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Pastor says church’s vitality flows from its emphasis on love

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The “only thing that will be here for sure when Jesus comes back” is the church, said John Morgan, pastor of Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston, in a Sept. 20 chapel address at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Jesus loved the church, died for the church and is coming back for the church,” Morgan said.

Morgan has been Sagemont’s pastor since its founding on June 1, 1966. The church began with 16 and now has a membership of more than 14,500, an average attendance each Sunday morning of 6,500 and an annual budget of over $10 million. The church has seen recorded nearly 15,000 professions of faith and 12,000 baptisms. During the last 35 years, the church’s total gifts to missions have exceeded $86 million, more than 270 have accepted the call to Christian ministry, and more than 200 volunteers each year go on mission trips.

“We do not pass the offering plate, but last Sunday’s offering was over $200,000. However, we do give a family Bible to every visitor on Sunday. We do not have an organized visitation program in the church. We do not have a program on how to share your faith. I do not give a ‘come forward’ invitation. The majority of the people of the church make none of the decisions.”

The secret of his long pastorate, Morgan said, was that no one had invited him to go somewhere else. “You could not get away with most of the things I do,” Morgan acknowledged. “We do church a little differently than most.”

Identifying trust as the key to the church’s vitality, Morgan said, “When the last chapter is written, when the trumpet sounds and when the voice comes down out of heaven, the last group to remain standing in the Christian faith is not going to be those who have the greatest preachers, although I am for producing the best ones we can. It will not be the ones who have the best organization or the best programming. It will not be the ones with the best buildings.

“It will be the group that the world looks at and says the same thing the world said about the early church. ‘Behold, how they love one another,'” Morgan said.

Love will cover a multitude of bad preaching, not singing a favorite song, and not having the most exciting programming, the pastor said. “As we try to plan out how we are going to reach this or some other generation by using labels and marketing strategies, let me tell you what will reach any generation in any country, state or county seat. It is love.”

Recalling a time four years ago when he made an important decision, Morgan said, “We now have no TV ads, no billboards and no slick brochures. I told the church that I was embarrassed that if we were half as lovable as that highway sign said we were — and for which we were paying $5,000 a month — we ought not to be able to find enough parking for all who would be coming.”

So Morgan ended the expenditure of $152,000 for promotion and began teaching people two things — how to love God and how to love each other. As a result, “The church has exploded.”

Morgan then offered a caution. “I am a man of great conviction. I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. I will die for my convictions. But conviction without compassion is a dangerous thing. It is called Pharisaism.” When the Pharisees came, people went out the door, Morgan said. When Jesus came, people came from everywhere. “Was it the conviction? No. It was the compassion.”

Calling for every church member and every staff member to examine themselves, Morgan said, “It is time for every one of us to look very closely at our denomination, our churches and our personal lives and ask, ‘Is that what people are saying about us? Behold, how they love one another.’ Have we become so caught up in our convictions that we have forgotten about the compassion which must walk side by side? If we have, we will turn people away by the millions.”

Morgan noted: “We do three things at our church. We exalt the Savior, equip the saints and evangelize the sinners.

“Then I teach everybody in our church to do this: Give everybody a word. Give everybody a look. And give everybody a touch,” he said. “For many of them it is the only time it has happened all week. Women who have been abused, children who have been neglected and men who are successful but without any fellowship in a personal way enjoy the word, the look and the touch.”

Morgan observed that many churches are “cold and complacent,” often reflecting their leadership.

“The only thing that will get them stirred up is a theological argument. I have been to literally hundreds of churches in our convention to preach and rarely has anyone ever spoken to me until after I have delivered the message or led the conference.”

To those who would make music an issue for debate, Morgan said, “When real revival comes, the kind of music does not matter.” He added, “Let us not forget the object of our worship in our arguing about the method of our worship. If the Lord loves it, we ought to love it and set aside our selfish nature.”

Referring to the early church in Acts 2:42-47, Morgan noted that today’s Christians seem to be trying to do church backwards. “The Bible says that first came the fear of the Lord, then miracles, then unity, then joy and then additions. We tend to seek to get additions first, then joy, then unity, then miracles and eventually fear of the Lord. Our people need to understand that our first love is to him.

“That then becomes what it is all about — love, fellowship and steadfast faith,” Morgan said. “When anyone in our church is going through a rough time, I get up on Sunday morning and let the people know there is a need. Most churches will help someone coming through town. But when one of their own is hurting, they are afraid to set a precedent. We have learned that God has got plenty of money. He is just looking for someplace to put it. He is looking for a perfect heart. And the only way you can have a perfect heart is to have a heart full of love.”

Morgan offered this advice to small church pastors: “Ask God to show you people in your community who are not part of your church, but who are examples of love and character. Honor them in your church. Then watch what happens in your community. The reputation will begin to grow and people will say, ‘Behold, how they love one another.'”

    About the Author

  • Larry B. Elrod