NBTS Honors Rev. Dr. Jerry Sanders for His Remarkable Mission and Ministry
NBTS awarded the degree of Honorary Doctor of Divinity from New Brunswick Theological Seminary on May 18, 2013 to the Rev. Dr. Jerry Sanders who leads the vibrant and faithful congregation of Fountain Baptist Church in Summit, New Jersey that has become a powerful force for local and global transformation. At the center of Rev. Sanders' remarkable 30-year ministry there is his practice of listening to the needs and gifts of the spirit expressed through people.
When Rev. Sanders arrived in 1983, Fountain's small congregation of less than 100 congregants and old building were in dire need. In 1989 a new building helped attract parishioners from Morristown, Montclair, the Oranges, Plainfield, Berkeley Heights.
Today Fountain has more than 1,200 active participants. But expansion has been organic-building a community that extends beyond attendance at worship. "I have found it very powerful to minister to the total person," he explains. "My approach is to give people opportunities to find a niche-people feel a connection, comraderie, make friends." Fountain's most dynamic ministries-dance, music, youth, marriage-and missions are not necessarily part of Sander's own vision, he explains. "Our missions grow out of people coming to me, sharing their gifts, my job is to try to be open, respond, and support them."
In their local prison ministry, Fountain members actively support the inmates of Newark's Broughton House, a community corrections facility for pre-release inmates that provides a safe and secure environment for up to thirty men who are considered special needs clients. Some inmates attend Bible study, join the Men's Ministry and attend weekly worship. But a lot of the focus is on providing transportation. "That ministry is all about listening," Sanders explains. "We focus on inmates needs-mostly rides they need to doctors and appointments, and on the needs and rules of the Department of Corrections supervisors. Broughton House is part of the legal system and we focus on developing good relationship with the staff, being respectful of their decisions."
Two global responses have been particularly extraordinary. In 2006-7, Fountain donated one million dollars to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. Included were grants to 10 churches for whatever they needed. The churches came together and purchased an old whites-only campsite that had fallen into disarray after desegregation. Five hours away from New Orleans and named after Fountain Baptist Church, the revitalized camp ground now serves a double purpose: first as a retreat-a place to escape and renew spirits as church members assist in the long process to rejuvenate the devastated area; second as an evacuation center-a place of refuge in the event of a disaster.
In Johannesburg, South Africa, the Fountain team has followed the tradition of not merely sending in missionaries, but instead visit, have fellowship and partner with local churches on the ground. After Apartheid ended, Fountain provided a grant for a delegation to meet with Baptist church leaders who had just pulled out from the white convention and they toured the country. On their second visit, delegates visited a two-story office building that a Jewish organization was putting up for sale. Fountain purchased the building for three hundred thousand dollars and donated it to the Baptist Convention of South Africa to serve as its national headquarters.
Rev. Sanders' approach of strengthening and listening extends to those among his congregation who are called to ministry. "When a person acknowledges a calling, I expect them to join a seminary program. Even when they are on my staff, I let them know, seminary comes first. Seminary helps broaden their understanding, get to another level of critical thinking, and really examine their faith. They need that if they are going to help others who are feeling challenged. In October 2010 Fountain Baptist Church reinforced that focus on classical theological education by donating $300,000 to strengthen and further the mission of the Seminary.