Just over a year ago the world caved in for me once again. Something good had turned horribly wrong. Tremendous loss was bearing down on me. I needed to talk about what had happened and what I was facing. I picked up my phone and texted Chad Smith, asking him to meet for coffee, with the explanation, "You are the only pastor in town that I trust."
I first met Chad 4.5 years ago. I sat in his office on a Sunday morning with a dear friend as she poured out her heart. He listened. He didn't dismiss, minimize, correct, or prescribe. He believed her. He took her seriously. And he promised to walk with her through her difficult situation.
I watched from a distance over the years. Watching how he handled sensitive issues that churches normally bumble at best. I watched him take seriously issues that are often cast aside. I watched him step outside the box of cultural expectations and take heat for it. I watched him open up about his own struggles.
And over time, because that is how it happens, he gained...he EARNED...my trust. That is why, when I had nowhere else to turn, I turned to Chad. And he sat and he listened...LISTENED...to my story. Again, he didn't dismiss, minimize, correct, or prescribe. He believed me. He took me seriously. And I knew that he was a rare man, indeed.
Some people are bothered that I spend an awful lot of time and spill an awful lot of words criticizing the church. Yeah, I guess I do. I don't believe that we can change what we do not acknowledge and we can't acknowledge it if we don't talk about it and we can't talk about it if we only paper over it with goodness and light.
And yet within the church there is so much good as well. A friend said she wanted to hear me tell her something good about the church. Something I love about the church. And so I will. I will tell her, I will tell you, about my pastor. Because Chad Smith is now MY pastor.
These are the things I love about my pastor.
I love that he is honest. He is honest and up front and public about his struggles with anxiety and scrupulosity (a form of OCD) and very open about seeing a therapist. This level of honesty and vulnerability takes a tremendous amount of courage in a culture where such struggles are seen as a defect, a weakness, a lack of faith, or evidence of bad theology. But his honesty told me that he gets it. And he gets me. And he isn't going to cover up and paper over who he is with all his struggles. His honesty tells me, tells all of us who wrestle with such demons, that he is one of us. That...THAT makes him safe.
I love that he lacks a veneer of piety. I don't feel like I have to clean myself up to come to him...or to God.
I love his comfort with and heart for those who do not share his faith. He sees unbelievers...nonchristians..."the lost," if you will...not as potential converts, not as projects, not as the enemy, but as people to be loved. He sees the good in people even if they do not share his beliefs, his faith.
I love his heart for the Black community. I love how he seeks to learn from his fellow Black pastors and allow them to pour into his life instead of assuming that he is the only one who has something to offer. I love his desire to understand the impact of past and present racism rather than rush to push past it and move on.
I love how he sees the great worth in women. Not as baby machines, childcare workers, cooks, homemakers, appendages to their husbands, but as people made in the image of God. I love that he values women with their ideas and thoughts, their skills and gifts, their experiences, their wisdom, their words, their hearts.
I love his heart for the marginalized. Those society, and often the church, sometimes especially the church, hold at arm's length. Those in prison. Those struggling with addiction. Those who wrestle with gender and sexuality.
I love that he loves...well...people. In his (and my) faith tradition, loving people really isn't the focus. It's about loving theology. Loving a belief system. A worldview. The Westminster Confession of Faith. The Word. But you just don't hear much, if anything, about loving people. And to be totally honest, I haven't met many pastors in this sphere who are great at loving people. They might be great preachers or teachers or academics. They might specialize in the letter of the law and doing everything "decently and in order," but they aren't good at loving people. Chad is. He loves people.
I love that he has both feet firmly planted in the real world. I love that his sermons use references to popular songs or television shows or movies or podcasts, things that give him a broad range of experience and frame of reference. I love that he sees truth in the strangest places. I love that he isn't holed up in an ivory tower of theological thought but gets his hands messy with real life.
I love that he embraces mystery. That he doesn't feel compelled to have all the questions of life sorted out on a flow chart. I love that he feels free to say, "I don't know."
And this is going to sound crazy, but I love that he knows suffering. Because I honestly don't trust anybody who doesn't know suffering. He gets it. He gets confusion, disappointment, anxiety, loss, betrayal, despair. He doesn't just look at it from afar. He KNOWS it. And it has flattened him. Humbled him. And that makes him safe.
And finally, I love that he is willing to be "outside the camp," so to speak, with those of us who don't feel like we fit any more into a more conventional, conservative, Evangelical church. With those of us who don't feel holy enough or clean enough or strong enough to make the grade. He knows Jesus went outside the camp (Hebrews 13:12, 13) and he is willing to go there himself to be with us. To care for us. To shepherd us.
I love that, while Chad is the pastor of House of Mercy, he is not driven by his own agenda. He is letting God lead. He is listening to and giving space to those of us in the congregation to use our gifts to care for those within and outside of our community. This is not Chad's church. This is our church. This is God's church.
Don't get me wrong. Chad is human. Incredibly human. He has not always responded well to hardship. He has strong emotions like the rest of us. I'm sure he has his selfish moments, though I personally haven't seen them yet. But he knows this. He knows that he is no better than anybody else and he is totally dependent on the grace of God to carry him and transform him and use him.
While Chad cannot be all things to all people, he can be some really good things to a whole lot of us. I am telling you this because a lot of us have been hurt by the church and some of us need to know that there are kind and compassionate people...kind and compassionate men...kind and compassionate pastors in the church.
Chad Smith is one them.