Bryant Wright, left, and Clay Smith recently spoke on the transition process that will culminate this Sunday in a sermon preached by both men at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta. Screen grab through Baptist Press
MARIETTA — This Sunday, Dec. 15, outgoing senior pastor Bryant Wright will preach the first half of the sermon at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, which he founded 38 years ago. A brief commissioning service will then take place for Johnson Ferry’s incoming senior pastor, Clay Smith. During Smith’s prayer to close the service, Wright and his wife, Anne, will quietly make their way out of the room.
At that point the “outgoing” and “incoming” labels will drop.
It will be symbolic moment of transition, Wright said recently, as Smith fully becomes the pastor at the church that has become one of Southern Baptists’ largest and most impactful when it comes to missions.
In a recent interview with Maina Mwara for Baptist Press, Bryant and Smith sat down to talk about the transition itself and how they would want it to serve as a model during a time when many Baby Boomer pastors are retiring. Smith spoke about how he began to become friends with his predecessor through a mentoring group hosted by Wright that included pastors from around the country.
Twenty-five years ago, said Wright, the people of Johnson Ferry made missions an integral part of its identity. That has continued to grow as exemplified by its recent record offering to Great Commission causes. The current spirit in the congregation is one of excitement over that missions commitment as well as Smith’s arrival.
Bryant said that after this Sunday he and his wife will take a six-month “break” from Johnson Ferry for Smith to fully be seen as the pastor. Wright, however, will by no means stop preaching. “I really want to keep preaching and just have a passion to preach the Word,” he said.
When asked to give some advice on stepping in behind a well-known pastor such as Wright, Smith gave two bits of advice for those in his shoes.
“A lot of churches are going to experience – or are experiencing – what we’re going through,” he said. “Number one [to the] incoming pastor … feel a strong burden to help the exiting pastor finish well. That looks different in different contexts. I think it has a lot to do with honor … with respect … with whatever you can do to help them finish the last leg of the race at their church well and strong.”
The second bit of advice encouraged the incoming pastor to be secure in where God has placed him for service.
“You’re going to inherit a culture … expectations … a number of things. But you’ve got to be you. God didn’t call anyone else; God called you. God wants you to bring your talents and your experiences to that church.
“Bring [yourself] – with your flaws and all – to the table do do what God wants you to do there.”
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.