As a young bloke in his late teens and early twenties I often found myself frustrated with the state of the church – with our ineffectual evangelism and our moderating of Jesus’ words to suit a middle class climate.
I remember sitting with my pastor once – opening the book of Acts and reading some of it to him – then saying literally ‘what’s changed?’ I was full fire and fury and a little lacking in grace and wisdom… ok more than a little. But I dreamt of more for the church. I still do.
So when a prophet came to town and said the things no one else dared to say (and who also lived his message courageously) I hung on his every word. Back in the day I would have walked over hot coals to hear Smithy speak and his teaching from Acts 17 still resonates in my ears as one of the most inspirational calls to mission I had ever heard.
I just got home from work and opened Facebook to see a mate’s post indicating that John Smith (Smithy) had died. I had just lent his life story DVD to a friend last week saying ‘check this out – here is a man who inspired me and his story is worth hearing’.
He is best known for being the founder of the God Squad – a motorcycle club that positioned themselves for mission amongst the outlaw motorcycle gangs – places angels fear to tread. He was an amazing Bible teacher, pioneering missionary and a genuine prophet, who at times had some brilliant insights.
I vividly remember him being invited to a Christian schools conference only to hear him unload with full fury on those who would segregate their kids from the rest of the world. I’m guessing that wasn’t what they asked him to say, but he said it anyway… I don’t remember him being asked back.
I remember his thought provoking spots on the radio – where he would call people to think about some aspect of faith in an engaging way. He always ended with ‘this is John Smith…’ And as I listened I thought ‘one day I’d like to do that.’ The stuff I do now on radio was modelled on his straight talking, but culturally sensitive approach.
The last time I saw Smithy was at a Uniting Church conference where I was the main speaker on the subject of mission in the western world. I had no idea he was going to be there and when I heard I must admit it rattled me a little. Here was I going to speak to a group of people on the subject of mission with one of the Aussie gurus on the subject sitting in the crowd.
He sat two rows back and smiled and cheered me on as I spoke. At the end he shook my hand and gave me some great words of encouragement. I needn’t have felt nervous – but when one of your teen heroes is sitting right there its hard not to.
So Smithy’s gone and the world has been the richer for this sharp thinking, courageous and straight talking man of God.