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Smith steps down as director of Bapt. Assoc.

The Lincoln County Baptist Association is about to enter a newphase of existence, as today marks the final day of the 24-yeartenure of director the Rev. Talmadge Smith.

Smith will be in and out of the association office over the nextmonth to assist his replacement, whose identity is being withhelduntil the executive board makes a decision, in getting familiarwith the process of running the association of 39 county Baptistchurches.

After that, Smith will permanently leave the office he hasoccupied for more than two decades. He said he would remain activein the Lord’s service, but first he plans to test the waters ofinactivity.

“I’m not gonna jump right into something else,” Smith said ofhis retirement. “First, I’m gonna take some time and just breathe -see what it feels like to do nothing for a while. I’m tired, ittakes a toll on you.”

He does not think the break will last.

“Of course, I may get over that in 30 minutes,” he said.

Smith said he had expected the final months leading up to hisretirement to be slow and uneventful, but such was not thecase.

He said the last four months have been possibly the busiest hehas experienced as the head of the association. Smith has spentthem traveling around the state for Bible drills, Bible schoolclinics, training sessions and conferences.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m the type of person where I’ve got to be doing,” Smith said.”I thought it would be slow, but I can’t operate in that type ofsystem. Dad gave me the work ethic – that’s good and bad.”

For Smith, the work will continue in retirement.

He said his first action as a retired man would be to clean outhis shop and work around his house. After 24 years of suits, tiesand paperwork, he is transitioning into a man with “a rake in (my)hands.”

Christian work will also continue for Smith.

“I will continue to be active in the work of the Lord,” he said.”I don’t want to stop that. I just want to do it in a differentplace and in a different way than I have been doing for the last 24years.”

Smith said he had no intentions of parting with the commandmentmade in his favorite Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 15:58, which reads,”Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, alwaysabounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that yourlabor is not in vain in the Lord.”

“What that says to me is, if we live life without the work ofthe Lord, we are wasting life – and that’s frightening to me,”Smith said. “Paul said that to be involved in the work of the Lordmeans our lives will count, will be meaningful to people and willbring a smile to God.”

In retirement, one of the means by which Smith will try to bringa smile to God is to go west and offer his ministerial services forfree to churches facing financial difficulties.

“Many churches out west don’t have a lot of money to work with,”he explained. “They can’t afford to hire someone to come in whentheir pastor needs a rest. I would like to offer my services for nocharge to those churches.”

By helping churches out west, Smith would be returning to thepulpit from whence he came. He has led church congregations, evenif in smaller roles, since the age of 18.

Smith grew up in the Friendship Baptist Church in the Zetuscommunity.

While a senior in high school, he became a Sunday school teacherand began each Sunday service with a short devotional. In thosedays, the congregations assembled in the sanctuary before departingto Sunday school classes instead of going straight to class andfinally assembling for the service.

At this time, Smith married his wife, Mollie, and seven yearslater at age 25, felt the call to minister. He spent two years atCopiah-Lincoln Community College, two years at Mississippi Collegeand then attended the New Orleans Theological Seminary twice,emerging with a Master of Theology and a ministry doctorate.

Before that, however, there was work – old-fashioned, hard work.Smith places a high value on his days spent working in oil fieldconstruction, pointing out it not only helped him grow as a man,but grow in God.

“I was not always a preacher – sometimes we miss that,” he said.”Some preachers, if they grow up never working publicly or nothaving a lot of contact with the real world, they’ll neverunderstand as well the people on the other side of the pew and whatthey’re going through.”

Smith was ordained on July 23, 1967, and spent 17 years behindthe pulpit – his last six at Morgantown Baptist Church in Natchez.Then, in 1984, he accepted the role of missions director for notonly Lincoln County’s 39 churches, but Copiah County’s 28 aswell.

And there was fear.

“At first, I said, ‘God, what have I done? I have made aterrible mistake,'” Smith said.

Smith said it was hard for him to adjust to running theassociation after 17 years of oneness with his congregations.

“You lose the closest people you had as a pastor, which weredear to me,” he said. “You step away from being the pastor of onechurch, and you have many churches to try to guide in somedirection. There’s much more administrative work.”

Smith said it took him about six months to adjust to his newduties, one of the most important of which was “to be a pastor tothe pastors.”

Looking back on his years, Smith has one key moment that makeshim most proud, a moment stretched over four days at the end ofApril 2005 when more than 700 people came to Jesus at the LincolnCounty Crusade.

“For several years, some pastors felt the need for a county-widecrusade,” Smith said of the big revival. “In our meetings, we hadbeen praying for it for years.”

When the association learned that it would cost around $30,000,Smith was concerned. When that number was later revised to $70,000,he “died” on the spot.

“With all that the churches were already giving, I felt likethis would be hard to ask for,” he said. “But we felt like, ‘Allright, God is in this – let’s do it.'”

The money came. Smith said a few businesses and individualsdonated to the cause, but 99 percent of the money raised was giventhrough love offerings at the county churches.

“The only way you can explain that is God,” Smith declared.”There was no one making them do it – they saw the need and theygave.”

Now, as Smith steps down, memories such as these will have to becreated anew. The new director of the Lincoln County BaptistAssociation, whoever it may be, could learn from Smith’s outgoingadvice.

“Love the people, and let them know it,” Smith advised to hisforthcoming replacement. “And you can’t love them from afar – be apart of them, join in with them. Keep your devotional time up, anddream big dreams.”

And to the people, Smith says the following:

“Love this man,” he said. “Get to know him. Every time you seehim in Wal-Mart, tell him who you are and what church you’re from.Pray with him and for him – join in with him. The people will beall he’s got.”

The transition at the association should be made smoothly. Smithsaid the county’s churches are in good shape, and the associationis prepared financially.

“I pray and believe the best years are right here, as theassociation moves in a new direction,” he said.