chapman, gary

When someone learns that I had worked on staff with Dr. Gary Chapman and have co-authored some books with him, I’m often quick to add “I’ve known Gary since I was 14 years old and I can confirm that he’s the real deal.”  

I believe I’m so quick with that addendum because I want people to know that in the current age of best-selling authors, famous speakers and celebrity pastors there are some very authentic people.  There are popular men and women of faith who are also people of character and integrity. Dr. Gary Chapman is one of them. 

Gary Chapman, the author 

Thanks to Dr. Chapman, “love languages” is practically a household word in this country. His book, The Five Love Languages, is the top-selling marriage enrichment book of all-time, with 20+ million copies sold and printed in 57 languages. And that is just the flagship of 70 other books Chapman has authored or co-authored.   

Gary Chapman, the pastor 

What the majority his readers and fans don’t know, or perhaps know but can’t fully appreciate, is that Chapman has been the associate pastor of a North Carolina church for five decades. Earlier this month I attended a celebration in Winston-Salem to honor Gary and his wife Karolyn for their 50 years of ministry at Calvary Baptist Church.   

For those of you have ever served on a church staff I wish I could have seen your facial expression as you read that previous sentence. Because you know how rare and exceptional it is to remain in pastoral ministry that long, even half that long. But what really blows your mind is a 50-year tenure in the same church. That’s unheard of.  

Gary Chapman, the hero 

Dr. Steve Brown, himself a well-known preacher, once quipped, “Make sure all your heroes are already dead.” Indeed, putting a living hero on too high a pedestal is risky because there’s still time for them to fall and disappoint us. I, myself, am hesitant to have living heroes for that very reason but I’ve opted to take a chance with a few.  Dr. Gary Chapman is one of them. 

In his audiobook, Who Do You Want to Be a Hero To?” author and business expert, Dan Sullivan, describes a hero as someone who comes alongside us in their capabilities and helps us to expand our capabilities. Sullivan calls on us to identify our areas of interest and excellence and use them in service to others. By this definition, we can all be heroes.

By this definition, I’ve had several heroes: Maurice Thomas, Mark Corts, Maureen DeLyon, Gary Chapman, Don Mann, George Sepetys, Stellasue Lee and Wes Yoder.

Who have been your heroes? Who cared about you, believed in you, and came alongside at a strategic time in your life? Perhaps they uplifted, guided, and challenged you for a brief but pivotal season; maybe they’ve had a starring role for many years. Often someone is a hero to you, which in turn enables you to be a hero to others.  

Gary Chapman, the servant 

In December 2019, Gary Chapman heard from someone that my mother was dying. He came to visit me by her side at hospice there in Winston-Salem. Dr. Chapman is a very busy person, hospice was across town, and I’m not anybody famous or important. Less than a week later when I was leading my mother’s memorial service in her tiny church in nearby Lewisville, Gary Chapman was there. Gary didn’t really know my mom; he was there to support me. After the service, someone said to me, “You must be pretty special for Gary Chapman to be here.”  

I replied, “Gary is not here because I’m that special. Gary is here because he is that special.”  

One of Gary’s favorite and life-shaping Bible verses is Matthew 20:28 where Jesus said that he “came to serve, not to be served.” I’ve always known Gary to be humble, approachable, and generous with himself. Once after Gary had spoken at a major conference, I observed him patiently engaging person after person in conversation. Standing next to Karolyn, I whispered to her, “Sometimes I don’t think Gary realizes who he is.” She smiled, leaned in, and replied, “I know, and let’s not tell him.” An article in the current issue of Christianity Today is appropriately titled, Gary Chapman Doesn’t Know He’s Famous

I realize the danger of putting a mere man or woman on a pedestal. But I need a role model. I need a reliable trail guide. I need an inspiring hero. Dr. Gary Chapman is one of them. 

Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin, (www.ramonpressontherapy.com),  the author of multiple books, and a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He can be reached at [email protected].