Ginger Hall has been a member of Bellevue Baptist Church for twenty-six years. She's spoken to her pastor, Adrian Rogers, and shaken his hand, exactly twice.
"A lot of people tell me they don't know how I could be a member at a church this big, but I love him," Hall said. "I love Joyce. They're our family."
That was a sentiment shared by thousands over the weekend of March 4-6, 2005, as Bellevue said an emotional goodbye to its pastor after thirty-two years of service. Thousands on Friday night celebrated Rogers' pastorate at Bellevue. Thousands more on Sunday morning heard Rogers preach his last sermon as pastor of the Memphis-area congregation. And on Sunday night, the throngs gathered to bid a final farewell to their beloved leader.
They honored Rogers for being a good shepherd, a faithful preacher, and a wise servant of God. They honored him for his devotion to his family and as a denominational statesman. And they honored him for his tireless efforts which have helped Bellevue become one of the largest churches in the world.
"Pastor, we knew that you were God's man for this church," said Al Childress, chairman of the pulpit committee that recommended Rogers to Bellevue in 1972. "But we never could have imagined all that he would do in these thirty-two years," Childress told the audience.
When Rogers became Bellevue's pastor, the church had 8,739 members. Today, it has more than 29,000 members. Rogers is heard in more than 150 countries on more than 12,000 television stations and 2,000 radio stations on his weekly program, Love Worth Finding.
He is a widely published author and has been a key leader in the Southern Baptist Convention's conservative resurgence. Rogers served as SBC president for three terms at a time when conservative Southern Baptists needed their most capable leader.
But Rogers also is a spiritual leader outside Southern Baptist circles. He has visited with U.S. presidents and other leaders. Tim Goeglein, a White House spokesman, was at Friday's service to offer a greeting and to read a letter from President George Bush.
"I commend your dedication to serving others in the Memphis area, and indeed, around the world," the president wrote. "Your efforts have helped put hope in people's hearts and a sense of purpose in their lives."
On Sunday morning, James Dobson of Focus on the Family said he loves and respects Rogers as much as anyone else in the country.
"The highest compliment that I can pay you is that you remind me a lot of my father," Dobson told Rogers. "You draw me to Christ. When I am with you, I feel closer to the Lord."
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said even though Rogers is retiring, his influence on pastors will continue for years to come.
"Thank you for setting the example that you have set across the years for what a pastor's home ought to be like, for what a pastor ought to be like, and for what an anointed prophet of God ought to be like," Patterson said.
Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission, called Rogers the Apostle Paul of the SBC.
"The amazing thing about this man is that he is the same in private as he is in public," Land said. "Who he is comes forth from his inmost self. He's humble, never haughty. Bold, never bombastic. Clear, but never cutting. Scintillating, but never sarcastic. Sanctified, but never sanctimonious."
Steve Gaines, pastor of Gardendale Baptist Church near Birmingham, Alabama, hailed him as the "prince of preachers." Jack Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, described him as a "warrior for the Word of God."
Other speakers in attendance included SBC President Bobby Welch; Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida; Mike Spradlin, president of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary; Zig Ziglar; and Robert E. Reccord, president of the SBC's North American Mission Board, among others.
More praises came, both in person and in video, from family members, church members, former staff members, and others whose lives Rogers has touched.
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, among the speakers at a Friday night reception, recounted that when the Southern Baptist Convention needed him in 1979, Rogers was there and became the voice of the conservative resurgence.
Chapman said when his family needed him, Rogers was there. "My wife, Jodi, had grown up at Bellevue Baptist Church and [former pastor] Ramsey Pollard performed our wedding ceremony," Chapman later told Baptist Press. "Years later, when Jodi's mother was terminally ill, Adrian and Joyce ministered to her in many ways, including visits, phone calls, and notes. When she died in 1990, Adrian conducted her funeral."
And, Chapman said, "When I needed him, he was there. Not only was I blessed by listening to his powerful sermons, I looked at his life and saw no greed, no grudges, no jealousies, and no egotism. However, I did see Jesus. Adrian became for me a model of the Christian life for whom I had enormous love and respect as well as my mentor in the ministry. I will be eternally grateful to him and our Lord."
Rogers remained cheerful through the tributes and showed no hints of a tear. That changed on Sunday evening, as his wife Joyce stepped to the pulpit to thank him for the fifty-three years he has been not only her husband, but her pastor.
"Thank you for teaching me to love the Word of God in a way I wouldn't have if it weren't for you," she said. "Thank you for helping me to love Jesus more than I ever thought I could .... Thank you for loving me and being faithful to me. You'll always be my one and only sweetheart."
Throughout the weekend the church showered Rogers and his wife with gifts. They presented him with an antique Scottish grandfather clock, made between 1811 and 1830. They gave him a 2005 Mercury Grand Marquis and a trip to Gainesville, Florida, to see his beloved Florida Gators play. They built him a miniature model of the Bellevue building, which opened to reveal hundreds of cards written by church members.
With every gift, Rogers responded with characteristic humor. On one occasion: "If I had known that retirement was this wonderful, I'd have done it twenty years ago."
On another: "I'm trying to read the signals," Rogers said. "They've given me a clock and now a car. I think they're saying it's time for me to get out of town."
Bellevue also voted to designate Rogers as pastor emeritus. In addition, the church announced that the Memphis City Council had agreed to rename part of Appling Road, on which the church sits, as "Dr. Adrian P. Rogers Parkway."
"I'm setting up a toll booth on my road," Rogers replied.
The event was a reunion of sorts for scores of former Bellevue members and staff. Bob Gallina, pastor of Green Hills Baptist Church in LaHabra, California, served at Bellevue for eleven years and said the trip back was worth the sacrifice.
"Dr. Rogers is really a key mentor...in my life and ministry," Gallina said. "I came to honor the man who made such an impact on my life."
Before he left, Gallina asked his mom if she'd like for him to tell Rogers anything if he had the chance. Her response, Bellevue members would agree, was an understatement: "Tell him he did a good job."
Thousands of people, in one way or another, did exactly that during the weekend's four services. On Sunday evening, after saying thanks so many times, Rogers offered his last address to his flock.
"Tonight, God has touched and anointed the service," he said. "We've laughed together. We've wept together. We have glorified the Savior. We've expressed love to our brothers and sisters in Christ."
But Rogers said the day was about more than just one service. It was a reflection on more than three decades Rogers and Bellevue shared as pastor and congregation.
"There were tears, obstacles, victories, multiplied thousands coming to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," he continued. "How good God has been. Now before the man of God closes the book of God, I've chosen a verse. Finally brethren, farewell. Be perfect. Be of good comfort. Be of one mind. Live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you."
He closed by encouraging his listeners to go home and sleep well, resting their souls in the Word of God. "For He that watches Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep," Rogers said. "Good night. God bless you."
"Jesus Is The One We Praise"
Adrian Rogers spoke of many defining moments in his life during his final message as pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church March 6.
He talked about his salvation experience as a boy in Florida and his courtship and marriage to his wife, Joyce. He talked about his call to the ministry and about becoming Bellevue's pastor in 1972.
But mostly — as he usually does, reflecting the passion that has marked his life and ministry — Rogers talked about Jesus and pleaded for any unbelievers to come in faith to Christ.
"I am what I am by the grace of God, and we are as a church what we are by the grace of God," Rogers said. "God has saved me by His grace. God has secured me by His grace. And God has seen us through by His grace."
Rogers pleaded with the lost to place their faith and trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ. He warned them that good works and ritualistic religion aren't enough for salvation, that only the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient.
"Jesus on the cross suffered, bled, and died to take your sin debt and mine with His precious blood," he said. "I promise you on the authority of the Word of God, if you will trust Christ as your personal Savior, He will save you."
Even though he was retiring as senior pastor at Bellevue, Rogers said that was not the end of the line for him or the Memphis-area congregation.
"It is a new day for Bellevue Baptist Church," he said. "I intend to keep my membership here. I'm going to be sitting on the front row shouting and saying 'amen' to our new pastor. God has one for us. I don't know his name, and you don't know his name. I don't think the pulpit committee knows his name. But God knows his name, and in God's time we're going to have a dear man of God to lead us."
In summarizing his ministry, Rogers said he was merely like the donkey that carried Jesus into the city of Jerusalem.
"Jesus is the one we praise," he said. "I am the donkey. God has given to me the privilege of just bearing the name of Jesus."
Tim Ellsworth serves as director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.