Judah Smith has been in the news quite a bit of late.
When Justin Bieber took his mom, Pattie Mallette, to his Hillsong Church in Beverly Hills last week, the news media noticed. Mother and son had been estranged for some time. Part of the story was that when Bieber was young, his mother would insist that he only listened to the tapes of Pastor Judah Smith, who is now one of the singing superstar’s good friends and spiritual advisors.
It was also announced late last year that Amazon has shot a pilot of a new show that goes inside Smith’s ministry at The City Church in Beverly Hills and has the charismatic pastor talk to well-known figures about the big questions in life.
Billed as a talk show that discusses the meaning of life instead of plugging a movie or book, the project has the working title Big Talk. The one-hour show would be unique in the world of the major streaming platforms and a new strand in Amazon’s expanding lineup of unscripted programming.
Smith seems poised to handle the notoriety. In a ChurchLeaders podcast he said he’s aware of the dangers of taking himself too seriously.
That can happen from media hype or while preaching.
He told interviewer Brian Orme, “I love the sacredness of it (preaching) but it needs to be put into perspective. It’s 40 minutes in a person’s life. My mistake is believing this sermon will change a person’s life. I get emotionally attached to how good or how bad a sermon is.”
He says he’s brought back to earth by reminding himself that it’s God’s church and God is in charge.
Smith has reasons to let his ego get the best of him. A seventh generation pastor, he tracks the first preacher in the family to a woman on a horse with a gun and a Bible in New Mexico, and has seen the attendance at his church double since taking over the pulpit from his dad. But he says he can’t take credit for the increase. Instead he says “We’re reaping the blessings of people who have prayed for our ministry.”
For example, he hosts a weekly Bible study in a Hollywood ballroom that’s attended by hundreds. Years ago, his great-grandfather prayed for a revival in Hollywood. “What we’re doing is connected,” he says, adding, “maybe his prayers are being answered in my day. Prayers never die.”
Smith also has a healthy regard for his own importance. When asked about competing egos in a megachurch he retells the story from Mark chapter 9 where the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest. Jesus interrupts them to point out that the least will be the greatest and uses a little child as an illustration, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Smith says he likes to ask his team ‘What conversations are you having in your heart? That’s what creates comparisons and arguments.” He says when you start comparing yourself to others on the team, you can no longer receive from others, especially those you perceive to be less informed than you.
Jesus’ illustration, according to Smith, means unless you can receive from a child, or someone you deem inferior, you can’t receive from Jesus.
Judah Smith has gained a following for his attempts to bring religion to a wider, urban audience. He is known for his fresh, anointed, humorous messages that demystify the Bible and make Christianity real.