Published on May 3, 2024 by NEAL EMBRY  

Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School held a preaching conference April 29-30, bringing in guest speakers and panelists while paying tribute to the preaching and teaching ministries of Beeson professor Robert Smith Jr., who retired at the end of this academic year after 27 years of service to the school.

On Monday evening, pastor Fred Campbell of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in California preached from the opening verses of the Gospel of John about the role of the messenger as it relates to Jesus Christ. While John the Baptist and Jesus have similarities, the former was always intended to point to the latter.

“The preacher is called not to be the content, but to be the voice,” Campbell said. “The wilderness needs a voice, and the voice needs the wilderness.”

The role of preaching is to introduce Jesus, Campbell said.

“We do not have a message. We just preach one,” he said.

Like John the Baptist, Campbell said preachers are here to “bear witness,” to “decrease, that He might increase.”

“What needs to be said when preaching is done (is), ‘What a wonderful Savior. What a wonderful God we have in Jesus Christ,’” Campbell said.

Robert Smith Jr. preaching during the 2024 Preaching Conference.

Michael Duduit, founder and executive editor of Preaching magazine and dean of the College of Christian Studies and Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University in South Carolina, served as the conference’s plenary speaker, as he discussed the legacy of Smith’s preaching ministry.

Duduit walked through ten steps Smith used to move from text to sermon:

  1. Select a text with an eye toward congregational needs.
  2. Read the text and record evocative questions.
  3. Outline the structure of the text.
  4. Interpret the text in its historical setting.
  5. Formulate the theme and goal of the text.
  6. Understand the text in its canonicity and redemptive history.
  7. Formulate the theme and goal of the sermon.
  8. Select a suitable sermonic form.
  9. Outline the structure of the sermon.
  10. Write the sermon.

Smith’s legacy in preaching will echo through eternity, Duduit said.

“It will only be in that eternity that we will fully understand the lives you have touched, and the souls that have been changed as the Holy Spirit took your faithful preaching of God’s Word and used it for His glory, and that is all a preacher can hope for,” Duduit said.

In the first of two panel discussions, Beeson alumni and friends of Smith spoke about Smith as a preacher.

“You can put him in any context and he’s going to give God his best,” said Harry White, pastor of Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in North Carolina.

David Eldridge, senior pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church near Samford’s campus, said Smith has played a “Barnabas” role in his life, encouraging and mentoring him.

Smith’s authenticity was mentioned by several members of the panel.

“He doesn’t have to put on a garment or get ready,” said Mary Moss, pastor of St. Alma Baptist Church in Louisiana.

Moss said if one lesson from Smith’s preaching should endure, it ought to be that preachers are to serve as “exegetical escorts,” bringing listeners into the presence of God.

In the second panel, Smith’s role as a teacher was discussed.

“Robert Smith Jr. is not a cookie-cutter professor,” said Daven Watkins, pastor of First Baptist Church Pelham. “He will see you for who you are. He has an uncanny ability to see your giftedness, and he will push you and pull you further than you think you can go.”

Reginald Calvert, pastor of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Bessemer, said Smith taught him to be ready to preach, and praised his impact on his life and ministry.

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for pouring into my life, but for pouring into my church. … Your work goes far beyond the classroom, into our personal lives. We can’t count the number of people that are being blessed through us, simply because of you.”

Sheila Bailey pays tribute to Robert Smith Jr. at a banquet on April 30, 2024.

In his sermon, which closed out the conference, Smith preached from the first chapter of Colossians, exalting the person and work of Christ, and the necessity of keeping our eyes on Him.

“I want to contend that the Christ who is above all sends the Spirit of God to dwell in us all, to turn us away from error and to point us to God that we might authentically worship Him in time and in eternity,” Smith said.

Like the church of Colossae, Christians live in an age where their belief system is being attacked, Smith said, and what they believe will be shown in trying times.

“You don’t know what you believe until it’s time to believe it,” Smith said. “When you have nothing left but faith, no gristle, no fat, no marrow, no title, no health, no family, no money, and all your props and crutches are gone, your knowledge of God and that He is still good and is on the throne is the only thing that is going to keep you going.”

Christ is the one who defends Christians against an accuser, the one who imputes righteousness to His people, and the one who shows us what God is like, Smith said. No matter what they may face, believers have a Savior who is taking care of them, and who will bring them safely home.

“I know that the church has problems, and the church has foibles,” Smith said. “The church has wrinkles, and the church has its imperfections, but I love the church. I’m going to stay with the church, because there is One who knows where to take her, and there is One who knows how to take her, and He’ll take your life and fix your heart and fix your family, and fix your ministry.”

Joel Brooks pays tribute to Robert Smith Jr. at a banquet on April 30, 2024.

At a banquet after the conference, Sheila Bailey, Joel Brooks and Jim Pounds paid tribute to Smith’s impact.

Bailey, whose husband was preacher E.K. Bailey, a close friend of Smith's, said in the last days of her husband’s life, he told his daughter, Cokiesha Bailey Robinson, that Smith would be her surrogate father. Robinson still calls Smith “Daddy Doc.” When she got married, Smith walked her down the aisle and Smith’s wife, Wanda, was sitting next to Bailey.

Bailey said Smith has taught her to pursue life, ministry and the Christian walk with excellence, and he has personified being a servant to others.

“Thank you for not being on display, but being deployed,” Bailey said.

Brooks, a Beeson alumnus, said Smith helped him as he struggled with dyslexia during his time in seminary. On one test, Brooks, struggling with the questions, crossed them out and wrote and answered his own. Smith gave him an A, along with a note, “Don’t ever do that again.”

“A zero would have squashed the spark,” Brooks said.

Smith once told him preaching should lead to celebration and encouraged Brooks to preach with more joy.

“I have been preaching for 25 years,” Brooks said. “I have never had more joy in preaching the Lord’s Word, and that is largely due to you, Dr. Smith.”

Pounds, Beeson’s director of operations, talked about helping Smith and what an honor it is because of how much Smith has helped him.

“We go and do what we can, because of what you’ve done for us,” Pounds said. “You pour into us love. You pour into us encouragement. You pour into us the belief that we can do what God has called us to do.”

Speaking at the end of the banquet, Smith said he was “overwhelmed.”

“I don’t deserve this. It’s a gift of grace,” Smith said.

Smith thanked his wife for believing in him and encouraging him throughout his ministry.

“She believed in me when I didn’t see it. … Thank you for believing in me and pushing me beyond appearances,” Smith said.

Wanda is “one of the most effective ministers I’ve ever met,” Smith said, often writing numerous cards to encourage others, serving through acts of love that easily go unseen.

“I do my work in the sunshine,” Smith said. “She does hers in the shadows. … I would not be here tonight if it was not for Dr. Wanda Taylor-Smith.”

Smith closed by saying he will continue to serve the school he believes is “God’s best,” however he is needed.

“To God be the glory. Great things He has done,” Smith said.

As Smith transitions from full-time teaching, Pounds said no one is ready for a Beeson without Robert Smith Jr.

“We all appreciate you more than you will ever know,” Pounds said. “We all will miss you more than you will ever know. And we all love you more than you will ever know. Thank you for being you with all of us.”

Jim Pounds pays tribute to Robert Smith Jr. at a banquet on April 30, 2024.

Spirit and Power Project

Douglas Sweeney, dean of Beeson Divinity School, announced at the banquet that the Robert Smith Jr. scholarship is now fully funded, and the interest from the endowed fund will be used every year to pay the tuition of a future minister of the gospel. Sweeney thanked Beeson’s advancement officer, Gary Fenton, and the steering committee for their work.

Associate Dean Tom Fuller announced the inaugural class of fellows for the Spirit and Power Project. The project will offer a variety of new resources for current and aspiring preachers.

While a few more fellows will be announced at a later date, six men and women have agreed to serve in the role, mentoring and guiding preachers in their work:

  • Jay Thomas, lead pastor, Chapel Hill Bible Church, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Maurice Watson, senior pastor, The Second Baptist Church, Little Rock, AR
  • Harry White, senior pastor, Watts Missionary Baptist Church, Raleigh, NC
  • Adam Dooley, pastor, Englewood Baptist Church, Jackson, TN
  • David Eldridge, senior pastor, Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
  • Carolyn Moore, senior pastor, Mosaic Church, Evans, GA

With the conference over, work has begun to continue the work of the Spirit and Power Project. The project will bring together its first preaching development cohort this summer, a group of 10 to 12 preachers who will meet four days a year for guided study, reading and developing their preaching skills alongside one another, led by Beeson faculty.

Peer-led groups will also be offered, similar to Beeson’s Thrive groups. Groups of pastors will commit to meeting together, reading together and building each other up, said program director Brady Graves.

In the fall, there will be student-led worship services, which will incorporate both Beeson students and Samford undergraduate students.

The project will also offer funding for two- to four-day retreats for prayer and reflection for pastors.

For more information on the Spirit and Power Project, visit

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.