Simply be your authentic self. I’ve got to be honest, as a woman in my forties, I realize this is a lifetime journey. It changes with seasons and some seasons are easier. Some seasons it takes a little more effort, but if I don’t want to live a life of loneliness, I have to be the person I am uniquely designed to be.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelsea Smith. Prior to becoming a Lead Pastor in 2009, Chelsea Smith led Generation Church, the youth ministry of The City Church, for ten years. Chelsea is a gifted leader and speaker, noted for her down-to-earth wisdom, authenticity, humor and strong faith. Chelsea and her husband Judah have three children, Zion, Eliott, and Grace. They live in Seattle and Los Angeles.
Thank you for joining us Chelsea! Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to become a pastor?
Growing up, I always knew I wanted to help people. When I went to college initially as a human development major, I thought I was going to become a high school guidance counselor. I just naturally seemed to value and recognize that each one of us needs a human connection for making life decisions and to know that we aren’t out there alone. By the time I went to college, I had really fallen in love with Jesus. This was never a religion for me or a set of morals of dos and don’ts. I encountered a real person named Jesus and He changed my life. So much so that I realized that the best way I could help people was through being a pastor, being someone who could share the story, and the love of Jesus, and He is the source of all our answers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started on this path?
Oh wow, that’s a hard one! I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so there’s definitely a lot of stories that I’ve gotten to experience. They range from having a high school girl I worked with who found herself working in prostitution and helping her find her way out, to being able to sit with people of influence who are also navigating their faith. I think the most interesting thing that has happened lately, in light of the pandemic, is the story of a young woman who was about ready to take her life. She was looking on social media and saw another person who is a part of our church community post something about church in the comments. She clicked on it and we happened to be having a live church service, and I don’t know which platform she watched it on, but she watched it and saw that we have Pastor Chat on our Churchome app. She chatted with some of our incredible team and pastors and instead of deciding to take her life she met the person of Jesus for the first time. She said she felt like a weight was lifted off of her and she has hope again for her life. It really doesn’t get any better or more for fulfilling than that.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting out? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
Oh my gosh, I’ve made so many mistakes there’s way too many to count! There was a time I was on stage in front of 5,000 people trying to say the “shed” blood of Jesus but instead, I said the “shit” blood of Jesus, so that got a laugh from everybody and kind of took us out of the moment. I, of course, was horrified! There was also this time I was five months pregnant and walking off the stage and missed the last step and totally fell on my hands and knees in front of everybody, so that was embarrassing. I don’t know what I learned from those things, other than the fact that we can survive humiliation and you just have to get back up and keep going. I think the biggest mistake I made in younger days was the mistake of thinking that our relationship with Jesus is more about us, our performance, and what we do right or wrong when it really is about God and what he’s already done for us. As a young pastor, I put too much emphasis on our own works and not enough emphasis on the incredible work of Jesus. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned so much more about His love and His grace and His acceptance. That is truly the greatest fuel and motivation for lasting life change.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, I’m more excited than I have ever been 20 years into this. That excitement comes from the opportunities that technology is giving us to connect people with God and to connect them with each other — especially seeing so much of that happening right now. We have developed the Churchome app that really is growing to become the key connecting point within our church. One of the things I’m so excited about is that we can provide people with guided prayer. I don’t know about you but for me, prayer can seem daunting and overwhelming to just talk to a God that I can’t see. Somehow, innately within us, we know we’re supposed to pray but it can seem overwhelming to know how to start or what to say or what to talk to God about. Through the Churchome app, my husband and I take turns guiding people in the practice of prayer. It’s just 5 to 7 minutes and in the times that we’re living in, I find myself getting perspective first before I open my news app in the morning. Guided prayers give me the perspective to handle everything else that is coming at us right now, which is so difficult and tragic. When we can see those things in the light of who God is, we could really live with His perspective. That is one of the things that we have on the Churchome app. I love it because the app is not an end unto itself, it really is a platform for building true community where you can start with a Guided Prayer, and then you can meet with a pastor through Pastor Chat, or watch a live service on Wednesdays or Sundays, and then from there, you can get connected with people in your area to really have a real authentic faith experience.
According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the U.S., but across the world. Can you share with our readers why people may look to you as a Lead Pastor to fight this Loneliness epidemic they may be experiencing?
I agree, loneliness is such a huge epidemic in the world we are facing and what I find so interesting is that in some ways we are unknown by more people than ever before. I feel like we are actually known by fewer people, meaning that even though more people may see us on social media or see us through Instagram or Twitter, the number of people who really truly see us and know us are becoming fewer and fewer. The people who really know your authentic self, who really know your fears and your dreams and your anxieties and your love, that’s what really eliminates loneliness — being truly known. This is one of the greatest things I believe because as followers, we share the message of Jesus. The message of Jesus tells us that we are fully loved for exactly who we are. Jesus does not require any change in us before He loves us fully and completely. I really believe it is from that place of realizing that Jesus knows me, and He loves me exactly how I am, that gives us the courage to show our true selves to other people in our world, so we can truly be known, and we can fight the epidemic of loneliness.
Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health? On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
I absolutely agree that loneliness is detrimental to our health. First and foremost, we were designed as human beings to live in relationship with one another. You can see it even the way that children are born into families as a relational unit. I believe that is the way God intended it, knowing that we would need relationships for the rest of our lives. Being in relationships is the truest expression of humanity on this planet. Everything else that we could ever do outside of relationships will not bring fulfillment. That leads me to the second point, the reason loneliness is so detrimental is we can have everything we’ve ever wanted in the world, but if we have all of that without relationships it’s empty. You can have the most amazing house, and if you are in it by yourself what good does it really do? You can have the most incredible car, or boat or jet and if you are truly alone, it doesn’t matter what else you have, none of those things in and of themselves will ever bring fulfillment. Which leads me to the third point of why loneliness is so detrimental. We can see the mental health crisis in America and all over the world. Is it correlated to the lack of family relationships, lack of friendships, lack of true connections, and really knowing each other and being known? I believe the state of our collective mental health is reflective of the state of our collective loneliness.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
I agree. It is so ironic that we are living in a world that is more connected than ever before yet also the loneliest humanity has ever been. How is that possible? I believe there are three reasons that contribute to this irony. First, we are rarely truly known by anyone. I alluded to this in one of my earlier answers. The digital connection that we all face can often lead us to present a version of ourselves that is our “Instagram” life. We put up the best meals we make, our best vacations, we show our beds when they are made, and we show our families on Easter and Christmas, the one time of the year where not everyone is wearing sweats. This creates an innate loneliness because our desire is to be known and loved for who we really are. If we feel that we are loved or accepted for a fake version of ourselves then we intuitively know that love or acceptance is fake and cheap. What we are all craving is to really be known on the truest deepest level for somebody to actually know us. The image that we are portraying on digital media does not provide a way for that to happen. Secondly, I believe digital media also leads us to truly not know others. We were created and designed not just to be known but to know other people and not to just know their Instagram life but to know their real life. Because when we really know others, it helps us determine our own sense of self. I know for Judah (my husband) and me, when we have gone to marriage counseling, one of the greatest things the counselor can say is “that’s a normal response for what you are going through” and how impactful it is to hear those words and how peaceful to realize I’m not alone. I haven’t lost my mind and what I’m facing is not unique to me — it’s a human problem. Until we truly know other people, what they are feeling, facing and going through, we will feel like we are strange or alone or what we are facing is abnormal instead of it all being part of our normal human condition. Thirdly, I really believe not knowing ourselves is at the root of the problem that we are facing. We always say if you come to one of our gatherings as a church community, we are not trying to persuade you to believe what we believe, but we are sharing our experience. I believe the only way I can truly know myself is by knowing my creator, to know the God that created me who saw me from my first breath who will see me into my last breath. He knows the things about me that I don’t even know about myself. I realize that my creator loves me with unconditional love and acceptance. From that place, I can know, love, and accept myself, which allows me to open up my heart to know, love, and accept others.
8. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic? Please give a story or an example for each.
Loneliness is not an epidemic that has to affect our lives. In fact, I believe there are five things that each one of us can do to go through this process and really kick loneliness out of our lives.
1. Being known by God is the first thing. You may not agree with this premise, but you are here reading an article from a pastor. The first way to deter loneliness in our lives is to be known and loved by God. And here is the greatest thing about this first step: it’s not actually a step we have to take or make happen. The truth is, it’s already happened. God knows each and every one of us and He loves us unconditionally. Truly all we need to do is acknowledge and accept this love. Maybe you have never had a conversation with God, maybe you do not know where to start. But can I encourage you to start with a simple sentence? Just say “God can you let me know you know me? “Can you let me know you love me?” It’s a simple prayer but I truly believe in a God that hears you. I believe if you pray that prayer with faith in your heart, He is going to do things in your life, so you are known and loved by God.
2. Simply be your authentic self. I’ve got to be honest, as a woman in my forties, I realize this is a lifetime journey. It changes with seasons and some seasons are easier. Some seasons it takes a little more effort, but if I don’t want to live a life of loneliness, I have to be the person I am uniquely designed to be. I can’t try to be a cheap imitation of somebody else. I know it’s cliché, but only I can be the very best me there is. Brace yourself for a total mom brag. We have three kids, two boys who are 15 and 13, and our baby girl is 11. Just this past year our baby girl, Grace, moved to a brand-new school as a fifth-grader which is the oldest grade in her elementary school. Recently we had our parent-teacher conference at this new school with her new teacher and I received the greatest mom compliment I’ve ever received. Her teacher said, “you know Grace, she really knows who she is.” When she said that I thought, I want to know that for me personally for my whole life. I not only want to protect that in my daughter but also in me. And that starts by being known by God — the one who created me perfectly and finding security in that truth.
3. To know others. Each and every one of us needs to get out of our comfort zones and seek to truly know others. The old adage is true, to have friends we must be friendly. Every day in our social interactions we make choices. Are we going to be comfortable with surface-level conversations such as talking about the latest TV shows, the weather, or the latest office gossip? Or are we going to go deeper and truly get to know people? To know people’s thoughts, desires and fears? The truth is for a lot of people we interact with it is surface level. But for each one of us I know there are four or five people that come to mind, that we could get to know better. Be courageous and ask meaningful questions to those individuals. Ask what their dreams are, ask what their family life was like growing up. Ask what makes them afraid and what gets them excited. Be vulnerable and tell them about yourself. The only way we can truly know each other is by having these meaningful conversations. Let me say this, this advice is not just for women, men can do this too. I look at my husband and in the last few years, he has developed some of the most meaningful relationships. I know there is a lot of golfing and joking around but woven within that are deep meaningful conversations that combat loneliness.
4. Find a larger community to identify with. I don’t know if you’ve seen the ads that are promoting Facebook groups. They have a dog walking group, a Star Trek group — you know whatever your common interest group is. I can’t imagine all the research Facebook put behind this effort. But I am sure they have found in the makeup in every human being, that our creator has always known that we need, and that is we need to identify in a group that is larger than ourselves that shares common interests. To truly know who we are and have authentic relationships and belong in community. And not everyone in this large group will know you but a handful might. But it is the larger group that gives us that sense of identity and making a difference in the world. For me, my community is my church. I belonged to the church long before I was leading it and I plan to be a part of it long after I am done.
5. Give back. Sometimes, when all you are feeling is lonely and you want to curl up in your bed with ice cream and watch Netflix, that is the best time to pick yourself up and give back to others. I just heard the most incredible story of a woman who is on staff at our church. She moved to Seattle 5 years ago in 2015 and her marriage was crumbling. She had two small kids and was trying to figure out how to move to a brand-new city, raise children and make friends. I do not know what inspired her, but she volunteered to host a tea party at a local women’s shelter from an internet posting she found. This incredible woman decided to go and serve others even in the middle of her own pain, and it was from that one act of serving that she made close friends and five years later her marriage is doing great and she is living a life full of quality relationships.
I love that these five things are not fully completed but are a continual process. None of us have to be brilliant individuals, none of us have to be superhuman. These are all attainable for every one of us, and I truly believe as we step out and do these five things, loneliness can and will be eradicated. Not just in our lives but the individuals of the world we are living in.
9. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I actually feel so blessed because I already get to lead the movement I believe would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people in the world. That movement isn’t specifically Churchome or any religious organization by name. I believe that movement is truly a movement of unconditional love and understanding that is fully and completely found in knowing who Jesus is. When I met Jesus, I felt the most incredible unconditional love I have ever known. I believe if the world could receive that love from Jesus and then, in turn, give that love to each other, then we could truly bring healing and good to the entire planet.
10. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
If I can have any meal with any person, it would be breakfast because I love breakfast food and I am definitely more of a morning person. I don’t know who this specific person would be by name, but I would love to find someone who thinks completely opposite of me. Maybe in matters of God, humanity and politics and would love to sit down and have a conversation with that person. My goal wouldn’t be to try to change their mind or get them to think the way I think, but the goal of that conversation would be understanding. There is an ancient Proverb that says, above all else, get understanding. I think so much of the division that our world is facing right now is caused simply because we don’t take time to understand people who are different from us. What I actually hope I would find in that conversation, is the person who on paper is considered the most opposite of me, isn’t actually that different. We truly are all looking for love and acceptance and trying to make the world a better place collectively.