(Photo: Passion 2013 Conferences)
ATLANTA – Judah Smith, lead pastor of The City Church in Seattle, Wash., and author of Dating Delilah, addressed the 60,000 students and ministry leaders gathered at the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta last week with a message on the significance of cultivating Christ-centered community in order to glorify God.
In a message titled, "Ready, Set, Go," the 34-year-old pastor explained that the triune God of the Bible reflects a community, and that if Christians are to reflect their Creator, they must model community in their daily lives.
"We serve a God who is one God but three persons, singular in character and nature but plural in person, distinguishable but indivisible," he said last Thursday morning. "How important is community to God? God is a community in and of himself!"
The fact that God is triune and made man in His image, Smith said, is evidence that "God has intended each and every one of us to live within community," referring to the creation account from Genesis 1. "We are community beings designed for community. You are not an isolated individual, but you are interconnected and interdependent, intended for relationships."
Using analogies from nature, specifically highlighting daring exploits in shark-infested waters during "Shark Week," Smith illustrated how the importance of community is evident in every aspect of our world. "My motto is, 'Let's live every week like Shark Week," said Smith. "I don't think it's strange that even in nature – even on the Discovery Channel – we are pointed to the power, significance and validity of community."
In his characteristic preaching style mixed with humor, authority, and zeal, Smith raised the fundamental question, "What is man's all?" and contended that "man's all is to accurately reflect the image of his Creator." He asserted that this is how people will experience life's greatest meaning and fulfillment, and continued, "If man is going to reflect his creator in an accurate and majestic sense, we must conclude that it is impossible to fulfill our ultimate purpose in life alone."
This fact places an urgency on our commitment to each other, Smith emphasized in his engaging style, telling the audience, "What is more important than the world seeing God, the beauty and majesty and sufficiency of our Savior? Simply put, without our interconnectedness, the world will not see God. Without God's community on the planet, God's planet may never see Him."
From illustrations in the world of nature, Smith moved to word pictures in the Bible to explain the power and purpose of community, quoting from 1 Peter 2 which describes Christ as "the living Stone" and believers as "living stones… being built into a spiritual house."
Smith demonstrated that as believers are connected to Christ they become part of His community, and that God has a unique master plan in which His church, a spiritual house built by a collection of "rocks," can have immeasurable impact in transforming the world. "No one walks by rocks flabbergasted, but you look around this dome," he said. "God intends to build something with our lives, and every salvation is a new stone admitted to God's building program on this planet."
Church, the Seattle pastor stressed, must be "a community centered around Jesus," where people with different gifts and callings unite to collectively fulfill God's purpose. Acknowledging both the practical challenges and eternal rewards when Christians come together with the common goal of glorifying God, Smith admitted "sometimes being connected is flatly annoying," but that if believers work together and stick together, "the world is going to be in awe of our God and our Savior."
Smith's message resonated with a cross section of attendees, who found it both unique and inspiring. "Judah Smith's talk was an awesome reminder that we are called living stones," said Stephanie Taylor Redmond, a conference volunteer Door-Holder from Hamilton, Ga. "I loved his point that one little rock may not be too impressive, but a bunch of rocks together can build a building."
Gabriel Lytle, 23, of Marrietta, Ga., who was part of Passion's 300-person volunteer choir, reflected that Smith's message contained both deep theological truths as well as practical insights for daily life. "I thought I had a good basic, grasp of the Trinity, but I've never thought of God being a community in that way," said Lytle. "Judah brought to my attention that God is not alone and everything God does all the way up to His very being has eternal value. This provides the truth for why I need a community of family, friends and fellow believers around me."
Smith has been involved with the Passion movement since he was in high school, but this was his first appearance as a keynote speaker at the conference. "As far as I can tell, I am the seventh generation pastor in my family," he said opening the session. "This movement – and the leaders and how they carry themselves – has had a profound impact my life, and this whole thing would not have happened if it wasn't for the faithfulness of Louie and Shelley Giglio." Today Smith and his wife, Chelsea, lead a 7,000 member, multi-site congregation in the greater Seattle area.