Today I learned that one of my dearly loved mentors in the ministry went home to be with Jesus on Monday. W.O. Sanders was a part of spiritual journey for as long as I can remember. He baptized me when I was nine years old. Later, when I was called to ministry, he would invite me to preach at every church that he served in. Those experiences were shaping and formative for a youngster called to ministry.
When I turned 21, I took my first ministry position. It didn’t go well. My first Sunday was the pastor’s last Sunday. In the four months I lasted, I made every mistake in the book. I resigned in defeat on a Wednesday, and that Sunday morning, I went home to my church. It was Homecoming. W.O. Sanders was the guest preacher that morning. He saw me as soon as he arrived and came over to find out why I wasn’t at the church where I was on staff. I explained what happened, and before he left, he booked me to preach where he was interim two weeks later. I graciously accepted, but I knew that I didn’t want to do anything ministry-related so soon, possibly ever. The thing is, W.O. was a hard man to say no too.
I went to the church two weeks later and shared my testimony. It felt good, but I was still licking my wounds. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get back in the ministry saddle again. W.O. had other plans. On Wednesday of that week, there was a knock on my apartment door. Brother Sanders came in and sat down. I’ll never forget that conversation. He said, “Clint, I want you to pray about something.” “What’s that, Brother Sanders?” He said, “I want you to pray about coming to the church and being my Associate Pastor/Youth Minister.” I told him that I was hurt, that I didn’t want to be in ministry again, and that I just needed a break. He didn’t say much, but as he rose to leave, he said, “You just pray about it.”
Well, if I’m honest, I didn’t pray about it. I was so hurt, I didn’t want any part of ministry anymore. Brother Sanders wasn’t having it. The following Monday, less than a week later, there was another knock on my door. I opened to find him standing there again. He came in, took a seat on the sofa, and said, “We voted on you last night. You can start when you want.”
I must have sat in stunned silence for a while. He just smiled, told me what time church started that Wednesday and excused himself. I began my ministry there that Wednesday night! For the next two years, I watched this Godly man, lead a church, love his wife faithfully, and gently guide me as I grew in my faith and my ministry proficiency. When he went to that church, it had never had pastoral tenure of more than two years. He stayed as “interim” for three years. He led them to renovate the sanctuary, two building projects, and revamped the exterior landscaping all without any strife. He loved and led in such a way to prepare them for the next steps as a church. After we left, they called a Godly pastor who has remained there for 17 years. It might not have been possible without God using W.O. Sanders there during his time. In my time there, God used Brother Sanders and the church to restore my love for people and my heart for ministry. He “retired” 6 months before I left for seminary, but as he was leaving, he instructed the church to keep letting me preach and pay me what they were paying him, because it would help me when I left for school. I might not be where I am today without him. I am forever indebted and grateful for his stubbornness and belief in what God wanted to do through me.
Shortly after I came to Fellowship, I received a call from a Goshen, AL number. It was W.O. He, then 94, said, “Clint, I am going to call your dad one day, and he’s going to come pick me up and bring me to Tallahassee to preach in your church.” What did I say? I said, “Just let me know when you are coming. ” We never were able to work it out. I wish now that we had. I will miss him.
On Monday, he closed his eyes in death, and opened them upon his Savior. He was reunited with his bride, and he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the rest prepared for you before the foundation of the world.” I thank God for W.O. Sanders, and I can’t wait to see him again.