Leading a congregation of 6,000 and a Twitter following of 250,000 is not easy. So how does Judah Smith do it?
THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN REACHING A GENERATION
You have over 250,000 Twitter followers – what made you want to use Twitter?
Well, I think it’s important to engage with the world in ways the culture understands and tools like Twitter help us do that. I’m not really sure how the 250,000 followers happened, but it’s really an honour to have people who care about anything I tweet about, and I don’t take that influence lightly.
How would you share the gospel in a sentence?
Hard question ... how about: Jesus is the most incredible person that’s ever lived, and once you see him for who he really is, he will be almost irresistible.
Why is it important to have a voice in our generation?
I think we are called to have a voice in our generation – I really don’t think it’s a choice as Christians. We have a voice whether we realise it or not; the goal is to have a voice that promotes the gospel of Jesus Christ to a generation that could really use some good news.
What do you think is the best way to reach twenty-somethings with the gospel?
I think we reach twenty-somethings in the same way Jesus did. His disciples were teenagers and twenty-somethings, and we can assume many others who listened to him and followed him were also in that age group. He was genuine, authentic, real with people and compassionate. He cared about their real-life issues without being religious. He really just loved people and they knew it when they met him. I think we should be the same way. Let’s keep it simple.
How can Alpha help with that?
Well, Alpha is about the fundamentals of our faith and what we believe – that role should never change. There will always be a need for discipleship, and Alpha is one of the ways the church can make sure the next generation gets that baton passed to them successfully.
What has been the fruit of running Alpha at The City Church so far?
We have been running Alpha for almost ten years and it’s one of the ways we offer new believers to get grounded in the faith, in a small group setting. We’ve seen hundreds in the Alpha small group setting find a place to answer some key questions about who Jesus is, what we believe, and other things that begin the growth process of personal faith.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR AND THE FUTURE
What have been the highest and lowest points of your journey as a pastor so far?
I don’t know if I can pinpoint those things, but I can tell you the season of losing my dad and hero while taking the helm of this great church was a bit paradoxical for me. Leading The City Church is one of the greatest joys of my life, but beginning this stage under those circumstances has been one of the hardest seasons I’ve had to navigate – both spiritually and emotionally.
What’s the best advice you received along the way?
My parents have always encouraged me to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus – specifically, the grace God has given me to lead and preach. They told me continually that people wanted to hear what I had to say, that I was called to do this and that I’m good at it. As a result, I don’t struggle with insecurity or false humility. I know that it’s a grace God has given me.
How do you manage the tension between doing what God has called you to do and being relevant to this generation?
I guess I feel that these are one and the same. God has called me to be his voice and to preach his message in a way that reaches this generation. I know that not everyone will be happy to hear the message or agree with it. But that doesn’t mean the message isn’t relevant to them. One thing that helps me is to keep in mind that it’s not my job to save people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job and he’s really good at it. I present the truth to the best of my ability, and then I trust that the Holy Spirit will do what he does best.
I don’t really try to be relevant – I mean, of course I understand you have to in order to reach people, but it’s not something that I allow to take my focus. I am intentional about focusing on the ‘unchurched’ and presenting the gospel in ways that people can relate to in their every-day living and from that perspective. If that’s what being relevant means, then yes, it’s a dynamic that I think anyone in ministry is challenged by.
Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
Hopefully still leading the people of The City Church. It’s truly my heart’s desire to show Seattle and the world who Jesus is, and this is my mission and the mission of our church for the next ten years.
Judah Smith leads The City Church in Seattle. Find him on Twitter: @judahsmith
Photography by Vivian Silva