Kyle Keeton at Black Oak Baptist Church (Photo: Pamela Burke).

The Focus On: Religion page’s “Conversations With Pastors” series continues with Kyle Keeton, pastor at Black Oak Baptist Church. Keeton was ordained to preach in 2003, about four years after he was saved. He has been pastor at Black Oak since 2007; it is the first church he has pastored. He and his wife, April, have three sons.

Independent Herald: When did you announce your call to preach?

Kyle Keeton: I got saved coming up on 20 years ago. On November 1, 1999 I was saved. I was in a Sunday school class and a few years later I felt a call to preach. I was sitting under the pastorate of Jim West and  in Willis Davis’s Sunday school class (at White Rock Baptist Church), just learning, and felt the call to preach. I came to Black Oak to fill in on a Wednesday night. And six months later I was here. That’s how it all started. 

IH: What was that like — experiencing the call to preach?

KK: It was such a strong call. I wish I had known as strong as I know now, the Bible says “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). It was such a strong call. As many people do, I had gone through periods of doubting my salvation. I had doubted my salvation before but I never doubted my call to preach and teach God’s word. That’s how strong of a call it was. I went through a year’s worth of, “Why are those desires there? Why are my passions here and my affections here?” It’s just trying to get down who you are, and what your ideologies will be. It was very  difficult, but He puts that relentless pursuit until you finally succumb to the call. 

I’ve always said that His idea of blessing is better than our own ideas. I wouldn’t have chosen this for myself. The call to the ministry like this — if you’re not called, you won’t survive. I know this is  what God has for me  to do. I can go through the ups and downs and all  the things that go along with it because I know with assurance that He has called me to do this. He was faithful to go to the cross and I’m gonna be faithful,  Lord  willing, to his call.

IH: What was your reaction? Did you “run” from it, as some say?

KK: I think running is an act of rebellion. I think hunkering down and being scared is an act of reverence. I wouldn’t say I ran from it; I’d say I was very reverent of it. I was taught as a young boy to hold that office in high esteem and I had to make sure that I flushed myself of any personal desires and ambitions. Was I scared to death reverently? Yes. As David said, “What time I was afraid, I trusted in Him.” I was afraid. It’s huge.

IH: Most of us don’t like speaking in front of crowds in any setting. It’s hard to imagine the responsibility that comes with stepping into a  pulpit, in that setting. What was that like for the first time?

KK: It’s hard. I’ve played athletics. And in sports you’re out there doing your thing and there’s some nerves with that. As coaches, parents, players, we’ve all been through those pregame jitters.  It’s magnified to the point  that it’s hard to put on a scale. It’s so nerve-racking. And you never get over it. Because you have to first honor God, and you have to help people. You have  to somehow pray that your spirit is complimentary to the message. And then, after that, we have an enemy, as Paul said, even when we do good, evil is present (Romans 7:21), attacking you for this and that, what  you should’ve said and didn’t say. Preaching, teaching, sharing — there’s such fear, almost terror. But if we ever lose that, we lose part of what’s keeping the human flesh in its place. Some people say, “You’ve got a crowd; that must feel good.” I want to make sure I never think, “I’ve got a crowd here to listen to me.” As long as we keep it this way, it’s a good thing. We’ve got to be humble and usable. And if that’s what we’ve got to go through to be humble and usable, that’s a good thing. But it was terrifying. And it still is.

IH: You are a bivocational pastor, with a job that’s in addition to your pastoral responsibilities. How do you balance that?

KK: I am very, very blessed in every area of my life. I have a wife who is dedicated to being a wife and a mother and a support. At my office, I have people dedicated, from my brother to the assistants I have and what God has put around me to provide support. And here at this church I have an associate pastor, youth pastor, assistants. For me to preach and teach God’s word, God has ordained and fixed everything in my life that He’s called me to do. When you say bivocational, one of the biggest things as a pastor, I’m allowed to be a parent. To me, that’s one of the biggest blessings. I get to coach and be with my kids. That’s what I most appreciate. Many people get stripped of the biggest joy in their lives, and that’s being with their kids. The Lord has blessed me to be able to do both.

IH: By the same token, full-time pastors might be more limited in the people they interact with, whereas bivocational pastors interact with an entirely different sector of people in their secular life. Does that help you minister to more people?

KK: When I asked the Lord to save me, I asked him to put me in a place where I could encourage or evangelize. He took me up on that. Even the job I do is a ministry. If you walk into our office, it’s a ministry. Less than 15 percent of people are going to find themselves in a church this Sunday. We must be like Christ. We must be out in the field. We must let people see that we’re both human and it’s important that people get in contact with Christians in what I call more normal environments. I’ve gotten more evangelistic opportunities through being out. A pastor can sometimes get consumed within the church. Christ came down to us. He came to our place of business and transacted what we needed. I  think we have to get out and do that and I try not to let pride keep me shy from being in the secular world.

IH: You mentioned that less than 15 percent of people are going to be in church on Sunday. What is the biggest challenge that is facing churches today?

KK: The biggest challenge today, in our Christian lives and also in church, is that they continue to be Christ-centered and not man-centered. That’s one of the biggest things the Bible warned us about: In the end days, man would have itching ears and desires. A lot of humanity and a lot of even Christians, they want some help with their life. They want Christ to help their life. I know that’s a need because everybody hurts. I hurt, you hurt, we all hurt. We have this fallen body that longs for things and it’s hard to be satisfied. There’s a temptation to want from the church and the pulpit things that will help our life when, ultimately, as we know, our goal as pastors and churches and Christians is that — well, as we know, Paul’s life wasn’t his “best life now.” That’s the hard challenge for the church. We have to trust that, as He said, “If I be lifted up I’ll draw all men nigh.” (John 12:32.) In Christ alone is really what we’ve been preaching around here. Just in Christ alone. 1 Corinthians 15:19 is the verse I live by (“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”) If we keep preaching Christ for this life, we’re just perpetuating the misery of man. Through Christ alone, we preach that the life of faith is tough, you’ll enter into His kingdom through much tribulation, but His grace is sufficient. And we have to be eternally minded.

IH: What does a strong church mean to the community?

KK: I personally think that right now, if you want to see the effects of the church, number one I think is the effect in the living rooms and families of the members. Strong church starts in the families of the church … with husbands and fathers taking responsibilities. Most of the time when that husband and father, that wife and mother, take it serious about Christ in their own family, that automatically bleeds over into their work relationships. They’re usually an encouragement and an evangelistic tool in the workplace. That’s not always seen but I believe that defines the true Gospel when Jesus said in the book of Acts that you should be witnesses in Jerusalem — that’s the living room — and Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. If it starts here, I believe it’ll bleed over. 

That’s one of the challenges of the church. True Christianity is roll your sleeves up. It has challenges. It’s praying fathers, praying husbands, it’s praying moms. It’s leading the family. When those affections get driven towards Christ, they automatically bleed over into our relationships. And it’s good for the community.

And, by the way, I want to say this: We’re blessed to live in this community. I think we see that now. You can go into your place of business, your kids can go to school, and everywhere we go, there are people who take this relationship with Christ serious — so serious that they want to be an encouragement to your children, to my children, to us. We are blessed in this community. I mean that. It’s amazing. Everywhere you go, you’ll see the body of Christ, and not just by profession. You see it, you know it, you believe it, you trust, and it gives you a feel-good. We see that in this community. I’m thankful to live in it.

IH: In saying that, you mentioned earlier the statistic that less than 15 percent of people in this community will be in church on Sunday. That’s actually an incredible number, considering that this is a Christian community. What should that percentage be? Do you have a number in mind?

KK: No. But I have great compassion for those who are dealing with spiritual oppression. For believers who aren’t in church, there are real serious issues that need to be assisted with and helped with, through grace. I’m learning that life is hard. The devil makes it a challenge for us to get to church and he puts up great opposition. I would hope the modern church era could reach out in grace and be able to lift those who have been maybe through their own sin or this cursed world has had an effect on them and that’s knocked them out of the way. Maybe somehow the church can some way reach out in grace and pick them up and connect with them. Because it’s hard on us all. We’re all subject to fall away. I would love to see people trust the church again, come back, and see a good, healthy body when they come back — a Biblical, gracious, but yet strong, bold body. That’s what I would love for people.

IH: Tell us about Black Oak Baptist Church.

KK: I think we’re a humble congregation. I think there’s an effort to make known that God is a sovereign God that they worship. For most of the body’s sake, they understand their own sinfulness that they have to deal with. I would say I’m mostly thankful that for the congregation’s sake I hope you would sense and see that people know who God is and who they are. That is treated with humility. I try to say this every Sunday: We are not here based on our performance. Every Sunday we come and try to worship Him because He’s been faithful. He knows everything about us, everything and every thought we’ve had, but yet he chooses to bless us and love us and keep us safe from the enemy. 

I think you would see a church that’s trying to worship out of gratitude rather than maybe performance or self-righteousness — of which we do not have. That’s what I think people would see: that actually they have gratitude towards God. That’s what we try to preach and teach, just to live that there is a God who, even as sinful and retched as we are, not just before we were saved but since we’ve been saved, yet He still bestows grace. And that should instill truth and sincere worship. I would hope you would sense that if you were here. That’s my prayer.

This story is the October 2019 installment of Focus On: Religion, presented by Huntsville Health & Rehabilitation on the fourth week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Focus On series. A print version of this article can be found on Page A3 of the October 24, 2019 edition of the Independent Herald.