During the Flyer's last visit to Bellevue, the congregation of more than 29,000 members was bidding farewell to its beloved pastor Adrian Rogers. Four months after his retirement we returned, along with a congregation antsy to find out the identity of the church's new pastor. By now everyone knows that Dr. Steve Gaines of the First Baptist Church of Gardendale (Alabama) got the nod, but prior to Sunday services, it was all a mystery.
With the pastoral announcement scheduled for the 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. services, many church members arrived early for the first service. Surprisingly, chatter in the balcony included everything but information on the new pastor. After eavesdropping on about 10 conversations, we heard about a youth trip to California, relatives of the shark-bitten youth in Destin, duck hunting in Mississippi, and that many a Bellevue beauty wears the same makeup as Jennifer Aniston, but we were still in the dark about the choice of pastor. By the opening orchestral chords of the call to worship, we were ready for a resolution, maybe even a revolution.
About 15 minutes into the service, the pastoral search committee revealed their recommendation. Gaines emerged stage right with his family. He introduced his wife, Donna, his son, three daughters, and daughter-in-law, who each beamed smiles at the congregation. No deer-in-headlights looks from these young people; like young Kennedys, they had been groomed for this. Pretty heavy stuff considering their future lay in the hands of a sanctuary full of strangers.
In the congregation, we got a chance to mull things over a bit, talk amongst ourselves, and consider recommending our own candidates while the choir sang. Soon the stage switched into concert mode as a soloist delivered a hymn under mood lighting.
By song's end, we were ready to hear from Gaines. His message on the "Marks of a Healthy Church" was moving and even included a fill-in-the-blank worksheet to keep Saturday night partyers awake during the sermon and on track. The left balcony section noticed that Gaines' sermon was a little less "God is love" and a little more fire and brimstone. More importantly, he was good: He told a few jokes that were entertaining but chaste; the message was straightforward; and his remarks were concise.
With all the "amen"s uttered during the sermon, it was clear that Gaines was a keeper, so it seemed superfluous when every single member of the search committee told us their reason for recommending him. Needless to say, the vote was a bit of a formality and may have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, as those voting in favor of keeping Gaines were told to stand.
"The search committee did a good job," our elderly seatmates said, wiping tears from their eyes. "They sure did," we answered, all the time knowing that somewhere in America, Jesse Jackson mourns another lost opportunity. n