DEL CITY, Okla. (BP)–Members of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., in an April 2 meeting filled with exuberant worship and frequent applause, voted to sell their facility to Premier Assets, Inc., an Oklahoma City-based development company which already owns significant properties in the industrial area where First Southern is located.
Premier Assets has successfully completed 27 projects in the area. Current plans are for the church campus to become an industrial and office park.
Several years ago, the church family reached a definite conclusion regarding the impropriety of church indebtedness, and on one Sunday even held a “Day of Repentance” for the presumptions and faithlessness, which led to their debt. At the time, the church solidified its conviction that never again would it presume on the future by borrowing.
“From that day,” said First Southern’s pastor, Tom Elliff, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, “God gradually began to point us toward freedom from indebtedness.
“We felt it was important to set an example for the many families and individuals who were themselves in the bondage of debt,” Elliff continued. “We wanted to model for them the appropriate steps to take. Working with our bondholders, we restructured our loan, sought to use our funds in a wise and disciplined manner and began making strides toward reducing our debt.”
For the past three years the church has been making a concerted effort to retire its total indebtedness, which at one time loomed near $19 million. In the closing days of their “Free in Three” emphasis, the church was approached about the possible sale of its entire campus, which is surrounded by other industrial use properties.
Elliff said the congregation had been praying that the debt would be eliminated in a fashion that would bring honor to the Lord.
Premier Assets has five months to perform “due diligence” and close the $8.76 million contract for purchase. At closing, the church’s debt will be totally eliminated and the church will have funds to set aside toward future construction, which will be on a “debt-free” basis.
Elliff said the most exciting aspect of the sale will be the freeing up of approximately $1 million each year for ministry purposes. “The church is not a building,” he emphasized, “it is comprised of the people of God, regardless of where they meet. It’s easy to fall in love with a building, which can quickly absorb money that otherwise would be used to touch lives with the love and care of Christ. We see this move as essential for the kind of explosive growth we anticipate in the future.”
First Southern is Oklahoma’s largest Baptist congregation and one of the largest in the Southern Baptist Convention. During the 14 years at its current location, nearly 6,000 converts have been baptized, and thousands of others have joined the church upon moving to the Oklahoma City metro area.
Even on the April 2 Sunday evening between the balloting and the counting of the ballots, an invitation was extended for people to experience “new birth” in Christ or to come “join a church on pilgrimage with God.” Many people responded to that invitation.
At present, First Southern members are not sure where they will meet should the sale be consummated. The assumption is they will be in rented facilities until they can find a suitable location and begin construction of a new facility.
“First Southern is a church of great spiritual maturity and faith,” said Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, when notified of the pending sale. “While this may seem like an unusual step to others, I am confident the church has sought and found the mind of God.
“Faith always calls us to trust God in everything. Our greatest opportunities for spiritual victory come when we trust and obey. First Southern is doing just that,” Jordan said.
Elliff noted that one of the main concerns of the congregation had been the growing industrial use of the area around them and the need to find the most accessible location possible for their worship and training facilities.
“With thousands of people involved in the move, it is obvious we will have to give careful consideration to both our temporary and our future location,” Elliff said. “Additionally, we are excited that this move provides the opportunity to reach out in new ways we might have only dreamed about before. Abraham exercised his faith when he went out ‘not knowing where he was to go,’ and we are excited about the prospect of doing the same. First Southern is not yet 50 years old as a congregation. We have been mightily blessed of God in all those years. Now he is graciously allowing us to position ourselves for explosive growth in this new millennium and we are praising him.”
As Sunday evening’s worship service came to close, First Southern’s choir and orchestra moved to the platform and led the entire congregation in singing, “Hallelujah to the Lamb!” As they came to the end of the song the congregation burst into applause, rejoicing in the fact the God was making possible an even greater ministry in the future.
In addition to Elliff, former First Southern pastors who were elected SBC president were James T. Draper Jr. and Bailey Smith. John Bisagno, who recently retired as pastor of First Baptist Church, Houston, also is a former pastor of the Del City congregation.