Keith Skaar, a member of First Baptist Church in Midland since 1989 where he serves as a deacon and trustee, is a petroleum geologist and has worked in the oil and gas exploration business for 35 years. From deep in the heart of one Texan, Skaar shares his background and thoughts on being a follower of Christ in the marketplace. To suggest a Texas Baptist leader in the marketplace to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I love and am proud to fellowship in a Baptist body of Christ and love the cooperative work of Baptists, not only here in Texas, but throughout the world. I owe my Christian heritage to Baptists.
What other businesses have you been in, and what were your positions there?
I worked some part-time jobs in the restaurant business at night to make ends meet in the mid-1980s but have worked steady in the oil and gas business, even through that brief time period.
Where did you grow up?
My dad was a chemical engineer for Shell Oil; so, we moved around every four years. My young childhood was spent in southern Illinois, my grade school years were spent in Odessa, and my middle school and high school years were spent in Humble.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
My mother grew up in a broken home. At the invitation of some friends when she was a teenager, she accepted Christ as her Savior in the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, when Dr. J.D. Gray was pastor.
My father was the youngest child of Norwegian immigrants. He was serving as a young GI at the end of World War II, building barracks for Lackland Air Base in San Antonio, when he made his public profession of faith and was obedient in baptism at Riverside Baptist Church.
I became a follower of Christ at the age 6. I remember attending an evening worship service with my family at Calvary Baptist Church in Edwardsville, Ill. I don’t remember anything about the sermon Rev. Freeman preached, but I remember clearly a real conviction from the Spirit urging me to go forward at the altar call to acknowledge I was a sinner in need of a Savior.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I graduated from Humble High School in 1980 and Baylor University in 1984 with a Bachelor of Science degree in geology and a petroleum major.
Life in the marketplace
Why do you feel called into the marketplace?
As a teenager, a small group of men in my church, Forest Cove Baptist Church in Humble, were owners or partners of independent companies in the domestic oil and gas business. After services, they always seemed to gather in a group and talk about their week in business while everyone else broke into groups defined most by their friendships.
I never noticed a group of accountants gather together to talk accounting or engineers gathering to review the events of their week. My Dad was an engineer, but I never saw him gather with other engineers to talk “shop.”
I became fascinated by what these independent oil and gas men did. As they provided me opportunities to observe and experience their business during my collegiate years, I knew the oil and gas industry was for me.
Even as the domestic industry collapsed in the late 1980s and struggled all through the 1990s, in all my career trials, I never lost faith that our Lord called me to be a geologist in the oil and gas business to fulfill a purpose.
How does being a Christian influence your decisions in the marketplace?
To paraphrase some Scriptures:
“Love God and love others, upon these two commands hang all the Law and Prophets.”
“He who would be greatest among you, let him be the servant of all.”
“Promotion comes neither from the east or the west, north or south, but it is the Lord who lifts up some and pulls down others.”
The world tells us we have to look out for ourselves first and foremost because no one else will. I am free to engage the marketplace each day as a follower of Christ Jesus, looking out for his interests and the interests of others, rather than being consumed each day looking out for my own.
Our Lord’s Spirit equips me to engage in the marketplace serving others, putting their interests ahead of my own because I have a “Heavenly Father who knows I have needs and gives good gifts to his children” and “longs to be gracious to me, rising up to show compassion.”
What is your favorite aspect of the marketplace? Why?
I always am amazed at the creativity of the free market. The marketplace identifies a need and creatively responds to meet those needs, rewarding those who are best at it. Certainly, in the Permian Basin oil industry, we see evidence of that each day. There are still problems to solve, but the market has found the people and development resources to keep everything growing.
I pray the church would learn from the market by identifying needs in our communities and meeting those needs, representing our Lord in service and earning the opportunity to share the words of eternal life.
The Roman emperor Justin the Apostate, who gave one last effort to push back against the Christian church, declared the problem he faced to be “ … these Christians, they not only feed their own, but they feed our hungry people as well, the Christians not only bury their dead, but they bury our dead as well.”
The early Christian Church exploded in growth throughout the Roman Empire, identifying a need in their community—which at the time was burying those who died of plague—and meeting that need. Our modern communities don’t need burial services, but our churches do need to be better at identifying our community needs and meeting those needs so they can earn the privilege of sharing the answer to the fundamental need of all humanity, which is Jesus Christ.
What one aspect of the marketplace would you like to change?
I fear the truth about service is getting lost, particularly among our young people. I have numerous young people come by my office asking for money. They are fresh out of college and are responding to a calling to serve our Lord by joining some non-denominational Christian non-profit where they have to raise their own salary in order to serve.
I never question their calling, but often wonder why they feel the only way to answer their calling to serve our Lord is in a “full-time” ministry where they have to beg family and friends of their parents to provide for their salaries.
I think the marketplace is losing more and more influence from engaged Christian young people because they don’t believe there is a place to serve our Lord in the secular world.
As a trustee of First Baptist Church in Midland, I help oversee funds that provide “personal support for Baptist missionaries serving in a foreign field.” Over the past 10 years alone, we have been privileged to provide support to more than 100 church plants through indigenous missionaries, most of whom are bivocational.
Our most effective vocational missionaries all have spent a large portion of their lives engaging in the business world before surrendering to a full-time calling. They are the best at identifying the needs of their target communities and finding the resources to meet those needs. As a result, our Lord’s church is exploding throughout the world.
What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is our Lord’s answer to Martha as she complains that Mary is not working but only enjoying fellowship and learning in the presence of our Lord. Jesus told Martha there are so many important things to worry about—such as feeding and serving the Body of Christ—but there is only one necessary thing.
Baptists in America seem to preoccupy ourselves with conflicts over some important things often to the neglect of the one necessary thing. We seem to have let our differences on important things distract us from presenting to our communities and the world our common bond—the one necessary thing.
Jesus said, “All men will know you are my disciples by the love you have one for another.” I really doubt sometimes that the world is seeing the love.
We meet as a large convention where we are supposed to gather to figure out how to cooperate together to share the words of eternal salvation with the world. We end up making scriptural pronouncements on submission of wives.
Just like Martha, we have lost focus, being distracted over important matters while neglecting the “one necessary thing.”
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
I have too many mentors to name them all. One piece of advice sticks out. Bruce Wilbanks—the first independent to drill below 20,000 feet, breaking the world’s record for drill time by six months—told me that “in this business, we are all just learning.” That wisdom applies not only to the oil and gas business but to life itself.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
During my freshman year in college, my brother—Bill Skaar, pastor of First Baptist Church in Grand Prairie—was president of Baylor University’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter, and so, I attended. That fall semester, we went through The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges, which not only made a lasting impact on me but really introduced me to the world of Christian literature.
C.S. Lewis, Max Lucado, John Eldridge, Philip Yancey and Erwin McManus all come to mind as authors I have enjoyed and who have made significant impacts on my life at very strategic times.
I also enjoy Joel Rosenberg political thrillers.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
“All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), and “trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3: 5-6) are promises that should always be fresh in our minds and hearts daily.
I have a friend walking through a tragic and dark circumstance, and obscure Scriptures come to mind, such as found in Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” “I’ve been young, and now I am old, but I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging for bread.” Like Solomon, I can say I’ve never seen his word fail. Even in the tragedy my friend is walking through now, I know one day our Lord will stand him up again as a tall reed in the wind, and his flame will shine bright again.
I don’t know how I would get through life without the promises, guidance and assurances of Scripture.
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
Jonathan, son of Saul. Like him, all of us have been named a “son of the king.” Likewise, this is not heaven, and we all still dwell as children of God in “occupied territory.” We may think we are insignificant and can’t make an impact, but “nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). Like Jonathan, we need just to be faithful to our calling, and our Lord will do the rest.
If you could get one “do over” in the marketplace, what would it be, and why?
In a Romans 8:28 sense, I am not sure which failure, mistake or struggle God didn’t use for my good to mold me into the follower of Christ I am today. Hopefully, as I continue to mature in the faith, I’ll need a lot less discipline and will be more responsive and obedient to our Lord’s Spirit to grow in my Christian walk.