Vince Smith has been the executive director and lead mission strategist of the CBA Church Network (Collin Baptist Association) in Fairview, since 2015. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on associational ministry and the church. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you worked, and what were your positions?
Immediately before coming to the CBA Church Network, I served as pastor of Cross Pointe Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., from 2006 to 2012. While in Sioux Falls, I concurrently was the director of Siouxland Baptist Association and also served a year—concurrent to the pastor, as well—as an interim church planter catalyst with the Dakota Baptist Convention.
I also served:
• Travis Oaks Baptist Church (now Grace Community Church), senior pastor, 1999–2006.
• First Baptist Church of Grapevine, outreach and evangelism director, 1996–1999, while a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
• U.S. Navy, a lieutenant commander on U.S. nuclear submarines, 1988–1996.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Slidell, La., in the New Orleans area. My parents and extended family all are from North Texas and southern Oklahoma, so I have had a very long connection to this area.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I was saved at Vacation Bible School while spending part of the summer of 1972 with my grandparents in Springer, Okla. Earlier that year, a kindergarten classmate choked to death on a piece of hard candy. As a result, I thought about death and its meaning a lot for a little guy.
I watched the Billy Graham Crusades on TV and heard many times the steps to have peace with God. That summer at VBS, the pastor showed us the heart diagram with a throne in the middle. He invited us to trust Jesus with all our heart and ask him to be our Lord. That night I placed my trust in Christ.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
• Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity
• U.S. Navy Nuclear Power School, certified nuclear propulsion engineer
• Tulane University, Bachelor of Science in Management
• Doctor of Ministry coursework at Sioux Falls Seminary, ABD
Why do you feel called to your particular vocation?
In my case, the call has been a journey rather than a feeling. The journey began at age 16 when I responded to an altar call at First Baptist in Slidell, La.
“Is God calling you to serve the church in full-time Christian service? If so, come forward and pray with me,” the pastor asked every Sunday. That particular Sunday, I found myself at the altar. The next 12 years, I wrestled with what that meant.
My rich Uncle Sam offered to pay for university for me after high school at Tulane University if I would work for him for five years after I finished. In other words, the U.S. Navy offered me a full scholarship in return for four years obligated service. In counsel with my pastor and family, it seemed it was God’s provision for my education. So, in 1984, I found myself in New Orleans in the Navy ROTC program.
Those were the Reagan years of the 600-ship navy and a call to resist the evil empire of the Soviet Union. A lot of religious language bled into the call to serve the country in those days. The words duty, honor and country blazed brightly in us.
Somewhere along the way, my call to serve Jesus was diluted by a call to serve the nation. Frankly, I began to ignore the call to serve the church. I often describe my faithfulness in those years this way: “There were three Evangelical Christians on my submarine, andthe other two weren’t certain about me some days.”
Two events in 1993 were instrumental in my repentance and return to the call God gave me. The first was on March 20. My submarine—the USS Grayling—was involved in a submerged collision 100 miles from Murmansk, Russia. While we were unhurt, this event restored the “fear of God” in me.
The second event occurred in December after my transfer to Naples, Italy. An admiral was speaking to a small officer group. He was convincing us we should make the Navy our life-long career and commitment. In the meeting, he said, “The Navy saved my life.”
Immediately a question formed in my mind, “Do you believe that?”
My internal response was, “No.”
I heard another question, “Then why do you live like you believe it?”
I was broken.
James 4:8 became my guiding and comforting Scripture: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (CSB).
The joy of receiving forgiveness for my wandering heart still fuels me. Through the local church in Naples and a Naples ministry to overseas servicemen, my faith began growing again. I was licensed to preach in 1995 by the Naples church and resigned my commission in 1996 to attend seminary.
God has used this call to fuel all the roles I have held in ministry, be it pastor, church member or, now, associational missionary.
Please tell us about your association—where it’s located, the key focus of its work and ministry, etc.
The CBA Church Network is in Collin County, Texas. Collin County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. It encompasses the cities of McKinney, Allen, Plano and Frisco, as well as numerous other smaller suburbs and rural communities.
Over 200 languages are spoken in Collin homes today, andwe now find mosques, Hindu temples and Buddhist temples dotting the landscape. The population is almost 1 million people today, with as many as 700,000 people who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ—lost people.
The 700,000 who do not know Jesus are our primary focus. We are a family of churches who live for the day when every girl, boy, woman and man in our county experiences a living witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The CBA Church Network connects churches, fosters collaboration between churches and helps churches engage in gospel work. The CBA Church Network is churches helping churches do the work of the gospel.
What do you like best about leading your association? Why?
The people! CBA is blessedwith incredible people who love Jesus and desire to serve him.
What aspect(s) of associational ministry and/orits mission do you wish more people understood?
First, I wish more people and churches understood the association is a ministry of their church. It is not a parachurch ministry outside the church. The association is the churches. Not only is the association “owned” by the churches, but there is alsono association or network of churches unless they participate.
Second, I wish church leaders were aware of how much associations help churches on a day-to-day basis. While our key focus is mission strategy, we are the first place churches seek help for almost every issue in church life.
The association is much like an urgent care or emergency room facility. You don’t think about those facilities until you need one personally. When you do go to the ER, you quickly learn the waiting room is full, andthe ER doctors are working hard.
No other entity in church life is like the association. We are right next door when churches need help. Churches need help every day; itjust might not be your church today.
How has your association and its mission changed since you began your career?
We have moved from a training model to a mission strategy and engagement model. The unique contribution CBA makes to churches is its knowledge of the mission field, its relationships with churches and its strategically-oriented missionary staff. CBA helps churches know and engage its mission field.
How do you expect your association and/orits mission to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
The need for churches to connect, collaborate and engage in the work of the gospel together won’t change. The means we employ to connect, collaborate and engage churches in the workwill continue to evolve.
Name the three most significant challenges and/orinfluences facing your association.
1. Lostness. Six to seven hundred thousand people in Collin County do not know Jesus. That number is getting larger every day as our population grows and our baptisms drop. People being separated from God for eternity in hell demands an urgent response.
2. Rapidly changing culture. Collin County is rapidly evolving culturally, ethnically, politically, technologically and religiously. Discipling people to be faithful, biblical followers of Jesus in this environment requires high levels of intentionality and creativity.
3. Resourcing the work. Churches do not, in general, give out of denominational loyalty anymore. The days of churches giving 7 percent to the Cooperative Program and 3 percent to the association are long gone. We must work more diligently to communicate the need for, and the results of, association work.
What one aspect of your job gives you the greatest joy or fulfillment?
Working with God’s people!
What are the key issues—opportunities and/orchallenges—facing Baptist churches?
The key issue is discipleshisp. It is both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity.
To be sure there are many challenges: declining church attendance, irregular church attendance, the secularization of culture, the need for more leaders, fewer volunteers, the decline in baptisms, the decline in revenue, biblical illiteracy, #metoo, #churchtoo, racial reconciliation, social media, busyness, affluence, poverty, etc.
The church has a tremendous opportunity to disciple people in this environment. The only way one can make sense of the world is through the lens of Jesus.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
• In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? by Charles Sheldon. This simple book inspired millions to think about our every day, walking around life in terms ofwhat Jesus would do if he were living the life I live.
• The Cost of Discipleshipby Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Grace is not cheap.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Matthew 9:35–38 (CSB)
Jesus continued going around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”
This passage keeps me focused. The keywords—good news, preaching and healing, feeling compassion, praying to God, sending workers—these words sum up my call to serve Jesus and his church.
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
Jonah. Because I lived in a submarine and my generation—Gen X—tends to cynicism.
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you well.
I was born in Michigan but lived there less than a year before my parents returned south.