Thirty-two years is a long time, especially leading God's people. Just ask Moses. A few weeks into his 40-year stint wandering around in the wilderness, he gave those complaining Hebrews a piece of his mind and flung stone tablets at them. Luckily for the members of Bellevue Baptist Church, their leader is of a much calmer temperament. But even he got tired.
Acknowledging that his time at Bellevue had run its course, Adrian Rogers gave up the senior-pastor post last weekend in grand fashion, with a four-service blowout that rivaled New Orleans' Mardi Gras (minus the boobs and beads, of course). A Friday-night celebration was followed by two Sunday-morning services full of accolades for the patriarch. He even got a new Mercury Grand Marquis and trip to Florida.
During the 8:30 a.m. service, speakers, church members, and family members offered words of thanks to Rogers on the theme "Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant." I thought the same could be said for the guy responsible for cleaning the place. With a 369-acre campus and arena-sized sanctuary with numbered theater seats, the building engineer should at least get something for his services. Come on down, Janitor Bob, and get your new Geo Metro!
The tributes were touching, as thousands of us watched photo montages about the life and times of Rogers accompanied by live choral music. My favorite tribute was from Rogers' daughter, who bucked the trend and devoted her entire speech to her mother. "You were always the rock," she said. Pastor Rogers might have been an inspiring leader, but from the glimpses into the couple's early life, Ma Rogers was pretty strong too.
The pulpit was difficult to see from my back-row seat in the cavernous hall, but the three Jumbotron screens behind the choir really helped. The deacons said church revenues had grown from tens of thousands before Rogers' tenure to more than $21 million under his leadership. On this Sunday, I was glad they didn't skimp on the gadgets.
During brief respites from watching the action on the big screen, I scanned the crowd. Grown men were crying like babies. Women were too, and so were teenagers. These churchgoers had really been touched by Rogers' leadership.
I asked the crying lady next to me who she thought would replace Rogers.
"We don't know yet," she said.
Good thing too. The poor son of a gun would have had to walk on water to upstage Rogers.
By the end of the service, I felt like I was a part of the Bellevue family. As we joined hands across the aisles to sing a parting tune, my heart swelled. The only thing left to do was file out listlessly into the foyer. All the way to my car I was glowing, feeling lucky to have been a part of history. And the 20-minute wait to exit the parking lot didn't dim it one bit. Well, maybe just a little.