James Marion Frost
Baptist Pastor and Leader
James Marion Frost was born in Georgetown, Kentucky, Feb. 10, 1848; he died in Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 30, 1916. He was a pastor, denominational leader, founder and first secretary of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Being reared in Georgetown, Kentucky, he graduated from Georgetown College and there married Nanney Riley. He served as pastor of the following churches: First, Maysville, Ky.; Upper Street (now Calvary Baptist), Lexington, Ky.; First, Staunton, Va.; First, Selma, Ala.; Leigh Street, Richmond, Va.; First, Nashville, Tenn. His children were: Howard, Margaret, Marian, Marcellus, and Virginius.
While pastor in Richmond, Frost framed resolutions, which led to the establishment of the Sunday School Board. He first advocated that the denomination produce its own printed literature through a board of publication under the direct control of the Convention and co-ordinate with the Foreign Mission Board and Home Mission Board. This was proposed in resolutions released through the Religious Herald on Feb. 27, 1890. The Baptist papers in the various states, except the Baptist and Reflector (Tenn.) and the Western Recorder (Ky.), opposed Frost's resolutions editorially. Frost's proposal was considered at the Fort Worth Convention (1890), and a Sunday school committee was set up, which served for one year with headquarters in Louisville. At the Convention in Birmingham the following year (1891), Frost made a motion that the matter be referred to yet another committee, consisting of one member from each state, and that their report be made a special order before that session of the Convention. Frost and James Bruton Gambrell, who were made subcommittee to frame the report for the larger committee, held an all-day conference harmonizing their own views concerning the best approach to the perplexing problem. Compromises were reached whereby Gambrell would write the last paragraph of the report and Frost would pen the last sentence. Gambrell stressed complete freedom of the local church in purchasing its literature, while Frost pleaded that a fair chance be given the new board to live and prosper.
With President Jonathan Haralson presiding, the Convention dealt with the final resolutions which were read by Frost recommending a Sunday School Board. With the timely assistance of John Albert Broadus, the report was adopted without debate and with only 13 opposing votes. After much insistence Frost agreed to serve as first secretary of the board. On July 1, 1891, he came to Nashville, where the board was to be located. He was to experience considerable loneliness because many people, misunderstanding his mission, received him reluctantly. In borrowed quarters and handicapped by limited resources, Frost began his new duties. After having served only 18 months and still yearning for the pastorate, he felt that he could not decline the call to become pastor of the First Baptist Church in Nashville. In 1896, however, he returned to the secretaryship of the board and serve in that capacity until his death in 1916.
Frost's decisions as first secretary largely determined the pattern of the board's future growth. He led it to be a publishing house instead of a printing enterprise. He worked for a strong and acceptable curriculum and further developed the graded series of lessons. He projected the Sunday school educational program as well as the teacher-training program. Also he worked out reliable standards for the measurement of efficiency in Sunday school progress. While he was interested in the development of Sunday school work even through interdenominational and nondenominational movements, he stove constantly to keep Southern Baptist Sunday schools closely related to the churches and denomination. This latter emphasis proved to be one of the major contributions of his ministry. He helped develop the Baptist Young People's Union. The board became the supplier of general materials for the churches and the denomination and entered into the book-publishing ministry during his tenure. In addition, Frost found time to write such outstanding books as Moral Dignity of Baptism (1905), The Memorial Supper (1908), The School and the Church (1911), Our Church Life (1909), An Experience of Grace (1908), and Sunday School Board History and Work (1914). At the time of his death, the board had prospered sufficiently to erect its own building of five floors at 161 Eighth Avenue, North, and dedicated it free of debt in 1914.
Frost's success is attributed to his pastoral heart, business ability, and unwavering devotion to an assignment that he felt was God-given. While never physically strong, he was able to endure 22 years of intense administrative pressure in the high office that he held. His health finally gave way, however, while he was en route to a field engagement in 1916. After much suffering he passed away at his home. Funeral services were held in Nashville and Louisville. Interment was at Cave Hill cemetery, Louisville, Ky.
[From Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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