By James O. Davis on Mar 6, 2020
James O. Davis shares powerful principles from the life and ministry of the great preacher, Dr. Adrian Rogers.
Great people don’t know that they are great; they just go out and do great things. Dr. Adrian Rogers was the “Golden Throat” of a generation, a modern-day Charles Haddon Spurgeon to preachers worldwide. When we spend time with the right people in the right place, we can become the right person. From knowing Dr. Rogers, I believe he was truly one of the most amazing giants to walk this earth. In the shadow of the fifth anniversary of Dr. Rogers’ homegoing, here are five powerful principles to ponder regarding his life and ministry.
The Preaching Develops the Programs
Dr. Adrian Rogers taught that the programs of the local church flowed out of the preaching from the pulpit. In other words, his preaching became the fountainhead for the ministry programs of the local congregation. The pulpit was the central focus for the church. Praise and worship set the stage for the “word from God” for each week. Today, much is written about “church growth” but little expressed about “pulpit growth.” There are many roles that we can fill as pastors, but our number one assignment is to be ready when we step into the pulpit. Dr. Rogers believed that his number one assignment each week for more than 50 years was to be “ready in season and out of season.” If we fill the pulpit, we can expect Christ to fill the building.
Over the last two decades, I would often purposely fly through Memphis just to go to Bellevue Baptist Church so I could watch and listen to Dr. Rogers preach to his people. I remember once making a distinct effort to sit high in the balcony, so I could feel the impact of this mighty man of God from the furthest possible place from the pulpit. On that particular Sunday morning, he was preaching on the Great White Throne judgment. Dr. Rogers preached with such passion and tears that the entire congregation was moved to make a decision as to where they would spend eternity. Today, it seems that such God-given crescendos are often replaced with man-made chatter. To Dr. Rogers, the preacher’s role developed the local church’s goal and not the reverse. When he walked into the church service, everyone knew who the leader of Bellevue Baptist Church was.
The Process Determines the Progress
Dr. Rogers made this preaching principle more clear to me than anyone else. Three years after his passing, I visited Mrs. Joyce Rogers and her children in the family home in Memphis, Tennessee. During the visit, I was invited into Dr. Rogers’ study. Over the decades, not more than ten people outside of family were ever invited into his study. Dr. Rogers’ study was where he met with God and crafted more than 3,000 sermons from every Bible book.
In his study were three separate desks he used in his process of preparation. One desk was for preparing Sunday mornings. The second desk was for Sunday evenings. The last desk was for Wednesday evenings and various sermon series. Dr. Rogers’ powerful progress was not because he had three separate desks, but because he had personalized a process that directed his progress. I can almost envision some pastors contemplating having multiple desks for their future studying of sermonic messages and still miss the real point. It is not the number of desks that make the difference, but the reality that when a preacher has a process of study, time is redeemed and his sermon quality continues to rise over the years. What made Adrian Rogers the preacher he became over time was that he knew where he was going and had a process to get him there. Whatever looks simple on the outside, the preacher paid a price on the inside.
The Passion Directs the Persuasion
I may have never met another man who loved Jesus as much as Adrian Rogers. When a pastor reads the Adrian Rogers Legacy Collection, they will read thousands of times, “I invite you to come to Jesus!” Jesus was more real to Dr. Rogers than life itself. His passion to serve Christ overflowed into every level of his life, especially in his preaching. When he preached about Jesus, it was not uncommon for him to fight tears from rolling down his cheeks.
In April 2010, Dr. Leonard Sweet and I were co-hosting our annual North American Conference on Biblical Preaching in Houston, Texas. During the conference, we were conversing about Dr. Sweet’s latest book, titled Jesus Manifesto. I asked, “Who will be writing the foreword to your book?”
Dr. Sweet said, “Jesus does not need a foreword!”
Then he went on to say, “It is not the purpose-driven life, but it is the Person-driven life.”
What Dr. Sweet said continues to reverberate in my mind and illustrates Dr. Rogers’ passion for Christ. It was so contagious that it caused his local church to repeatedly fall in love with Jesus. No wonder thousands of people were persuaded to walk the aisle “to come to Jesus” while Dr. Rogers stood on the main floor with open arms. They knew that this pastor really loved Jesus and wanted everyone to know the “Person-driven life” in their hearts!
How much do you love Jesus? Does your love for Christ inspire your audience to respond to your preaching? When one was with Dr. Rogers, it was clear that he had an intimate relationship with the King of the Universe. When one saw how he conducted his life, there was no doubt he was a Christ-follower, both in the private and public arenas of his life.
The Privacy Discerns the Price
Even though Adrian Rogers was a public figure in the Church and an international leader in the world, he was at the same time a private person. It was not until the twilight years of his life that he began to reveal some of the measures and treasures of his life.
Approximately two years before his death, Dr. Rogers began pulling together manageable groups of pastors around him to teach like “Elijah teaching Elisha” for the next generation. During those training sessions, he revealed the treasures that a pastor needs to know about preaching, teaching, money, management, leadership, marriage, and so much more. Dr. Rogers chose to name this dynamic series, “What Every Pastor Ought to Know.” I think he’s named it well.
Yet, Dr. Rogers did not begin to share such insights until he had clearly thought them through and was ready to deliver them. So much of what is often said in ministry today is made up of random thoughts or parroted expressions heard from another preacher, without much serious thought to how these ideas were marinated over a long period of time. We can dress as if we are intelligent, but when we open our mouth, everyone will know! When Dr. Rogers preached to the masses or shared with the few, the people knew they were hearing from a godly man who had truly thought through the subject before sharing it with others.
Adrian Rogers did not show his sermon notes to other people. For decades he wrote his sermons on six-by-nine-inch paper—the perfect size to fit inside his Bible. Often when he finished preaching, Dr. Rogers would fold his notes in half and place them in his suit pocket or back inside his Bible. Yet, no one knew he graded his sermons until he passed away.
On one occasion, when Joyce Rogers, his wife of more than 50 years, was in the study, she saw on the back of the last page of a sermon a numerical grade that had been placed there. For decades, Dr. Rogers graded his sermons between one and ten as to the quality of content and delivery. If he ever preached the same sermon twice, there would be the notation of the date preached and a grade between one and ten. He NEVER gave himself a ten.
Dr. Rogers measured his life on a consistent, weekly basis and privately sought the Lord’s wisdom and discernment in doing so. He did not seek perfection but simply to be the best he could possibly be for his Lord and for his local church. No wonder his preaching ministry will be revered for generations to come!
The Passing Distills the Person
It was a sacred privilege to be with Dr. Rogers on the last day of his preaching ministry. Dr. Rogers had been sharing that he felt he was in “the transfer zone,” passing the ministry baton to the next generation coming on the global scene. For many months, we had been exchanging e-mails, striving to find a date when we could spend the day together videotaping “The Top Three Truths for the Next Generation” and “The Ten Elements of a Healthy Church.” I had sent him more than 15 dates and said in a note, “You select the date that is best for you, and I will come, no matter where I may be in the world.” Dr. Rogers chose November 2, 2005.
When Dr. Rogers and I met at the video studios of Bellevue Baptist Church, I could see that he was not feeling well. For many months, he had been battling cancer. At this time, he had pneumonia, but no one knew it. During these preaching and teaching sessions, there were times that he labored to deliver what was on his heart and soul. Even though he was struggling to finish the teaching videos, he did not complain or murmur that day. I remember encouraging him to wait for another day, but he was urgent to pass on to young preachers what the Lord had taught him.
I would later learn that Joyce had encouraged him that morning at breakfast not to go to the videotaping due to his health, but he expressed that this teaching was something he was compelled to do that day. When Dr. Rogers completed the video teaching, he placed into my hands two DVDs and said, “I hope I did a good job. I did the best I could today.” These were the words of a godly servant who was placing wisdom into the hands of one coming behind him. I felt as though Dr. Rogers were placing a baton into my hand and saying, “Take this! Go and finish the race.” When I left his presence, I went outside and sat in the front seat of my car. I said to the Lord, “If you do not heal him today or touch him physically, this is the finish line.” The next day he was admitted into the hospital and would never return home.
Dr. Rogers knew where he was in time and knew what he had to do to execute his mission in life with excellence. The last message he ever taught, “The Top Three Truths for the Next Generation” was taught in the Great Commission context of Mathew 28:18-20. In his opening comments, Dr. Rogers said that he had chosen this passage because it included some of the final words of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In essence, he was communicating that he wanted some of his last words to reflect the priorities of the last words of Jesus before He ascended into heaven. Even though Dr. Rogers struggled to deliver that holy message on November 2, 2005, he finished his race with mighty momentum and has set the ministry bar high for us today!
As we reflect on the fifth anniversary of the passing of Dr. Adrian Rogers, we can learn and apply these five powerful principles in our ministries. Dr. Rogers taught me that preaching develops the programs, process determines the progress, passion directs the persuasion, privacy discerns the price, and passing distills the person. Let’s run the race that is now set before us and finish the Great Commission!