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Tyler Smiley gave his first sermon at Lakewood Baptist. A decade later, he's returned as senior pastor
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Neal Booth, Lakewood Baptist Church's deacon leadership chair, passes a symbolic baton on Dec. 13, 2020, to Tyler Smiley, who is now the congregation's senior pastor. Photo courtesy Lakewood Baptist Church

At 21 years old, Tyler Smiley gave his first sermon before the members of Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville.

Smiley said he preached a sermon on John 13 before he went off to seminary in Denver, Colorado. 

“To know that I’d be preaching and teaching the Bible to the men and women who taught me how to read the Bible, it was intimidating,” he said.  “I remember everyone was so gracious. As my first sermon, I’m sure it wasn’t the best. But, it wasn’t bad enough that I stopped doing it.”

Around a decade later on Dec. 13, 2020, Tyler Smiley was installed as the seventh senior pastor at Lakewood Baptist in front of his church family and his father, Tom Smiley, who is now executive pastor.

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Mark Brown, who has attended Lakewood Baptist since 1999, remembers Tyler Smiley’s first sermon.

“You could see right then and there that he had a calling,” Brown said. “Then, you could see his heart for Jesus and love for people. Now, you can still sense that in every way, and it comes across in his sermons. Now, there’s a depth of knowledge of God’s word and a real gift for teaching it.”

Not every pastor gets to lead the church they grew up in, and Tyler Smiley said he feels honored and excited to have his opportunity. 

“This is a great blessing for me that the church where I became a Christian, the church where I learned how to read the Bible, the church that taught me how to love Jesus and what that means, and how to love people and what that means, is the church that I now get to serve as senior pastor,” he said. 

Answering the call

During his middle school years, while serving Lakewood Baptist in several capacities, Tyler Smiley said he began to feel God calling on him and preparing him for his future role as a pastor. By the time he got to college, he said he was confident pastoral ministry was the path he needed to take. 

After earning a master’s in divinity at Denver Seminary, he continued on to receive a master’s in theology from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate in historical theology from the same seminary. 

He lived with his wife, Catie, while studying full-time and was actively involved in several churches, including Journey Church in Centennial, Colorado. He also led Logos Central Chapel Church in Denver as interim pastor. 

Tyler Smiley said at the time, he didn’t anticipate returning to Gainesville, but in 2013, the stars aligned.

“We didn’t know where the Lord might have us,” he said. “My wife was expecting our first child in 2013, and the Lord was gracious and provided an opportunity for us to serve back at our home church. We came back, and I served in the missions ministry (as associate missions pastor) at Lakewood from 2013 until last year.”

In October 2019, the church unanimously affirmed Tyler Smiley as “senior pastor to be.” Tyler Smiley said before then, he went through a period of interviews from the congregation’s senior pastor transition team, which was composed of deacons and other leaders appointed by the church.

“Our fellowship is so excited about Tyler,” Brown said. “The night of worship and affirmation in October last year, there were 800 plus people in attendance on a Sunday evening.”

Living as a pastor’s son

Tyler Smiley said growing up with a pastor for a father taught him a lot about ministry. 

However, when he returned from Denver to serve on staff with his dad, Tyler Smiley said he was able to witness more of that pastoral leadership and gained stronger respect for his dad. 

“It’s been a joy for me to see that firsthand,” he said. “He (Tom Smiley) has served this congregation for over 30 years, and that’s pretty rare as a pastor to be at one church for that long. That’s been a special blessing for me to be a part of.”

Tyler Smiley said he learned how to preach during the first 20 years of his life by watching his father deliver sermons. But he said, though his dad has influenced the way he preaches, he has developed his own style of communicating. 

“He’s (Tom Smiley) always been so good at applying the truths of scripture to everyday life,” Tyler Smiley said. “He’s very gifted at having his sermons flow. It’s as if he can have a conversation with 600 people in the room at one time, he’s very personable.”

Tyler Smiley said his own sermons focus more on the delivery of the content and unpacking the scripture.

Now that Tyler Smiley is the senior pastor, he will deliver the majority of the sermons and oversee all the congregation’s ministries, as well as the vision and direction of Lakewood Baptist. Tom Smiley has taken on an executive pastor position, where he coordinates the day-to-day ministry aspects of the church. 

In his first week as senior pastor of Lakewood Baptist, Tyler Smiley said he considers himself blessed to already know the congregation, something few new senior pastors experience. 

“It’s pretty rare, especially with how transient our world is today,” he said. “Here I am, in the city that I grew up in and the church I grew up in, and I now get to serve as the senior pastor. I believe this is a great blessing of God to me. I don’t take that lightly, and I’m thrilled.”

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