Month: April 2015

Online degree launched at Jacksonville College

JACKSONVILLE—Jacksonville College has begun offering its first fully online associate degree program. Registration is underway with tuition rates reduced for the May 14-29 Maymester and both summer semesters.

“This approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools shows their faith in the educational degree we are providing our students,” stated JC Academic Dean Lynn Nabi. Jacksonville College subscribes to the Texas Common Course Numbering System, and core course credits easily transfer to participating institutions.

Designed to benefit students who have difficulty commuting to the East Texas campus, Nabi said the degree allows them to attend virtual classes on their own schedules. Summer Pell Grants are available to students who qualify. Course schedules, new student application and class registration are available at

Jacksonville College is owned and operated by the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Appeals court hears ETBU, HBU present case against HHS contraceptive mandate

HOUSTON—The U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit heard arguments April 7 from lawyers representing two Texas Baptist universities demanding an exemption from the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate and the “draconian fines” levied for non-compliance. In a press conference outside the U.S. court house in Houston, representatives for the schools said their identity as Christian institutions and financial solvency is threatened by the government’s demands.

A federal judge in December 2013 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University, exempting the schools from compliance with the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to provide for their employees insurance coverage for contraceptives, including abortifacients. The federal government appealed, forcing the universities to continue to defend in court their identity as Christian institutions.

“It’s not just a simple matter. It’s not only a theological matter, as important as that is today, or only a matter of a sincerely held religious belief,” HBU president Robert Sloan told reporters outside the courthouse following the hearing.

“In some ways our right to exist as an institution to hold these beliefs and perhaps even our very survival as a whole is at stake.”

Sloan said East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University v. Burwell “is clearly a matter of religious freedom.” HBU’s Christian underpinning and pro-life values “are not incidental” but “core convictions at the very heart of the Christian faith,” and compulsory violation of those convictions by the federal government is unconscionable.

“When somebody comes and tells me that my school has to do something it doesn’t want and it’s infringing on [the] rights given to it by the very supreme law of the land my heart breaks,” HBU freshman Jasmine Kelley told the TEXAN following the press conference. The government major was among a handful of HBU students who attended the press conference in defense of their school.

Attorney Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, defended the two universities in the case. The non-profit law firm defends the religious expression of people from a variety of faiths and, most notably, successfully defended the craft store giant Hobby Lobby before the U.S. Supreme Court against the same mandate.

 “We’re in court today because [the universities] have been put to a terrible choice between following their most deeply held religious convictions and paying outlandish fines,” Rassbach said.

The non-compliance penalty of $100 per employee per day totals $12 million and $8 million a year, respectively, for HBU and ETBU. Scores of other private religious institutions around the country are in the same fight, and at least one of those cases will likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Our clients have a religious objection to abortions,” said Rassbach. “They don’t want to pay for abortions. They don’t want to help people get abortions. They are not looking to impose their will on anyone else. They just don’t want to be involved,” said Rassbach.

He argued the compliance exemption afforded churches should also apply to all religious institutions like his clients. The imposition of government requirements antithetical to a religious institution’s mission also  illustrates the need for religious liberty legislation on the state and federal level.

But in recent weeks religious liberty laws have come under fire. Legislatures in Indiana, Arkansas and about 10 other states including Texas are drafting laws giving legal protection to individuals and businesses against government intrusion in matters of religious convictions.  The religious liberty laws do not codify an individual’s or business’s “right to discriminate” as charged by detractors.

Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and president of Texas Values, told the media, “The reason we are here today is because we have a federal law called the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act … that gives private, religious institutions a fighting chance in court when the government comes calling.”

Rassbach said Becket Fund attorneys have relied on the federal RFRA law in all of arguing its cases across the nation.

“It never occurred to me that the government would try to force HBU to change its mission,” said Morgan St. John, an HBU senior education major.

Joshua Jones, a senior government major, said he has seen the devastation caused by abortion and will fight any government mandate that makes him or his school complicit in its administration.

Mon ‘Sher Preston agreed. The HBU alumnus and director of student involvement and leadership told the TEXAN she was encouraged by the students’ willingness to take a stand on behalf of their convictions and their university.

In its effort to force religious entities to comply with the mandate, the government has put itself in the position of determining what institutions are and are not guided by deeply held religious convictions, Rassbach explained.

“It sets a very dangerous precedent,” Rassbach said, “for the government to come in and say, ‘Well, we just don’t think you’re really religious.’”

He said the government can ferret out fraud,“but what they can’t do is question the validity of those beliefs.”

Asked if the universities could fulfill the mandate by hiring a second party to administer the contraceptive mandate, Rassbach said, “There is nothing wrong with having some insurance regulation, but when you say we have to go out and get an insurance company that is going to provide this stuff we’re morally complicit. You don’t just say we have to outsource our consciences to somebody else.”

He said the circuit judges were very engaged during oral arguments Tuesday and asked “very penetrating questions of all parties.”

“I’m hopeful that we will have another ruling in our favor,” he said. “We were right back in December of 2013. And we’re right today. And we’re going to be right again tomorrow.”

Criswell College plans major renovation to Dallas campus

DALLAS–The Board of Trustees for Criswell College approved a plan April 2 for a major renovation of the existing campus at 4010 Gaston Avenue and the construction of 180-bed campus housing.

Board member Jeff Nyberg of McKinney described support for the plan as “a vote for the urban vision of our president.” Efforts to relocate the campus by acquiring property north of Dallas were set aside last year and trustees rallied behind newly elected Criswell College President Barry Creamer in his call to remain at the current site east of downtown.

“God has just blessed this place for a lot of years, and there’s no reason to believe that’s not going to continue” stated Ed Rawls, chairman of the properties committee. The board anticipates construction to begin in the summer of 2016.

School administration is working with Hoar Program Management and PBK Architects in preparing plans for renovation. The board resolution approved “the recommended renovation of the educational building and proposed advancement toward residential housing, including the adjacent property acquisitions within the constraints of available capital resources.”

In addition to approving a $6.15 million budget for 2015-16, the board updated bylaws on first reading. Included are a process for presidential assessment and clarification of what constitutes conflict of interest for trustees. Other changes address the elimination of term limits for the board chairman, action by two-thirds majority written consent, and the removal of references to vice presidents for development and business administration.

A new mission statement expands on a commitment to gospel ministry preparation to “provide ministerial and professional higher education for men and women preparing to serve as Christian leaders throughout society, while maintaining an institutional commitment to biblical inerrancy.”

The board approved Scott Bridger to return to Criswell College as associate professor of world religions and global studies, promoted David Brooks to senior professor of Hebrew and Old Testament and Kirk Spencer to senior associate professor of science and history. Candidates for 2015 graduation in May were approved as recommended by administration.

Religious Liberty in Texas

I’ve jokingly told friends that Texas will be the Alamo—a place for a last stand—for social conservatives in America. I was joking, but I wasn’t kidding. Conservatives in Texas can see Santa Anna’s scouts on the horizon. Already we’ve lost skirmishes in Houston, San Antonio and Plano as the combination of cynical politicians and low voter turnout gave those significant cities ordinances to ensure privileged status to some based on their sexual behavior or self-determined gender(s). Five pastors in Houston had sermons and correspondence with church members subpoenaed by the city administration because the pastors protested the ordinance. And of course we’ve had the usual selection of cheerleaders being forbidden from putting Bible verses on banners, nativity scenes being banned from county courthouses and other “mundane” challenges to the religious practice of citizens.

These things have occurred even though Texas already has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires a “compelling governmental interest” before “substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion.” The “equal rights” ordinances being passed in Texas cities will substantially burden the religious liberty of those who do not celebrate the triumph of sexual license in our culture. I frankly believe they were intended to do so. And our RFRA will not protect us any more than it restrained the Houston city attorney from threatening pastors with legal action because of what they preached.

Christians may win future legal fights regarding their exercise of religion, but we will be challenged because the laws are in place to challenge our rights, and no one has declared equal rights laws unconstitutional. Those ordinances are contrary to the spirit of the constitution, but we need the letter of our rights spelled out.

We’re not surprised then that the issue of religious liberty arose in this session of the Texas legislature. Senator Donna Campbell has introduced SJR 10 with the intent of adding what is essentially the language of RFRA to the Texas constitution. “Secular Texas,” an organization whose name says it all, sees a threat to the anti-religious aspects of the equal rights ordinances. They call Senator Campbell’s bill “redundant” but also a threat to the city ordinances … so maybe it’s not redundant. Its inclusion in the state constitution may give religious liberty a status not currently respected by some local politicians.

Representative Scott Sanford of McKinney has introduced HB 3567 aimed at ensuring the rights of churches and clergy to decline participation in ceremonies that violate “sincerely held religious belief.” This threat to the religious practice of churches and pastors is imaginable rather than imaginary. Representative Sanford is perhaps helping Houston, Plano and San Antonio understand the limits of equal rights ordinances that will sprout unintended consequences like spring dandelions. It is also a statement that evangelical Christians do not really trust the good intentions of anti-religious people who talk a lot about toleration and freedom. It is easy to imagine that we are not to be the objects of toleration when push comes to shove, as it already has in Houston.

I’ve said this before, but it’s pertinent here: There is a difference between freedom of worship and religious liberty. Any secularist will allow us the right to go into our buildings, shut the door and preach what he considers foolishness. Sure, they may want to ban us from some neighborhoods, forbid us from renting school property on the same basis as other community groups, tax our land and receipts, and maybe remove our children from such toxic nonsense, but for now we can affirm what we want in private. However on Monday through Saturday, we’d better toe a rationalist line if we want to teach science in public schools, supervise people in public service, do business with the city of San Antonio or bake wedding cakes.

It’s not an overreaction to introduce legislation in advance of harsh curtailments of religious liberty. It isn’t redundant to make constitutional a right that the effort’s critics say is not really being challenged anyway. It is being challenged, and we see a shift in culture moving our direction. Was it premature for William Travis to fortify broken walls at the Alamo and range his big guns before Santa Anna was even in sight? Of course not. He knew the fight was coming, and he’d heard the nature of the war as it had already played out in other places. The last year in Texas has given biblical Christians a reason to brace themselves for an attack. We can argue about how imminent that attack may be, but it is delusional to deny that religious liberty is at least being threatened. These two bills in the Texas legislature deserve our support. We’ll need them sooner or later.

CP shines light in dark places

With all the bad news swirling around, it is always refreshing to hear good news. Of course the Good News of the gospel lifts us every time we hear it or share it. Southern Baptists are seeing exciting movements of God that should encourage us. Even in times of challenge, we can be optimistic.

Baptisms have declined in the Southern Baptist Convention for decades, but SBTC Evangelism Director Nathan Lorick has a plan that will take personal witnessing to a new level. The goal is to reach one million Texas homes with a gospel presentation. Through prayer, training and obedience we can see a sweeping move of God across our state.

Texas is experiencing unprecedented population growth. Immigrants and people from other states are moving here in large numbers. The church-to-population ratio has dropped dramatically, but churches and planters are answering the call of God. There are more church planters in the SBTC assessment process at this time than ever before. We must start new churches in areas of tremendous need.

Religious Liberty is also being threatened. The traditional definition of marriage is on the verge of being replaced in the public arena. Southern Baptists are having discussions on sexuality from a biblical perspective, and more followers of Christ are living out their convictions about marriage. The SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is on the job helping us face these issues.

Biblical illiteracy is rampant in American culture. Criswell College, Jacksonville College, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and five other SBC seminaries are training preachers, teachers and church leaders to reverse this trend. We can rejoice that God is using these schools to raise up more people of the Book.

While many places around the country are experiencing racial turmoil, ethnic diversity is being modeled in the SBC and SBTC. More non-Anglos are involved in decision making, leadership and roles of authority than ever before with a continued commitment to broaden non-Anglo participation. We are beginning to “Look Like Heaven” in our churches and denomination.

In North America and around the world there is unrest. Internationally the majority of people have little or no access to the gospel. SBC and SBTC have seen unengaged people groups in South Asia, South America and Africa introduced to the Lord Jesus. Likewise, God is changing hearts in Montreal, Salt Lake City and the Dakotas through the faithful witness of His people. Through partnering with the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board we shine the light of the gospel into dark places.

Financial instability is ever present. Charitable giving has declined. But the SBC and SBTC have defied the norm because God’s people are giving more. Cooperative Program giving is at an all-time high through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The SBTC is number one among state conventions in percentage giving to the SBC at 55 percent. The SBTC is number three behind Alabama and Georgia in total CP dollars. Similarly, the SBC has seen a turnaround over the last couple of years in percentage and dollars. More CP means more can be done for the Kingdom.

It’s easy to be discouraged by news reports, but I choose to be encouraged by the testimonies I hear. God’s Spirit graciously produces spiritual fruit. We are privileged to be a part of God’s plan. We participate by going. We participate by giving. No one person or church can accomplish it all. One way we do the work of God together is giving through the Cooperative Program. April 12 is CP Sunday. If you can’t observe it on that day, consider taking time on some other day to share with your church the good news about what God is doing through the SBTC and SBC!

Chicken or Egg: Obedience or Awakening?

The thirst for spiritual awakening continues to express itself through the SBTC’s regional Pastor Prayer Gatherings across our state. We are not quite at the halfway point of praying in all of Texas’ 18 regions, yet we have experienced powerful times of prayer. I encourage you to make every effort to be a part of the prayer for spiritual awakening coming to your area.

I sometimes have difficulty understanding the balance, timing and relationship between obedience and blessing. It’s sort of like the chicken/egg dilemma; which came first? Do times of blessing bring obedience or does obedience bring times of blessing? To bring that dilemma to the issue of revival, renewal and awakening, does obedience introduce times of awakening or does awakening result in seasons of obedience? To believe that we are to pray and sit around until the fire falls before we step into obedience fails to pass the “smell test.” However, going out on our own without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to make us successful woefully falls short as well.

It seems we cannot have one without the other; both are somewhat simultaneous. We pray and obey while we trust the Spirit to be at work. As Southern Baptists we have a built-in mechanism to help us on the obedience side. We call it the Cooperative Program. Let me explain.

The promise of our Lord in the Great Commission to be with us always is connected to the premise that we should always be involved in making disciples of all nations. Should we expect the presence, power and provision of the Holy Spirit if our lives and ministries are not attached to making disciples of the nations? I think not. God is not about making any of us successful or famous but about making his son famous. As we embark on the same track, he will be with us.

Make no mistake about it. The Cooperative Program is about making disciples. For those of us who attended a Southern Baptist seminary, it helped us financially. For those on the mission field, it pays their way (Ask any missionary, and they’ll be quick to tell you). We are in a season during which the Cooperative Program is under scrutiny by those wishing to make it better. I’m all for it. There are also those who wish to radically change it. If there is a better way for us to fund the ministries of disciple making than what we have undertaken together through our state and national conventions, I’m all for that as well. But until that way is discovered, I’m all in for CP. I encourage you to get all in as well.

Every spiritual awakening has been preceded by prayer and obedience. There have been no spiritual awakenings that did not produce lasting results from obedience by those touched by the quickening of the Spirit. As we continue to pray and obey, and as awakening comes, I am convinced that one of the lasting results will be a great increase in the amount of our offerings given to ministries that are making disciples of the nations. Our mechanism, our delivery system is in place. We call it the Cooperative Program. 

Cooperative Program giving trends upward as churches and state conventions show support

Local pastors in Southern Baptist churches, state conventions spread across the country and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention are declaring an increased confidence in the Cooperative Program. If the first quarter report of contributions to the SBC CP Allocation Budget is indicative of a trend, the ministries and missions Southern Baptists value stand to gain greater funding.

Year-to-date contributions received by the SBC Executive Committee for the Cooperative Program totaled $64,702,035 between October 2014 and January of this year. That represents an amount that is 4.97 percent above contributions over the same time period a year earlier.

The convention-adopted budget is distributed 50.41 percent to international missions through IMB, 22.79 percent to North American missions through NAMB, 22.16 percent to theological education, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget, and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

A 2014 survey conducted by the SBC Executive Committee shows an increase in confidence among pastors that the Cooperative Program supports ministries and missions valued by their churches—moving up to 81 percent from 73 percent in a 2012 survey that asked the same questions of pastors.

On the state level, 23 state Baptist conventions have increased the portion of Cooperative Program receipts forwarded to Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries this year, moving toward the goal of a 50/50 allocation between state convention causes and SBC causes. That demonstrates continuation of an upward trend spanning several years.

The Baptist Convention of Iowa and the Nevada Baptist Convention joined the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as the only state conventions that forward half or more of CP receipts from local churches to the SBC without a “shared ministries” calculation. The SBTC, formed in 1998 with a 50/50 division from the start, moved to allocating 55 percent of undesignated receipts to the SBC in 2008.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd of Springdale, Ark., told a luncheon crowd at the SBTC Empower Conference that the story has never been better in terms of what is happening through giving to the Cooperative Program.

“We need to celebrate that we are reaching the unreached peoples internationally. We are strategically planting gospel churches nationally and internationally. We are preparing the next generation of pastors, missionaries and scholars effectively. We are extending compassion through hunger and disaster relief ministry dynamically. We are engaging the culture, always lifting high the cause of religious liberty globally.”

Floyd challenged those present to return to their churches, telling the story of what God is doing. “Give them the vision of reaching Texas, reaching America, reaching the world for Christ, and I’m telling you they’ll buy into that.”

Connection Community Church in Rowlett bought into the value of the Cooperative Program from the day the church was planted in November of 2010. Growing from 31 people meeting in a house to an average attendance of 475 to 500, Pastor Shane Pruitt sees the congregation as a child of the Cooperative Program.

“Somewhere some church in south Texas gave to the Cooperative Program and invested in these lives that are being changed here in Rowlett,” Pruitt said.

“It’s in the DNA of our church that we realize we are a beneficiary of CP giving and see the benefit of giving toward that so that the story can continue in other places in Texas and around the world.”

Hope expands ministry to include former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic

BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION—Although vacant for more than 18 months, the building at 4112 E. 29th Street in Bryan still bares the mark of its former occupants. In one room the port for a suction hose protrudes from a wall. Built into the opposite wall is a carousel—its cold, stainless steel housing transferred the convenient disappearance of the “product of conception” to a biohazard waste container in the adjoining room. And, in the middle of the linoleum flooring, a brownish, square stain—like a crime scene chalk outline—gives evidence of the recently removed surgical table where countless women succumbed to the abortionists work.

And yet hope abounds. In what used to be the abortion procedure room of the Planned Parenthood Bryan Health Center, passages of Scripture now fill the walls and floor. Words of life flow from that room, down hallways, into room after room, all penned by a band of believers who spent 15 years prayerfully and peacefully seeking an end to abortion in the Brazos Valley.

On August 1, 2013, God granted their petition, and the Planned Parenthood clinic closed its doors.

Within days pro-life advocates laid out their fleece once again.

“It had always been a prayer that God would give us this building,” said Tracy Frank, executive director of Hope Pregnancy Centers of Brazos Valley (HPC), a pro-life medical resource center serving College Station.

But purchasing the former abortion clinic just to make a statement would not be a responsible use of donors’ money nor a faithful execution of the HPC mission. Over the next year a purpose for the building and a means of funding a non-profit extension of HPC fell into place, and on Oct. 30, 2014, the pro-life ministry purchased the former abortion clinic.

“We didn’t spike the football. I didn’t want to ruin it for any other pregnancy center to do this,” Frank said. Instead she talked about redemption. What was once a place of death and grief would be transformed into a source of life.

The room where abortions were performed will soon reverberate with the gospel message as the intake room for HPC’s new ministry—a clinic for the free testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). As client information is collected, volunteers will share the gospel and God’s plan for human sexuality.

HPC has operated quietly and effectively for 30 years in College Station, home to the 59,000-student Texas A&M University and nearby Blinn College, providing pro-life care and pregnancy support to abortion-minded and low-income women and families.

More vocal and publicly engaging pro-life ministries sprang up to counter the influence of the newly established Planned Parenthood clinic in 1998. The Coalition for Life opened an office just a few doors down from the abortion clinic. From that ministry the 40 Days for Life campaign, which has grown to an international campaign of intercessory prayer and counseling in front of abortion clinics, was conceived during prayer around a table that now sits in what was the abortion provider’s conference room.

Seated at the table on an overcast day in March was the 40 Days for Life board of directors. Two years earlier they would have been arrested for trespassing just for walking up the clinic’s driveway much less entering the front door.

HPC quietly supported the ministry’s work but avoided the spotlight. Despite the prayerful, non-confrontational tactics required of all 40 Days for Life volunteers, pro-life advocates cannot shed the harsh characterizations foisted upon them by pro-abortion advocates.

Frank said, “We didn’t want to give potential clients the perception that we were single-minded and judgmental.”

But a partnership was established. Women counseled outside the abortion clinic were sent to HPC or one of the other local non-profit organizations providing pro-life services to abortion-minded women.

When the abortion clinic shuttered Frank was not oblivious of the fact that she and the Bryan-College Station pro-life community were presented with an opportunity to “stick it” to Planned Parenthood.
But she resisted.

“I don’t want the building to be ‘the former Planned Parenthood building,’” she said. “It’s just a building. It doesn’t have the power to hurt. It doesn’t have the power to heal.”

Instead, redeeming the use of the building for the ministry of the gospel will serve a greater purpose.

Research indicating 15-24- year-olds are most frequently diagnosed with STDs and are the least likely to seek treatment convinced Frank and the HPC donors that they had found their new ministry. Helping young adults in crisis—be it for an unplanned pregnancy or a distressing STD diagnosis—will allow HPC to meet needs while sharing the gospel and God’s plan for sexual purity. The STD clinic Testing 4 You, or T4U, will allow HPC to extend its gospel-infused ministry without having to relocate its well-established pregnancy center at 205 Brentwood in College Station.

Fundraising for the purchase was kept low-key and is still ongoing. Planned Parenthood knew HPC was the potential buyer, but Frank feared a public campaign to fund the purchase would have aroused protests from pro-choice advocates who could sway the abortion provider to reconsider.

Donations, a bank loan and no-interest loans from two local supporters funded the purchase but have left the HPC ministry in debt. In order to offset operating the 6,000-square foot facility, all tenants, including T4U, will pay rent to HPC. Other tenants will include HPC supporters and pro-life husband and wife doctors, Haywood Robinson and Noreen Johnson.

Another tenant, Stuart Quartemont, a College Station physician known for his medical missions work, will process the STD tests as part of his medical lab business. HPC officials anticipate opening the clinic in early April.

The first time Frank walked through the building it was with the real estate broker. The experience was surreal. Stuffing any emotional reaction down deep, Frank let her administrative side take control. But then she attended an event for donors and those who prayed for the clinics’ closure. They roamed the halls of the building praying and writing Scripture verses upon the walls and floors.
Remodeling work continues at 4112 E. 29th St., changing the appearance enough to blur the memory of any client who came here for an abortion. The walls will be painted and the floors resurfaced. But underneath it all will remain the power of God’s word offering healing and hope.

Keller church realizes “the more we give, the more we have to give”

KELLER—Keith Sanders, pastor for the last 10 years of First Baptist Church in Keller, 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. 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 also 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, 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. Additionally, a church plant scheduled to begin this year in St. Marie, Montana, will be the only church in the town.

St. Marie was known as the Glasgow Air Force Base until it 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,” Sanders 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.”