Serving Barnwell County and it's neighbors since 1852

New Williston First Baptist Church pastor Joseph Sanders aims to reach community with the truth


First Baptist Church of Williston (FBW) Pastor Joseph Sanders may be one of the youngest pastors in the area, but his faith is built upon a decades-long heritage of servants for The Lord.
“Growing up, my dad was the music minister at First Baptist of Barnwell. When my mom was pregnant with me, she was ­behind the stage doing puppet ministry at Vacation Bible School. So, I’ve been involved in ministry since before I was born,” said Sanders.
While attending USC Columbia college for busi­ness, Sanders, like many average youth, played in a rock band. But unlike many others, a concurrent call on his heart kept him involved with a worship team, serving in music ministry during those ­college days as well. A cherished gift taught by his late father to both Sanders and his brother Jacob.
“Back when I was in high school, I helped start the contemporary worship team at FBW. It was me, my brother and a couple of our friends because Pastor Stephen Burnette wanted to transition into more of a blended music style. Then I went off to college and thought I’d hop back in when I returned. But they had this new worship leader who made me audition for the team that I started. I was immediately smitten by her. I met her on June 1, 2020, by August I asked her to be my ­girlfriend, in October I proposed, in January 2021, we got married” and in keeping with their two-month intervals, come March, he exclaimed, “we were ­pregnant!”
These days Ciera, who sings like an angel for the congregation, and Joseph Sanders are raising three children. A two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and one-year-old twins. Still, both happily ­continue serving The Lord.
Being in the ministry full time is not the way Sanders originally saw their future, however. Growing up his father had a saying, “If people did ministry for the money, nobody would do it.” Sanders’ intentions were to work hard, utilizing his major in business, providing his family with more than he knew growing up as a child of the cloth.
Those self-made plans changed when he ­became a deacon at FBW and a middle schooler approached him asking, “Is there a class for me?” He had to say “no”, realizing they didn’t have a Sunday School class for teens and so “they had to sit with the little kids as teenagers. Ciera told me, ‘You need to teach Youth Sunday School.’”
Sanders knew if he made that decision, he was going to wind up on staff. And he did. “By the beginning of 2022 they called me to be their student pastor and I went full time in the ­ministry at that point working with teenagers. Then a year after that, they asked me to be their interim pastor when Pastor ­Stephen Burnette retired. And nine months after that they asked me to be their lead pastor.”
The couple trusted this call was from God and joyfully testify how God has continually provided from the beginning. Ciera was secretary at the church when Sanders became student pastor. Their oldest child, Naomi, went to church with them every day. “The next year, when we were getting ready to have the twins, Ciera could not continue working and we couldn’t bring three ­babies into the church with us. A month before we had the twins, they brought me on as interim pastor which came with a little bit of help financially. And then our living situation; by last fall, our home had no heat, no air conditioning and no water. And that’s when they asked us to be lead pastor and moved us into the parsonage. So, ­every time there has been a need, God has stepped in and provided. And that’s phenomenal,” he said.
Sanders and Ciera were walking around the neighborhood where the parsonage is a few weeks ago and he said to her, “If I wake up tomorrow and 25 years have gone by and God is still faithfully moving and I’m still pastor here, I’m going to have no regrets; but I’m putting my yes on the table for wherever God calls me to and for as long as God calls me to.”
Sanders is filled with passion for God’s community. From serving ­seniors, adults, youth and children. About two years ago, after the pandemic, FBW fully opened up their youth and children’s programs. “Our youth Sunday School program started with about four students at the time after that first teenager approached me. It’s kind of crazy that they brought me on full time to minister to the students because you don’t bring on a full-time person when you have four teenagers. But because of that, it opened up this door to let the community come in and we started seeing families that would not have normally stepped through the doors of our church, but they came because their kids got connected.”
The church has good relationships with local public schools. “It used to be me, but now it’s our Next Gen Pastor Joshua Helms who goes into the schools, talks with the students and invites them to church. In the public school system, which is unheard of! We lead a Bible Study in math teacher Mr. Walters’ room on Tuesday mornings with students and teachers. That’s been happening since I was in high school and it’s such a cool opportunity because you see these kids, and the teachers who are having influence on them. They get to see each other in a different light because they come together to study God’s Word. But the coolest part about that is, the Bible study is still student-led.”
The FBW youth ministry has grown from four students to an average of 20 on Wednesday nights and approximately the same number attend the children’s ministry on a regular basis.
“Something I really love that Joshua has focused on is he’s built great relationships with the students, so they also come on Sunday mornings, sitting in the front row, actually listening to me preach. They’ve really gotten plugged in. We have a lot of wonderful volunteers at FBW.”
One of the students in particular that Sanders recalls, “...started coming from the middle school, the next week she brought her brother; she has three brothers. A couple of weeks later I was in their living room, talking with her family and sharing the gospel, and over time we got to celebrate that they all came to be baptized, one after another, starting with their mom. It was a great time for our church to see that happen.”
Predominantly, Sanders said, his message to the youth is “Don’t listen to all the lies the world is telling you such as different identity politics, different sexual orien­tation and gender ideologies. That’s a big part of the culture of young people because a lot of them don’t know that it’s wrong. They don’t’ know that the Bible says ‘you’re beautifully and wonderfully made.’ That God knit you together in your mother’s womb, that He made you exactly how you were supposed to be. He doesn’t make mistakes. And it’s [the lies have] become so accepted by society that especially our younger people, they just accept that as part of reality. They don’t even think to question it. So that’s one of my big things to push to the young people. To break away from the theology of the world and turn back to the theology of The Bible. What The Bible says is true and I’m not going to bring my own thoughts and opinions into Scripture, I’m going to get my thoughts and opinions out of Scripture.”
Adult discipleship is another important focus Sanders wants to share with the community because, as he said, “You can’t build a church on the foundation of a student ministry or children’s ministry. You have to build a church first of adults discipling each other.”
Sanders sums up the vision of the church is to equip the saints to accomplish the great commission. To go and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the Name of The Father, The Son and Holy Spirit and teach them to obey all of God’s commands. “In doing that, the things we focus on ­basically is, it’s everybody’s responsibility universally to share the gospel. Relational discipleship happens because you’re pouring into each other’s lives, in the community, in your homes. Being people focused, not program focused. And the Strategic Mission is going out in service, love and mission to the lost and to our community and love them foremost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we’re going to feed the football team, for example, we’re not going to just drop off food and leave. We’re going to pray with them, talk with them and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
FBW’s core values are: Love God, Love others, Serve others, Give abundantly.
As Sanders teaches each week’s message, he continues studying self-education by attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he’s getting his master’s in divinity, studying Pastoral Ministry and Biblical Counseling because he’s quickly learned, “preaching is only 5 percent of what a pastor does.”
Sunday School is held every Sunday at 10 a.m. followed by the worship service at 11 a.m.