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Keith Burden

one to one: my pastor, my hero

Keith Burden is the executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. Email Keith at


To learn more about the National Association of Free Will Baptists, visit


He was my father in the ministry and epitomized the word PASTOR.


Preacher. He was a true preacher of the gospel. I had the privilege of sitting under his preaching for 17 years. He did not have much formal education, but was a genuine student of the Word.

I never heard him preach a “bad” sermon. He didn’t tell jokes, stories, or use many illustrations. He kept Scripture in proper context.

His delivery was powerful, passionate, and persuasive. He believed what he was saying and convinced listeners to agree. He followed the advice he gave me—stand up, speak up, shut up, and sit down!

Abrupt. Other synonyms could be used…direct, frank, candid, honest. I never asked my pastor what he thought unless I really wanted to know, because he would tell me the truth.

Singer. This guy had a voice! No one could sing The Master of Blue Galilee quite like him. He influenced me to love and appreciate music and encouraged young folks to use their voices by singing in church. He showed me that you didn’t have to be a sissy to be a singer.

Tenderhearted. His tough exterior could fool you. Unless you spent some time around him you could miss this quality. Though not overly emotional, he could feel deeply. On occasions I saw him weep.

Alzheimer’s disease ravaged his final days, but when he still recognized me he would hug me, tell me he was proud of me, and wipe tears from his eyes.

Observant. While attending youth camp the summer of 1971, I sat struggling with God’s call upon my life during an evening service. It had been an ongoing struggle I thought was unnoticed. My pastor walked over, put his arm around my shoulder and asked, “Is the Lord calling you to preach?”

That’s all it took. I surrendered my life to the ministry. Without his encouragement it would have been difficult to publicly acknowledge the call to preach. He later told me he had observed God dealing with me for some time.

Responsible. My pastor was responsible for my going to Hillsdale. He said if I was going to be a preacher I needed to attend a Free Will Baptist college. He was also responsible for my staying in school. My freshman year I became unsettled and considered changing colleges. One winter’s day, my pastor drove over 200 miles to give me one of his “abrupt” lectures. I don’t remember all he said except he convinced me to stay in school. He kept me from doing something I would have later regretted.

Bailey ThompsonMy pastor was partially responsible for my life partner. Before I ever met her, he told me I would marry Debbie. The rest, of course, is history.

To some extent he was responsible for my being Executive Secretary today. Unknowingly, he pointed me down this road—baptizing me in 1966, ordaining me in 1975, and he never stopped cheering me on to be all that I could be for God.

Without apology I say thank you to my hero, Pastor Bailey Thompson, for being a godly role model and believing in a little nobody boy from Poteau, Oklahoma.

In loving memory of Reverend Bailey Thompson (1931-2008)




©2009 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists