Bob Russell remembers a great Christian minister. This blog post appeared at www.bobrussell.org as Wayne B. Smith (1929-2016) One of a Kind. I had the honor of meeting and being present for Pastor Smith’s teaching and preaching and there is no doubt that God truly shed His grace on those who were able to share in his life. RMF
Wayne B. Smith (1929-2016) – One of a Kind
by Pastor Bob Russell
My good friend Wayne Smith died in his sleep last Wednesday morning. He was 87. He had just met with a group of 70 preachers at noon the previous day and encouraged them to be faithful. I’m so thankful he died peacefully in his own room at Sayre Christian Village. I wouldn’t ask for his passing to be any different but I am really grieving his death. I don’t cry a lot but when I tried to tell my wife what I’d just learned I lost it. I’m really going to miss Wayne Smith and so are a multitude of others.
(Left to right) Pastors Barry Cameron, Bob Russell, Wayne Smith, and Wally Rendell
(Left to right) Pastors Barry Cameron, Bob Russell, Wayne Smith, and Wally Rendell
I’ve often tried to analyze what made Wayne such an effective leader, pastor and preacher. Why was he able to lead a startup church in Lexington, Kentucky to become a church of thousands? Why was he so loved and respected not only in central Kentucky but by ministers and missionaries all around the world? What was there about him that resulted in so much influence both inside and outside the church?
Thirty years ago when Wayne was the minister of the Southland Christian Church in Lexington, I attended a political gathering in Frankfort, Kentucky. The governor and three former governors were in attendance along with most all the movers and shakers in the state. Before the banquet began I heard the governor ask a political crony, “Is Wayne Smith coming tonight?” Wayne was the talk of the “cocktail hour” long before he arrived. When he walked in, just before the meal, he was immediately the center of attention. All eyes turned to him. Even though he was a preacher, politicians wanted to shake his hand and get their picture taken with him.
What was it that gave him that kind of charisma? It certainly wasn’t his appearance. The Bible says that the coming Messiah, “…had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). That was true of Wayne. He wasn’t impressive physically. (My wife used to say Wayne reminded her of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo.) He often joked about his short stature, his battle with weight and his unattractive appearance.
What then made him such an effective Christian leader? There was a rare combination of extreme virtues that came together in this one man.
One of those virtues was a sense of humor. Wayne’s laughter was legendary and contagious. His humor was a gift that just came naturally. And no one enjoyed it more than he. It was fun to hear him tell a joke because he’d get tickled at his own material. His timing was perfect.
Wayne wasn’t just funny in public; he was funny in private. He was funny when he wasn’t even trying. At lunch one day the two of us were bemoaning the fact that a preacher we knew had fallen morally. Wayne mused, “You know, Bob, I’ve never had an affair…in fact, I’ve never had the opportunity….Women just aren’t that hungry!” I died laughing and I was an audience of one.
Though his humor was legendary, there was a lot more to Wayne than a merry heart. He was one of the most humble persons I’ve ever known. Wayne had been humbled in Bible College because he was not a good student. He admitted that openly and often used it to his advantage. However, he had “street smarts” and he wasn’t naïve or ignorant about his influence. His self-awareness was amazing. Believe me, he knew exactly who he was and how to make a positive difference in a variety of settings.
But in spite of all the Lord did through him it never went to his head. He rarely boasted about the size of his church or named-dropped about the important people he knew. He considered other people more highly than himself.
A preacher friend of mine roomed with Wayne at the North American Christian Convention. He said his favorite memory was just after they turned out the lights, Wayne knelt by his bed and silently said his prayers. Wayne was a man under authority. That’s humility.
He was a winsomely transparent person. Jesus described Nathaniel, one of His disciples, as “a man in whom there is nothing false.” That was Wayne. He was almost totally transparent. He said what he thought and didn’t fake it. He hated to write sermons and admitted it. He preached other people’s sermons and didn’t pretend otherwise. He once announced to his congregation that the next Sunday he was going to start a series on the family. He said, “I’m not sure what it’s all about but I’ve got the tapes in my office so come hear what I have to say next week.” (Ha Ha Ha Ha!)
He was an extremely compassionate person. Wayne was a good shepherd who genuinely cared about his people. He laughed easily and cried easily. Wayne could quickly get inside a person’s heart and weep with those who wept and rejoice with those who rejoiced. He would show up at the funeral of a preacher’s dad a hundred miles from Lexington. He would deliver Kentucky Fried Chicken to a poor family at 10:00 at night. He would write a note of congratulations or give a plaque to a friend to mark a significant achievement when almost no one else noticed. He had a huge heart for people.
He was the most generous person I’ve ever known. Talk about giving the shirt off your back, I’ve seen Wayne give a sermon manuscript out of his Bible. After a regional preaching rally a young minister asked Wayne to send him a copy of the sermon he’d just preached. Wayne immediately took the notes out of his Bible and handed them to the guy. Now, to be honest it was two pages that contained a sermon he’d torn out of the, “The Sword of the Lord” magazine, which he’d just preached- but he gave the guy the sermon!
When Judy and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary last year Wayne sent us twenty-five $2 bills. When our church was in a major finance campaign he sent a thousand dollar check. I hear of numerous Bible College students who received financial support from Wayne. I’ve never known anyone freer with money…and yet God always resupplied him with funds from somewhere.
He was a passionate and courageous preacher. Wayne loved the Lord, the church and America. In his prime he was a powerful and fiery preacher. I heard him preach a sermon on the Prodigal Son that was one of the most moving I’d ever heard. He could absolutely captivate an audience by his preaching style.
Wayne was strong and courageous. He didn’t mind a fight. He took on local politicians over Sunday closing laws, liquor-by-the-drink, co-ed dorms, abortion, gay marriage and the liberal editorials in the local newspaper. He didn’t much care if someone didn’t like him. He didn’t worry about political correctness. He stood firm in the faith. He was determined to stand for God’s truth regardless of what people thought.
Although his failing health limited his ability to preach in his later years, he never lost his passion for righteous causes. A year ago he called me after the Supreme Court decided in favor of gay marriage. He was beside himself with anger at age 86. He had been to church the previous day and the preacher had said nothing about the Supreme Court’s godless decision. Wayne read to me a blistering letter he’d written to the Lexington Herald Leader that concluded, “If you preached last Sunday and you didn’t say anything about this issue, you are a coward!”
He said, “Bob, I used so much of your material from a recent blog that I signed both your name and mine. Hope that’s okay.” After he cooled down a little I persuaded him to drop the criticism of the preacher and to rely on his own influence. I had managed to make enough enemies on my own.
Wayne Smith was one of a kind. He was a rare gift from God and somehow almost everyone who met him recognized that. The nurse who found him Wednesday morning said he was on his back with his arms wide open. I like to think at the last second he saw the Lord beckoning, ready to embrace him and he was eager to hear the Lord say, “Well done good and faithful servant…come and enter your master’s happiness.”
I suspect no one is going to enjoy heaven more than Wayne B Smith. And I’m confident there’s a lot of additional laughter in heaven today. Our loss is heaven’s gain.