This past week, I have woken to the news that two very honorable and beloved people have passed away. My guess, however, is that for most of you that are reading this, only one of these deaths has crossed your newsfeed or information pipeline. Honestly, if it was not for my connection to Cincinnati Christian University, I probably would have only heard of one of them as well. Pat Summitt, former head basketball coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols passed during the night between Monday and Tuesday, due to complications from her battle with Alzheimers. Then, this morning (Wednesday as I write this article) I woke to the news that Wayne B. Smith of Lexington, KY had passed away.
Summitt is a TN and basketball legend, winning 1,098 games in her career as the head basketball coach of the Lady Vols. It’s the most wins in NCAA basketball history. She also lead the Lady Vols to eight National Championships over the years. She retired from coaching in 2012, after being diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2011. Summitt was known for her work ethic, and instilling that work ethic in her players as well. I think the most impressive thing about Summitt’s career is the fact that every single player that played their full four years of eligibility under Summitt actually completed their degree. Every Single One. That is unheard of in the realm of collegiate athletics. The sports world, and just about everyone in Tennessee is mourning her death, myself included.
But then I come to the fact that Wayne B. Smith has died. I never met the man, but I know plenty of people that have. In fact, I had a class or two during my time at Cincinnati Christian University in a classroom that was named in his honor. The preaching classroom, where I delivered my first sermon ever, is named after Mr. Smith. One of my professors during my time at CCU recently told me a short little quip about Smith. Jon Weatherly told me that Smith used to say, “If you want to put up a plaque to honor me for my preaching, hang it over the copier.” When I saw the news this morning, the name sounded familiar, and I clicked on the first article I came across describing his death. What I learned reading that article brought me almost to tears, because I know the reward that he is receiving right now. Wayne took Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY from 152 attendees at its first service in 1956, to averaging more than 3,700 by the time he retired in 1995. Today, Southland is the largest church in Lexington, averaging more than 12,000 on a weekend between their three campuses.
It is not just how many attend Southland, though. It is about the influence that Smith had on this world. The ministers that he influenced that are now on the front lines of ministry today. Or those that were influenced by those that were influenced by him. I am in that category. I never met the man, but many of the mentors and professors that I have studied under in the past were influenced greatly by Smith. While again, I have never met him, I join in those mourning his loss, but also celebrate because we know the reward that was awaiting him. Those close to him say that he often said he wanted to die in the pulpit, a sentiment that I have expressed as well. And he came really close to doing that. He spoke briefly Tuesday evening to a group of ministers, went home, and passed away peacefully in his sleep.
There is a comparison to be made here between Summitt and Smith. The news of Summitt’s passing shut down the sports world. It even brought a statement from the POTUS about her influence. And she had great influence. When it comes down to it, however, Smith probably had a more far reaching and more eternally consequential influence, yet, you will not hear about his passing, or his life on national news. In some ways that is a sad thing, but then again, if Smith is the kind of person that everyone makes him out to be, then I think it is fitting as well. He would not want the attention. I am not saying it is wrong to honor and mourn Pat Summitt; I just wanted to take a moment of your time and honor a man that has had a great deal of “Kingdom” influence. May you rest in peace, Wayne B. Smith. And I wish I could have been there to hear you receive those words we all long for at the end; “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
For more info on the life of Wayne B. Smith, please visit http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article86596192.html