Tuscaloosa pastor’s football days offer platform for gospel

By Bruce Sims
Special to The Alabama Baptist

Keith Pugh, who serves as co-pastor of Alberta Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, well remembers the verse that led him to Christ.

“I was a freshman football player living in Bryant Hall at the University of Alabama,” Pugh said. “I had joined a Bible study that was led by some upperclassmen players. During one session the leader asked everyone to memorize 1 Corinthians 5:17 for the Friday of that week. As I began to memorize the verse, I realized that I wasn’t in Christ. As that thought took root in my mind, I went up to my room, closed the door and asked the Lord to come into my life.”
Pugh then joined a campus ministry that had been formed in the U.S. Navy called Navigators.

“A member of Navigators, Terry Cook, would come by my room on Friday mornings to have a devotion, pray and then talk about anything that was on my mind,” he said. “As a member of Navigators we were shown how to share our faith with others. I found that people all across campus would listen to what we had to say just as we would listen to their responses.”

Sharing the gospel became a burning passion in Pugh’s life as he not only shared with his classmates but his teammates as well.

Called to ministry

“As I began to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I began to feel the Lord calling me into the ministry,” he said. “During summer break I worked at Camp Marannook, a Christian summer camp, and that’s where I met Teresa, my wife to be. I had prayed that the Lord would let me marry a Christian girl, and after seeing how much she loved the Lord, among other attributes, I felt that she was the one.”

Teresa said she had begun praying for her husband at age 15.

“I prayed for the Lord to lock my heart and not to unlock it until the right one came along,” she said. “When I met Keith I felt my heart unlock as I loved him and knew he was the one.”

Counselors couldn’t date while serving at the camp so the two had to wait until their duties had concluded before they could develop their relationship.

“When we were finally able to take a walk by ourselves I told her that I loved her,” he said. “A week later I asked her to marry me, to which she replied with a big, ‘Yes!’”

The two were married May 24, 1980.

“Teresa compliments me as a pastor as we often lead marriage seminars together,” he said. “She is a wonderful speaker, Bible teacher and leader in our women’s ministry.”

During his collegiate days, Pugh was a starting wide receiver on the Crimson Tide’s 1978 and 1979 national championship teams. He also was honored as an All American on the Churchman’s All-America team, which combines football ability and church, and received the Chevrolet Most Valuable Player Award for his play during the 1979 National Championship game against the University of Miami. Pugh also earned three SEC championship rings during his time at Alabama.

Besides his play on the field Pugh earned All-SEC Academic Team honors in 1977 and 1978.

A native of Evergreen, Pugh played his high school ball at Monroe Academy before attending the University of Alabama (UA).

After graduation from UA, Pugh attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned a master’s degree in divinity.

“One of my first jobs was as a Bible teacher and coach at Trinity Presbyterian Academy,” he said. “After that I worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is one of the few Christian clubs that are still found in high schools as it is led by the students themselves.”

Senior pastor position

At the age of 32 he became a senior pastor at First Baptist, Jackson, in Clarke Baptist Association, after having served as the youth pastor at the church.

“From there I went to First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, and then to Open Door Baptist in Tuscaloosa, he said. “In 2011, Tuscaloosa was hit with a horrific tornado. Open Door and Alberta Baptist both suffered extensive damage to their church sanctuaries. As we both considered how we would rebuild, the idea came about to combine our churches.”
The two churches did just that in 2014, and Pugh said 95 percent of his congregation followed him to Alberta.

“So often you hear about churches splitting,” he said, “but how often do you hear about two churches coming together to form a greater church?”

Pugh said that during his preaching career, his former football days have given him a platform to present the gospel.
“I just want to disciple my congregation, and especially the men,” he said. “I want to pour into them what was poured into me back when I was a new Christian at Alabama.”