During his 20-plus years of ministry, Michael W. Smith has become
one of the most influential artists in the Christian music industry,
recording 15 albums that have yielded 33 Dove Awards, numerous Grammy
nominations, two Grammy Awards and an American Music Award. His
albums have sold more than 7 million copies, reaching platinum and
gold status. His newest project, the live recording simply titled
Worship, is something Michael has been looking forward to
for years. Amber Weigand-Buckley, assistant editor of On Course
magazine, talked with Michael recently about how God is shaping
his ministry, his family and his life.
EVANGEL: Your Worship album is quite different from anything
youve done before. How did it come together?
Several factors were catalysts in that project. First, powerful
things were happening in our church; there were some worship times
that were unbelievable and there were times that I wished the tape
recorder was running so we could have captured that. Then, a year
and a half ago, about 500,000 kids gathered in Washington, D.C.,
for "The Call." They were so full of worship and it was just so
intense. I will never forget that. There were also a lot of things
happening in worship in my concerts people were pressing
in to get more of God. Id never seen anything like that, and
Ive been a worship leader for the last 20 years of my life.
I kept thinking, What if Im supposed to go and just do
a night of worship and record it? We decided to hold a worship
concert even though we didnt know it would translate to a
CD. We had guest artists show up with me in Florida. We knew it
might be hard to get peoples attention off of us and to concentrate
on a real intimate time of worship. But they did, and it was an
unbelievable evening. I will never forget that night, and to this
day I still get teared up remembering a few of those moments.
EVANGEL: How has God been working in your life during the past
few years to stretch you both personally and professionally?
SMITH: Personally, it has been an ongoing saga. Im
always wanting to go deeper and come to a greater understanding
of this high calling that God has on my life. I think the big thing
that Ive discovered through the church that Im involved
in is that Im a pastor. I didnt think that I would ever
call myself that, but I am. I think there is a real gifting on my
life to pastor people to mentor people. Theres a part
of me that feels way too young to do that. I sometimes feel like
I have to be 60 or 70 years old to play a fatherly role, but I dont
think that is the case for me. Especially in our industry with a
lot of younger artists coming along they need some guidance.
They need someone to show them the way. Theyre so susceptible
to getting in trouble and there is not a lot of accountability.
So I think that this is a real platform God has given me to help
On a professional level, I think if Ive done anything right,
Ive learned to live on the edge and just go for it. Weve
done two specialty records back-to-back the Freedom
album was an instrumental record and then the Worship album.
A lot of people said, "Man, youre crazy." And I just said,
"You know what, I dont care." I dont have an agenda.
Im not interested in being a pop star. I just want to be Gods
man and this is one of my giftings. Im a worship leader. We
went to Florida and were totally unconcerned how well the record
would sell. It happens to be the fastest selling record of my career.
EVANGEL: Tell me about this church that you pretty much "planted
in your backyard."
SMITH: Its called New River Fellowship. Ill
never forget calling Don Finto, my pastor of many years. He is my
mentor. He has had the biggest impact on my life other than my own
father and we are still extremely close. As a matter of fact, he
is the interim pastor at this little fellowship. I called him and
told him I had this wild idea that the Lord was birthing in my wife,
Deb, and me the desire to start this fellowship. He started laughing
and said, "I love it." He gave us his blessing. I kind of make a
joke, but Im half serious when I say if I had known what came
with starting up a church I never would have done it. Its
hard. You have to deal with people who have agendas and who are
not happy with certain things. But I tell you, Ive learned
a lot and Ive grown up a lot. Its been a good thing
and now we have about 250-300 people who are plugging in. God is
moving. It has been an amazing journey.
EVANGEL: Youve been in the music business for more than
two decades. What has it been like to live so long in the public
eye and still remain grounded especially in your relationship
with your wife and children?
SMITH: There are always going to be struggles to stay humble;
you have to always keep your guard up. I owe so much to my relationship
with Deb and with Pastor Finto and with the people that I surround
myself with. Im blessed with a good team. If I get a big head
and I get a little pride going, Ive got people who will come
up and say, "How dare you take credit for that that was not
about you." That is the real key.
EVANGEL: Youve always talked about how your family is
important to you. Tell me about how theyve shaped who you
SMITH: I have the greatest mom and dad in the world. Other
than my relationship with God, my family is the most important thing
in my life. Id die for my kids. Id die for my wife.
They are the joy of my life. I love being a dad more than anything
in the world. I love hanging with my kids. They all think Im
crazy. Im actually just a kid. Even this morning we were driving
to school with my 9-, 11- and 13-year-olds and we were all having
the biggest time we were cutting up and if anyone would have
heard that conversation they would have thought we were crazy. We
love just being crazy together.
EVANGEL: You have five children how do you manage to
give them all equal time?
SMITH: I think part of it is my personality. Its the
part of me thats learned to enjoy life and not become consumed
with my job. There are a lot of dads who are so career-oriented
they strive and strive to stay on top and they work 12 hours
a day. You cant do that and have a good family life. You cant
do that with one kid and especially with five. When I work,
I work hard and I get creative. But I keep my schedule flexible.
Im at home a lot, just hanging with my kids. Parenting is
about making priorities. With the girls they go on dates
with Dad. My 18-year-old son works in my office and that allows
us time to talk about music and whatever. You get interested in
what your kids are interested in. You get into their lives and find
out what makes them tick what they are feeling and what they
like to do. My 11-year-old just discovered sushi. Im a big
sushi eater I love sushi. And she also loves crunchy shrimp.
So on our lunch date the other day she and I went to get crunchy
shrimp. Then we went to get her some earrings and she thought shed
died and gone to heaven. It doesnt take anything extravagant
to have a great time with your kids. Its just having fun and
finding something in common.
EVANGEL: Has your parenting philosophy changed much from your
first to your fifth child?
SMITH: Ive learned a lot. Obviously, there are some
things that you thought worked and they dont work. As your
kids get older you discover a lot of things. When we had a 19-month-old
I thought I couldnt be any happier. I have a lot of great
memories those are such great times in a childs life.
Then children get older and the dynamics change. You never know
whats going to happen with your children in terms of what
kinds of struggles are they going to have, the physical stuff that
they are going to deal with, the emotional issues you never
know. My oldest son, Ryan, went through a tough time with some stuff
like this and it really stretched our faith. But you roll with the
punches, you trust God, you stay in prayer as much as you can. At
the end of the day you cant sit around stressed out and tense
all the time. You have to get to a place where you rest in the Lord
and say, "God, Youre in control. Give me wisdom to make the
right decisions for my kids." Then you live life to the fullest.
EVANGEL: Youve talked a lot about the struggles you went
through as a teen. How has that affected the way you approach parenting?
SMITH: I think probably if Ive done the right thing
its because Ive chosen to really communicate with my
kids about everything drugs, sex you name it. Ive
chosen to talk about those things, and I havent been afraid
to tell them what I went through. When I was growing up, you just
didnt sit around and have sex talks. It was just a more reserved
kind of thing. We live in a different day and age and parents need
to talk about all of the issues their kids will face. Ive
told Ryan, "Ive been down that road and it leads to nothing
but heartache. Its a dead-end street. Trust me on this one."
He has a real heart for God and he has great friends. What more
could a dad ask for? The dynamics, however, would probably be a
lot different if he were out hanging with the wrong crowd, getting
in trouble. Id probably have to jump in there and have major
heart-to-heart talks. So far, the Lord has been gracious and given
him some great people to hang with.
EVANGEL: What is the biggest parenting pitfall youve had
SMITH: I could have done a little better job in getting
the kids to be more responsible. Theyve got it pretty easy
when it comes to helping their mom around the house with simple
stuff like the dishes and getting stuff cleaned up. My brother-in-law
has seven kids and they homeschool. My nieces and nephews are the
most disciplined kids you will meet. Everything is "Yes, maam.
No, sir." I think I could have done more of that with our kids,
because sometimes I think Deb is struggling to get people to help
around the house. I know that sounds really trite, but I do think
that discipline is important in life. Life is not always easy. Life
can be tough. You have to learn to take some responsibility and
do some of the little things.
EVANGEL: Your son Ryan has played in your band. Whats
the best advice you can give on nurturing your childrens gifts
SMITH: Encourage your kids. It bugs me when I go places
like the YMCA and see parents berating their children. One particular
time there was a karate competition and this dad was just railing
on his kid for coming in fifth with comments like, "Why werent
you paying any attention?" It was very negative. Everything about
that situation reinforced the need to do the opposite. We need to
lift our kids up. I believe Im where Im at today because
my mom and dad did nothing but speak life into me. And Don Finto,
my pastor, has done nothing but speak life into me. He lifts me
up every time Im with him. You have to do that with your kids.
Yes, they are going to make mistakes and they are going to have
to face the consequences. But we need to be building our kids up
with the positive. They need to hear, "You are a man/woman of God!
You can do it! God has given you a gift. Youre awesome!" I
tell my kids all the time, "You guys are awesome. I love you guys.
You have so much potential." Kids need that.
EVANGEL: If your children could only take one word of advice
from you into adulthood, what would you want that to be?
SMITH: Our only hope is in the Lord. At the end of the day,
even with all the decisions you have to make, He is the only One
who will bring you peace. If you remember that, it will affect everything
else in your life.
EVANGEL: Your heart for young people prompted you to develop
the Rocketown Youth Outreach. How did that ministry get started
and what is it doing now?
SMITH: We are getting ready to open up in downtown Nashville.
We originally opened in 1994 and lost our lease in 1997 and weve
continued the ministry over the years. Our real thrust is to be
surrogate parents to disenfranchised youth. We are "club" oriented
and we have events, but most of all we just bring the kids in and
share life with them and love on them. A lot of these kids are the
[ones some] churches dont know how to reach. We want to live
on the edge and try to really communicate to them and love them.
EVANGEL: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing parents
today in raising healthy children?
SMITH: I think the biggest challenge for parents is being
aware of the kind of community their kids are involved in as far
as who their friends are and who they are hanging out with. Weve
had some really tough things going on in our schools kids
hanging out with the wrong kids. Its a challenge to create
an environment in which you feel your kids are safe but at the same
time they remain in a position to positively impact their culture.
EVANGEL: What final thought would you like to leave with fathers
this Fathers Day?
SMITH: As parents, weve got to know how to love on
our kids. Before we can do that, weve got to be transformed
ourselves. Weve got to be completely in love and abandoned
to God big time. When you get a mom and dad who are totally clued
in with their spiritual lives, that will spill over into their kids.
You can preach to your kids all day long, but they are going to
watch what you do. Thats where they are going to learn about
life. Everyones situation is different. Im extremely
blessed because my father was just so amazing and an incredible
example for me. Yes, he made mistakes, but he was just such an incredible
example. There are a lot of dads who have never had that example.
Theres a place where you just have to go and say, "God, You
can be these kids Father." And youve got to pray for
these dads that they will learn to love their kids.