Moon Port Pastor

Pastor Adrian Rogers, 1967

The Adrian Rogers You May Not Know

As a friend of Love Worth Finding, you’re probably familiar with Pastor Adrian Rogers’ success at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Bellevue grew under his leadership from 9,000 members in 1972 to more than 29,000 at his retirement in 2005. During his years at Bellevue, he served three terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, preached God’s truth overseas in Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, Russia, Romania, and in Central and South America, consulted with U.S. presidents, was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and founded Love Worth Finding, which now reaches around the globe through digital, broadcast, and print media.

What you may be surprised to learn is that God was preparing Pastor Rogers for denominational leadership and worldwide evangelism during his early years as a pastor in Merritt Island, Florida.

LWF is pleased to introduce a new biography of those early years from pastor and historian Dr. Phil Kramer. Titled “Moon Port Pastor,” the book chronicles Pastor Rogers’ explosive presence in Merritt Island from 1964-1972 alongside the trajectory of the Apollo space program. The NASA project was conducted from 1961-1972 and landed the first humans on the Moon July 20, 1969.

Author Phil Kramer, pastor, Crossgate Church, Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his family

“I was initially going to call the biography ‘Beyond the Stars’, which was the church’s motto in those years,” Dr. Kramer said during a recent interview with LWF’s CEO and President, Cary Vaughan. “But as I researched, I found out that (Pastor Rogers) was always described as the Moon Port Pastor (during the Merritt Island years). That was a pretty big deal. The eyes of the nation were focused on Moon Port USA.”

According to National Geographic, NASA selected Merritt Island as its “Moon Port” for two reasons: 1) Its East Coast position on the Florida peninsula allowed spacecraft to be launched over open water rather than overpopulated areas, and 2) Its proximity to the Equator made the Earth's spin slightly stronger there, giving an extra boost to spacecraft as they lifted into orbit.

Whatever the scientific reasons for NASA’s choice of Merritt Island, Pastor Rogers’ choice was God’s calling. The convergence was no accident.

The young pastor, who always said science was his favorite subject in school, was determined to introduce the Creator of the Universe to all those within reach at Merritt Island—many of whom were there specifically because of the space industry. He referred to his new church as a “Space-Age church with a Space-Age mission,” and established the church motto as, “Pointing men beyond the stars.” When Pastor Rogers’ began his ministry at First Baptist Church Merritt Island, membership was 300; when he left eight years later, the membership was 2,000.

“Some people say those years (at Merritt Island) were the forgotten years,” Dr. Kramer said of Adrian Rogers’ history. “But you really can’t understand Adrian Rogers after 1972 if you don’t see who he was before 1972.”

Dr. Kramer describes the biography as a “labor of love” that originated when he read Joyce Rogers’ biography, “Love Worth Finding,” and saw a photograph of a 2,000-person “living cross” out on the street in front of First Baptist Church Merritt Island. “I thought, this is a story we have to tell.”

His research included interviews with several members of the Rogers family, with those who worked closely with Pastor Rogers in ministry, with Pastor Rogers’ lifelong friends, and with longtime members of First Baptist Church Merritt Island. He also combed through newspaper archives and family scrapbooks and listened extensively to audio tapes of sermons from the Merritt Island Years.

“As a writer, I wanted to locate the gap (in the historical account) and drive a truck in there. I also wanted to see how Adrian Rogers was wired. What I discovered was that, when he came to Merritt Island, he was probably about 80% of the way there in terms of who he would be as a preacher.” But while Merrit Island may not have made him as a preacher, his years there were pivotal for him in another way. “I think Merritt Island made him the leader he would become,” Dr. Kramer said.

According to Dr. Kramer, Adrian Rogers’ platform as the “Moon Port Pastor” gave him a launchpad not only for leadership in his denomination but also for sharing the Gospel message with an ever-widening audience. These were the years, he said, in which Pastor Rogers became involved in state Baptist conventions and denominational leadership.

While working on the book, Dr. Kramer said he was most surprised about “the pervasive nature of his teaching on the Spirit-filled life, and ministering out of the fullness of the Spirit rather than in our own strength. …This had a major impact on me as a pastor.”

Dr. Kramer said he was also impressed with Pastor Rogers’ “Kingdom-minded emphasis.”

“He realized where God was at work in the larger culture and joined Him there. When you consider his emphasis during the space program, he was doing that long before the term ‘Kingdom minded’ became cool.”

Author's Book Signing at SBC24

If you will be traveling to the Southern Baptist Convention, be sure to bring your copy of “Moon Port Pastor.” Dr. Kramer will be autographing books at the Love Worth Finding booth (2138). The book is now available in the LWF online store. 

Signings are Sunday: 4-6 pm; Monday: 8-9 am, 12-2 pm, 5-6 pm; Tuesday: 11:30 am-1:30 pm.