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To end debt, church takes step of faith for missions

UNION CITY, Ten. (BP) — The math is quite simple at Second Baptist Church: no debt = more resources for missions.

For the first time in 15 years, Second Baptist is learning to live debt-free, pastor Justin Hiens said.

In 2003, the church began a relocation process in Union City, Tenn., that eventually would cost more than $12 million. Hiens joined the church that same year, fresh out of college, as youth minister, serving there for nearly five years before moving on to become pastor of churches in Georgia and Mississippi.

When Hiens returned to Second Baptist as senior pastor in 2015, the debt had been reduced to about $2.5 million. But it was still crippling the ministry of the church in the town of 10,000, 115 miles northeast of Memphis.

Nearly 34 cents out of every dollar given was going toward debt. “There was not much left over for missions and ministries,” the pastor said.

Hiens led the church to consider this question: “How could we impact our community and the world if we didn’t have debt?”

Though church members had given faithfully over the years, they intensified their efforts over the past three years until they were only $200,000 from being debt-free earlier this year. As the church began preparing for a new budget year that began Sept. 1, Hiens said they took “a step in faith” by engaging in a 40-day season of prayer and fasting, “believing that God would provide” the money to pay off the debt by the end of August. And God did just that.

It was “not just to pay off the building,” he noted, but to “start channeling [more resources] to missions.”

When the budget was presented to the church — before the debt was paid — it included an additional $100,000 for missions, bringing its total missions budget to $260,000, Hiens said. The church’s giving through the Cooperative Program and association together totaled 10 percent, a threshold not met for 20 years.

The church celebrated its debt-free status with a special service on Sept. 9. As part of the occasion, members read through the Bible beginning three days earlier and culminating on that Sunday. “Based on Nehemiah 8, we believed that the greatest way we could celebrate was committing ourselves to the Word of God,” Hiens said.

What makes the church’s accomplishment so amazing is that over the 15 years of retiring the $12 million debt, no gift over $100,000 was ever received. It was paid by members being faithful and giving over and over again, Hiens said.

In addition, Second Baptist is not located in a large growing community. “We are a church in a small, rural community that has not seen population growth in decades,” Hiens said.

Yet, he continued, “God is raising our church to touch our neighbors and the nations.”

In the past couple of years, Second Baptist has seen one of its own members appointed as a missionary by the International Mission Board, which is a first in its history. The church also has partnered with the North American Mission Board to help plant a church in New York City. And it is establishing a ministry center to meet needs in its own community, Hiens said.

In addition, the church began an international Sunday School class that is reaching about 30 internationals, many of whom are students at nearby University of Tennessee-Martin.

A Chinese communist student recently accepted Christ, Hiens said, noting, “The nations have come to us.”

While appreciative of large churches in metropolitan areas that have plenty of resources, Hiens is an advocate for rural churches to “dream big,” believing that “God can use them in incredible ways to change the world for Christ.”

“We want to show that when God’s people commit themselves to His work, the sky is the limit in what we can do for the Lord.”

Hiens said he is humbled by the faithfulness of Second Baptist’s members over the years to tackle the debt. “I am proud of our people and their commitment to the Kingdom of God.

“We have funds now to do ministry that we never dreamed we could do before,” the pastor said. “We give God all the glory for these great things He has done.”