NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–There is no better expert on the late Adrian Rogers than his wife and lifelong sweetheart, Joyce, who through grade school, high school, college and 54 years of marriage experienced the highs and lows of life alongside him and was the sounding board for his deepest thoughts.
She has recorded her unique perspective in “Love Worth Finding: The Life of Adrian Rogers and His Philosophy of Preaching,” a biography released by Broadman & Holman Publishers prior to Rogers’ death Nov. 15 after a battle with cancer and pneumonia.
Joyce Rogers lovingly recounts her husband’s beginning in the ranks of the ordinary, where in junior high school he was known as “unruly and belligerent.”
“He had an overdose of courage and the ability to fight with his fists,” she wrote. “He had gained a reputation of being one of the toughest kids in school. He would challenge others to a fight just for an expression of what must have been an inner turmoil.”
The third child of working-class parents, Rogers yielded his life to Jesus at age 14 after some neighbors invited his family to a crusade at a local Baptist church in his hometown of Palm Beach, Fla. Rogers followed his father down the aisle and made a profession of faith, and his life was immediately changed.
“Adrian often has said that if it were not for Jesus and His transforming grace that he would not be a nice person to live with and may have even ended up in prison,” Joyce wrote.
Rogers was captain of his high school’s championship football team and received several honors including a scholarship to play at Stetson University in Florida. Yet during those years, he sensed God was calling him to preach.
“When I was younger attending Sunday School, I was asked by the teacher to lead in prayer,” he said in the book. “I felt so inadequate that I declined to do so. This embarrassed my teacher and me. I was not afraid of much that moved on the football field, but the thought of public speaking or praying was another matter. I did not think of myself as having any verbal gifts at all.”
Joyce was standing by Rogers’ side the night he stepped forward during a retreat at Ridgecrest, the LifeWay conference center in North Carolina, to publicly declare that God had called him to preach the Gospel.
“He recalls I squeezed his hand as we walked out of the meeting that night indicating that I was pleased with his decision,” she wrote.
After Rogers dropped love notes on her desk in sixth grade and courted her through high school, Joyce and Adrian were married in 1951 following their freshman year of college. In the book, Joyce recounts his first pastorate, at First Baptist Church of Fellsmere, Fla., which he took at just 19 years of age.
“The Fellsmere church was rustic, to say the least,” she wrote. “The building had an unpainted concrete floor, unpainted cement block walls, and no ceiling. Rafters cut from rough lumber were overhead. The building was lighted with bare bulbs dangling by their cords from the ceiling. The pews were not pews at all, but two two-by-eight boards connected by an iron bracket — one to sit on and one to lean back on. There was no running water, no baptistery, and no water fountain. Those who needed a restroom walked across the street to a neighbor’s house.”
But Rogers pressed on, and at each church he pastored there was record growth because of his insistence on preaching the Word of God and lifting up Jesus.
After years of being faithful at smaller churches, he was pursued by the pastor search committee of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. Having grown to love the people he was serving at First Baptist Church in Merritt Island, Fla., Rogers told the committee, “I’m honored that you would be interested, but I’ve absolutely no inclination to leave my present pastorate.”
The committee persisted, and what some would call a divinely appointed misunderstanding led to Rogers succeeding Ramsey Pollard as pastor of Bellevue in 1972. The mix-up involved Rogers thinking he was simply filling the pulpit one Sunday at Bellevue while the search committee thought he was preaching in view of a call. They had him leave the auditorium, and the congregation unanimously voted him in as pastor, to his surprise. From then until his retirement in 2005, Rogers grew the membership from 9,000 to more than 29,000 and led in a major relocation and building project, which Joyce covers in the biography.
Perhaps one of Rogers’ most important moments came in 1979, at the outset of what now is called the Conservative Resurgence, when key conservative leaders urged him to be a candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention to help take back the reins of the SBC from their liberal counterparts. Again, Rogers was uninterested, believing his obligations at Bellevue needed his utmost attention.
As Joyce recounted it, Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines met Rogers at his hotel door in Houston the night before the election and asked to join him in his room for prayer. Previously in the book, she had mentioned a decision-making method she and her husband had developed in which each would ask the other, “Where are you on a scale of one to ten?”
“By now it was approaching midnight on Monday night and the election was to be on Tuesday afternoon,” Joyce wrote. “I joined in as the three men kneeled on the floor and fervently prayed. After an extended time of prayer, Dr. Patterson began to weep. Adrian looked up at me propped up in bed, and there was a defining moment. I held up ten fingers. With that Adrian said, ‘I will do it.’”
The next day, Rogers remarkably was elected on the first ballot and became president of the largest evangelical body in the world. Apart from the seriousness, Joyce remembered the hilarity of it all, particularly as they arrived at the airport in Memphis to be greeted by a lobby filled with cheering Bellevue members.
“Adrian, our two daughters, and I made our way to the curb where a limousine was waiting to take us home. Then we realized there was a police escort to lead us through the city. This was exciting but made us feel a little self-conscious,” she wrote.
“It was almost bewildering to us, but it was not without humor. When we arrived at home and the entourage pulled away, we sat with Gayle and Janice in the empty house and looked at one another. The whirlwind of activity had suddenly ceased. The four of us had a big laugh.”
Rogers’ first presidency marked the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence within the SBC, and he would be elected convention president twice more to become the only man in recent SBC history to serve three terms. Through it all, Joyce was by his side, in meetings with United States presidents, in various ministry situations and on trips throughout the world, which she describes in the book.
“I was always proud to be married to this courageous man,” she wrote.
“Love Worth Finding: The Life of Adrian Rogers and His Philosophy of Preaching” is available at LifeWay Christian Stores or other Christian bookstores and online at www.lifewaystores.com. Broadman & Holman Publishers is the trade books division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.