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Smoke Rise sees renewal, seeks to reach ‘back yard’comment (0)

August 7, 2008

By Ashley McCleery

In a world with many opportunities to get lost, Pastor Toby Shedd clings to his compass — a compass guided by the will of the Lord and the love of Christ. 

The cross is the needle that directs Shedd’s every step, allowing him to follow on the heels of his Savior. And his church — Smoke Rise Baptist, Warrior, in North Jefferson Baptist Association — has caught the vision, making a compass its visual reminder of its call to live for Christ. 

“Smoke Rise Baptist Church exists to help people find direction in life, and real direction is through the cross,” Shedd said. “So in this logo that God gave me, the center is the cross, which helps us fulfill the great commission of Acts 1:8.”

In living out their commitment to be the Lord’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, church members are especially focused on their own back yard — Blount County. According to Shedd, about 40 percent of county residents don’t believe in Jesus. So the church is reaching them one by one with door-to-door ministry, festivals and service projects. 

“We don’t want to sit around being comfortable in the pews,” Smoke Rise member Jeff Posey said. “We’re out there helping in the community.”

Because of the church members’ efforts, more households are praising the Lord in their neighborhood and church membership is growing rapidly — something Shedd said is only from God.  “God is doing a lot, and we’re trying to stay out of the way,” he said.

When Shedd arrived at Smoke Rise in 2006, the church was in need of direction. Its leaders and several hundred members had left the church in May 2005. Despite the circumstances, some members continued to meet and seek the Lord’s will.

“The only direction to look was up,” Shedd said. “When you put your hope and trust in God, things can work out.”

While evangelist Dan Moran led Smoke Rise as interim pastor, God blessed the church with a renewed attitude and new members.

Smoke Rise member Linda Parker said it has been amazing to see the Lord at work. “I’ve been at the church for 34 years, and I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs,” she said. “The growth is phenomenal.”

Since Shedd joined the staff, he has watched the congregation grow from 250 to 600, reaching 110 percent capacity of its worship center. As a result of the growth in attendance, a transitional worship facility was built and dedicated in April.  

Shedd said the Lord intended it to be a place of holy communion, so he presented an idea to the congregation of bathing the building in prayer and Scripture. And over the course of two weeks, members took turns reading the entire Bible out loud, verse by verse. 

“When I was reading, the hair on the back of my head stood up,” Posey said, adding it brought him to tears knowing “that the vision had finally come to fruition and the Lord was in it.”

As Smoke Rise’s membership continues to grow, Shedd continues to follow his compass and pour into the community, making it what he calls an “externally” focused church. 

“It is said that 34 million people would be in church on Sunday if somebody would just invite them but we’re ‘too busy.’ That’s what we’re trying to work on,” Shedd said, noting his congregation wants to “create an atmosphere of love to where people literally feel the spirit of God.”

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