In the fall of 1978 I first met Thomas N. Smith, then a pastor in Tanglewood, Oklahoma, a few miles outside of Tulsa. Thom (as he spells his name) was a contributing writer to the Sword & Trowel (Amewican version) and a bright young man who interested me very profoundly. He was fresh, eager to learn, and willing to follow Scrioture where it took him. He was also one of the finest preachers I had ever heard. (He still is one of the finest praechers I have ever heard and those who hear him, down to this day, generally agree with me.) Thom is a unique friend. He has been a friend with whom I have shared great joy and deep sorrow, real differences and growing friendship. We have come close to ending our realtionship several times. We are both strong people with strong opinions, but love has always prevailed as we have worked out our challenges. Profound respect keeps us rooted in a relationship that we both now know will last a lifetime. We have so much invested in our friendship that giving up would be unthinkable. I pray that you too will make and keep long term friendships. It is a means to grace and spiritual growth. Thom and I cannot imagine who or what we would have become without one another.
It is this deep friendship, rooted in profound respect, that brought me to Charleston, West Virginia, this weekend to preach for Thom’s farewell service at Randolph Street Baptst Church. The day was superb. Thom has been pastor here in West Virginia for twenty-three years. He came here at 32 years of age and is now 55. So much happens during these years of a man’s life, so much. Reflecting on what has happened to Thom and me over these years was a powerful experience this weekend. The church is quite different than it was in 1984 and Thom’s children are all adults now. The whole day was a sweet remembrance for everyone, especially for me. I don’t know how often I will come to Charleston in the years ahead but the times that I have come here since 1984 have marked my life in an incredible way. When the folks sang the West Virginia state song at the dinner yesterday I watched as Thom wept, knowing the emotions that people and place can give to you when you spend so much of your life in the same place and with the same people.
I preached from 2 Timothy 2 on "Guarding the Good Deposit" and urged the church to make sure that they go forward by doing just this as a congregation with their new pastor, who will begin his ministry in a few months. Thom will now serve in Columbia, Missouri, with Christ Our King Presbyterian Church (PCA) as a co-pastor with my good friend Travis Tamerius. I believe this church will receive the blessing of two of the finest pastors I know and Thom and Travis will thus form an ususual team. I also believe Randolph Street Baptist Church in Charleston will be kept in good hands for a future ministry that will faithfully serve the gospel for decades to come. This is what the local church is all about in the end. This is why the faithful minister must give his life to "guarding the gospel." since the power for all good in a local church is found in that message of good news.