$25 million debt payoff clears way for missions, evangelism
CORDOVA, Tenn. (BP)--Staff members at Bellevue Baptist Church are still overwhelmed by what some are calling a miracle of God. In one single act of selflessness, church members Nov. 18 paid off the remaining $1,498,000 of a $25 million loan in one Sunday to retire the church's debt.
"We are still shell-shocked about how this worked out," said Craig Parker, church administrator of the 28,000-member Southern Baptist congregation in suburban Memphis, Tenn., where Adrian Rogers is pastor. "This is the hand of God working through a faithful and mature body of believers."
The offering was the climax of Bellevue's 2001 love offering, Reaching Beyond. Bellevue members had pledged or given $2,826,170, exceeding the previous year's goal. And while the church only needed $1,491,000 to retire the debt, cash gifts totaled $1,498,000.
Families and individuals walked down the aisles of the mega-church and gave their love gifts to the Lord in a moving service, Parker said. "The Bellevue people are so generous," he added.
Parker said the miracle is that while Bellevue was paying off the $25 million loan, it built $30 million worth of facilities in cash. In other words, Bellevue is virtually debt-free.
The original loan of $25 million allowed the church to relocate from its original downtown facilities. Bellevue purchased nearly 400 acres of land and built their main worship center. The original loan was taken out in 1987 and the building was occupied in 1989.
Parker said the chief motivating factor behind being debt-free was simple -- missions.
"That's what got our people excited," he said. "The vision our people had was realizing that the money would be freed to reach the world for Christ."
Parker said the church's annual debt service was nearly $1.8 million. That money will now be available for future mission and evangelism projects.
"We had thousands of church families participating in the debt reduction," Parker said. "That's the beauty of it. There weren't those half-dozen big donors. It was spread across the whole membership. There is strength in numbers."
Parker said he hopes what happened at Bellevue will be an encouragement to the larger body of Christ.
"People might say this was impossible, but it wasn't us, it was God," he said. "It's what Bellevue is built on -- the Word of God. Pastor Rogers seldom preaches on giving. We try to teach the lordship of Christ. If someone gives their heart to Christ, their finances are going to follow."
The church's stewardship also has proved to be a testimony to bankers in the community.
"We don't manage spiritual problems and we don't spiritualize management problems," he said. "And our bankers appreciated that. We try to be faithful stewards and apply good and prudent business principles."
Parker said the bankers will be present Nov. 25 during a church-wide praise service.
"The service is going to be low-key," he said. "We won't be burning the mortgage, but it's an encouragement for our church to have a formal occasion where we can celebrate what God has done."