By Tommy Sanders
Minister to Senior Adults
If you have ever been to Hodges Chapel at Beeson Divinity School, you were no doubt taken by the beauty of the paintings that grace the dome and the walls. The interior dome contains prominent figures from Church history. The chapel also depicts paintings of Christian martyrs from six continents.
I must admit, I don’t know much about art, but its beauty can even transcend my limited understanding. A print of the painting hangs in my office as a reminder of how God has worked through history and how He orchestrates events, not only in history, but particularly in individual lives.
I have often thought of how I would be remembered in life. It’s a sobering thought. It certainly won't be anything like the people pictured in the painting. They were giants! Actually, much of my life was more like a Norman Rockwell painting, middle class realism with a touch of the unexpected. In a word, it was normal. I was raised in a Christian home with a dog by my side and the novelty of a pet hamster who at some point in time went to “live on a farm.”
I grew up going to church. I was led to the Lord by my grandmother and made my profession of faith at age seven. It was then that God would begin to teach me to depend upon Him. One significant challenge in my life that God has used to teach me dependence, has been my speech impediment. Many years of speech therapy have improved my speech greatly, but the lessons have also endeared to me those who spend their lives helping others. My speech impediment never held me back. Instead, it has developed in me a persistence and a drive to work harder. My persistence and zeal for my faith prompted me to spend a great deal of time, speech problem or not, preaching to my dog. No doubt, early on, God had a plan, and His timing is perfect.
After graduating from the University of Alabama, I entered the real estate business becoming a sales associate in my parent’s company. By making me earn my place in the company, they taught me about the business world and how to genuinely care for people. They also taught me how to run a business with integrity. I have continued in the real estate business as a sales associate, broker, trainer, and recruiter over many years, and God has used me to minister in a variety of ways.
While working in real estate, the desire for ministry continued to tug at my heart. After much prayer and counsel, I entered Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. After only two months in seminary, I had an opportunity to be an interim Youth Minister at Brookwood Baptist Church. Ten months later, I was their full time Youth Minister, as well as, a full-time student at Beeson. The journey God laid before me was beyond what I could have ever imagined. I did not realize that for many years, God had been preparing me for this season. God knew the desires of my heart even before I acknowledged those desires. Working with youth has been a blessing that has extended far beyond the years I served.
As I was nearing the end of this ministry opportunity at Brookwood, God intercepted my life with Kathy’s. Kathy and I had known each other years earlier, but the intercessory prayers of her mother intervened, and we did not start dating until we had both finished graduate school.
God was gracious to me, and I married my best friend! After our wedding, I returned to Beeson Divinity School, this time on staff as the Director of the Extension Division. This program equipped Christians to be leaders in their churches through theological education and practical ministry training from outstanding teachers and professors.
I enjoyed traveling the state and meeting people from all walks of life who desired knowledge of God’s Word. I have had the privilege of sustaining long term relationships with many of these professors, and they continue to influence my life today.
I had always thought it would be neat to have twins. Right after my 40th birthday, we found out that Kathy was pregnant. And on December 21, 2001, our twins, Margaret Ann and Austin, were born. God is so GOOD! He knew the desires of my heart. Our children have been such a tremendous blessing from God.
There are many memories Kathy and I treasure, as all parents do when your children are growing up: ballet recitals, piano recitals, cub scouts, and Pinewood Derby Cars races. There were also more serious seasons in life that served to strengthen our family bonds.
In the summer of 2016, Austin had surgery to correct a condition call Pectus Excavatum. The condition would require putting a 13-inch bar in his chest that would stay for the next three years. To see Austin’s faith and bravery that summer, and to watch how Margaret Ann encouraged and showed her love for him through it all, taught us much about our children.
Kathy had the blessing of leading both Margaret Ann and Austin to Jesus at our home, and I had the privilege of baptizing them together. Today, they are both freshman at Samford University and involved in Dawson's College Ministry. We are now empty nesters with our two wonderful dogs, Max and Raz, who are both 11.
Over the years, I have had a variety of bi-vocational and full-time ministry opportunities. Throughout that time, I have come to understand and firmly believe that we are all ministers as Christians regardless of what we do as our profession or role in life.
Three years ago, I merged my real estate company with ERA King. Doing that allowed me to focus on just being a sales associate with no management responsibilities. This was definitely a time of transition, yet, I found myself praying and looking for opportunities to return to ministry and be a member of a church staff.
We had been visiting Dawson. One evening Brad Gowing called and asked if I could have lunch with him. At lunch, he asked me to consider and pray about coming on Dawson's staff to minister to our Senior Adults. Dawson had always been a church I had desired to serve in someday; I just never thought it could be possible.
After praying and having discussions with Brad, Pastor David, and Jim Gifford, God made every detail very clear. Kathy and I knew Dawson was the place God had called us. I accepted the call and we joined Dawson as a family. God was at work in His timing with all of the details of our life. He gave me the desire of my heart beyond what I could imagine, just as He has throughout my whole life, and it was all in His perfect timing.
By the time you are reading this, I will have now been at Dawson for almost six months. The church and staff have made me feel very much at home from the very beginning. Ministry looks different today because of COVID-19. I am getting to know people via Zoom (not a bad thing since the names are always there), and on the telephone, with notes and letters, and through conference calls and emails, as well as attending some in-person Life Group meetings during the week. I have found myself ministering through some very hard times through sickness and death of loved ones. Many I had not had the opportunity to meet in person. These days have been difficult, but there is no doubt in my mind that God has called me into relationship with some very special people to serve and love during a pandemic. I am thankful that God has given me this opportunity to serve and hopefully to make a difference in these unprecedented times.
I bring to Dawson the same passion I had years ago as a Youth and Young Adult Minister. I seek to guide and encourage Christians to live transformed lives and make a difference in the world around us! I am confident that the resources of wisdom and godly life experiences of older adults have impacted and will continue to impact this church and community. I love what President Jimmy Carter recently said, “My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have to try to make a difference.” Jimmy Carter at age 96 is still making a difference in the lives of people. What a statement of faith! Nearly every godly leader in the Bible who lived a long life lived out their lives serving God in significant ways.
Whatever stage of life we are in, God has a mission for us. We may come to the point of our secular career retirement, but there is no retirement in God’s work. There is no greater work than being about the redeeming work of Christ, which will last for eternity.
I look forward to working alongside you in person to fulfill Dawson’s mission: “To become and help others become faithful servants of Jesus Christ.” I have been inspired and blessed by seeing how you have ministered to one another in love. There will come a day when we can go beyond Zoom and social distancing and make a difference, give some hugs, have some fun, and celebrate good days ahead.
I am still learning that God’s timing and plans are always perfect. It is about faith and obedience. The goal is to finish strong the race God has set before us. God uses all of our past experiences to prepare us down the road for all that He has called us to do. Just as the shadows and highlights add depth and dimension to a beautiful painting, so God uses our struggles and circumstances in life to create the portrait that is uniquely us. No stroke of the paintbrush is ever wasted in the Master Artist’s hand!
Looking forward to serving with you.
Tommy Sanders became Dawson's Minister to Senior Adults in August of 2020. He is married to Kathy who teaches at Vestavia Hills Elementary West. Their twins, Margaret Ann and Austin, are freshmen at Samford University.