Pastor Jeff Smith

by Tonya Dixon | November 13th, 2013
Pastor Jeff Smith (Photo by Howard Gaither)

Pastor Jeff Smith (Photo by Howard Gaither)

One of Pastor Jeff Smith’s arms is basically covered in tattoos. Yes, he is a pastor and he has tattoos. Pastor Smith jokes that his right arm (without the tattoos) preaches to the business man and the left arm (with the tattoos) preaches to the outcast or the rejects of society. In all honesty he says the latter are the ones he really wants. The ones that have done and been things that look nothing like church. It perfectly describes Smith’s personality and heart for all of God’s children. Ironically, his tattoos have often been the catalyst that opens doors and paves the way to share Christ. “I tell them I’m a pastor, they see my tattoos and it really opens the door like crazy,” Smith says. “All-of-a-sudden a wall goes down and people feel they can relate to me.”

Pastor Jeff, as he is lovingly called by basically anyone who meets him, because it is virtually impossible not to fall in love with him and his wife, Worship Leader Bekki Smith, are the dynamic leaders of The Covering Church-a non-denominational church in Greensboro. The Bible says in Psalm 91:4, “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust…” The scripture was the inspiration the Smith’s received from God for the church’s name. Pastor Smith says he and his family were literally driving down the road and The Covering just came to them.

The church itself is located in Greensboro, but it’s more than just a meeting place. It’s a movement and what’s behind it is nothing but the Spirit of God. It’s a movement that dwells in the hearts among many. Everyone is catching hold. From school teachers to prostitutes. From successful business owners to school drop-outs and from doctors and lawyers to drug addicts. It’s freedom. More specifically it’s freedom in Jesus Christ. It’s what The Covering Church represents. As a matter of fact, it’s what The Covering Church was birthed from. It was birthed through a desire to be free from the world’s definition of church. It was born out of a struggle for spiritual emancipation. The product is a growing, strong and free group of people that worship and praise together, share together, give together and serve together.

Both Smiths are eager to weigh in on exactly what the church is all about. Bekki says, “We want the lesbians, the homosexuals, the drug addicts. We want the rejects because we are all rejects. We are messed up ourselves, but that’s who the Lord wants; the ones who nobody else wants. We want those. The Bible says if you get in God’s presence then He will change you. The people with all the piercings and tattoos that have been asked to leave churches, we receive them. The scripture says where men look on the outside; God says I’m going to look at the heart.”

“The beauty of the church is that we see the ones with the tattoos and piercings literally sitting beside businessmen and professionals holding hands, worshiping and weeping together,” says Pastor Jeff as he is overcome with emotion. “We dance, we shout, we worship and sometimes we are simply silent. The one word people use to describe The Covering is freedom. I just want the ones no one else wants. We don’t want to just have church, but we want to BE the church. The Covering is for the people who show up. If you need a Word and the presence of God, we are here,” says Pastor Jeff. “We are a diverse congregation. This ministry does not look at race or gender or anything else. I preach reality to everyone. It’s not about religion but about relationship with Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ comes back all the name tags will be taken off. It won’t say Baptist, Methodist or Pentecostal.”

The Covering is so free that at one point in its short history it wasn’t even bound by four walls-the actual building that is. Pastor Jeff emotionally recalls the day he and Bekki led the first “unofficial” service of The Covering. He says one of his elders called and said some sheep need their shepherd and need to be fed. We are coming to your house; more specifically to your driveway. After Smiths initial shock, he says he thought, okay, a few people may show up, we will have a small Bible study, and then go home.

True to what his elder told him, at 6 am, Smith looked out his window and saw cars lining up. People brought speakers and stands and someone even made a homemade pulpit. His lawn and driveway immediately became the most beautiful makeshift sanctuary he had ever seen. It was decorated with people sitting in lawn chairs and blankets and standing anywhere they could find to simply hear the word of God. They were free and the absence of four walls meant nothing when the possibility of obtaining freedom was within reach. It wasn’t just within reach; it was captured.

Bekki led worship and Pastor Jeff taught the Word of God. That day 77 people, hungry for God, attended. To this day, nearly three years later, Pastor Jeff can barely contain his emotions. The gratitude he has for the faithfulness of God to turn their sorrow into joy is immeasurable. They both agree that day was the first day of their journey to restoration.

Since that day the church has grown exponentially. The first impromptu outdoor service was followed by another, then another and yet another. It was all completely orchestrated by God. There wasn’t one objection. Even the Smiths neighbors were okay with the setup. Bekki says they didn’t even have any real plans. They didn’t know what they were going to do or where they were going to go next. They just knew they were going to listen and follow God.

“We began praying for ridiculous miracles. We were sick of the man-made stuff. We knew that only God could take us beyond. We didn’t want it to look like us or smell like us. We began praying and fasting and God just began to move,” Bekki says. God began to move on their behalf in more ways than one. After several weeks of outdoor services, God provided the means for The Covering Church to move into the Carousel Theater. Unorthodox and unheard of? By all means; yet the Smiths simply attributed it to the “unusual” favor of God. The church called the theater home for many weeks until it simply outgrew the facility. Amazed by the sheer blessings of God and the quick multiplicity of the ministry, the Smiths moved the church to an even larger meeting space at George Ks Event Center. Their stay was short lived because the church just kept growing. All along the way, the Smiths marveled at the faithfulness of God. He was enlarging their territory, opening doors, providing, sustaining and restoring what was lost. It wasn’t long before God completely blew their minds with blessings and favor that even the naysayers couldn’t explain. God divinely laid a path for The Covering to move into its own facility after only nine months. It was simply a miracle.

It’s important to note the character and background of Pastor Jeff and Bekki Smith. They were both raised in Christian homes, were taught the Word of God and tried to live by the Word of God. Nevertheless, they admit they were full of religion, but not a lot of relationship with God.

Their entire lives have always been consumed in some type of ministry function. Pastor Jeff is the son of a pastor from Florida and Bekki, from West Virginia, has toured the country as a national Christian recording artist. She has been featured on every stage imaginable, from The Gaither Hour, to TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) to numerous mega churches. Pastor Jeff was the senior pastor of one of the largest and most well-respected churches in Greensboro. He holds a doctorate and other degrees as well. However, God saw fit to take them through some dark days. It seemed they were left all alone. Friends turned their backs and they lost their livelihood (and everything else for that matter). Yet, despite it all they both remained humble and submitted to God and through all the pain, uncertainty and utter destitution God brought them back from the brink of collapse and completely resurrected everything they thought had died and led them into a land of abundance. God was teaching them to completely trust him and stand firm in their belief in the power of the Holy Spirit. There’s no celebrity status to report about them. In fact, one would be hard pressed to get the Smiths to talk about themselves. They would much rather talk about God and the freedom He gives to those who truly allow Him into their hearts.

The humility and love the Smiths exude is directly reflected in The Covering Church. The Church has become a beacon in its community. “We feed the hungry and homeless. The community uses our facility whenever they need it,” says Pastor Jeff. The vision is for the church to be able to supply the needs of people. From a free barber shop and beauty salon to clothes and food pantries to open gyms, the church is dedicated to extending a loving hand to anyone and everyone. “We want to take God to the world; especially this generation.”

No matter what the method, the Smiths are adamant that the goal will always be to grow disciples. “Our wheels are always turning. We are still growing,” says Bekki. “But our main desire is to disciple people so they can walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and reach out to others.”

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