When Scott Smith received an honorary doctorate May 11 from the university where he has ministered for 36 years, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry director joined some pretty elite company.
For starters, Smith became the first BCM minister to have such an honor put upon him at a public university. It’s also only the second time current Lander University President Richard Cosentino has presented the award, the other being to then-Congressman Trey Gowdy (S.C.) in 2016.
In addition, the new Scott M. Smith Endowed Scholarship will be awarded to a full-time Lander student who is also involved at the school’s BCM.
The Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters conferred on Smith May 11 reflects decades of a supportive relationship between the state school of just over 3,100 students and the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. That includes BCM reaching out not only to students but also to Lander faculty and staff.
“When I arrived, I was all about students. But then I realized we have a campus full of professors and administrators struggling just as much,” said Smith, 66. “I’d start walking around and checking in on them, asking how they were. If they had a family member in the hospital or a funeral, I’d visit.”
His ministry included encouraging BCM students to support and attend other university functions.
“We’re very intentional about developing relationships on campus and being a team player,” Smith said. “If the administration needed students at an event, we’d promote it. When the school had its first senior walk from one end of the campus to the other, we postponed our traditional Thursday night worship service, which was also going to be honoring our seniors, and joined them. The people who organized it said that meant so much to them.”
Those steps and others have made the Lander BCM a home for missions, Bible study and outreach in partnership with local churches and the Lakelands Baptist Association. That type of leadership has been a hallmark of Smith’s ministry, though he’ll admit some growth only comes with 41 years of experience.
After finishing up his Master of Divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Smith became the campus minister at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga., in 1979 before moving to the Baptist College of Charleston, now Charleston Southern University, in 1980. In 1981, he added the additional role of campus minister for The Citadel, also in Charleston.
On June 1, 1985, Smith began working with Lander BCM while undertaking ministry responsibilities for Piedmont Technical College, also in Greenwood, and Erskine College, a school of about 800 students 20 miles away in the town of Due West.
Smith is quick to point out the contributions of local churches and Lakelands Association for Lander BCM’s success. In addition, numerous individuals have walked alongside him for the journey.
First among those is his late wife, Judy, who died in 2014. Always an active part of BCM, she maintained that devotion and commitment to the best of her ability the last 18 years of her life, when she was limited physically due to injuries in an automobile accident.
“She was such a prayer warrior and tremendous influence,” Smith said. “I cannot express enough the importance of her role. Before we had children, she was part of all the Bible studies, went on retreats, everything. After the accident, she still went on mission trips, walking with a cane and talking to people. If anyone had a prayer request, they called her.”
Judy Smith’s shadow as a prayer giant loomed large on the LU campus, in Greenwood and practically any location that included Lander BCM alumni. She made it a practice to not only pray, but write notes of encouragement to people. Those notes still make their way back to her husband as expressions of thanks for her ministry.
The Smiths were married for 34 years and had two children, Cherry and Charles. Charles served as an intern for his dad at the Lander BCM, where he met his future wife, Chrissie.
Smith said part-time assistants Crystal Goforth and Kimberlee Duncan, as well as his son, were instrumental to the Lander BCM over the years. For the last 10 years, Katie Troutman has filled that role in addition to her work with the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home through the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Recently stepping away from her position with the children’s home, she will become the first Lander BCM full-time associate director on June 1.
Smith’s honorary doctorate was recommended by Troutman and Randy Bouknight. Bouknight served as Lander’s vice president of student affairs for 40 years before taking the title of special ambassador for the university in 2018.
During his ministry, Smith has watched changes among students. No longer do complaints about roommates dominate the conversation. Today’s issues tend to drift around more serious topics such as depression and suicide.
“There’s more lostness on campus now,” he said. “When I started, many students were straight out of church and we’d help grow them from that point. Now a lot of students have no faith background or church background.”
When Smith was notified of receiving the doctorate in March, he had time to think about its greater representation of Southern Baptist collegiate ministry.
“We’re reflective of other BCMs across the country,” he said. “We pray with students and host Bible studies for them. This [doctorate] came about because I’ve been here a long time.”
The basics of collegiate ministry have been a mainstay for 41 years, he said. “Be available. Walk across the campus and become familiar. Show students they have your undivided attention.”
— Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.