Smithy 

Smithy

 

"Smithy is a story of how God uses imperfect, flawed people to fulfil his purposes. It makes no attempt to hide John’s flaws. So, in a sense this is a story of grace, that despite his flaws, John’s impact on thousands of people the world over has been huge."

When I heard that a documentary was being made about the life of John Smith, my first thought was that his story needs to be spread far and wide.

Smithy is that story. Released in November, 2016, by Parham Media, it is a series of interviews and film clips about a man who has brought Jesus alive to thousands upon thousands of people. And he has done it through walking his talk, through standing up for “the least of these”, speaking truth to power and loving those the church was not. That is John Smith. Smithy conveys this in a powerful tribute to a man who has always wanted nothing more than to follow his Lord Jesus.

The documentary is divided into several chapters, each detailing aspects of John’s life and the movement he has led. It also contains endorsements from the likes of Bono of U2, Mark Sayers and John Dickson. As well as the chapters about John’s life, Smithy contains a few of John’s sermons, as well as slideshows of the ministry of God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Club to outlaw bikers, and that of Truth and Liberation Concern (TLC), the church John set up in the early 1970s.

My one disappointment about Smithy is the scant detail given to his return to faith as a young man. It was a major turning point in his life but the way it is captured in the documentary is almost dismissive. I would have preferred the sort of attention given to it in John’s autobiography, On the Side of the Angels.

The most poignant chapter of Smithy is that which describes the split with TLC. The story of what happened is not something to go into here, suffice to say that it is tragic and that both sides had flaws.

Through interviews with some of the leaders from that time, it is clear that tensions still exist, despite some positive statements of reconciliation in the past decade. But the honesty, raw pain and vulnerability of some of those involved in the split is all laid out on the table. It is sad to watch what was surely a lost opportunity for the church in this nation.

Despite this, Smithy conveys John as a complex man who has always had an absolute commitment to the kingdom of God. His daughter Kathy perhaps sums up best who John is. She says that, looking back on his life and the struggles he has been through, his weaknesses and where he has failed, he ultimately gives unconditional love and acceptance to everybody. She describes her father as a man of God seeking to follow Jesus.

Smithy is a story of how God uses imperfect, flawed people to fulfil his purposes. It makes no attempt to hide John’s flaws. So, in a sense this is a story of grace, that despite his flaws, John’s impact on thousands of people the world over has been huge.

At the end of the documentary, John reflects on his life and refers to himself as a realist. He has a strong sense of his failures, but he is also aware of his successes. He is more sure of the nature of God these days, that one day God will put his arm around John and say “you did your best with what I gave you”.

Having known John for many years, Smithy confirms for me that, of John Smith, it will be said by Jesus at the end, “well done, good and faithful servant”.