Earlier this year contemporary Christianity lost one of its most interesting and extraordinary leaders. Reverend Dr John Smith, founder of God's Squad Motorcycle Club, passed away into eternity after a life of many years of powerful and faithful service in ministry.
John Smith demonstrated through his life and teachings a compelling way of living the Christian faith that has impacted upon my life like few others have. I want to share some of the ways in which John and his ministry have influenced my journey of faith.
God’s Squad came to my high school
My first introduction to God's Squad was in my first year at my public high school in the mid-90s. One day during our lunch break there were some rough looking bikers in the yard putting on a free BBQ for the students. I was surprised when I learned they were Christians.
They didn't look anything like the Christians I knew from church. I found their rougher, street approach to Christian faith intriguing and attractive. It was a similar experience only a couple of years later that would revolutionize my life forever when I discovered Christian heavy metal and alternative music.
After that experience at my school I didn't hear much about God's Squad again for many years until I was in my 20s. One day I was talking to my youth pastor while he was clearing out his office and he handed me a cassette tape of John Smith having a chat with a guy called Fuzz Kitto about faith in Jesus.
It was an evangelistic tape designed to introduce school students to Jesus. I was very inspired by the simple down to earth way John presented Jesus and Christian faith in this tape and I listened to it many times.
Over the years since then I have heard John Smith speak and met him a number of times in Adelaide and at the Christian music and arts festival Black Stump in NSW. Following are some of the ways he has shaped my thinking and faith.
As someone who came to faith through Christian bands and music subcultures, effective and relevant Christian engagement with culture has always been core for me. I grew up listening to heavy metal, punk, grunge and other forms of alternative music. Although I was raised in the church it wasn't until I found the Christian music scene that I started to experience God's grace in a deep and transforming way. Jesus met me right where I was.
In my mind no one has championed Christian cultural engagement better or more passionately than John Smith did. He was very enthusiastic about a holistic Christian faith that effectively engaged every aspect of culture. It was important to him that Christians carefully take the time to understand how to make the message relevant to different cultural groups in society.
He embodied this in the way he lived. He engaged many different areas of society from the 1960s counter-culture in the early days of his ministry to bikers, political dissidents, the marginalized and poor, academics and the music and arts world.
One of the things that John was most known for was his love for the broken and those on the fringes who don't fit in. His example has helped spur me on to have a heart like this too.
John Smith was a prophetic voice
John Smith nurtured in me a love for the prophetic. Anyone who has ever seen John Smith preach knows what a passionate and fiery preacher he was. Although he put a high value on relevance he was just as passionate about truth and justice and challenging the culture with the values of Jesus.
He challenged society's materialism, radical individualism, injustices and mistreatment of the poor like an Old Testament prophet. He often challenged the conservative church but in more recent years has also taken a strong stand against the drift into liberal post-modern relativism.
In pursuit of a gospel that effectively engages the culture with clarity and truth John encouraged Christians to practice a faith that is both intelligent and experiential. John was a reader and encouraged Christians to use the brains that God has given us for His glory. This has inspired me as someone who loves books to seek spiritual understanding and wisdom through the leading of the Holy Spirit and reading widely.
Engagement with politics and economics
One of the areas where John Smith's influence has most strongly left its mark on me is in engaging the world of politics, economics and social structures. He was passionate about intelligently understanding what was going on in the world and this is something that has deeply stuck with me.
John often preached about politics and he was particularly passionate about justice. This influenced my own interest in economic justice, and I have spent a lot of time thinking through these issues. Although my own journey and engagement with the issues has taken me in a somewhat more right-leaning outlook over the years than that which John Smith held himself, the values of justice and compassion that he valued have also been my heart.
I thank God for John Smith's life and I know that his legacy will live on for generations to come in the many people around the world who were inspired by his faithful devotion to Jesus.
Conor is from Adelaide, South Australia. He has a history degree from Tabor College and has a gardening business. Conor has played in Christian heavy metal band Synnove. He is involved in Operation Canaan, a ministry that prays and intercedes for the music scene. He loves God, music, reading, traveling and thinking deeply about philosophy and current events in the world.
Conor Ryan’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/conor-ryan.html