By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
For the first time in 15 years, Second Baptist Church is learning to live debt free, said Pastor Justin Hiens.
In 2003, Second Baptist began a relocation process that would eventually cost the church over $12 million. Hiens joined the church that same year (fresh out of Union University) as youth minister and served for almost five years before moving on to become pastor of churches in Georgia and Mississippi.
He returned “home” to Second Baptist Church as senior pastor in 2015. And, though the debt had been reduced to about $2.5 million, it was “crippling” the ministry of the church, Hiens said.
Almost 34 cents out of every dollar given was going toward debt, he recalled. “There was not much left over for missions and ministries.”
After returning to Second Baptist, 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 gave faithfully over the years, they intensified 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 (which began Sept. 1) they were a church “believing that God would provide” the money needed to pay off the debt by the end of August, Hiens said. And, God did just that.
When the budget was presented to the church (before the debt was paid), the church voted to allocate $100,000 additional dollars to missions, bringing its total missions budget to $260,000, the pastor said. He noted the church’s giving through the Cooperative Program and association together totaled 10 percent, a threshold the church had not met for 20 years.
The church celebrated its debt-free status with a special service on Sept. 9. As part of the celebration church members read through the Bible beginning three days earlier and culminating on that Sunday, Hiens said. “Based on Nehemiah 8, we believed that the greatest way we could celebrate was committing ourselves to the Word of God,” he said.
What makes the church’s accomplishment so amazing is that over the 15 years and $12 million dollars, no gift over $100,000 was ever received, the pastor observed. The debt was paid by members being faithful and giving over and over again, he 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,” the pastor shared.
Yet, he continued, “God is raising our church to touch our neighbors and the nations.”
In the past couple of years, the church has seen one of its own members appointed as a missionary by the International Mission Board, which is a first in the church’s history. The church also has partnered with the North American Mission Board to help plant a church in New York City, and the church 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 the University of Tennessee-Martin.
The church recently witnessed a Communist Chinese student accept Christ. “The nations have come to us,” he said.
While he is appreciative of mega large churches in metropolitan areas that have plenty of resources, Hiens is an advocate of rural churches. Challenging rural churches to “dream big,” he noted 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.”
The Union City pastor said he is humbled by the faithfulness of church members over the years to tackle and eliminate 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,” he said. We give God all the glory for these great things He has done.”