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Keahbone says Gospel, CP ‘key to who we are,’ looks to increase participation in SBC

Editor’s note: Baptist Press will be releasing interviews with all six known SBC presidential candidates in the coming days.

NASHVILLE (BP) – It was an older lady knocking on his door that truly helped Mike Keahbone start his faith journey. The lady was from a church down the street, and she was inviting him to Vacation Bible School.

Keahbone, 52, pastor First Baptist Church in Lawton, Oklahoma, is one of the known candidates to be nominated for SBC president at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting.

Growing up with a Native American heritage (he’s on the Comanche role), Keahbone says when things were good they were good, and when they were bad they were really bad. Alcoholism and addiction took a toll on his family.

While he spent many of his formative years under the ministry of First Baptist Church in Elgin, Oklahoma, it wasn’t until college that he truly became a follower of Christ.

He vividly remembers hearing the Gospel preached at Cameron University’s Baptist Student Union on Nov. 1, 1990, and feeling the weight of conviction.

“The Holy Spirit of God convicted my soul, and I knew that I was lost. I knew that I had learned a lot about God. I knew I had learned a lot about His Word, but I was lost,” Keahbone said.

“And so that night I went forward during the invitation. I went to (associate director) Danny Tomb’s office, and he led me to the Lord.”

When he went home to Elgin, on a Sunday night he let his church family know what had happened. Two surprising things occurred after that announcement.

First, he said, “The matriarch of our church, just a sweet, you know, what I thought was a godly, godly woman came forward during the invitation and gave her heart and life to Jesus. She said that she had lived a lie.”

Next, he said people began asking him if he thought he was called to vocational Christian ministry.

Those observations led him down a path toward youth ministry, being a full-time evangelist, and, eventually, a senior pastor.

Cooperative Program is ‘part of the heartbeat of who we are’

Keahbone is a member of the SBC Executive Committee, so he has a front row seat to the work of the SBC.

“There are two things Southern Baptists are known for,” he said. “One is sharing the Gospel and the other is the Cooperative Program. Through the Cooperative Program we’re able to put missionaries all over the planet.

“I think it’s this incredible opportunity for us to be united and why we’re here. … It’s part of the heartbeat of who we are.”

Keahbone said he and his church staff regularly try to educate the church about CP and encourage them to give to seasonal SBC offerings.

“A part of (our) new members class … is specifically on the Cooperative Program,” he said. “We want every member in our church to know exactly what it is.”

The role of SBC president

Before being willing to be nominated to serve, Keahbone talked with three different former SBC presidents to ask questions about the role.

From that, he’s formed an idea of how he would lead as SBC president. He said he would:

  • Want to be open to questions from Southern Baptists
  • Avoid hiding behind someone or something
  • Fight for the messengers’ vote

“I think the president has an important role in trying to make sure there’s a constant reminder this is what our messengers decided to do, this is what they voted to do,” he said.

When it comes to selecting Southern Baptists to serve on committees, Keahbone said, “I want to make sure that every voice is represented and try to make every voice represented equally.”

He believes for the convention to be healthy “our committees need to reflect the membership of our Convention.”

Dealing with pressing issues

While Keahbone is focused on issues such as the so-called Law Amendment and the call for greater transparency in the SBC, he said, “The Gospel and the Cooperative Program are the key to who we are. We’ve got to get refocused on that 100 percent at the same time.”

He said he wants strive for transparency in the SBC “the right way.”

“With the collective genius of everybody that we have in our Convention, I just think that it’s very possible to get a group together and figure out a good plan for transparency that satisfies the people who are opponents of transparency and the people who want transparency,” he said.

Keahbone doesn’t believe the SBC has anything to hide.

The Oklahoma pastor hosted Virginia pastor Mike Law in a forum last month to discuss the amendment facing a second vote by messengers in Indianapolis this June. It was Law’s motion, made at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting, that called for language addressing the role of pastor to be added to the SBC Constitution.

“I’m very much a complementarian,” Keahbone said. “I believe that the role of senior pastor has got to be a man.” Still, he said he does not see the need for the amendment to the SBC Constitution.

He believes there is lack of clarity in the way the amendment would be interpreted and applied.

“I know of at least three different interpretations of the Law Amendment coming from guys that are all in favor,” he said.

This leads him to believe there is still confusion surrounding the consequences of passing the amendment that could lead to confusion in ethnic churches and hurt among women who are serving in ministry roles.

Keahbone has served two terms as a member of the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force and was a member of its predecessor, the Sexual Abuse Task Force.

He says that while the investigation in sexual abuse did not uncover Convention-wide mishandling of abuse claims, “… what it did uncover is that our churches are ill prepared to prevent abuse and to respond to abuse.”

Keahbone said the ARITF has been working toward, “How do we help our churches be better at prevention? How do we make our churches better at responding when that crisis comes?”

He’s excited about the free resources that will be released in Indianapolis “that are going to help every church who wants to walk through the process of excellent prevention and excellent response.”

Showing the world who Southern Baptists are

Keahbone said if he’s elected president, he would like to put some effort behind getting more Southern Baptists to attend the annual meeting.

“I think we ought to be able to put together a great team of brilliant people that can figure out how is it that we can get more participation from churches that can’t make it to convention,” he said, citing travel expense and other costs as a reason some pastors and church leaders are unable to attend.

Keahbone said he would look forward to opportunities to tell the world about who Southern Baptists really are if he’s elected president.

Along with ministries like disaster relief, he said he wants the outside world to see how local churches care for their communities.

“I would want to show the world what we really do on a day-to-day basis …,” he said. “I think about churches right here in my own state that during the darkest and hardest times of COVID, they had food trucks in their parking lot, giant food trucks, and they were handing out groceries and they were handing out supplies, hand sanitizer, all the things that, you know, folks needed during that time.

“I would want to show them churches that when temperatures were going to be below freezing, they opened up their whole church and they had food and they had cots and they volunteers staying up 24/7 to make sure that our homeless community weren’t going to be hurt or even die because of the weather that was going on there.”

The 2024 presidential election is scheduled for Tuesday night, June 11, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Candidates can be nominated to serve as SBC president until the time of the vote.

    About the Author

  • Brandon Porter

    Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee

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