MEMPHIS (BP)—James H. Smith, former executive secretary of the Illinois Baptist State Association and later the fifth Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission president, died Oct. 21 in Memphis. He was 95.
Smith spent nearly 50 years in Southern Baptist leadership. At the time of his retirement in 1991 from the Brotherhood Commission where he served 12 years, the agency accounted for more than 530,000 men and boys involved in missions.
“He was acknowledged by his staff as a leader who placed the role of the local church in the prominent position of providing manpower to reach the world for Christ, and he saw himself as a pastoral leader to his staff,” said Jack Childs of Memphis, former Brotherhood Commission vice president of support services, who served the agency 36 years.
Born in Somerville, Ala., May 26, 1921, Smith professed faith in Christ at age 18. Soon, his mother ordered a family Bible from Sears, one that Smith described as having pictures and a concordance. It wasn’t long until he was “preaching” to livestock on their farm.
Upon high school graduation, Smith went to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago at age 18 with $54. He didn’t meet the school’s entrance requirements due to his age, lack of funds and having made a profession of faith in Christ less than a year before arriving. So, he audited classes there and worked as a janitor until Moody accepted him as a full-time student.
In 1943, the U.S. Navy drafted Smith for ship duty in the South Pacific. He led Sunday services in the absence of an official chaplain.
Smith continued his education after the war and earned a doctor of theology degree in New Testament Greek from Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan., in 1955. He served in pastorates for 20 years in Westville, Okla.; Paris, Ark.; Shawnee, Okla.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Ferguson, Mo.
During his first five years as the Illinois Baptist executive secretary, he spoke more than 880 times. To fulfill those commitments, Smith earned a private pilot’s license and began flying a single-engine aircraft to engagements.
Smith went to the Brotherhood Commission following the death of former president Glendon McCullough in an automobile accident.
During his tenure at the Brotherhood Commission, the missions education agency:
- Became the coordinating agency for Southern Baptist disaster relief and hired the first national disaster relief director.
- Pioneered coed missions with church renewal, a ministry assignment it shared with the former Home Mission Board.
- Piloted World Changers in 1990, a coed missions education and mission action ministry for Southern Baptist youth. World Changers grew from 137 participants in one East Tennessee project to mobilizing more than 20,000 participants annually in cities and communities across North America and internationally.
Smith’s wife, Nona Lee Lockwood, preceded him in death, as did one son, David. His surviving children include John, Joy and Mark.