HARRISBURG (BRN) — In 1975, a young, recently graduated Dr. Stan Smith heard of an organization known as the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey.
Unbeknownst to Smith, this organization would become one of the core spaces of his life, offering memories, ministry opportunities, and many lessons learned.
Prior to his involvement with the convention, Smith served as an overseas missionary in Indonesia, where he developed a deep love for diversity and ethnic ministry.
“The Gospel is the same. [It] doesn’t matter what the language is [or] what the culture is, the gospel is the same; but how it’s delivered and how the life of the church is fostered and kind of fanning the flame is impacted by context [and] by culture,” shared Smith.
He continued: “So, my hope would be kind of like what Revelation 7 talks about, that when we’re all standing in front of the Great White Throne, there will be people of every tribe, nation, language, and ethnicity. My prayer is that will be true of those that come from Pennsylvania/South Jersey. That all this wonderful mosaic of people we will have a chance to hear the gospel, grow their faith in Christ, [and] be a part of a church that helps them grow in Christ, but do it in a way that lines up with their culture.”
This passion for the gospel to penetrate cultures around the world eventually led to Smith’s first executive position within the convention.
“Let me just say, never assume that what God is doing in your life will ever be wasted. I went to Indonesia, thinking that I was going to go back overseas as a missionary when I finished seminary, but I wound up in Pennsylvania,” shared Smith.
For more than 30 years, Smith served in various roles within the convention, including director of language missions, stewardship leader, Cooperative Program promotion leader, a member of Brotherhood – the men’s ministry, state director of missions, associate executive director, and interim executive director.
“No one had just one job. We all had a variety of jobs,” said Smith.
“Through the years, my role kind of morphed a bit, and I focused primarily on ethnic ministry and stewardship. Then [in] 1995, I was asked to become the state director of missions, and soon afterwards David (former BRN Executive Director Dr. David Waltz) asked me to step into the role as associate executive director.”
Smith reminisced fondly on his time as associate executive director.
“David was a wonderful friend and a great leader, and we worked well together. David was kind of very visionary and spontaneous. I was a bit more, ‘How do you get it done?’ [and] more structured. So we made a pretty good team, and we enjoyed working together,” he said.
After Waltz stepped down from his position as executive director, Smith took over and served as the interim executive director. He served in that position for nearly a year, overseeing the network and aiding, now, executive director, Dr. Barry Whitworth, in his transition to the leadership role.
Throughout his many years with the BRN, God taught Smith many valuable lessons, five of which he frequently remembers and graciously shares with others:
Lesson One: Jesus is Enough
“It sounds kind of Sunday schoolish, but it is really, really true – Jesus is enough. Sometimes, particularly in the work with a denomination, we can really struggle – we’re in a new work area, we don’t have all the people, all the money, all the stuff – and so realizing that the vision, the call that Christ gave me, that was all I needed. It didn’t matter whether it was in a big setting or a little setting, Jesus was enough, and I just needed to keep focused on him, keep my identity in Him.”
Lesson Two: Guard Your Soul
“This is kind of a reflection of, not only my own journey, but what I saw happen in some people across Pennsylvania – well, across all of Christendom – was how important it is to guard your soul.”
Smith continued: “One of the things that David asked me to do in my role was to orient new staff. They still tease me about how in my outline the first point and the last point was ‘guard your soul.’ I found that for me, because I was handling the holy every day in the convention, it was easy to let that become ordinary. So you can begin to neglect your personal walk with Christ [and] your personal inventory of your soul – your scripture reading, prayer, [and] those kinds of basic things. So, guarding my soul; just really making sure that every day there is time carved out that is just for me and God [and] not for me to get something done, even if it was something that was spiritual.”
Lesson Three: The Gospel is for all People
“I think a third thing was, and I mentioned this with my Indonesia story, the gospel really is for all people. It is so easy to try to frame it in terms of our context, our culture, but wow, the things that I’ve learned from Ukrainians, from Indonesians, from Filipinos, from Haitians. I served in Israel for a while with Arab Christians and what I’ve learned from them, and Italians, and English – the gospel is for all people. Isn’t that like God? You know, to so love us that it is a message that translates across all languages, all cultures, all boundaries, all barriers.”
Smith added: “Mother Teresa made a statement one time she said, ‘Discount no man for whom Christ died.’ You know, I think it’s an important lesson, especially for our day and age – discount no person for whom Christ died.”
Lesson Four: It’s Important to Call the Right People
“This is more of a BRN lesson, but it was important – how important it is to call the right people. One of the things that was just an incredible blessing to me in the various roles that I had with the Baptist Convention and BRN, was I was often in the role of recruiting people or supervising people. And it is so much fun when you got the right people – we were so blessed. I mean, we’ve got people – and Barry has done a phenomenal job of enhancing and expanding that – we have staff that I would put up against anyone, anywhere else in the SBC. Their skill, their excellence, their passion for Christ, their heart(s), their work ethic, the integrity of their soul(s) – it’s so important that you get the right people.”
Lesson Five: Invest in those in the Next Generation
“I wish I had been smarter about this earlier, but I realized that you come to a stage where it’s critical that you begin to invest in those that are going to be the next generation of leaders. So, particularly the last five or six years, I tried to spend as much time as I could passing whatever I had to offer to people like Barry and others. To encourage them to be looking at who do they have. You know, it’s funny because sometimes we think that we’ve got to kind of guard our position or someone else is going to come and take it, but what I found was the more you give yourself away, the more God can broaden… He broadens your portfolio of ministry.”
Dr. Smith retired from the BRN in 2017, after 42 years of serving the Pennsylvania/South Jersey region.
“I have a deep sense gratitude for the opportunity that Pennsylvania/South Jersey Baptists gave me to serve for over 30 years. I walked away with an incredible sense of love and joy, a sense of fulfillment, a sense of being part of an incredible family, and saw God do some incredible things.”
Listen to the podcast interview:
The “50 Stories of Transformation” series, told in honor of the Baptist Resource Network’s 50th anniversary, highlights the many ways God has moved throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey and beyond. Your generous support of the Cooperative Program makes this ministry possible and fuels evangelism and outreach in our local churches and all over the world! Thank you!