Judah Smith: The Love of Two Fathers

“I was 11 and had this profound sense in my soul that God said, ‘You are going to be a speaker to your generation.'”

Tell me a story you remember from those days on the road.

In Boise, Idaho, I had the closest thing I have ever had of hearing the audible voice of God in my life. I was 11 years old and I just had this profound sense in my soul that God said, “You are going to be a speaker to your generation and you’re going to be a youth pastor.” I was shocked sitting there. My dad and I went out to eat after the seminar and he said, “Son, are you OK?” I couldn’t stop crying for about 30 minutes and finally got the words out ‘God called me to be a preacher. We cried together. He laid his hands on me and we prayed and he just held me. It was one of those defining moments in life, and it is incredible to me that I had one at such a young age.

What were the central lessons you learned from your parents?

My parents raised me to believe in a God who was in control and always had good things in store, no matter what. “We win” was one of my dad’s mottoes. We live by faith and we die by faith and in between we trust in God, who desires the best for us.

Tell me about starting City Church.

We started in 1992 when I was 13. We moved to Seattle from Portland. We began with 25 people in the Courtyard Marriott in the suburbs of Seattle, all hands on deck. I led worship at times, did kids’ ministry; we just had awesome days. Seattle is incredibly unreached, particularly back then. The church started growing by hundreds then thousands. It was transforming. I think our church is always about a big God and believing in big things.

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Can you name one quality that defined the church from the start?

I would say generosity. We had a family walk in off the streets our very first Sunday. They had expressed a need, so dad brought them up, opened their hands, and asked the church to put all the cash from their pockets into their hands. That was kind of day one discovery of who we were. We were an open handed community. We are here to bless people and serve people and believe God is going to transform a community and a city.

Did you become a youth pastor, then?

I started as youth pastor at 19. Actually, I was part-time youth pastor and a part-time custodian. I was the worst custodian there’s ever been, but had the most fun doing it.

What about the youth pastor part of it?

I loved it; it was the thrill of a lifetime. I still had friends in high school. I held a youth rally on the final day of my senior year in high school and several hundred people showed up; I preached the gospel and several people were saved, so I just jumped in. The lead youth pastor let me preach about once a month and our youth ministry grew at a wild rate. I got married at the age of 21 to the only girlfriend I ever had. I was living my dream. I got to preach about Jesus, meet with students and travel a bit. It was a thrill and I loved every minute of it.

Was your dad grooming you to take over the church one day?

People in the church would make jokes about me taking over the church, but I always thought my brother-in-law would do it. I loved being a youth pastor. To be frank, I never even thought about it until my dad was diagnosed with cancer.

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