FIRST GLIMPSE: A Burden for Free Will Baptists
"Free Will Baptists prayed for a Burden, and God gave them one."
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard this dry quip from Executive Secretary Keith Burden. It's typical Keith. He doesn't take himself too seriously. But after 15 years working in the office next to his, I have learned he always takes the Lord's work seriously.
Recalling my time with Keith, six words come to mind—six "B" words for Burden.
Bible. After three decades of pastoring churches in California and Oklahoma, Keith arrived at the Executive Office in 2002 with a pastoral heart, a love for the Word of God, and a gift for simple, brief, yet powerful preaching. He is a true student of the Word, and I offer him the highest praise I can: I've never heard him preach without being fully prepared.
Books. Not only is Keith an excellent writer who has won numerous awards for his editorials in Contact and ONE magazines (though he would never tell you), he is also concerned about the books. The records. After 15 years as clerk of the Oklahoma State Association and 18 years as assistant clerk of the National Association, he became clerk of the National Association when Waldo Young stepped down. He served three years, until accepting his current role. Keith remains passionate about recording the history of the denomination. He once told me, "We have a generation that doesn't have a real appreciation for its history. It's so important for the denomination to understand how it came into being and the weight of its legacy."
Budget. Nobody warned Keith he would face the most devastating financial downturn since the Great Depression during his time as executive secretary. He faced excruciating staffing decisions, trimmed the office budget to the bone, and often refused a raise to ensure his staff received one. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other denominational leaders, Keith weathered the storm. In spite of the challenges, he leaves the office with a positive financial picture.
Bold. I never wondered where I stood with Keith. He always spoke truth. Boldly. He never picked a fight; neither did he run from conflict. He faced it head on. I haven't always agreed with Keith (don't tell him), but I always knew he stood for what he believed and, more importantly, what he thought God wanted.
Boomer. The office didn't change Keith. Don't misunderstand. The position took its toll. The constant travel, challenging situations, and tough decisions wore on him. But he remains a small-town Oklahoma pastor at heart. He's a quiet man, but if you want to get him talking, just ask him about his family...or Sooner football. Then pull up a chair.
Birdie. You learn a lot about someone when you play golf. Keith was too busy to play much golf, but those rare matches taught me a lot. He played his own game, never trying to match distance with the big hitters. He hit it short and straight down the fairway. Really straight! And, no matter how bleak the score, he never quit. Too many times I arrived at the 18th tee one up, only to walk off the final green shaking my head. Keith gave it everything he had until the very end. True in golf. True at the office.
We'll miss him.
About the Columnist: Eric K. Thomsen is managing editor of ONE Magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.