Pastor celebrates 15th anniversary

January 02, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

5/8 TC The Rev. Shelton L. Smith knows everyone who comes through his church doors.

Although his congregation at the Church of the Open Door in Westminster numbers nearly 3,000, he doesn't find making their acquaintance an overwhelming task.

"They come in one at a time, and that is how I get to know them," he said. "I have the most wonderful church in the world. I count its people as my friends."

For the past 15 years, he has welcomed everyone into the "church home where they can rub shoulders with people going in the same direction."

Many have accepted his offer of a "lifetime home."

"We are a family committed to each other and to meeting each other's needs," he said. "People need to know Christ, and they need a church home where they can grow and serve the Lord.

"The solutions to America's problems lie at the church house," he said. "If I do my job well, the policeman on the street will have less to do."

Yesterday, the pastor celebrated the 15th anniversary of his ministry at the church on Route 140.

He has seen a 400-seat building that housed a 200-member church replaced by an imposing edifice that can accommodate 10 times the original number of worshipers.

And Mr. Smith, who is 51, plans to keep Open Door growing.

Within a month, the church will dedicate a gymnasium and auditorium for its elementary and high schools. The church also is negotiating to buy 101 adjoining acres for parking and expansion of its ministries.

"As long as there are people who need us, we will stay committed to what we are doing," he said.

Mr. Smith's leadership is marked by "a strong commitment to the Bible" and several outreach ministries.

"Christianity affects and infects everything I do," he said.

He attributes much of the church's membership success to a "strong stand on the Bible and the issues of our time." No one factor attracts people more than unwavering principles, he said.

"We teach that Bible principles help," he said. "People learn they can plug those principles into any life situation. Many people in our society are looking for the real, the genuine. They are not interested in the wishy-washy."

The denomination is "basically independent Baptist: Baptist in theology but independent in organization," he said.

"This congregation governs itself; it does not report to any national organization," he said. "Although we do share fellowship with several thousand churches."

Throughout its history, Open Door has sent missionaries across the United States and abroad.

"Our churches remain autonomous but help support each other," he said. "We support two pastors who are building a church in Philadelphia's inner city. One of our members has begun a church in Queens [New York]."

Mr. Smith began preaching while he was a high school student in Kentucky and "decided that was what the Lord wanted me to do with my life," he said.

By the time he completed his seminary training and earned a doctorate in ministry, he already had years of preaching behind him.

He serves as president of the Southwide Baptist Fellowship of about 10,000 pastors and has found time to work on a doctorate in administration -- "all completed except for the thesis."

He routinely works a 12-hour day and often makes "house calls."

"People want to look their pastor in the face and ask his feelings on issues," he said. "I run out of time every day. But I like what I do and I like to come to work every day.

"This operation is not about me," he said. "It's about the Lord and the Bible."

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