Our Iron Lady…

This evening I listened to Joyce Rogers defend the integrity of her husband during a brief interview on the Mike Fleming show. With calm resolve in her voice, the lifelong sweetheart of the late pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church said precisely what she needed to, and nothing more. She explained how challenges to the legacy of her husband brought her from silent grief to express sorrow for friends and strength for the many Southern Baptists who are watching the strife in Memphis from a distance. When asked about the year-long struggle at the church, she politely declined to comment.

It’s painful to watch what is happening to Joyce Rogers. The church where her husband bled and cried and died is suffering from a crisis of leadership. The husband and pastor whose testimony is blamelessly above reproach is being questioned for reasons no person of sound judgment can comprehend. The flood of allegations and confessions and denials have pulled Adrian Rogers’ widow from quiet service to preserve with courage the legacy of a man whose commanding voice was prematurely silenced by cancer’s cold grip.

I remember seeing Joyce Rogers at conventions over the past eleven years. She was forever by his side, poised and patient with the endless line of men and women whose lives were transformed by the gospel Adrian Rogers preached. I remember sitting in convention halls watching Adrian walk to his seat, Joyce ever by his side, his hand holding hers. He always treated his wife with such delicate grace. At times she seemed frail standing next to him, bold and broad as he was.

I remember the times she sang before he preached, and I remember watching him walk to the pulpit and wipe a tear from his cheek. I remember hearing the same jokes he always told about not kissing his wife before they were married, or about her popsicle leaking down his back when they embraced in gradeschool. I remember the time he told us about inverting his body in the bed one night, putting his feet on the pillow and his head under the covers. I remember the twinkle in his eye when he told us about Joyce leaning over and kissing his big toe, and about the laughter they shared over those moments when he would flirt with her like they were newly married.

I remember Adrian telling the story of Joyce crying out to him from the other room when their infant son Philip turned blue from SIDS and died on a Mother’s Day past. I remember him telling us about their times of shared ministry, and about searching for lost RV hubcaps on family vacations to Florida. I remember the story about Joyce scolding their son David for lowering his car window against his father’s command, only to find out that Adrian had lowered it with the driver controls to get a laugh and break up a tense moment.

For many years we’ve heard about Joyce Rogers from the testimony of the one who loved her more than life itself. We watched as she walked through cancer with him. We cried as she said her goodbyes in a nationally televised funeral.

More than five decades ago she made a commitment to God that she would love, honor, and cherish her husband until death would part them. Last year, they were separated by his death. Today she continues to honor him by reminding us of his love for the Lord, his commitment to truth, and his compassion for people. Joyce Rogers is a woman who keeps her vows, a fact Adrian knew more than any other.

Two years ago she had no idea that illness would claim his body so soon. One year ago she could not have anticipated that foolishness would threaten his legacy so tragically.

As I listened to Joyce Rogers on the radio today, I was drawn away from a remote interest in the threatening strife and disintegration of a congregation so built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Instead, I was compelled to pray for her. I prayed for the Lord to grant her wisdom to speak and remain silent. I prayed for her to rest in the assurance that no accusation against her husband would rob him of the commendation he surely received when he saw the face of his Savior. And I prayed for the Lord to strengthen her for the very high calling which is hers during these difficult days.

When Joyce Rogers stood before the convention in Greensboro and told us that her husband would never have supported the narrowing trends that have choked out gospel unity, the whole place rose in thunders of applause. Soon after that night, and the next days that saw Frank Page elected on a platform of stopping the narrowing trends, Wade Burleson made an observation to me that I haven’t considered much until this week.

Wade said, “Don’t you think it would be remarkable if this convention elected Joyce Rogers to serve as First Vice President.”

Joyce Rogers doesn’t need a place of service. She has already made her ministry by serving her husband and raising their children and laboring alongside the greatest preacher of our generation to build a great church that exalts an even greater Lord. The years that she had hoped would be spent in retirement by her husband’s side have now been eclipsed by his untimely death and the seemingly endless reports of strife that we are all reading about Bellevue.

Steve Gaines is having his gold refined, and nobody that I know envies him. He’s facing calls for his resignation, rumors at every turn, and he’s standing in the crosshairs of ministry transition. He’s made some mistakes, which he readily admits, and now he is facing a criminal investigation for nondisclosure of abuse involving minors. The Memphis news reports that he could be fined, and even imprisoned. Steve had the poor fortune of filling some pretty big shoes, if not the biggest, and he’s fighting to face challenges he never expected from sources he never thought possible.

Following Adrian Rogers can’t be easy, but if Gaines has a chance of surviving he would do himself a favor by learning from a woman who followed him all her life.

3 thoughts on “Our Iron Lady…

  1. I feel genuinely sorry for Steve Gaines. Perhaps his pastoral experience gave him a hint of what he might have been in for at Bellevue, but I’m sure he’s been blindsided by some surprises. For all intents and purposes, Bellevue is still “Dr. Rogers’ church,” and will be for some time. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who could have filled those shoes to the satisfaction of the majority of the congregation, and some of the things that have happened to Steve Gaines, some of his own doing, some beyond his control, have apparently made his job much more difficult.

    On the other hand, when I was in seminary, a professor I respected deeply told us that the mark of a successful pastorate was a church that made a smooth, seamless transition to their next pastor. His reasoning for that was that if a pastor focused the church on its purpose and vision, instead of his own preaching, ministry style, or worship style, there would be less reason for trouble during the inevitable, coming change. In a megachurch like Bellevue, I’m not sure to what extent a pastor would have control over that. From my own observations, megachurches in transition from one pastor to another are prone to the same kind of dissent, and loss of membership, that Bellevue is now experiencing. I’m sure that wasn’t Dr. Rogers’ intent, but I’m not sure anyone at this point knows how to avoid it. FBC Houston made a successful transition by waiting five years to call a pastor after Dr. Bisagno retired. That may be the key.

    I pray that both Bellevue and Dr. Gaines feel God’s presence and his care for them, and that they resolve their difficulties soon.

  2. Bro. Ben

    A remarkable post for a remarkable man and his wife. I appreciate your delicate care of the situation and God honoring thoughts. God Bless, Merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year. I am looking forward to the Conference in April and seeing you again.

    Bro. Robin

  3. For the past 8 years I have listened to, admired and supported Adrian Rogers and Bellevue Baptist church from a long distance, Kirkland, Washington state. Recently I heard former pastor, Dr Pollard was mistreated by this church and now Dr Gaines is threatened. I don,t know much about those two men but I have read every book by Dr Rogers and his wife plus heard every sermon on radio, television and internet. To read that Mrs Rogers is now defending her husband’s integrity is nonsense. Scripture warns not to harm Gods annointed. Now get this down big, plain and straight, Adrian Rogers was annointed by God to preach.

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