After 40 years of sharing the gospel message at Smithfield First Baptist Church, Pastor Lee Colbert has announced his retirement.
Rev. Colbert was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1956 and spend the first 13 years of his life growing up inside the beltline of Washington, DC. There were 1,400 students in his 7th-8th grade middle school. His parents wanted a smaller school system for him to attend and during the summer of his 8th grade year the family moved to West Point, Virginia. It was a big change. The five-grade levels in his new school (8-12) had a total of only 280 students. “My graduating class was the largest to ever graduate with 60,” Lee remembers fondly.
Lee enjoyed growing up in West Point with the York River as his front yard. He played trumpet in his high school band, ran track and played basketball for four years. His team won the State Championship in his junior year. “Mostly because of my team mates abilities – not mine!”
Lee enrolled in Madison College with a major in Chemistry and Math. The school became James Madison University his junior year, the same year he also changed his major to Social Work. He worked one summer as a Summer Youth Minister at his home church, First Baptist Church West Point. At James Madison he met his wife, Alice. Both were involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
“My work as a summer youth intern as well as working with InterVarsity helped to confirm my calling to ministry, along with a lot of long talks and discussions with my pastor,” Lee remembers.
He married Alice with one semester left in college.
In May 1979, while attending seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, and after completing his first year of a three year program, Lee made his first trip to First Baptist Church in Smithfield. “A professor whom I didn’t know, recommended to (current pastor) John Ryberg that I might be worth talking to. I was resistant, planning to spend my three years studying before working in a church setting,” Lee recalls.
“The gentleman who was in charge of assisting students finding placements in churches for employment finally just said, ‘Lee, just go for the interview. You probably won’t get the job. But it will be good experience.’ So that’s what I did and here I am today. After finishing my education I began working full time as Minister of Youth and Education at FBC. Mr. Ryberg passed away in December 1984. I was called to be the pastor in July, 1985.”
Colbert said there are many meaningful accomplishments that stand out during his tenure. “Our church has nurtured so many people…equipping them for living a life of faith. We have also had 11-12 young persons from our church who have gone to Seminary over the past 30 years. Many of them have engaged in and are involved in church ministries.”
“First Baptist has also embarked on many innovative ministries within our community…. the Youth ministry, Soup Kitchen, After School Care and Summer Adventure Programs, Weekday Early Education (WEE) Program, Clothing and Household Good closets, Hispanic Mission, Handyman Ministry, Operation Inasmuch, Disaster Relief/Recovery, Flea Market ministry, GriefShare, JoCo Project, Fall Festival, feeding children of our community in the summers, Community Thanksgiving Meal….to name just a sampling.”
“And we have entered into partnerships with Emergency Management of our county for Warming Shelters, disaster relief/recovery and shelters when needed. There have also been numerous building programs which have enabled us to do much of the ministry we have needed,” Lee said.
As for his biggest accomplishment in the last 40 years, “Watching our church members grow in their faith and live it out in their daily lives as they love the Lord with all their hearts and serve their fellow man!”
Asked what surprises him the most about his church Lee responded, ” That we have so many different ministries going on and include so many of our congregation in doing them!”
Rev. Colbert has ministered to thousands of people in times of joy and sadness. “This past spring I presided over my 500th funeral,” Colbert said. “I have married somewhere around 300 couples over the years that I have been in Smithfield.”
Speaking from the pulpit during his Sunday, Oct. 20th, 2019 message, Colbert broke the news to the First Baptist Church congregation he was retiring. It was a surprise to many. “Church members have responded to my retirement announcement with mixed feelings. I think some have taken comfort in knowing that we are going to remain in Smithfield although I will not remain as pastor.”
Lee and Alice will celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary on Dec. 17, 2019. Their daughter Lauren and her husband, Travis, have one child Owen who will be 5 in December. They reside in Clayton. Their son Mark and his wife Megan are expecting their first child in December. They live in Burlington.
Lee will step down as pastor of Smithfield First Baptist Church in February 2020. As for any future plans Lee says, “Take a break and a breather. We hope to do some traveling and find new ways to minister (and) spend time with our growing family.”
How does Lee Colbert want to be remembered by his parishioners? “I hope people will remember that I have tried to be an under shepherd of The Shepherd – serving, leading and pointing others to Jesus!”
Lee’s hobbies include water sports and boating, basketball, tennis, and reading.
Lee Colbert is the son of Bob and Jane Colbert. His father was a real estate broker and teacher. Bob was a resident in Johnston County for several years at Gabriel Manor and Smithfield Manor until passing away in February 2019. Jane Colbert passed away in 2004. “She was such a lovely woman and a big influence in my life,” Lee said.
In 2012, Lee Colbert was named the Citizen of the Year by the Smithfield Selma Chamber of Commerce. He is a past recipient of Rotary’s Paul Harris Fellowship and the Jaycee Faith in God Award. He is a 2011 founding member of the JoCoProject and member of the Johnston County Emergency Food and Shelter Board, among numerous other civic activities.
He has traveled to New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Alaska, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala on mission trips.
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Smithfield, NC 1985 – present.
Associate Pastor, First Baptist Church, Smithfield, NC. 1979-1985
Summer Youth Minister, First Baptist Church, West Point, VA 1976
Licensed: First Baptist Church, West Point, VA August 9, 1978
Ordained: First Baptist Church, West Point, VA October 14, 1979
Johnston Baptist Association
Moderator 1987-1989, 2000-2002
Vice Moderator 1985-1987, 1998-2000
Youth Council (chairman)
Nominating Committee (chairman)
Committee on Committees (chairman)
Constitution and Bylaws Committee (chairman)
Program Committee (chairman)
Annual Sermon: 1987
Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
Member of General Board 1994-1998
Youth and Campus Ministry Committee 1994-1998
Member of Executive Committee 1996-1998
Budget Committee 1995-1998 (chairman: 1996, 1997)
Nominating Committee Fruitland Bible Institute 1997
Summit on Balanced Leadership 1998-1999
BSU planning committee for 75th Anniversary Celebration
Committee on Committees 2001
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Partnership Development Committee (2014-2019
Collegiate Ministry Council (2015-2018)
Board of Ministers 1989-present
Contact Teleministry for Johnston County
United Way Board of Directors: 1988-1991
Johnston County Council on Homeless
Johnston County Literacy Council
Johnston County Emergency Food and Shelter Board – member 1994 – present
Johnston Health Ethics Committee 2014 – present
Smithfield Parks and Recreation: Coach with baseball, basketball and soccer
Smithfield Civitan: Coach with baseball
Habitat for Humanity for Johnston County: Board of Directors: 2002-2003
School Improvement Team Smithfield-Selma High School: 2002
2008 Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce Visioning Committee
Founding board member of JoCo Project: 2011 – present
World Changers Associational Project Coordinator 2005, 2006
ARC: Adult Respite Care of Smithfield, Board member
Extensive work with disaster relief/recovery
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary 1978-1981
Wake Forest, North Carolina Master of Divinity
James Madison University 1974-1978
Harrisonburg, Virginia 22801 Bachelor of Social Work
Honors: Summa Cum Laude
West Point High School 1970-1974
West Point, Virginia