for Christ. He served as youth and music pastor in First Baptist Church of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and First Baptist Church of Hackensack, New Jersey, then went on to pastor GARBC churches in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Peru, Indiana. Concurrently, he began ministering as a chaplain in the Civil Air Patrol, the official, congressionally charted civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. Several years earlier, in 1971, John had served briefly in the United States Army, but had received an honorable discharge after three months due to problems with his vision. During that short stint, he saw firsthand the need for and value of a robust chaplaincy ministry. “One of our Regular Baptist chaplains was ministering in our zero week, and he led a number of trainees to trust in Christ,” John remembers. (Zero week refers to the first phase of basic training.) “When I came off of active duty due to my vision, I prayed and asked the Lord to give me some opportunity to serve in chaplaincy.” His answer came when the local Civil Air Patrol squadron commander, a member of John’s church, asked him to consider serving as a chaplain in the CAP. He jumped at the chance.

As the years went by, John continued serving in the pastorate and the chaplaincy concurrently. He ascended the ranks quickly, eventually holding every position a chaplain can hold in the Civil Air Patrol. In 1993 the CAP appointed him deputy chief of chaplains, then chief of chaplains three years later. He has maintained active involvement to this day, and still serves as senior advisor to the chief of chaplains.

In 1991, while John was pastoring Bible Baptist Church in Peru, Indiana, Doc Ellison began grooming him to be his successor as director of the GARBC chaplaincy. Toward that end, John would periodically join Doc on official chaplaincy business in Washington, D.C. The trips became more frequent as Doc’s retirement drew nearer. In January 1998, Doc retired, and John Murdoch was officially appointed as his successor. Doc passed away a little less than two years later, and John was given the privilege of conducting his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

John has brought a unique blend of ministry experiences and a unique skill set to the GARBC chaplaincy. In addition to serving as a chaplain with the Civil Air Patrol, he has also held chaplaincies in hospitals, police departments, and sheriff’s departments, so he’s known how to relate to a broad cross section of chaplaincy ministries. His years as a pastor have also enabled him to represent the chaplaincy ministry effectively in the many GARBC churches he’s visited and spoken to. His years of service at this post have served to elevate the reputation of the GARBC chaplaincy program in the eyes of the broader chaplaincy community. The Military Chaplains Association elected him vice president in 2002 and president in 2004. This was a high honor; the MCA encompasses all federally approved chaplains from all faith traditions, all branches of the United States armed forces, and all recognized institutions. In the association’s history, John Murdoch is the only Regular Baptist to hold the presidency.

Of course, John is quick to point out that the chaplains he directs have done plenty to distinguish themselves quite apart from his efforts. “When I was ministering in Kuwait, the three-star commanding general made a point to meet with me. He said, ‘I want to thank you for the quality of the chaplains you have been sending us. Please, send us more of your people.’ And over my 18 years in this position I’ve heard that time and time again. People notice our chaplains. They notice their quality.”

Reflecting on the course of his ministry, John recounts many cherished memories. First and foremost are all the occasions he has had to minister to and with our chaplains at their duty stations. He also fondly remembers meeting President George W. Bush and attending the president’s wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as riding on the USS Abraham Lincoln from Pearl Harbor to San Diego. “It’s just been fun,” he says. “I’ve had some real thrills. Doing a tandem jump with the Golden Knights was awesome. I’ve been able to share Christ with generals, search and rescue workers, and strangers on airplanes. Once when I was visiting the 38th parallel in Korea, I got to share a tour with the diplomatic attaché to the Turkish embassy.”

Under John’s leadership, the GARBC chaplaincy also expanded its influence at the national level. “We were able to be involved in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on the Defense of Marriage Act,” John explains. “And we were part of the team that influenced Congress to include paragraph 533 in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. That paragraph guaranteed that all military persons, officers, and enlisted, would be secure in their religious freedom. I never thought we would be party to those kinds of high-level efforts, but it was an honor to be involved.”

For John, protecting the religious rights of chaplains has been a paramount concern. “As I look back over all these years, the greatest privilege I’ve had has been to help our chaplains be able to freely share the truth of the Word of God according to our faith tradition without fear of any reprisal.”

In the coming months, Chaplain Murdoch will be training his successor, Manning Brown, so that the transition will be as smooth as possible. But his retirement from the GARBC will not mean a retirement from ministry: John has already begun developing a new chaplaincy program for the Howard County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Department, and looks forward to exploring other ministry opportunities for years to come.

Introducing Manning and Jennifer Brown

Manning-Jennifer-Brown-Y15Just as John Murdoch had followed his father into the ministry, Manning Brown followed his father into the military. Manning’s father, Bruce Brown, was a career officer in the United States Air Force. Like other military dependents, Manning grew up in military bases all across the country, and also spent three years abroad while his father was stationed in Naples, Italy. The Air Force was in his blood, and he knew at a very early age that he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Manning took the first steps toward a military career while a young man, spending several of his teenage years training as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol. When he entered Michigan State University in 1984 to study telecommunications, he eagerly enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. In many ways, the trajectory of his life had already been set. But something else also happened to Manning during his years at Michigan State that changed his life forever. First he met Jennifer Merrill, who would shortly thereafter become his wife. And through Jennifer, he met Jesus.

“Although I had been exposed to Christianity, I had never had a personal relationship with Christ,” Manning recalls. “I guess I considered myself a Christian by default since I celebrated Christmas and Easter. But as Jennifer and I started dating, it was obvious that Christianity was a very real part of her life. As we got to know each other, she talked me into attending some of the Baptist Student Union functions on campus. Then I met Jennifer’s family and I saw for the first time the full scope of a devout Christian family.”

Over the next few months, Manning was exposed to (some might say bombarded with) Christian teaching and influences almost constantly. In February 1987 he trusted Christ as Savior and Lord. “It was like a ‘scales from the eyes’ moment for me,” he explains. “I suddenly saw my fallen state and my need for Christ, and I asked Him to save me.” Unsurprisingly, Manning’s conversion to Christianity was a major turning point in his relationship with Jennifer. They were engaged three months later, and married in June 1988. That same month, Manning graduated from Michigan State University and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Six months after that, Manning entered active duty, and he and Jennifer left for their first duty station in California.

Manning’s career in the Air Force was long and distinguished. Over 21 years he served in a wide variety of positions, including missile launch officer for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, public affairs officer, and Recruiting Service squadron commander. During his career he deployed three times, once in support of Operation Northern Watch in Turkey and twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. He continued his education while on active duty, studying at Pennsylvania State University (MEd, 1996) and Air Command and Staff College (MA, 2003). Manning retired from the Air Force in 2010 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

While he was busy serving his country, Manning also made it a priority to find opportunities to serve the church. The year he went on active duty, Manning felt he was being called to the ministry. He sought counsel from his pastor, who wasn’t about to let such an opportunity slip past: “You feel called to the ministry? Great! You’re preaching next week.” Manning quickly gained experience as a lay preacher and a deacon, and for a brief time gave serious thought to leaving the military and entering the pastorate or the mission field. But his pastor counseled him to view the military as his mission field. “You don’t need to be a minister in order to minister,” he explained. “If you stay in the Air Force, you can be a missionary on Uncle Sam’s dime.”

Manning took this advice to heart, and dutifully applied himself to serving in the military and ministry arenas concurrently. In 1990 he was licensed into the gospel ministry by Calvary Baptist Church of Emerado, North Dakota. Twelve years later, while serving overseas, he was ordained a minister of the gospel by Faith Baptist Church of Einsiedlerhof, Germany. Over the years he has ministered as a Sunday School teacher, Awana volunteer, youth ministry leader, deacon, and supply preacher.

After his retirement, Manning gravitated toward vocational ministry. “It would’ve been easy for me to go corporate, and many retired officers do,” he explains. “But Jennifer and I always knew that when we got out of the military, we were going to be involved more directly in ministry.” His first post-military position was director of human resources at Baptist Bible College (now Summit University). A year later he was promoted to executive director of the president’s office. “It was a natural transition to go from the Air Force to Baptist Bible College,” he says. “The Air Force is an institution that I believe in and am passionate about. And BBC is also an institution that I believe in and am passionate about. In both worlds there’s a sense of mission, a sense that you’re striving for something bigger than yourself.”

In 2012 Baptist Bible College hosted the GARBC’s annual conference at its campus. Jim Jeffery, Manning’s boss at the time, has jokingly referred to that as the worst decision of his college presidency, since it was at the conference that John Greening, national representative of the GARBC, approached Manning about joining the GARBC staff at the resource center. John was on the lookout for a new marketing director at the time, and Manning fit the bill perfectly. John made inquiries immediately, and the next year Manning was on his way to Schaumburg, Illinois, to accept the position. “Over the past two years as director of marketing, Manning has shown himself to be an invaluable member of the resource center team,” Greening says. “He is a capable manager and a delightful colleague. I can think of no one better qualified to fill the position of chaplaincy director.”

Chaplain Murdoch enthusiastically welcomes Manning to the position. “Manning will bring to the table a fresh approach. His unique skill set will enable him to move the chaplaincy to the next level. The ministry’s ability to tell our chaplains’ stories will especially be enhanced by his experience in public affairs and communication. And his background as a line officer gives him exceptional insight into the military’s inner workings. It will open a lot of doors and benefit our chaplains tremendously.”

Manning recognizes that this is a difficult time for all chaplains, especially those from fundamentalist and evangelical heritages, so the job won’t be a cakewalk. He explains, “The military is facing tremendous challenges today. Our men and women in uniform are facing the pressures of a shrinking force, increased demand for technological adeptness, and the social changes that are sweeping the country right now. And these exact same factors are also weighing heavily on our community service and institutional chaplains. When you compound all of those factors together, it means that there’s great opportunity to share the gospel today, but there’s also great pressure to conform. And that’s the crux of the challenge our chaplains are facing, not only for themselves but also for the men, women, and families that they’re counseling and ministering to on a daily basis.”

The challenges notwithstanding, this new position is a great honor. “I’m extremely humbled and excited by this opportunity,” Manning says. “Our chaplains need to know that their endorsing agent supports them and will do whatever it takes to make sure they’ve been resourced properly and that they have everything they need to do their jobs effectively. Jennifer and I are deeply honored to be able to help facilitate that, and to come alongside our chaplains and encourage them and their families in any way possible.”

In many ways, stepping into the chaplaincy directorate feels like returning home. “I’ve been retired from the Air Force for five years, and in some regards I still just feel like I’m on extended leave. So to be able to immerse myself back in the military side of things, and also to minister with and to our community service and institutional chaplains, just brings a renewed sense of excitement and opportunity. God has opened this door, and Jennifer and I are excited to do everything we can in this capacity to honor and glorify Him.”

David Gunn is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin.