A Life Lived: John Smith taught us how to live

Published 1:42 pm Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Sunday will mark the first anniversary of Minister John Smith’s death. The minister was well-known in Elizabethton, having lived here most of his life. He was the son of a minister, had minister-brothers, and has minister-sons. His father, Fred Smith, Sr. was a long-time minister of First Christian Church, Elizabethton, and he and his wife, Thelma, started East Tennessee Christian Home and were owners and operators of The Religious Book Store in downtown Elizabethton. Later, John and his wife, Mary, operated the store.
John grew up in First Christian Church, and more recently served the church as interim minister until the present minister, Michael Klaus, was called. And, he had filled in on numerous occasions for Klaus.
However, John had his own ministry for over 60 years, serving churches in Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, and Tennessee. He was long-time minister at East River Park Christian Church in Elizabethton and later served East Side Christian Church as minister.
However, there was more to John than preaching and ministering. He was a kind, compassionate and humble person. And, he had a keen sense of humor, who enjoyed people.
He enjoyed playing chess, watching the Tennessee Volunteers, milkshakes and donuts, and Southern gospel music. A school classmate suggested John and his brother, Jim, found the first chess club at Elizabethton High School in the mid-1950s, and at the beginning, it had about 30 members.
A member of East River Park Christian Church noted on the funeral home’s tribute page that John had a smile and a warm handshake for everyone who entered the church. “I especially enjoyed when he would join the choir for a cantata — such a powerful voice,” wrote the church member.
John from time to time would do singing sermons, and it was noted by one of his sons at the memorial service that his dream when a young man was to sing in a gospel quartet. He loved old gospel hymns, such as the ones sung at his memorial service — How Great Thou Art, When We All Get To Heaven, Jesus Saves, and Victory in Jesus, just to name a few. Music was front and center of his memorial service along with his family. His three sons — Mark, David, and Phillip — conducted the service, and shared some fond memories of their father. Mark and David are ministers.
John and his wife, Mary, also had a daughter, Rhonda.
Mark noted that his father loved Christ, loved his church, loved family, and loved his friends. “He was a prayer warrior and in all things, he made Christ the Lord of his life,” shared Mark.
Minister Michael Klaus shared that in addition to John’s ministries, he also did a lot of revivals and was active in the Carter County Christian Men’s Fellowship, serving as music director for a lengthy time.
“John was famous for his quick wit and able to give a loving joke and take a jab from others in public,” said Klaus.
He last filled the pulpit at First Christian in April and May of 2021 just a few weeks before his death while his minister, Klaus, was recovering from an illness. “The elders of First Christian did not hesitate to ask John to fill in because they could rely on his ability to lift the congregation while truly preaching God’s Word. I have always said when I grow up I would like to be like John. I once told John that and with a rye smile, he said, ‘One problem with that Mike, I am better looking than you.’ Of course, we both laughed,” said Klaus.
Klaus said that John preached his last sermon on May 23, 2021 with people in the pews, people in their cars in the parking lot listening to their car radios, and people at home listening livestream. “He had this to say about God’s church which he served his whole life: ‘You can’t go to Heaven without the church. The Bible teaches that.’”
As I write this at the invitation of his minister, Michael Klaus, I realize there are so many who knew John Smith much better than me. I remember his kind smile and greeting when he brought church news into the newspaper office and often we would chat about a recent article I had written. He was always kind, appreciative, and uplifting. He was genuine and you knew that from his talk and walk.
In 2022 we need more John Smiths to encourage us and be the Christian example we look to. Perhaps, like his minister, we all should hope to grow up to be like John.

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