"When God carved out creation, scooped out the oceans and raised up the hills and mountains, in His omniscience, He planned for one of those hills to be home to a body of believers in Richmond, Kentucky. He knew that one day we would cross paths and have the awe-inspiring opportunity to minister together and reach others in this community for Christ."
That was the sentiment expressed by Dr. Travis Farris upon accepting a call to become senior pastor of Richmond's largest Southern Baptist church - First Baptist Church (FBC).
Farris, 38, comes to First Baptist following five years in a similar pastoral role at Owensboro's Walnut Memorial Baptist Church. He began his Richmond ministry on Nov. 1.
A native of Lincoln County, Ky., Farris follows Dr. Bill Fort, who, after 22-and-a-half years of ministry at FBC, retired June 9, 2019. Following Fort's retirement, Rev. Bill Wright, the church's current director of senior adult ministries, served in an interim role as senior pastor for 16 months until Farris' arrival.
When anyone drives through Richmond, Farris noted it is impossible to miss First Baptist Church as it sits atop a hill that overlooks the Eastern Bypass - a heavily-trafficked, four-lane roadway that runs at the bottom of that hill.
Farris desires that First Baptist be inextricably linked to the community and region as Richmond and Madison County continue to be one of Kentucky's fastest-growing micropolitan areas.
"It has been said that a church is either growing or dying, moving forward or moving downward," Farris said. "I so desire that First Baptist be a growing church that wants to move forward. With the population growth in Richmond and Madison County, we must seize the moment and shine the light!
"If First Baptist is going to be a part of this growth, we must be willing to meet people where they are," he said. "I pray that we as a faith family live Great Commission lives and fulfill it with Great Commandment love."
Farris envisions "boundless opportunities" for Richmond's First Baptist Church, which has more than two thousand members.
"My heart is beating fast as I ponder the ministry opportunities we have," said Farris. "Ministerially speaking, it is abundantly clear that First Baptist desires to grow and is open to new and innovative ways to reach the community. From providing meals at the Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) at Eastern Kentucky University to the Cross Life Service and the Glow Trail, I am thrilled to see ministry and missions being carried out," Farris said.
Engaging with EKU students is of utmost interest to the pastor.
"There is no doubt that the overarching presence of the great Eastern Kentucky University permeates Richmond. Knowing that the enrollment is pressing 18,000 strong, how could we not have a heart for college ministry! This is an area of ministry that invigorates me! I love college students, their questions and perspectives. So, this is most definitely an area I want to explore for ministry opportunities," he said.
Farris also said he wants to provide ministry outreach to local and regional pastors, too.
"I am a pastor who loves pastors," Farris said, who served in 2018 as president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention's Pastors Conference. "It seems that First Baptist is somewhat of a regional church, and I would like to use that opportunity to love on and encourage brother pastors in the area."
"We could provide resources, facilities and make our own staff available for counsel as we minister to them. Also, I know from personal experience that ministry can, at times, be a lonely and tiring place to be. Keeping that in mind, I would like to consider holding a monthly pastors conference at our church that would offer fellowship and seek to provide co-laborship as we work collectively to win Richmond and Madison County to the Lord," the pastor continued.
In addition to "loving to be a pastor," Farris is devoted to his family.
Farris and his wife of 17 years, Jessica, are the parents of one daughter, JaiCee, 15, and two sons - Silas, 11, and Titus, 8.
When asked about his family, Farris instantly beamed with pride as he spoke of his wife and their children.
"I am blessed beyond measure with a family who loves Jesus and is always prepared to serve," Farris said. "My wife, Jessica, is my greatest cheerleader and she also happens to be my high school sweetheart. Collectively, she and our children have accompanied me to the Southern Baptist Convention, Kentucky Baptist Convention and on various missions trips. I cannot commend them enough for their investment in ministry."
"We have been overwhelmed by the love, care and encouragement of our new faith family at First Baptist Richmond," Farris added. "I am thoroughly impressed with the staff and their investment in the Kingdom. The hospitality of the church as a whole and its members has been nothing less than heartwarming. My family and I are truly grateful for the warmth we have experienced. I want to especially thank Bill Wright for his faithful service during the interim. He was God's man at the right time. We, as a church family, are the beneficiaries of his service. And to Dr. Bill Fort who, for nearly 23 years, gave of himself faithfully and selflessly to the ministry of this church. I am personally grateful to them as well as members of the church's pastoral search committee, chaired by Mike Reed."
Farris is a 2000 graduate of Lincoln County High School. His parents, Harvey and Bonnie Farris, reside in the Lincoln County community of Crab Orchard. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Pastoral Ministries and Biblical Studies with a minor in Greek from Clear Creek Bible College, a certificate from Liberty University in Applied Hermeneutics, a Master of Theological Studies from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Theology from Andersonville (Ga.) Theological Seminary.
In his free time, Farris enjoys the outdoors and reading.
"I am an avid hunter and reader," he said. "I enjoy incorporating my family into my outdoor activities. Our favorite season is the fall and so presently, we are enjoying the beauty of Richmond and the surrounding area."
Farris also enjoys the biblical and historical aspects of Israel.
"You don't have to be around me for long to discover that I love Israel," he said. "I have led several tours there and we have another one scheduled March 23-31, 2021. I am convinced that biblical geography enhances our study and brings the Bible to life. I thoroughly enjoy seeing those who travel with me to Israel capture a better understanding of biblical events."
No matter what role Farris may have at the time, whether that be family man, pastor, biblical scholar or outdoorsman - it all comes down to this for him: "My soul's ambition is to make Jesus known. I want folks to know Jesus is our hope."
Marc C. Whitt lives in Richmond, Kentucky, where he and is wife, Jennifer, are members of First Baptist Church. He may be followed on Twitter (@marcwhitt).