While many things can be said of John Morgan’s ministry, perhaps nothing speaks more to his passion and character than the length of his tenure at Sagemont Church.
Founded in 1966, Sagemont called Morgan as its first pastor. He served there for 53 years, committed to seeing the gospel go out to the world from suburban Houston.
As a seminary student in Fort Worth in 1966, Morgan said he wasn’t expecting the phone call from Gene Alexander, a banker who attended his father’s church. Alexander asked him to fly down and see the burgeoning city and the empty rice paddy in southeast Houston where they were planning to build a church.
“He began to tell me the story of the First Baptist Church of Pasadena, which had started a mission in every part of the city. NASA was coming in and they had gotten word of a builder that was wanting to have two churches in his building area, one a Methodist and one a Baptist,” Morgan told the TEXAN.
Though he had recently been offered a pastorate with a higher salary at an established church, Morgan said he and his wife Bethel did not have peace about accepting that call. But after his visit to Houston and his conversation with Alexander, Morgan said they found the peace they were looking for and he accepted the Sagemont position.
Back to his roots
“The Lord strongly spoke into my life, and to my wife, that he was bringing me back to where I was born,” he said.
Part of Morgan’s sense of calling stems from growing up as the son of a missions-minded pastor, L.D. Morgan, who led FBC Pasadena, the church Alexander had noted for its mission outreach, for 33 years. Every time FBC Pasadena reached 1,000 people, they would plant a church with members who lived in that part of town, Morgan said.
When it came to Sagemont, however, there were only two people who lived in the area where the new church was being built. Morgan said that after arriving, he spent the first few months personally inviting people to be a part of the church when they launched.
“When I came down here, I knocked on every door of the area that we were going to reach out to and told them what we were going to do and invited them to some meetings we had in homes,” he said. “The first Sunday we had 151 in attendance, and we had one young man saved who is a member of our church right now, and his son was a missionary for quite a while and is back on staff at our church now.”
Of those in attendance that first Sunday, 50 people decided to join the church—despite the toilet overflowing into the sanctuary just hours before the service started.
Morgan noted many qualities that made Sagemont unique, including the sense of unity within the church.
“I retired after 53 years, and we never had an ugly word spoken in a church conference or a deacon’s meeting or any committee meeting in all of those years. There was just something that brought us into one accord,” he said.
Church unity was such that when it came to voting to approve deacons, the lowest percentage a deacon nominee ever received was 99.7% in secret ballot voting.
Debt-free policies lead to financial freedom
One well-known legacy of Morgan and Sagemont has to do with the church’s approach to finances. According to Morgan, when he started in ministry most of his contemporaries and mentors believed that going into debt was a perfectly acceptable approach to church finance.
In 1975, as he read through the entire Bible, Morgan was convicted by a verse in Deuteronomy regarding a command not to borrow, and he was surprised as he looked through Scripture to see that God’s people never borrowed anything to complete the work God had called them to.
This conviction led Morgan to challenge the people of Sagemont to pay off all of their loans and never again borrow money for anything they were planning to do.
“When we got out of debt, it just changed everything,” Morgan said.
One of the ways in which the church was able to get out of debt was by taking on a challenge to give back to the Lord everything they made for 40 days. To make the most out of that time, many from the church did odd jobs around the community to make extra money to give back to the church.
During one of these jobs to help out a family that had recently moved to the area, an unsaved man named Jim was so surprised by the church’s generosity that he demanded to speak with Morgan. Later that night he gave his life to the Lord, and his wife told the church that she had been praying for Jim’s salvation for over 20 years.
Morgan’s book Financial Freedom and his Financial Freedom seminars, which have been presented to over one million people, are rooted in the principles he honed at Sagemont, bringing the church to fiscal health, with every building project and undertaking since paid for in cash.
According to Morgan, church members have given close to $400 million since its founding.
Sagemont’s financial practices proved contagious, and pastors like John Bisagno, Bailey Smith and W.A. Criswell sought Morgan’s help in doing similar things at their own churches. He told the story of being asked by Criswell to speak at First Baptist Church Dallas and being so nervous at preaching for the SBC luminary that he forgot his Bible in Houston.
“I prayed that the Gideons had put a Bible in the hotel room,” he added, chuckling.
As stewards of God’s money, Morgan said that Sagemont decided early to advertise the church in ways that wouldn’t require expenditures. That approach required creativity on the church’s part but blessed the community.
Instead of placing paid ads on television or in the papers, Sagemont started making the front page for good news as God revealed local projects, Morgan said.
For instance, Morgan said the church refurbished and purchased new furniture for the teachers’ lounges at a local school, which brought significant favor with the community. After a local student died in the middle of a basketball game, Sagemont offered to cover funeral costs when the young man’s family lacked the means to pay.
“Very quietly … with just the people that needed to know, we paid for the cemetery lot and the funeral,” he said. “The next week, the headlines of the paper told what Sagemont had done.”
At one point the church was even named Citizen of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to his financial ministry, Morgan is also known for his mentorship of younger pastors, something he plans to continue in his next season of ministry as he stays involved with the Timothy Barnabas mentoring initiative sponsored by the North American Mission Board.
“It’s what we call a Paul/Timothy kind of thing where every Timothy needs a Paul. I had one in my dad when I was Timothy and my dad was Paul,” Morgan said in an interview upon the occasion of his 2019 retirement from Sagemont.
“I love to talk to pastors,” he told the TEXAN. “The thing I tell them is to try to leave out all of the language regarding ‘my’ church, but to keep the role of being a servant.”
As he speaks of Sagemont’s legacy, it is clear that Morgan views people—and their commitment to the gospel—as the central ingredient to any success he has had as a pastor.
“Sagemont has been blessed not because of me, but it has been blessed because it’s been able to keep the main thing the main thing,” he said of the megachurch.
Matt Carter, who followed Morgan into Sagemont’s pulpit in May 2020, said of his predecessor: “His impact for the kingdom in the city of Houston and beyond is impossible to quantify. People tell me all the time, ‘you have big shoes to fill.’ I disagree. They’re giant.”
“’Retirement’ is only a word and not a reality to Brother John,” said Kathie Reimer Morgan, whom John married in fall 2018, a year and a half after Bethel’s death in May 2017. Their combined five children, spouses, and ten grandchildren keep the couple busy. Morgan and Kathie’s first husband Jim, a pastor who also died in 2017, were friends.
Morgan welcomes opportunities to preach and teach, especially in the areas of evangelism, financial freedom and church growth. An avid sportsman, he enjoys reaching men who share his love of the outdoors.
Morgan may be contacted through his administrative assistant, Beverly Chambers, at 713.725.4056, directly at 281.414.5433 or at JohnMorgan.email@example.com.