Kim and Kanye's Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr. on His New Reality Show: 'I Want to be Encouraging, not Discouraging'
A lot has happened to Rich Wilkerson Jr. in the past few years.
As a Miami-based pastor, he was leading a vibrant group of young congregants when he met Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West. They began coming to his church services, often having deep conversations with him afterwards.
Something clicked, and he became close friends with the couple – so close that they asked him to officiate their wedding.
But Wilkerson, 31, never thought of himself as a celebrity pastor.
“My whole message is that it doesn’t matter who you are,” Wilkerson tells PEOPLE, “the message is still the same. It’s a message of hope and encouragement. From the famous to the nameless.”
But Wilkerson is becoming more “famous” than “nameless” these days. He and his wife DawnCheré are starting a new church – and starring in Rich in Faith, a new reality show premiering Wednesday on Oxygen.
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“When the opportunity came, I thought it could be a platform,” says Wilkerson. “I think Christians are supposed to be part of the conversation.”
In the show, the Wilkersons talk candidly about the challenges of leading a church while maintaining a relationship. Nothing is off the table in the show, which premieres with the couple talking about starting a family.
The openness can be scary.
“I think anytime you’re vulnerable, it’s something to be nervous about,” Wilkerson says. “What we’re trying to accomplish requires being vulnerable. Whenever you put yourself out there, you open yourself up for judgement, criticism, and possibly being misunderstood. But I want people to know my message.”
So what is that message?
“I want people to know that I’m a follower of Jesus,” he says. “That’s what my whole life is about. But I think people are going to watch the show and encounter faith, hope and love, whether or not they follow Jesus.”
“Those three words are what most people are looking for in life,” he continues. “They’re looking for some element of faith. They’re looking for love, for sure. Love conquers all. And they want hope for a better tomorrow. So the show tries to meet some of those needs.”
Okay, that sounds good, but how does Wilkerson intend to convey his message without beating people over the head with a Bible?
“The show isn’t a preachy show,” he says, “but I think as people watch the show, they’ll say, ‘their life isn’t perfect, but they have joy or something deeper that I can’t put my finger on.'”
“Most of all, I want to be encouraging,” he says. “You turn on the TV and everything – reality, dramas, the news – it’s just really discouraging. It feels heavy. I want to be encouraging, not discouraging.”
He says his strong relationship with his wife comes through in the show.
“DawnCheré is my best friend. We’ve been married for a long time. I hope that people can see how we approach our relationship, and I hope this can encourage other young couples in their marriages, as well,” he says.
So is the show going to be a religious version of Keeping Up with the Kardashians?
“Obviously, they’re my friends,” he says. “I love them. The similarities are that there’s a committed family who loves one another. But my show isn’t as much about celebrity, I don’t think. It’s about showing the journey of faith that we’re on, and dealing with how our church can meet the needs of people.”
“If we can’t be encouraging and uplifting,” he adds, “then there’s no point in doing this. That’s what the show is all about, and that’s what I’m all about.
Rich in Faith premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on Oxygen.