The next pastor of Baton Rouge’s Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church must follow a preaching legend — a prospect somehow not daunting enough to prevent more than 50 people from applying for the job.

Now the congregation is poised to pick from four semifinalists to fill the pulpit served for half a century by the late Rev. Charles T. Smith.

This week, Mike Jefferson, who chairs the pastor search committee and Shiloh’s deacons, announced plans for electing the church’s next pastor.

The semifinalists are Smith’s son, the Rev. Fred Jeff Smith, pastor of Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Baton Rouge; the Rev. Steven Blunt, pastor of First Baptist Church Mahan Street in Suffolk, Va.; the Rev. George Lyons Jr., pastor of Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, Va.; and the Rev. Derrick Miles, pastor of Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

On Feb. 2, contributing adult members of the congregation, who didn’t vote early, will cast ballots from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the church’s D.T. Smith Education Center. A runoff, if needed, will be held Feb. 9.

Charles Smith followed his own father, the Rev. Dudley T. Smith, to become Shiloh’s pastor and led the church on Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive to start a variety of ministries including a credit union, a social service ministry with a caseworker and a cash incentives program to encourage congregation children to make good grades. As a community leader, he helped start what is known today as the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge.

Charles Smith retired on May 27, 2012, a day after turning 80 and died on Sept. 11 after an illness, but he set in motion in 1999 the process for choosing his successor, Jefferson said.

Church documents describe how Charles Smith recognized lessons he “spent his life teaching others also have personal applicability” and how such lessons included the uncertainty of life, the certainty of death and the challenges churches often faced when forced to choose new pastoral leadership.

The result was the establishment of a pastor search committee and search process, Jefferson said.

Of those who applied by the church’s Aug. 20, 2012, deadline, 27 met the minimum qualifications, so DVDs of those candidates preaching were reviewed to narrow the process to the four semifinalists.

Committee members visited the churches of the out-of-state semifinalists in November and the congregation heard from the semifinalists on four separate weekends in December and January.

Additional information on the semifinalists:

  • Fred Jeff Smith, a Baton Rouge native and a graduate of Baton Rouge High Magnet School, has a bachelor’s degree from LSU and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is past president of the Fourth District Congress of Christian Education and past-board President of the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge. He and his wife, the Rev. Demetria LeVel Jones-Smith, have two sons, Charles Turnbull Smith II and Myles Gabriel Smith.
  • Blunt, a Baton Rouge native, has an undergraduate degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va., a master of divinity degree from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology of Virginia Union University, a master of theology degree Union Presbyterian School of Christian Education of Richmond and a doctor of ministry degree from Howard University’s School of Divinity located in Washington. He serves as vice president of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia. He and his wife, Brandey, have two daughters, Nakari Brynae and Kori Cheyenne Blunt.
  • Lyons, a Los Angeles, Calif. native, have a bachelor’s degree from the University of California- Los Angeles, a master of divinity degree from the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C., and a doctor of ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where he earned the Doctor of Ministry degree. He has completed additional studies in the Department of Religion as a Ford Foundation fellow at Princeton University. He is a member of the editorial staff of the National Baptist Voice, the official publication of the National Baptist Convention, USA. He and his wife, LaCrechia, have three daughters: Jessica, Maya and Angela.
  • Miles, a Detroit native who grew up in Little Rock, Ark., has a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas Baptist College, a master of divinity degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and a doctor of ministry degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He studied prophetic preaching methods at Regents Park College, Oxford University, Oxford, England in 2009. Miles is married to Veronica Renee (Seewright) Miles.