By Susan Mires
BOLIVAR—Mike Pitts describes himself as the biggest cheerleader for Southwest Baptist University (SBU).
At 6-foot-2, he may not be exaggerating. As the new director of athletics, he’s enthusiastic about boosting programs at the university. Pitts said he wants to make sure the 350 student-athletes at SBU are in the best position to succeed in all areas of life.
He also offers a word of advice.
“You have a great opportunity here,” he said. “Don’t map out your life. It can take twists and turns.”
His own path has taken him from SBU’s first graduate in economics in 1985 to a full-time pastorate and now back to Bolivar, where he also serves as pastor of an outreach ministry for First Baptist Church.
“As weird as my path has been, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “Rhonda (his wife) and I love where we are and we love where we’ve been. What would I ever complain about?”
After graduation from SBU, Pitts worked on the Kansas City Board of Trade. While in Kansas City, he began playing piano for a worship service at a nursing home and the call to ministry began to develop. In 1994, he moved to Princeton, N.J., where he was founding pastor of Princeton Bible Church. The church grew from a Bible study of four people to a multicultural membership of more than 100.
But a few years ago, Pitts and his wife began to feel the call back to Missouri, where they could raise their two sons (Jack, now 11, and Brock, now 9) close to their grandparents. The move from New Jersey was one of the most difficult of his life, Pitts said.
“Of the 1,100 miles back, I think I wept for 1,000,” he admitted.
He thanks SBU President C. Pat Taylor for helping him to find his place at the university and feeling at peace with God’s plan. First Baptist Pastor Billy Russell connected Pitts with Wednesday Nights at the Esquire. The Esquire is an old movie theater in downtown Bolivar that First Baptist has transformed into a seeker-sensitive worship center.
“We just help people any way we can, people who struggle in life,” Pitts said. “People drag in all these problems, but they know they’re welcome.”
Most of the 200 weekly attenders at the Esquire have no other church home. They include residents of group homes with physical and mental limitations. For Pitts, the worship service is his favorite hour of his week.
“It’s the way I get my batteries recharged,” he said.
Freddie Pike, minister of education and administration at First Baptist, said Pitts brings passion to the ministry.
“The folks love him. They respond to him very well,” he said.
Pitts’ sermons are informal, interactive discussions, and Pike said the minister is never unnerved by what people might call out to him.
“In his thinking, he’s a strategist and a philosopher. He translates that into common language that people are comfortable with,” Pike said. “He’s very humble. He’s much sharper than he will ever admit to.”
As for his responsibilities as a pastor, athletic director and father, Pitts said he is grateful and humbled all at once.
“I’m in the Book every day, asking God for wisdom every day,” he said.
Pitts served as interim co-director of athletics for a year. Under his leadership, SBU’s corporate sponsorships doubled. In announcing Pitts’ appointment as athletic director May 11, Taylor said his finance background will be an integral part of his management.
“We’re happy where we are athletically,” Pitts said. “We have some good teams that compete hard. Our teams are improving.”
His personal goal is to attend as many games as he can, being the biggest cheerleader on the sidelines and at the forefront for the SBU Bearcats.