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FIRST-PERSON: A hero to many

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–Are there any heroes left? In a culture of cynicism and small dreams hobbled by fear, have we left any room for heroes?

When an Internet educational effort to instill hope in children and adults by listing heroes went online a few years ago, millions of people went to that website to list and pay tribute to their heroes and heroines. Our culture still wants heroes. We need giants around us to inspire us and to remind us that the way may be hard, but it can be navigated.

For thousands of people, Dr. Adrian Rogers is a hero. On. Nov. 15, Dr. Rogers went home to heaven to sit at the feet of Jesus and to join his place among the throngs of the “great cloud of witnesses.”

Dr. Rogers was the pastor of the 29,000-member Bellevue Baptist Church until his retirement in March, 2005, but was also the pastor of the hearts of thousands of other pastors around the world. His warmth was so genuine that it was impossible not to benefit from it in his presence and to sense it in his preaching. He held numerous positions of responsibility, including having been elected three times to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. His influence within the denomination extends much further, however, than just the elected roles he so masterfully filled.

In many respects he was the best spokesman for the movement that returned the Southern Baptist Convention to its historic confidence in the inerrancy of the Word of God. Many others were, and continue to be, a part of that conservative resurgence, but none was, or is, a more desirable public advocate for the positions held by the millions of conservatives who make up the denomination.

Dr. Rogers was gentle without being weak, loving without giving an inch in compromise, able in leadership and robust in person. It is hard to imagine the conservative resurgence without his courageous leadership. He was a people person through and through –- warm, humorous, cheerful, gracious, and yet he was made of steel. His words were the declarations of a prophet willing to die for the cause. His preaching was anointed by God in a way like few men in history have ever enjoyed.

Every conservative preacher has quoted him in their own sermons. Occasionally his sermons were co-opted in total. It was said of the 19th century preacher Alexander Maclaren that it would be unwise to read his sermon before preparing your own, because if you read his first, you would either have to use his sermon or pick another text. Dr. Rogers was like that –- a prince of preachers. His influence over a generation of younger expositors is heard in the vocal inflections of those who have emulated his artistic mastery of the human voice. His influence is heard like an echo in the style of sermons, prepared with an ear for how a sermon outline sounds to the hearer, not just how it reads in the preacher’s study.

Mostly, however, his influence is best appreciated not in the sometimes clumsy attempts to imitate his unique style, but rather in the convictions that he impressed so many pastors to adopt and incarnate in their own ministries. For these reasons, the shadow of Adrian Rogers will fall over the people of God for generations to come. As a result of the recorded messages of a lifetime of peerless preaching by Dr. Rogers, in conferences and at Bellevue, his legacy is sure to last and to bless the body of Christ until Jesus comes for the church.

I first met Dr. Rogers while I was a college student training for the ministry in the 1970s. A group of ministerial students and I had driven to Louisville, Ky., to hear Dr. Rogers in a Bible conference.

I still remember his message about David’s repentance from Psalm 51, and his comment, “David was not only a big sinner, David was a great repenter!” As I got more involved in ministry over the years, I had the occasion to be around Dr. Rogers in groups that tended to get smaller and more personal. As a pastor, I would call him and get advice or corner him for a minute at a gathering to seek his counsel.

He always gave me great advice. Today, many of the ministerial traits I practice reflect his personal instruction. He knew how to point out a characteristic or offer a suggestion for improvement without it hurting a bit! I once went to him about a specific area of ministry where I needed practical guidance. My simple appeal was, “How can I do this better?” Dr. Rogers gave me more than a “canned” answer. First he said, “Kie, you have this natural characteristic….” He then went on to describe a particular characteristic of mine that was “dead on.” He guided me through a specific plan of action, which increased my effectiveness without forcing an artificial personality change. His advice that day wasn’t painful; it was personal and profitable, and I have followed the advice ever since.

While writing these words and remembering the private advice he gave me about ministry on so many occasions over the years, I regret that I did not take more advantage of the opportunities that he made so readily available to spend personal time in Memphis learning more. At the same time, I do not wish to leave the impression that my relationship with Dr. Rogers was unique -– hundreds of others across the country can rise up and tell the same kind of stories.

Many, in fact, are writing tributes and are being quoted in the media and they are all strikingly similar. He was a Redwood among sage brush. He was a giant even among giants. Dr. Rogers clearly loved preachers and his wisdom and counsel have been available to scores of us who went to him. He was a preacher, but in his books, sermons and in person, he was a teacher and mentor to preachers and pastors, too.

Adrian Rogers was a hero. He was a hero to the thousands who called him “pastor” and a hero to thousands of preachers who found a mentor and a model for their own ministries. And he was a hero to me. I join thousands who will miss him.

There will be those times when our preachers, our denomination and even our nation will need him, but he has gone to be with Jesus. Like all great men, however, when we need him, and those days will come soon enough, he will still help us because he has left his sermons, his books and his legacy to remind us of the path. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that when we need his heroic prophetic vision, courage and voice, we will see him and feel him and hear him in the lives in which he invested.

Adrian Rogers was one of a kind. We are not likely to see anyone quite like him again soon. He was a preacher, a statesman, a warrior, a mentor, a giant, a leader, a true friend, but most of all Adrian Rogers was a hero. May God bless us all for having known him. We know what God has already said to Dr. Rogers early one Tuesday morning, but we want to add our echo, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Amen.
J. Kie Bowman serves as senior pastor Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.

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  • J. Kie Bowman