DULUTH, Georgia — A West Coast pastor who regularly converses with some of the world's most famous celebrities is urging Christian leaders to take good care of their soul because burnout is all but inevitable if they do not.
Judah Smith, lead pastor of City Church, which has several locations in both Washington state and in the greater Los Angeles-Hollywood area, sat down with The Christian Post at the Catalyst conference before he spoke to thousands at the Infinite Energy Center to discuss the importance of taking care of one's soul and his relationship with pop star Justin Bieber.
Smith, author of The New York Times best-seller Jesus Is_________, explores in his new book, How's Your Soul? Why Everything That Matters Starts With The Inside You, what it looks like to root one's inner life in the only Person who can bring lasting peace and satisfaction: God.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of CP's interview with the congenial, jovial, full-of-life (and stylish) Judah Smith.
CP: It seems that all too often we see crises in ministries where leaders get spread too thin and so much reproach is brought on the church. Why do you think so many pastors are not so good at taking care of their hearts?
Smith: I think it's because pastors love people so much, to be honest with you. I actually think it is an abuse of something that is beautiful good. And I think that if we're not careful, without even knowing it, we get a Messiah complex and we start to act like saviors instead of the facilitators. If we start to look at people and start to think "Well, I got to be there for everybody."
And Jesus wasn't [there for everybody] in his earthly ministry. He told people no at times. And it is hard for a leader who loves people to say no. And five years turns into 15 and now they have a dichotomy on their hands about who they are in their public persona and who they are privately.
Eventually, that is so exhausting they exit stage right. And we're all in shock and horror; and we exit differently. Some guys exit through addiction, they exit through cheating on their spouse, and others will just quit.
And there is this extraordinary dichotomy that can grow over time and the larger that gap gets I think the more stress you feel on the inside. So how can we close that gap? How can the pastors be part of the church again?
I think pastors have become these personalities that have forgotten that they, too, are the church, and they are supposed to benefit from the community and the circle of friends and relationships. So we're passionate with this project How's Your Soul to ask pastors and anybody willing to have a conversation about, as [King] David said, "all that is within me." The overwhelming emphasis in Scripture is not on your outside but your inside.
CP: Have you ever personally experienced burnout?
Smith: I think the closest I ever came was right after my dad had passed. About the year before that he had handed off the church. And my dad was my best friend. He would listen to me preach and there for about a month I'm trying to pastor the church through the loss of their pastor. And then all of a sudden I am in an elders meeting — we had about six elders meeting back then and we were meeting once a month — and I broke down and said to them "I'm not well. I don't think I'm ok. I think I'm trying to do too much here."
So [my wife] Chelsea and our kids, we got away for about two and a half months, and that very well might be, other than loving Jesus and my wife and family, the best decision I ever made.
CP: You have been sometimes referred to as "Justin Bieber's pastor," and you are well-acquainted with other famous people. What is it like ministering to people with significant cultural influence? While, yes, there are perks to this kind of ministry, how do you explain to people that celebrities, like everybody, puts their pants on the same way?
Smith: Yeah, I feel like I have learned more from Justin Bieber than he could ever have learned from me. I have been allowed to love him and I feel like we are family. We talk almost every day. And I've learned that what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but in the process lose his soul? That all of the trappings that our culture tells us you pursue, leaves us as lifeless as you could possibly imagine. What really matters in life, even when you have hundreds of millions and are one of the most famous people in the world, is relationship. With God and with each other, authentic relationship. And so I've never believed in community more, never believed in people more.
And yes, it is unique when a celebrity or someone of renown comes to church. It's like someone who is, if I can say it this way, is impaired in some way. You have to do some unique stuff to make sure that they get a fair shake at hearing the Gospel. And so you've got to be protective at times. But what they need is what they all need: love, grace, relationship.
For more on Judah Smith and City Church, click here.