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CP ‘a tool to obey the Great Commission’

KELLER, Texas (BP) — Keith Sanders, pastor for the last 10 years of First Baptist Church in Keller, Texas, describes the church’s love for missions as “almost a wildfire out of control.”

Nearly every month, a First Baptist Keller member participates in a short-term mission trip; the congregation is about to begin its fourth church plant; and its Cooperative Program giving has more than tripled over the last seven years, Sanders said.

“The Lord has blessed our church tremendously, financially,” Sanders said. “We see a relationship between our willingness to give away, and God’s blessings. We have found the more we give, the more we have to give.

“I believe in the Great Commission,” Sanders told Baptist Press. “The Cooperative Program is simply a tool to obey the Great Commission. We have seen from our mission trips that when the missionaries have the ability to stay on the field — rather than returning to the U.S. to plead for more financial support — how much more can be accomplished for the Lord.”

When Sanders became senior pastor in 2005, he hired Lawrence Duhon, a former missionary to Albania, as associate pastor of missions and evangelism.

“He has a great heart for missions,” Sanders said of Duhon. “He developed a unified strategy we’re still working with. We went from a Christmas offering to a year-round Global Impact Offering. That increased our mission giving 10-fold within just a few years.”

The congregation of about 1,300 Sunday morning worshippers also adopted an unreached people group in West Africa and has ministered and evangelized there as often as six times a year.

“We’ve seen many, many of those people come to faith in Christ,” Sanders said. “It was great for our church because we asked [the congregation] to pray, and upon [the mission team’s] return, the church heard what God had done. That led to a real spark in interest in missions.”

First Baptist Keller’s interest in planting churches has grown with its commitment to missions.

“Church planting in the West is originally what I thought the Lord wanted me to do,” Sanders said. “But in God’s sovereignty, He has me holding the rope for others.”

So far, those “others” are First Keller’s church plants that have grown into Blue Mountain Baptist Church in Baker City, eastern Oregon, where about 120 people attend Sunday services; Desert Ridge Baptist Church in St. George, Utah, where more than 80 attend; and Foundation Baptist Church in North Euless, Texas, launched in September 2014. A church plant scheduled to begin this year in St. Marie, northeastern Montana, will be the only church in the town.

St. Marie was known as the Glasgow Air Force Base until in closed in 1976 and its 10,000 residents scattered. The nearly abandoned site is being utilized to meet the need for housing for Bakken oilfield workers, and about 600 people have moved there so far.

First Baptist Keller is in the process of purchasing an abandoned church for the price of taxes owed. Members plan to renovate the building in time to launch services in the fall of 2015.

“Our goal is to plant a church every three years,” Sanders said. “Our M.O. is that we don’t want to have satellite churches; we want them to be autonomous churches.

“We don’t rush in, because we don’t have all the answers, but our people are very open to be used by God,” Sanders said. “We’re ahead of the one-every-three-years pace we set nine years ago, and I hope we will continue to outstrip that.”

Strong relationships with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary help First Baptist Keller expand its Kingdom growth, Sander said.

“One of the best decisions we ever made as a church was to go to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention,” Sanders continued. “SBTC has always given more than 50 percent of its receipts to missions through the Cooperative Program. That is the thing that most attracted us.”

For 15 years, the church has hired seminary students as interns, to give practical experience that complements the theological education they receive. Sanders himself was a seminary intern at First Baptist Keller years before his pastorate there.

“We feel an obligation to these young men, to help them, because all of us on this staff [have] been assisted by others,” Sanders said, adding that with the church’s proximity to the seminary, “we feel God expects us to help.”

In the last 10 years, First Baptist Keller has produced pastors who have served in 14 states, Sanders said, and the congregation is energizing its emphasis on discipleship.

“You’ve got to keep the base strong so you can send people out,” the pastor said. “We’ve been going through the book of Acts for three years here on Sunday mornings. That’s where you really see missions. I don’t have to be the Holy Spirit, to tell people this is what they ought to be doing. The Holy Spirit will take the words [of the message] and apply it to people’s lives.”