Wilkinson takes ‘huge responsibility’ of classroom teaching ‘seriously’
When the football coach, who was also serving as the faculty sponsor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), invited the members of the Euless Trinity High School team to the first meeting during his sophomore year of high school, a young Michael Wilkinson knew he had to attend.
Wilkinson, associate professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recalled that by attending the FCA meetings he for the “first time understood the message of the Gospel and came to faith in Christ.”
The football and baseball athlete began attending First Baptist Church in Euless in his native Euless, Texas, as a high school junior. But it was during his senior year of high school that he was baptized, a moment when he “can still remember . . . just an overwhelming sense of blessing coming up out of the water, and a very deeply inward, almost emotional experience of just sensing an assurance from God.” Wilkinson credits both FCA and the Euless church’s youth ministry for his “initial growth” in Christ.
Wilkinson’s roots lie within the Methodist denomination, dating back to his great-great-grandfather, Hillen Armour Bourland, who was an evangelist and pastor from Hannibal, Missouri. Bourland began his ministry before the Civil War and pastored several churches in North Texas. He died in 1917 and several years ago Wilkinson was given a copy of the journal Bourland kept.
“Just being able to read of his passion for preaching the Gospel, his passion to see people come to faith in Christ, was really remarkable,” Wilkinson said.
Both of Wilkinson’s parents and his maternal grandmother were graduates of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas and his grandfather served on the university’s board of trustees. He wanted to attend SMU because of his “family heritage” and spent the first two years of his college experience on the campus located north of downtown Dallas.
While studying at SMU, Wilkinson became involved in what is now known as CRU, a Christian college organization. He described his time with the members of CRU as a “sense of family” that “gave me the opportunity to not only grow and be actively involved but allow me some opportunities and teach me some leadership opportunities and give me a chance to lead Bible studies.” During his first year of college, he remembered he “sensed” the Lord calling him to ministry, which the Lord “confirmed” during his sophomore year at SMU.
The religion classes he took at the university “were extremely challenging” to his faith, Wilkinson said, and this led him to “read a lot of theology and apologetics,” including Josh McDowell. Through reading McDowell, Wilkinson was introduced to authors and theologians F.F. Bruce, Donald Guthrie, and John Stott. He explained several students at a local seminary also knew “most of the CRU gang,” and one invited Wilkinson to attend a class where Norman Geisler was teaching apologetics.
“When I walked out of that class, I was hooked,” Wilkinson remembered. “I knew that after I finished college, I’m going to seminary.”
The experience confirmed his call to ministry – which included ministry and earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree so he could teach. Wilkinson transferred from SMU to the University of Texas at Arlington as a mathematics major. He met his wife, Terri, and graduated from UTA.
Wilkinson earned a Master of Divinity from Southwestern in 1990. Following seminary graduation, the Lord led Wilkinson to begin serving as the single adult pastor at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“I think most people don’t go into single adult ministry because they want to – it’s a hard area of ministry,” Wilkinson observed. “And I would probably be your least likely choice because I got married at 21.”
However, Wilkinson would spend the next 17 years as a single adult pastor serving two different churches, including Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas, for 14 years. At the College Station church, Wilkinson served under Chris Osborne, professor of preaching and pastoral ministry, who led the church for 33 years before he began serving at Southwestern in 2020.
While Wilkinson was serving in local churches, his desire to earn a Ph.D. so he could teach remained. He began his doctoral studies at Southwestern in 2005. For two and half years he drove from College Station to Fort Worth weekly until he was called to serve as the minister of young and median adults at the First Baptist Church of Rockwall, Texas, just outside of Dallas.
Wilkinson earned his Ph.D. from Southwestern in 2011 and was invited to serve on the faculty of what is now Texas Baptist College (TBC) in 2012. He served as dean of TBC from 2013 to the conclusion of 2020, when he moved back to teaching in the classroom. In June 2023, he was named the director of the seminary’s Professional Doctoral Studies (PDS) program overseeing the coursework and research of Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Educational Ministries students.
However, it is in the classroom where Wilkinson is at home — a “huge responsibility that I want to take very, very seriously,” he noted.
“On the one hand, it’s scary,” he observed of classroom teaching. “On the other hand, it is a remarkable opportunity to be with students who are traveling down the road that I’ve been down.” He added that he wants to do “everything I can to prepare and equip” his students for a “lifetime of service” no matter their vocation.
Christopher Gardner, a Master of Divinity student from Huntsville, Texas, has not only had Wilkinson as a teacher in the classroom, but also works alongside him as the administrative assistant in the PDS office.
“Academically, he has shown me the depths of Scripture in his classes,” Gardner explained. “He has emphasized the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity God has given me to further my theological education, and to soak up everything I can from every course I take and from the professors who live out what they teach.”
Gardner added that through the opportunity to work with Wilkinson, he can see “he wholeheartedly believes and lives out what he teaches.”
“He is a man of God with a pastor’s heart and encourages me to pursue the calling God has placed on my life,” Gardner noted. “He always has time for me to pick his brain, whether it be about work, school, theology, pastoral advice, or reoccurring conversations of our favorite pastime: baseball.”
Shaelee Prado, a recent TBC and Southwestern Seminary graduate, said to make Wilkinson’s day, “buy him some Whataburger and discuss Rangers’ baseball” as the native Texan is “a fan of both.”
However, Prado, the institution’s first graduate of the 5-year program credits Wilkinson, who worked “tirelessly” to help her earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously, she said.
Prado first met Wilkinson when she was a senior in high school anticipating beginning her studies at TBC. In a phone call explaining he would be her academic advisor, Prado said Wilkinson “shared his excitement to meet me, and helped answer the many questions any incoming freshman may face.”
“That phone conversation showed me that I had someone who would intentionally help, care, and support me on my endeavors of learning at SWBTS,” Prado added. “Through my time with Dr. Wilkinson, I always felt known, loved, and encouraged, both in and outside of the classroom.”
In reflection upon his years of ministry, both in the local church and through theological academia, Wilkinson said he is “one of those remarkably blessed people.” Though he noted there have been “challenges and difficulties” during his ministry experiences, Wilkinson concluded, “overall … I’ve been richly blessed, and I’ve loved every position I’ve been in and the people I’ve worked with.”