Published November 9, 2006
According to Baptist Press one of the crown jewels among Southern Baptist churches, Bellevue Baptist Church in the Memphis, Tenn. area, is embroiled in a controversy. For me, it was surprising, even disappointing to see Baptist Press take virtually the same course as the secular press in exposing the internal struggles of a local church. However, without getting into the details of the dispute, there are some who think Pastor Steve Gaines should resign.
I don’t know Steve Gaines, but I appreciate him and respect him for what God has gifted him to do as a pastor and denominational leader. His track record as a pastor is nothing short of phenomenal. He is a superlative pulpiteer. I am sure he is not perfect; and he has surely made some decisions that have incurred the disfavor of a number of the Bellevue faithful. Perhaps he could have been more prudent in implementing some of his ideas and more deliberate in making some of the changes he has made. Nonetheless, the pastor of this great church has come under attack and has become the brunt of a plethora of accusations.
However, there are some things that need to be made clear. There was a consensus among Southern Baptists that whoever succeeded Adrian Rogers at Bellevue would find it extremely difficult to follow in the footsteps of the quintessential pastor who was so universally admired and highly regarded.
In so many cases when a new pastor arrives in a church he either has to live in the shadow of his predecessor or clean up his mess. It was inevitable that Gaines would have to live in the shadow of Adrian Rogers – at least for a while.
I once had the privilege of having lunch with W. A. Criswell; and I asked him what his greatest challenge was as pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. At the time I asked the question to the venerable Dallas pastor he had been at First Baptist for 42 years. I will never forget his answer. He said, “Well, now lad, you know George Truett was the pastor of this church for 47 years. Some of the people still revere Dr. Truett with an unwavering allegiance; and some still regard me as an intruder. Therefore my greatest challenge has been to live in the shadow of my highly esteemed predecessor.”
Adrian Rogers did all he could to make Gaines’ transition as smooth as possible. On Sept. 11, 2005 just before he preached his first sermon as pastor of Bellevue, Rogers used a basin of water and a towel to wash Gaines’ feet as he sat in the pastor’s chair on the platform of the church. Rogers then placed a cloth mantle on Gaines to symbolize the passing of the torch.
Gaines may be culpable in regards to some of the accusations being leveled against him, but church folks need to be reminded that it is a dangerous thing to do violence to a pastor or any man of God. In the last issue of The Christian Index it was reported that more than 1,300 Southern Baptist church staff members were terminated in 2005. Certainly, many of those terminations may have been justified, but the Bible does proclaim: “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm” (II Chronicles 16:22 and Psalm 105:15).
The Bible also states, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17).
Pastors are ultimately accountable to God and at the judgment seat of Christ they will either receive a great reward or suffer great loss. You can help your pastor receive a “crown of glory” (I Peter 5:4) by praying for him and seeking to follow his leadership.
J. Wilbur Chapman was known as a great pastor and evangelist, but when he was called to the Bethany Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in January of 1890 a layman came to him and said, “You are not a very strong preacher, but a few of us have decided to gather and pray every Sunday morning for you.”
That prayer meeting grew to over 1,000 participants before it was over. He conducted his own revival soon after assuming the pastorate and some 400 new members were brought into the church, the majority of them making professions of faith. The Sunday School attendance reached 12,000 and Bethany became the largest Presbyterian church in North America.
Pray for Steve Gaines. Pray for Bellevue. And unless your pastor is perfect, pray for him. He could be the next J. Wilbur Chapman.
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