By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
VONORE – Former Tennessee Baptist Convention president Doug Sager is the first to admit that he has never been a person to “stay inside the box.”
And neither have most of the churches he served during his 62-year ministry.
Upon retiring as pastor of First Baptist Church, Concord, in Knoxville in April of 2013, Sager began later that year as interim pastor of Vonore Baptist Church, a rural church in Monroe County.
After a few months, the word “interim” was removed from pastor and the 77-year-old Sager has led the church on an incredible journey.
When he arrived the church had more than $1 million in debt that has since been eliminated. Attendance has increased from about 200 weekly to more than 500 each week.
“The church has been revitalized,” Sager affirmed.
“It’s a great story of a church willing to step outside the box and believe,” he continued. Though the town of Vonore is relatively small with about 1,200 people, the church is attracting people from other parts of the county and even outside the county. “When you begin to dream and do things outside the box, you attract people with the same passion,” Sager observed.
His efforts to lead the congregation to be a Great Commission church culminated on Easter Sunday this year after Vonore Baptist accepted the vision last year to fulfill the Acts 1:8 challenge in one day, Sager said.
The church, led by its missions team, began to pray about how the church could be “witnesses unto me both in Jersusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth,” Sager recalled.
He related that the church decided to have missions teams in each of the areas described in Acts 1:8. “Contacts were made with missions partners around the world and trips soon were worked out in a number of places,” Sager said.
“As the trips were finalized, people were challenged to pray about what area of the world they were being led to. Schedules were made and team leaders were chosen.”
Sager said training sessions were held for those who chose to participate. “For most of our people, this was their first missions trip,” he said. Sager noted that 90 people were enlisted for the trips. “That’s over 10 percent of our membership.”
During the week of Easter Vonore Baptist had a team working with the homeless in Monroe County, just one of several local ministries the church is involved with. Church members distributed 30 backpacks filled with items to meet the basic needs of the homeless.
For the “Judea” of Acts 1:8, the church sent a team to minister to Native Americans in New Mexico and a team to work with the military in Alaska.
For “Samaria” the church sent teams to Nicaragua and Guatemala to work with local churches.
Teams were sent to India; Malawi, Africa; and Madrid, Spain; for the verse’s “uttermost part” of the earth.
Sager noted that all teams were deployed the week before Easter. On Easter Sunday, the teams skyped in and were put on a screen simultaneously. “The teams were able to see and hear us and we were able to share together around the world,” Sager said.
“This effort was part of a greater missions effort to maximize the efforts of a local church to fulfill the command of Christ to be witnesses to all the world,” Sager said.
Though the number of salvations from this year’s trips are not yet known, Sager said there were more than 900 salvation decisions in 2016 resulting from missions efforts by church members.
“Small churches can make a big difference,” he stressed. “It’s exciting to see our church excited,” he added.