Young Hollywood’s go-to pastor, Judah Smith, is taking his best-selling brand of hip Christianity to a mass market children’s audience.
Smith, author of the New York Times bestseller “Jesus Is ____,” has a day job as head of The City Church. His congregation is in Seattle, but Smith holds a weekly service at Beverly Hills’ luxurious Montage Hotel, frequented by the likes of Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall and Kylie Jenner and other young stars. His new project, co-written by wife Chelsea, skews for a 4-to-8-year-old audience (not quite Instagram age, but not far away).
“I Will Follow Jesus” is a collection of 60 Bible classics from the old and new testament, illustrated by Alexandra Ball. TheWrap caught up with Smith to chat about the book, his famous supporters, and defending faith-based projects in mainstream media.
TheWrap: Was this a natural progression of your brand, or did you specifically want to release something for a children’s audience?
Judah Smith: I’m definitely the result of those bedtime moments with Dad. He would tell personal stories or bible stories … he was an amazing dad. I look back and I think those moments kind of shaped a lot of my adult ideas and ethics and concepts of life for the better.
When our publisher asked if we’d consider a kids book, both Chelsea and I jumped at the chance to put together 30 stories from the old testament and 30 from the new testament. There’s a lot of beauty to the project. I’ve got three kids, an 11, 9 and six-year-old, and even I’m learning, being reminded of stories. The illustrator is an absolute genius.
Did you use your kids as a focus group? You mentioned they were responsible for the diversity represented in the characters.
I read each story to my kids and nearly all of them passed the test. They were definitely involved in the images. It was cool to bring in the diversity the book reflects. Jesus was from the Middle East, after all. I think it’s pretty accurate and, maybe I’m just bragging on my kids, but I thought it was really cool they wanted that and saw it was important.
Maria Shriver hosted a reception for the book. That’s a nice introduction for a new book title.
We love her family. Her son Patrick I consider a close friend of mine. I respect her and think she’s an absolute genius and a sage. I want to be like her when I grow up. She also has a big passion to help kids and inspire them to be agents of change.
Will you develop the story further for film, TV or digital?
Chelsea and I feel like, what is a more important project than putting together a book of ancient stories with such profound impact on culture — but in a way that is palatable to kids today? We hope it spawns more projects, if we can be reative for the big screen or whatever, we hope it continues to communicate.
There’s a lot of faith-based entertainment popping up lately, including Joseph Fiennes‘ “Risen” and Jennifer Garner‘s “Miracles From Heaven.” Do you find yourself defending these projects more rigorously because people suspect here’s an agenda?
I think people have a generally bad reaction to organized religion. As a local church pastor, I get viewing it that way — a lot of really horrible things have been done in the name of God. I don’t believe that we have to throw the baby out with the bath water, though, there’s a lot of beauty in faith.
I’m the kind of person who fully believes in God, but perhaps the reason projects like these are coming to the forefront are because this life is very difficult and painful at times. There are three things we all need — faith, hope and love. Take it away and the human experience falls flat.