I’ve always enjoyed watching TV preachers. I know that sounds weird because most people can’t stand them, but I’ve loved it. Not the preachers who only preach on TV. A lot of those guys are kind of shady. I’m talking about the pastors and ministers who broadcast their regular worship services on TV. Growing up, I would sit in front of the TV on Sunday mornings and watch a couple of guys on the local ABC station, know to me only as “Channel 36.”
One of the guys that came on was an old white-haired man that took a sharp breath between every sentence. I remember watching him and seeing his enthusiasm for whatever he was talking about. I loved it. I also remember that I always felt better after listening to him, like I had hope about something. Later, I would find that this is a mark of Jesus, because he, too, inspired hope, among other things. His name was Brother Byron Jessup. I even wrote him a letter one time, and he sent me a letter back. I was thrilled. I also received the KJV Bible on audio tape from his church in the mail. It was like Christmas came early to me that year.
Another guy that I loved to listen to was Wayne B. Smith. He was the minister of a huge church in Lexington named Southland Christian Church. I didn’t know anything about Southland, but I loved watching Wayne. His laugh always made me, as a kid, feel like he really loved what he did. I couldn’t say that about all the preachers I had seen. He also reminded me of my great-grandfather, although I wouldn’t realize that until later in childhood. I vividly remember the first time I heard the complete story of Jesus. It was around Easter time, and I was watching Southland. This explanation was simple to me. A man came, lived, did miracles, and died. But then he rose again. And he did it just so I could be something else. Not just a person, but a person with a purpose. Even in my early childhood, around 7 or 8 years old, I understood this. It was because of Wayne B. Smith that I later came to know Jesus personally. They way Wayne carried himself and what he said from the pulpit often reminded me of things I had heard about Jesus.
Currently, I am in graduate school. More specifically, I’m in seminary to receive a Master of Divinity degree. I just completed a paper yesterday for one of my church history classes. It was one of those end-of-the-term want-to-pull-your-hair-out research thesis papers. I chose to write about my own topic, and that was the shift of church planting since the 1950s. As a part of that paper, I researched the history and story of Southland Christian Church, as well as Wayne B. Smith, which he planted in 1956. I learned some things from Wayne that I can definitely use now as a church planter and minister. Maybe you can use them too.
Always be ready to laugh. Perhaps one of the most distinct characteristics of Wayne is his laugh. It starts from the belly, and it’s loud and booming. The guy is always having a good time, no matter where he is at! I know that isn’t true about some church leaders, and that’s unfortunate. I think people are drawn to Wayne because of his laughter. That’s the reason I love watching late night TV talk shows like Jimmy Fallon. It just feels like you could sit down with Wayne or Fallon and have a stitch in your side from laughter. You want to be around these people because they inspire life in every situation. So, be a person of laughter. I learned that from Wayne.
Change is necessary, and it is usually good. In 1995, Wayne announced his retirement. He would step down from Southland Christian Church so they could bring in a new leader to lead Southland in a new age. He understood that he couldn’t and shouldn’t do it. That’s incredibly mature and wise. He started the church in 1956, and knew some things would have to change to reach people beyond 1995. He knew that he didn’t know how to do that. So he knew that they should bring in someone who did. Eventually they hired Mike Breaux and he led the church into the new millennium. Then, Breaux stepped down and Jon Weece took the stage as leader, ushering in new methods of church ministry. Wayne loves it. Last August, he was brought out in the middle of a sermon of Jon’s to talk about the new campus that they were opening up at the old Lexington Mall on Richmond Road. Was he bitter and thought it was a waste of money? Not at all! He loved it! He told about the building and how beautiful it was. He then shared his excitement for the people that will be affected by this building of a new campus. Which leads me to the next thing…
Always be about the people. It is often said that Wayne would take buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a box of Kentucky chocolates to people he visited. In fact, that’s how he negotiated the acreage of land where the Harrodsburg Road campus currently sits. He cares about people, and still visits with people. He is the definition of a servant leader. Even when he couldn’t visit with you, you still felt like he cared about you. Even though I had never met Wayne before in my life, I remember sitting in my living room as a 9 year old and feeling like Wayne knew me and wanted to see the best for me. I’ll never forget that, and I hope I have the same effect on people in my ministry.
Last year, while working at KCU, I got an opportunity to speak to Wayne for the first time in my life. Bob Russell, a friend of Wayne’s, was speaking in chapel and Wayne accompanied him. As chapel ended and people left, I remained seated, talking to a few friends. I look up and see Wayne walking down the aisle beside me with a walker. I walk over, opened up the door, and waited for him to go through. As he passed through, he looked at me and asked me my name. I told him, and then I just blurted it out: “Thank you for what you have done in your ministry. If it weren’t for you and for ‘The Southland Hour’, I probably wouldn’t know Jesus today.” He was silent at first as he looked at me, then he asked me what I’m doing now. I told him that worked at KCU at that time, but I was preparing to leave to plant a church. Then he asked for my address so he could send me a book of his to help me out, a book that includes many of his sermons and illustrations.
It looks like the 9-year-old me was right. Wayne actually does care about me, even though he had never met me.
I received the book, and it is one of my favorites. Not because of what the book says, but because of the author. I think it is fitting that the best piece of advice that I have ever heard came from Southland’s current leader, Jon Weece: “Everyone is important.”
I think I know why Jon said that. Whenever you meet Wayne, it is obvious that he believes it and he carries it out everyday. May I do the same.