published Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Cooper: Pastor overcomes personal demons

Jim Smith has a word for pastors and others who are struggling: Just don't quit.

"If you don't quit," said the pastor of Solid Rock Community Church in Chickamauga, Ga., "God can restore you."

Smith should know.

The founding pastor of Battlefield Church of Faith, which had grown to approximately 180 members in January 2009, said he stepped down after an audit of church books exposed his unauthorized use of church credit cards to pay for pills and other items related to an addiction to hydrocodone.

Today, Smith, in addition to holding down a full-time job in Chattanooga and pastoring the nondenominational church, is 80 percent done with a book, "Addictions Behind the Pulpit," and conducts daily online counseling ( for counseling or to offer support) for hurting, wounded and abused pastors and other church leaders.

"I believe pastors have an internal struggle talking about their weaknesses for fear it will get out in the community," he said. "There are still walls up in the church. They're still competitive [with other churches]. In the church today, if you say I need to share a struggle, [eventually] 20 people know, and they've all been sworn to secrecy."

Smith said he found refuge in Gospel Tabernacle Assembly of God Church, where pastor Joey Kelly mentored him and helped in a restoration process for him, his wife and three children.

"It's one thing to have a loving pastor," he said, "and another to have a loving congregation. This was a place to be restored. It was the most mature, loving, forgiving body."

Although Smith declared he would not pastor another church, he felt called by the Holy Spirit after being asked to deliver the first few sermons at Solid Rock.

The new church, he said, is growing and is in its second building.

Smith's online counseling ministry, he said, grew out of a daily devotional message he'd been emailing for 10 years to some 900 church leaders and others. As people from various corners of the country thanked him for sharing his struggles, he felt a call to take a next step.

"These are folks that have real struggles," he said, "but because of their position in the church, they feel isolated and don't know where to go, so they just sink deeper and deeper."

To support the sessions, Smith said, he has recruited a team of restored church leaders in various ministries to pray for the person being counseled -- anonymous to them -- throughout their counseling.

"You always hear," he said, "that in the greatest prison ministry, the ministers are ex-cons."

Smith said his struggles followed four hospitalizations -- for problems such as pancreatitis and removal of his gall bladder -- within about a year in 2004.

Prescribed hydrocodone, he became addicted to it and eventually began to use church credit cards to pay for it. Ultimately, he was delivered from his addiction and began paying back the credit card purchases, but his practice was unveiled in an audit of church books.

"I was afraid to come clean," Smith said. "When it came out, it was a relief. I was glad. I was already paying things back, and I hadn't used in two years."

However, he said, "wrong is wrong, and I was 100 percent wrong."

Now, Smith shares his story with every new members class at the church and admits his more recent miscues weekly through his sermons.

"I want ... members of [Solid Rock] to know where their pastor has gone," he said, "[and] why it is so important to grow in faith and not in religion."

It's also Smith's hope that the church in general will learn to extend the same grace to pastors and church leaders as it does to lay members.

Meanwhile, he is trying to live by the verse -- Luke 12:48 -- that he adopted before his hydrocodone addiction: "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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terrybham said...

I think a person would do better to just stay home and pray there if you feel the need.

August 20, 2011 at 1:13 p.m.
Ksullivan87 said...

1 of 3:

4 "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." Corithians 13: 4-7

I have never felt so close to God until I joined solid rock- where the members immediately greeted me and mentored me with open arms, regardless of my past and some of my "un-Christian-like" decisions i've made in flesh. Instead of preaching me rules of man made religion and unrealistic standards which had kept me on defense in the past- the founders, including Pastor Jim introduced me to the love of Christ- and what it felt like to be welcomed by those that loved as close as possible like Christ. I was raised in a fear based family- my mothers side is a part of the upper class, your basic cookie cutters that will always answer, "everything is great!" when you ask, all the while suffering deeply on the inside- but they would never let you know of any "imperfection". My fathers side of the family consists of many members once involved with the army/navy- very stern an emotionless, you're functional alcoholics that like to "take the edge off" with a good buzz to wind down at the end of each day. I was thrown in the middle of this- never raised to talk about my feelings, watching my parents fight day in and day out- get all dressed up on Sunday mornings for church- attend with a smile on our faces and return home to the isolated reality of deception we "protected" ourselves in- oh it was a lonely time for me. I never felt like I belonged anywhere- I never learned quite how to relate to another- just how to battle with all my problems, internally and on my own. As I got older- I had my first drink. And oh, let me tell you- "the edge was off!" I felt this relief, none of that pressure and stress I battled with from minute to minute mattered anymore- all of a sudden I was taller, thinner, prettier, smarter, louder, funnier, happier (that was just the alcohol talking, and the devil rooting for each sip I drank on the sidelines) sooner or later I wanted to drink before any activity- I was a "weekend warrior" to say the least- and I thought I needed alcohol to feel all those empowered things, which were all unimportant superficial lies anyways. Well, it was only a momentary fix- because once the party ended- like it always does, it was back to facing me- which only got harder to do after I made un-wise decisions under the influence. I surrounded myself with people without God in their lives, I cheated, lied and even got in trouble with the law- and one night I was raped. I blamed myself- but I was so used to dealing with things internally so I didn't tell a soul- I just kept drinking more, getting more and more lost and blaming God for every one of my problems along the way.

August 21, 2011 at 7:08 p.m.
Ksullivan87 said...

2 of 3:

Well, I didn't mean for this to turn into my testimony, my story is much longer- but hopefully I have painted a picture for you- a snap shot of a child of God, created by God, and lost in the lies of Satan. I was brought up in an unfortunate situation, i looked for false idols and superficial fixes, i experienced trauma, isolated myself internally, and made many mistakes I was ashamed of that kept me feeling alone in many church bodies... But God's love prevails, for it is patient, kind and forgiving and I finally fell to my knees one day and begged Him for another chance and to give me direction and He lead me To the doors or solid rock community church. During one of my first experiences at Pastor Jim's sermons- my life was changed profoundly. He stood up before the alter and said, "this isn't easy for me to say, but God has laid it on me to do so- I used to minister another church and became addicted to pain pills, I used the churches money to pay for my addiction, and that ministry no longer exists because of my decisions." as his tears weld up in his eyes, he followed his testimony with, "but I am still loved and forgiven by God." This struck so many chords within my heart, I sat back with respect thinking, wow, here is this man, confessing before the church body, making himself completely vulnerable and open to being judged- why? Because God wanted him to show people like me that if God could forgive him for such Godless acts made in flesh, then he could forgive me for my own acts! If He could deliver him from addiction, guilt, social battering and ego- then God could do it for me too! Sure, I've heard all these things before- but i never believed them, instead id be sitting back during services thinking, yea well try living with what I've been through- then see how easy that is for you to do. Not only that, but I learned that day, the only way to get ride of shame is to release it, because "we are only as sick as our secrets" keeping things tucked away is giving them power, it's an act of fear- fear of being judged, fear of being  vulnerable, fear of being hurt, misunderstood or condemned. I felt safe for the first time in a church- I saw the true hearts and emotions of those saved by Gods grace and glory. I never had such a desire to have a personal relationship with God before in my life! I wanted what they had! I finally understood what "fruits of the spirit" really meant!

August 21, 2011 at 7:10 p.m.
Ksullivan87 said...

3 of 3:

Since i began diving into the Word and dedicating portions of my day to prayer, God has been blessing my life and healing my heart, working within me and utilizing my strengths and gifts for good. I've never felt so fulfilled, it's better then any fearful drink I've ever sipped from to escape from reality- I'm drunk on the Holy Spirit full of love, mercy and deliverance! I'm no longer afraid to face life, Gods always been walking beside me- but now that I have taken hold of His hand- I can't wait to see what each day has to offer. Some days are harder then others, but God is faithful, and His promise always reminds me of what's to come. I'm not sure if I would have ever been so motivated to seek a relationship with God and find these things out until I sat in a sermon with such an honest and humble man, Jim Smith. God bless your heart and all you have done for me and the members of SRCC.  The Lord sent His one and only Son to the cross so our sins could be washed away in the blood. Who are we to judge one another, we are not God and it is not our job... ask yourself, was God sending His Son, Jesus to the cross good enough for you? 

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.    3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7


August 21, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.
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