Keith Wilkerson has been a minister of music in Baptist churches for more than 40 years. For the last year, he has been minister of worship, outreach and senior adults at Sovereign Life Fellowship, a new church start in Longview, Texas.
He has been married to Debbie—his high school sweetheart—for 45 years. They have two children and seven grandchildren. He is a carpenter by trade and was a bi-vocational minister for 12 years before taking a full-time church position in 1988. He recently retired as the director of the Singing Men of East Texas and continues to serve in that ministry. He loves writing Christian music and has published more than 400 songs.
From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on music, church and ministry. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated minister to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you served in ministry and what were your positions there?
• Little Hope Baptist Church in Canton, minister of music and youth
• County Line Baptist Church in Athens, minister of music and youth
• First Baptist Church in Ben Wheeler, minister of music and youth
• First Baptist Church in Liberty City for 30 years, minister of music and youth, then minister of music and senior adults
• First Baptist Church in Idabel, Okla., for one year, minister of music
Where did you grow up?
Little Hope Community near Canton.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
Through the witness of Christian parents and a gospel-proclaiming church. As a 9-year-old boy, I realized I was a sinner and my sin separated me from God. I repented and put my trust in Christ, beginning a journey that continues to this day.
Where were you educated?
I majored in political science and attended community colleges in Richland, Eastfield, Trinity Valley and Tyler.
About ministry life
Why do you feel called into ministry?
God gifted me to carry out this ministry, and I “feel his pleasure” in doing so. The calling was confirmed in my heart by the Holy Spirit and by the churches I have served over the years.
What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?
Worship planning. I love working with my pastor to plan services. Typically, I study the preaching text and outline it as if I was preaching, then plan songs to go with that theme.
What one aspect of ministry gives you the greatest joy?
Leading our church in musical worship. After all these years, I still can’t wait for next Sunday! Being with God’s people when we lift our voice to give him praise is such a joy.
What one aspect of ministry would you like to change?
Ministry with people is always hard, time-consuming and downright messy. If I could wave a banner, it would be to remind us all that it’s not about us but about God and his glory.
How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?
I’ve seen a lot of changes. When I began in ministry, most of us were responsible for music and youth. Thankfully, that has changed. Both ministries have changed so much over the past 40 or so years.
Most Baptist churches had a common song list 40 years ago—the Baptist Hymnal. Now, most of our churches use both old and new music in our expression of praise. Also, most church musicians now are required to have at least a working knowledge of a number of audio and video systems that didn’t exist when I began.
How do you expect ministry to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
I think we’ve already seen the beginnings of some of the changes. Churches have become much more aware of the theology we are singing. Great new hymns are being written. I believe we also will see fewer churches with full-time music ministers in the future as churches plant and employ more part-time staff.
Name the three most significant challenges and or influences facing your ministry.
• Building our church membership while meeting in a hotel conference center.
• Being faithful to biblical models of both teaching and church organization.
• Building a team of godly worship leaders at Sovereign Life Fellowship.
What do you wish more laypeople knew about ministry or, specifically, your ministry?
Just how excited I am about this new work—Sovereign Life Fellowship—with all its challenges and opportunities. To have the opportunity to start a new ministry at the age of 64 is a blessing I could not have imagined.
What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and or congregationally?
Doctrine defines us, but deciding what we can agree to disagree on seems always to be a challenge. How churches operate also is an issue in so many places: committees or not; elders or deacons or both; pastor as executive leader or pastor as shepherd.
What would you change about the Baptist denominationally and or congregationally?
I’d clearly state that the glory of God is our motivation and our goal in worship, evangelism, discipleship and elsewhere.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
I’ve been blessed tremendously to have been impacted by some wonderful men of God.
My friend and pastor for 28 years, Bruce Wells, tops the list as a man who taught me the importance of prayer.
I count Harlan Hall, former minister of music at First Baptist Church in Longview, as a mentor. Much of what I know about leading a choir was learned from him.
Don Howren, former minister of music at First Baptist Church in Texarkana, is a great friend and has been such a source of inspiration to me.
I’ve gained much from the ministry of Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Music.
Also, I couldn’t overstate the value of the relationships I have with my brothers in the Singing Men of Texas.
What did you learn on the job you wish you learned in seminary?
I never attended seminary, but I always said if I had gone, it would probably not be to study music—which came more easily to me—but to study Bible and counseling.
What is the impact of ministry on your family?
I made many mistakes when my kids were younger, particularly in not giving them the time they needed because I was busy at the church. I am grateful my children and grandchildren are active in their local churches and using their gifts to honor the Lord.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper was a life-changing read for me in the early 1990s as I discovered the priority of the glory of God in everything.
Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin is a book I keep reading over and over and have used as a text for worship ministry interns at previous churches.
In His Presence by Byron Allen is my new favorite.
I’m trying to read The Complete Works of John Owen, but it’s a struggle.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Proverbs 3:5-7, because it is the passage we chose for life verses for our children.
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
Joshua. I love Joshua 13:1—“You are old and increased in years, but there remains very much land to be possessed.”
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.
I make some of the best lemonade in the state of Texas.