Kent Smith, a dear friend and brother in Christ, went home to be with the Lord in the early hours of last Thursday, August 30, after a courageous and inspiring battle with T-cell lymphoma.  Kent touched the lives and hearts of so many people in so many different ways over the course of his life: as a son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, farmer, cotton ginner, AIMer, youth minister, teacher, preacher, worship leader, elder, deacon, missionary, storyteller, author, encourager, co-worker, and friend.

Kent and Paula had just placed membership at the McDermott Road church when my family and I joined the work of that congregation in ministry in September of 1999.  We were still meeting in the facilities of the Waterview church at the time.  Kent would soon be serving on the Steering Committee, a group of seven men who provided leadership for the congregation in the early days of the church plant as it transitioned to its own facilities in north Plano.  Kent’s very obvious faith, maturity, giftedness, and passion for Christ resulted in him being asked to serve among the congregation’s first elders.  He served well, exhibiting the heart of a true shepherd.  As deeply as Kent felt called to serve as an elder, he, along with others, demonstrated great spiritual strength, courage, and humility in willingly stepping aside from that role of servant-leadership when they believed that it was best.  That selfless act of love for Christ’s church helped to ensure the ongoing stability, spiritual health, and numerical growth of the congregation.  True to his nature, he continued serving in a variety of other ways, right at the heart of the life of the church.  He had a special place in his heart for the work of Christ in Honduras and the Rio Grande Valley where he was involved in numerous mission trips. 

Kent had an extraordinary ability to connect with people’s hearts and lives, a gift that was just as effective in the affluent northern suburbs of Dallas as it had been in rural West Texas.  He loved to teach, especially by exploring how faith in Christ translates into daily life.  He communicated so naturally through stories from his own life and experiences.  When Kent told a good story, it became a great story.  Many of these anecdotes and insights are included in his book, Everyday Christianity: Life Learned Lessons and Observations from an Ordinary Man

Kent was noted for the nicknames which he lovingly gave to family members and friends.  He even nicknamed himself “Grumpy,” which was an immediate and enduring hit.  Kent dubbed me “R.P.”: Reverend Pyles.  He would often call me at the church office about 11:30 in the morning and say, “Hey, R.P.!  If you don’t have any plans for lunch, why don’t we go get ourselves a sandwich?”  Kent had a unique cadence and inflection in saying the word “sandwich.”  Any attempt to explain it in written form would fall short of adequately capturing it, so I won’t even try, but it was quintessentially Kent.  We had many such spontaneous lunch dates.  Kent used to say, “Tim stays awfully busy, but, if you want some of his time, all you have to do is wave a couple of tacos in front of him.”

Kent will be on my mind quite a bit this week.  On Wednesday, I am driving to Abilene to share a lesson with the Oldham Lane church.  On at least two previous speaking engagements there, Kent rode shotgun with me.  Although he had somewhat of an ulterior motive in being able to share a brief visit with his sister who was a member of that congregation, he provided great company on the drive and helped to pass the travel time with a lot of laughter.  We would get to Abilene in time to eat at Cracker Barrel before the service, would stop in at Sonic on the way out of town for something cold and sweet for the road, and would roll back into the Metroplex about 11:30 or midnight.  Our last trip was in July of 2008. 

Among other things that I have scheduled for this Thursday on my return journey from Abilene is a round of golf at Stevens Park in the beautiful Kessler Park area of Oak Cliff.  Kent and I played our first round together there on March 31, 2000.  The date is memorable because it was the Friday before our first Sunday worship services in the new, modular building at McDermott Road on April 2.  The previous Tuesday evening, we had dodged tornadoes which inflicted extensive damage in downtown Fort Worth, Arlington, and Grand Prairie and had threatened to scatter our deca-wide modular all over Collin County.  It was a very exciting but quite stressful time, so Kent suggested that we escape for an afternoon of golf.  Stevens Park was already my favorite course in Dallas, and Kent became the first of my McDermott Road friends to accompany me there.  We would later add Coyote Ridge in Carrollton, Stewart Peninsula in The Colony, and Plantation in Frisco to the course rotation.           

I last visited with Kent and Paula in their home last April.  Though our time was rather brief, it was very encouraging, which was par for the course with Kent.  I was unable to attend Kent’s memorial service last Saturday, but I heard that his son, Josh, and son-in-law, Chad, did an amazing job in honoring and celebrating his life.  All of us love our families, but Kent had an exceptional affection for Paula, their children and their spouses, and their grandchildren.  He was so very proud of each and every one of them.     

When Kent encountered challenges in his life, he always faced them with perseverance and hope.  Setbacks were only temporary, and light always followed the darkness.  There was always a way forward.  Even cancer wasn’t allowed to have the last word.  He utilized his illness just as he had used his entire life, to glorify God and to draw others closer to Jesus. 

Kent shared a message at McDermott Road on July 29, a month before his death, in which he beautifully communicated his faith, his hope, his confidence, and his conviction that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  He didn’t just preach it; he lived it.  You can hear and see Kent’s message by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

Thank you, Kent, for leaving such a powerful testimony and lasting legacy of faith and hope for your family, your church family, and your friends.