Sands makes history

History was made on Nov. 10 when Alex Sands, pastor of Kingdom Life Church in Simpsonville, became president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He is the first African-American to ever serve as president of the SCBC in its 200-year history.

How does he feel about this moment of historical significance? “I am humbled, honored and excited. To be the first of anything is humbling,” he says. “I am honored that South Carolina Baptist churches would see enough in me to desire for me to serve in this position, and I am excited to see what God has for us as we move out of 2020 into 2021. I don’t see me being elected the first African-American president of the SCBC as an accident. I believe God has ordained and orchestrated it for such a time as this. I do not see myself as exceptionally gifted, but I believe God has great things in store for us in 2021.”

He talks about the divisiveness the nation has experienced in 2020 and is ready to move forward. The theme he has chosen for the 2021 annual meeting is “Advance Together,” building on the thought that we are “better together.” He plans to emphasize “advancing the kingdom of God together through partnerships, unity, pastoral health, church revitalization and so much more.” His vision is to “see disciples made, who are connecting with God and His family, growing in maturity, serving God with their gifts, and going into the world sharing Christ.”

Sands and his wife, Shana, have been married for 25 years and have two sons — Christian, 18, and Blake, 16. He says being the founding pastor of a church that is now 17 years old has been a blessing. “It has been a joy to see people come to faith in Christ — in some cases, learning that they were cultural Christians who were not truly born again. They began to understand the gospel and give their lives to Christ. It is a blessing to see marriages stay together through all the storms.

“We have been able to see children that we discipled go to high school, get married and start families. It has been a joy seeing how they have been discipled and grown up as part of the Kingdom Life family,” he observed. “The rewards are so rich. I would not trade it for anything.”

Sands grew up in Maryland while his late father was an Army colonel. “He was a physicist and a chemist, working at the Pentagon,” he said. “I don’t know all the things that he did, because I was not allowed to know all the things he did.”

The last-born of four children, he graduated from North Carolina State University and Georgia Tech, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering. He moved to the Greenville area of South Carolina for his first engineering job. At age 25, he trusted Christ as Savior in 1995 and quickly developed a deep interest in studying God’s Word and serving Him. “God started to stir my heart for ministry not long after I was saved,” he said. “God led our group of 12 to start Kingdom Life Church in 2003. I began seminary classes at night while working full-time during the day.

“We met together for encouragement and to study God’s Word,” he said. “But we did not know what we were doing. I knew I needed help, so I just walked into the Greenville Baptist Association, and they began to provide us with resources, help, and a coach.”

As time moved forward, the group realized how much they had in common with South Carolina Baptists. The Greenville Baptist Association and the SCBC provided financial assistance for the church start, and Kingdom Life joined the SCBC in 2005. Sands completed his M.Div. degree from Gardner-Webb University in 2008. The church has consistently grown and was averaging over 400 people per Sunday before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

One of the guiding principles of his church is collaboration, which states, “We believe in partnering with like-minded churches and organizations across racial and denominational lines for the sake of the kingdom of God.” When people ask, “Are you a black church or a white church?” they answer, “Yes.”

“We have loved our time in the Upstate — knowing that God called us here. We have seen Greenville and the Upstate grow,” he said. When asked about the difficulties and blessings of pastoral ministry, he is quick to emphasize the blessings, but acknowledges that one of the biggest challenges is “the challenge of trying to disciple people to follow Christ while the culture is trying to disciple people to follow the world.”

As he takes his place in the history of this state convention, he does so with humility and confidence in Christ. “I want to thank the SCBC for their support and cooperation. I am looking forward to 2021, when we come together to advance the kingdom and show the world the unity that is in Christ. It’s what the church has always had in its DNA. Let’s advance the kingdom of God together,” he said.

In closing remarks to the 200th annual meeting of the SCBC, incoming President Sands noted that the first president of the convention was Richard Furman, an outspoken proponent of slavery.  Sands said in heaven he plans to speak to “Brother Furman” and say, “You were number one — I was number 200.”