The Sagemont Story - Part 1

by Emily Ryan on May 01, 2013

The Sagemont Story - Part 1

based on the sermon series by Dr. John Morgan

Sagemont Church is an unusual church with an unusual history. When people consider joining the church, Pastor John Morgan recommends that they not join until they know what they’re getting into, but not walk away unless they know what they’re walking away from. 

God’s divine hand has been on the church from the beginning, and the stories, people, miracles, challenges and celebrations over the years have collectively become known as The Sagemont Story. It’s a story worth learning, a story worth sharing, and a story with new chapters every year.

In the Old Testament, after God delivers the Israelites out of Egypt, He constantly urges them to remember the miracles of their past so that they will trust Him more in the future. “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV). 

Because there is great value in actively remembering God’s blessings and provisions, over the next few months, we will share a portion of The Sagemont Story in each issue of Sagemont Life. By sharing The Sagemont Story, we hope that God would be glorified and recognized for the blessings He’s bestowed, that members, both old and young, would see how God has blessed each generation, that new members would be encouraged by our history, that believers would have hope in our divine inheritance, and that other churches would be encouraged and motivated by our example.

The Sagemont Story began over 100 years ago when a group of concerned citizens in Deepwater, Texas, decided to establish a small community church called First Baptist Church of Pasadena. This Southern Baptist church was mission-minded from the very beginning, seeking to share the Gospel with as many people as possible. 

In 1939, they called L.D. Morgan to be their pastor and to continue their mission. During that time, he was given a vision in a dream that the purpose of his ministry would not only be to pastor the church, but that some day a Bible-believing missionary church would be in every part of the city of Pasadena. 

Many churches were established as a result of this vision including Richey Street Baptist Church, South Avenue Baptist Church, South Main Baptist Church, and Second Baptist Church of Pasadena. Whenever membership grew to approximately 1,000 in attendance, they’d start another church. And in the mid-1960’s, the time came to do it yet again. 

Originally, the church purchased land on Red Bluff Road, but the area quickly proved to be growing more commercial than residential, so that land was sold. About that time, the Ayrshire Corporation called the church and let them know that they were getting ready to build a new subdivision called Sagemont in a growing part of Houston. In an effort to establish a strong community, they had designated two sites for churches and areas for schools as well.

They offered First Baptist Pasadena one of those tracts of land in order to establish another new church. So the church used the money they had from the sale of the land on Red Bluff Road to purchase 5.46 acres for approximately $48,000. 

After the purchase of the land, they decided to build a 10,000 square-foot building  for $128,000. That money was borrowed from the loan department of the Baptist General Convention of Texas at 6% interest for 15 years. 

With plans for the building underway, the next step was to find a pastor for the new church.  At this time, John Morgan, L.D. Morgan’s son, was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He and his wife, Beth, had been asked to consider pastoring another church, but had not yet felt the Lord’s peace about the offer to accept it.

One Saturday night, John received a call from Gene Alexander, a well-respected man in Pasadena and the chairman of the missions committee at First Baptist Pasadena. He told John about the new church they had planned, and asked if he would fly to Houston to learn about the church and consider becoming its first pastor.

The Sagemont neighborhood was strategically located close to the growing NASA community and had about two hundred houses at that time. To get a feel of the area, Gene showed John the model homes in the neighborhood which ranged from $13,500 to $19,200. 

Then Gene drove to the undeveloped tract of land in the middle of a rice field where Sagemont Baptist Chapel would be located and gave John a postcard with the names of fourteen people who had agreed to be a part of the new church. 

John and Beth prayed about the new offer and felt the peace they had been seeking from the Lord. They gave permission to the search committee to move forward, and an official vote was made in February of 1966 to call John Morgan to be the first pastor of Sagemont.

For months John divided his time between finishing seminary in Fort Worth and spreading the word of the new church in Sagemont. He went door to door with brochures inviting people to be a part of the new church and found 51 people who said they’d like to be a part. They met in homes to plan and organize, and worshipped at First Baptist Pasadena on Sundays while they waited for their building to be completed.

In October, the building was ready. The night before their first service, many stayed until the wee hours of the morning installing pews that had been delivered late. At about 6:30 in the morning, just three hours before their very first service was to begin, someone used the restroom and the toilet overflowed into the chapel. 

Everyone went home to grab mops and towels to clean up the mess and a plumber came to discover that a test plug had been left in the sewer line. 

But despite the mess and the dangerously large hole that was dug in the front of the church to fix the plumbing, 151 people attended the first Sunday and 40 people joined the church. More importantly, however, was that a young boy named Kevin Morrison accepted Christ, showing that even from the beginning, Sagemont was fulfilling its purpose to spread the Gospel.

The church soon adopted a budget of $33,000 per year. (Compared to today’s budget, that would be enough to operate the church for only one day.) Of the $2,765 needed per month, $1,350 went towards interest. 

Nevertheless, the church continued to grow, and by 1968, needed more space. Because they had not been established for very long, they couldn’t find a bank that would loan them the money for a new building, so they sold $160,000 worth of bonds at 6.25% to build a building for the children.

By 1971, the church’s debt was almost $400,000 and they again faced the need for more space. In an effort to have a place for worship as well as events and recreation, they decided to build a 200 x 100-foot “gymnatorium” for $35,000. 

Over 900 people were in attendance during their first Sunday in the gymnatorium, and for the next three years, Sagemont was the fastest-growing church in Texas. 

In 1975, Brother John led the church to read the entire Bible through when he received his own message from the Lord, similar to the one his father received years before. Only this message didn’t come in the form of a dream, it came straight from the pages of God’s Word when John stumbled upon a passage that he had never quite noticed before:

“For the Lord thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee” (Deuteronomy 15:6 KJV).

The words jumped from the page and into his heart. “Thou shalt not borrow.” It was such a simple message, but completely contradictory to everything that he had been taught in seminary and from his mentors. Everyone taught that the best way to keep a church growing strong was to borrow a lot of money and have several men cosign on the loan. 

But the more he looked into it, the more he began to see that not once in the Bible did God’s people ever borrow money for God’s work. Instead, any time money was needed for the tabernacle, the temple, or to rebuild the walls, it was done when a willing-hearted people gave a willing offering as God blessed them. 

Brother John was disturbed that not only did Sagemont owe $600,000 at the time, but that he was on the brink of leading the church even deeper into debt by suggesting they finance the construction of another new facility. As moderator of Houston’s Union Baptist Association, Brother John also realized that in 1975, Houston-area churches collectively spent $4.4 million in interest compared to $3.4 million given to missions.

The bottom line was that churches across the board were giving more money to the secular world than to further God’s kingdom, and Brother John knew that that needed to change. But before he could initiate change on a large scale, he knew he needed to start by leading his own church to make two drastic changes. First, they needed to pay off their current debts as soon as possible. Secondly, they needed to adopt a cash-only philosophy from that day forward. No longer would Sagemont borrow money for any reason.

The first time he shared his convictions with three men from the church, he was met with an expected reaction of shock and uncertainty. They all agreed that it sounded like a great plan; however, one said it wasn’t practical, one said it wasn’t reasonable, and the other asked for a backup plan. 

He gave the group of men a list of thirty Scriptures for them to review over the following week, including his father’s favorite verse, Philippians 4:19: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” At the end of the week, the men were in complete agreement that a change needed to happen. By the time the deacons and the church family voted, the decision was unanimous. The church would never borrow money again.

They knew it would take hard work and God’s favor in order to live out their convictions. And no sooner was the decision made than the church faced its first test.

One evening in the middle of the week, Brother John heard a knock at his front door. Outside stood a desperate father who explained that his adult daughter, Mickey Lightfoot, was in the car and in urgent need of medical attention. The hospital had just turned her away, however, because they were unable to pay. 

Mickey had already had several surgeries to repair her damaged intestines. But she was now so sick that her intestines were not functioning and her belly protruded as if she was nine months pregnant. As Brother John put his hand on her to pray for her, he felt her slump forward as she passed out in the front seat.

He immediately told her father not to worry about the money, just take her back to the hospital and he would stand good for the money. He called all forty-one deacons who met him at the church where he explained Mickey’s situation. The hospital told him that they needed $5,000 in order to treat her; the church, for the first time ever, had a little over $5,000 in the bank. To help Mickey, it would mean depleting all of their reserves. 

One deacon read the passage of the good Samaritan and pointed out that they had three choices: they could ignore her, they could pray for her and then ignore her, or they could do as the good Samaritan had done and help her.

Once again, the church leaders were in one accord. The deacons said they believed that the church needed to help Mickey with her medical expenses. The doctors said it was an urgent matter of life and death; there was no time to follow standard church policies and wait for the church to vote. The deacons decided that if the church voted against their decision to help, they would reimburse the church account personally. 

When they arrived at the hospital, Mickey was in a wheelchair awaiting surgery. The administrators and doctors were surprised and touched to hear that the church would be covering her expenses. The administrator offered to admit her for an initial payment of $500 instead of the $5,000 they originally quoted, and the Jewish surgeon was so touched, he offered to perform her surgery for free.

Mickey came through the surgery and began to recover, but a month later her hospital bills had reached $14,000. Brother John called the church into conference and asked what the people wanted to do. Despite the fact that they had just agreed to pay off the church’s debt, despite that they had voted to pay cash for a fourth church building, and despite the fact that they had just hired a new associate pastor to work alongside Brother John, the church voted unanimously to put aside those plans and continue taking care of Mickey for as long as she remained in the hospital.

That night, as the church stood at a crossroads that would determine their entire future, the Spirit of God came down. The pivotal decision determined that the church’s priority would now and forever be people first. If the church never built another building, its focus would still be people, not buildings. If they never paid another staff salary, it would still be people, not programs. People first. 

Seven days later, Mickey died. But before she died, she had this message for the church who had helped her so much:

“The hospital told me when I got there, that they had extended their services to me as far as they could.   I began to cry and say to myself, “what do I do now Lord?”  At this very moment I felt loving arms around me. As I looked up and saw Brother John and a hall full of deacons.  I have not quit thanking God for His answer. To lead each of you, your act of love to me is a miracle from God.  He has given me so many miracles.  And to think I was about to leave the greatness of it is beyond my comprehension now.  I know not exactly what’s ahead of me, but I fear nothing with God on my side.  With you as my church friends and with my beloved family, I tell everyone of your love and concern for me.  I know God’s will, will be done in my life, whether it be sick or well.  I want my testimony to glorify our Lord.” 

Since that day, because of its conviction to remain debt-free and its ability to use money to help people, Sagemont has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to help its hurting members. 

But that’s another story…