A nationwide Christian talk-radio network targeted listeners in Memphis, Tenn., last week with a discussion of pastoral leadership, amid controversy surrounding Pastor Steve Gaines at the community’s prominent Bellevue Baptist Church.
While listeners in 27 markets of Bott Radio Network covering 30 million people heard a different program, Dick Bott’s Thursday broadcast of “The Complete Story” on AM 640 in Memphis featured an interview with Michael Spradlin, president of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis.
Spradlin, a member of Bellevue Baptist Church, earlier was quoted by a newspaper as saying that Gaines, pastor of the 30,000-member mega-church since September 2005, was losing credibility and should resign.
The program did not mention Gaines by name, but Bott, president and CEO of the network he started in 1962, asked Spradlin about humility, large salaries for pastors and whether success in ministry can be measured by numbers. All those issues are discussed at length at a Web site critical of Gaines’ leadership, which also includes a link to the audio interview between Bott and Spradlin.
Spradlin said the pastor “must be a model, a visual example to the flock, as well as someone who is in a certain office.”
“There are more [biblical] standards for leaders than there are for members in the body, so I personally believe ministry leaders should be held to a higher standard,” Spradlin said. “It’s not what we can get away with. It’s not what we can do the most and not be held accountable with…. It doesn’t mean we are perfect, but it means we are serving the Lord fully and daily.”
Bott said church leadership is “quite different” than leadership in business, politics or the military, where humility is not as high a value as economic gain.
“I like that old expression of somebody surrendering to the ministry,” Spradlin agreed. “When God places a call to ministry leadership on your life, it is a giving up of personal dreams, personal ambition, personal development and a recognition that in the corporate business sense you will never be in their income bracket or in the upper levels of society, but you are willing to give it all up to preach the gospel. If there is anything in you that is seeking money or prestige or power, that doesn’t honor Jesus.”
SavingBellevue.com has reported that Gaines’ salary at Bellevue is $500,000 a year. Church leaders say it isn’t that high but won’t say how much it is.
Bott said he decided to interview Spradlin on what Mid-America Seminary teaches about pastoral leadership because the late longtime pastor at Bellevue, Adrian Rogers, was “one of my heroes” and also a strong supporter of the seminary, which is located across the street from the Cordova, Tenn., mega-church on 51 acres of land donated by Bellevue.
In an apparent allusion to the most recent controversy at Bellevue, Gaines’ decision to honor for six months confidentiality about a longtime minister’s moral failure 17 years ago that allegedly involved sexual abuse of a minor in his own family, Bott shared a story from early in Rogers’ ministry at Bellevue.
Not long after coming to Bellevue 30 years ago, Bott said, Rogers extended an invitation at the close of a sermon. An African-American individual came forward as a candidate for baptism and church membership. Rogers asked the customary question if there was any objection, and a member raised a hand to say that black people had “their own church.”
Rogers, Bott said, went to call for a vote on whether to accept the member, adding, “If that’s the way it’s to be, you’ve just lost yourself a pastor.”
“He could have overlooked” the objection, Bott said. “He could have ducked the moment and said, ‘We’ll cover this up. We’ll not get into this right now. It’s untimely.’ But he had to do what was right under the Lord. He didn’t need to have to run back in the office and check the policy manual or whatever. That’s where a leader proves himself.”
Spradlin entered the Bellevue controversy before Christmas, when the Memphis Commercial-Appeal quoted him as saying if Gaines knew a minister had committed sexual abuse and did nothing for six months, he should resign.
Later the seminary’s Web site carried a statement clarifying that Spradlin was answering a general question about whether a minister harboring a child abuser should resign and he didn’t have enough information to know if the situation applied specifically to Gaines.
Spradlin said response to his quoted comments was “overwhelmingly positive” but there was some criticism as well.
One of responses was from Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson, Spradlin said, who emphasized, “When prominent leaders have no accountability and make these kinds of decisions, other prominent leaders must stand up and hold them accountable.”
Spradlin said a vice president at the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention also thanked him for his stand against child sexual abuse. “I deal with this matter far too often, and feel that we must take very strong stands against such abuse, and the cover-ups that far too often accompany it,” Spradlin said his friend at the IMB told him.
Spradlin said in the statement he had no desire for such distractions around Christmas, but challenged readers to ponder the question that was asked to him: “If a minister knows of child molesting and does nothing about it what should happen?”
“Biblically,” he said, “I can see no other response than the one I gave.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.