EDITOR'S NOTE: All statements in this post are factual. I met Justin Bieber and his mother Pattie at 101.3 KDWB-FM in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while working as a production intern for the Dave Ryan in the Morning Show during summer 2009. Four years later, I found myself interviewing Bieber's "pastor," Judah Smith, during the 2013 Passion Conference. I had no idea the two of them were connected until this week, when Justin Instagrammed Smith's new book, Jesus Is ____, and Smith Tweeted back at the Biebs ("I love you @justinbieber for life"). It's a beautiful bromance that I'm happy to be caught in the middle of.
And now, I present a personal birthday message for the Biebs:
Happy 19th Birthday, Justin Bieber! After meeting you and your mom Pattie at 101.3 KDWB in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2009, I'm so glad you've been able to "make it big." I remember when my producer asked if I would go grab "some 13-year-old YouTube sensation" from the lobby, and I went down to find you in the midst of 50 anxious girls who had been waiting to meet you for hours. You played an acoustic version of "One Time" live in our studio while I talked to your mom about early mornings and radio tours. She told me how proud she was of you, and how happy she was that she got to watch you doing what you love-playing music-even at 7 o'clock in the morning.
I played you at Pac-Man before your manager, Scooter, came in and told you to "Be cool, Justin, be cool!," and we had to stop the game before I could beat you. :P
We took a picture together (we both wore white zip-ups that day - crazy), then you signed a personalized poster for me (it's still hanging on my bedroom wall). You drew a heart on it, which I thought was super cute, then you left the building. The next time I saw you was in an arena full of screaming teenagers - you were on stage - and the last thing you said at the end of your set as the lights went down was, "Jesus loves you!"
Then, when I met and interviewed pastor Judah Smith at the 2013 Passion Conference last month, I had no idea you two were connected, but it makes a lot of sense - you have a lot in common! I love that you both love Jesus. :)
Now that it's your 19th birthday, I wanted to write you a personalized birthday greeting with some thoughts from Judah Smith as well. I heard you've been hanging out with him lately, saw the image you posted on Instagram of his book that just came out, and even heard on Fox & Friends that your mom used to play tapes of him preaching to put you to sleep! When I hung with Judah at the 2013 Passion Conference in Atlanta, I discovered he's a pretty cool dude - I'm glad you like his book too. I heard you - maybe you're part of the reason why Jesus Is ____ is in the Top 10 of Amazon's Christian best-seller list? ;)
Here's a bit of what Judah had to say about church and Jesus during our interview in Atlanta last month in case you're interested in hearing something fresh and new from your pastor!
Also - let me know if you ever want a re-match of that Pac-Man game. I'm down!
Interview with Judah Smith, City Church Seattle pastor, Justin Bieber's pastor, and author of new book Jesus Is ______
Q: What have you learned about Christians and the church while writing this book?
A: We are probably more messed up than I’d realized. We’ve got a long ways to go. When you give people wiggle room to really share how they’re doing and where they’re really at, it can be pretty alarming. But it’s also exciting. It shows how relatable we are as churches if we’re really being honest. Man, we’re all sinners. We’re really good at sinning. We’re prolific at sinning. The problem is sin in our world, particularly in the Northwest—especially so. Our church [City Church Seattle] is relevant because we know how to sin and we’re good at it—but Jesus saved us. So we learned a lot about that, and learned a lot about our community. By giving people a voice and a platform, by listening to them, and by not giving them quick, cheap answers and clichés, but really just letting them talk, we’ve built some bridges and knocked down some walls.
Jesus Is ______ is a pretty cool concept. How did it happen?
It wasn’t meant to be anything of what it’s become—it was really formed around the heart of our team [at City Church Seattle] sitting around in a room going, “Man, we really just want people to know about Jesus.” That’s been my thing since I was in high school—if my buddies just knew how amazing Jesus is. You know, how can I convince them? I can’t physically, intellectually, or even emotionally, but how can they really come to see Jesus? I’m persuaded that when you really see who Jesus is, he’s almost undeniable. You can see a little bit of my free will in there, but I think he’s just so beautiful and wonderful and amazing, and he’s the creator of the universe.
I’ve been realizing that it’s a journey, though—it’s a long process to do that. So we’re sitting around as a team and I said, “Let’s start a campaign called ‘Jesus Loves Seattle.’" Then a couple of the guys said, “What if we just left a blank and let anyone say whatever they want?” That’s our passion, just to be missionaries—to fill in that blank. Letting others fill it in first, then giving them wiggle room to air a little bit of their hurt, pain, and frustration, which I think is part of being empathetic, compassionate, and gracious, and then doing our best with our lives to fill in a really accurate picture of Jesus.
You've talked a lot about building community. Why is community important?
It's difficult because there’s no such thing as instant community. If it’s instant community it’s a party, that’s not community. Community takes time and effort. It takes tears at a hospital, it takes hugging someone at a funeral. Over time you develop trust and value and respect and appreciation, but it takes a long time. That’s not probably the kind of thing you want to hear if you’re a church planter or a church leader, but it just takes time.
Do you have any advice for the church at large?
I need some advice from the church at large, that’s for sure [laughs]. But I did read an article a couple of days ago on urging the church to keep the main thing the main thing. Keeping Jesus the big deal, and to really value, appreciate, and celebrate each other’s differences. I think podcasting and other media really make the world smaller, and make the body of Christ smaller in a sense, and I’m excited for the future. I feel like there are going to be a lot of tribes that each continue to have their distinctive, but really hang out together and enjoy each other. Not just tolerate each other for an event, but really enjoy each other’s company and relationship. I think that’s going to be a huge part in wrapping this whole thing up someday. I think the best days are ahead for the church. And I’m proud to be an American.
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