Grammy Award-winning artist Michael W. Smith is challenging the Church to “wake up” to the crisis of fatherlessness and reflect God’s heart for His children by serving as mentors and “surrogate dads” to the fatherless.
In an interview with The Christian Post, the 63-year-old singer-songwriter commented on the tragic effects of fathers' absence in their children’s lives — from drug and alcohol addiction to teen suicide. Studies show that a staggering 39% of students in the first through 12th grade are fatherless.
“We need a lot of surrogate dads. We have thousands of young men who need mentors, and I don't think that's the government's job. I think it’s the Church's job to mentor,” Smith said.
“It’s a crisis that we need to wake up to, realize that we've got to be a part of the solution, and we have the tools to be a solution and help. Let the Church rise up, and I'm pointing the finger right at me too,” he added.
As a father of five and grandfather of 16, fatherhood is a topic close to Smith’s heart. And it was the love, patience and sacrifice of his own father, Paul Smith, he said, that transformed his life and taught him about the character of God.
“My dad taught me what God is like on a lot of levels,” the "Above All" singer said of his father, who died in 2015. “He was there for me my whole life. He loved me. He had so many attributes of God, and his glass was always half full. He was upbeat, he smiled and laughed every day. He fed the homeless, and he loved my mom well.”
Now, Smith is honoring his father’s legacy in his newly-released book, The Way of the Father: Lessons from My Dad, Truths about God. In it, he shares heartwarming stories from his father’s life and how his character reflected that of God's, from loving unconditionally to triumphing in the face of tragedy.
From his humble roots in West Virginia to performing before millions on stages around the world, Smith said his father was always his biggest fan. He shared how, on one occasion, his elderly father fell and had to be transported in an ambulance and rushed to a nearby hospital as his devastated wife and son watched.
But while on the stretcher, Paul Smith lifted his head and said to the paramedics, “Y'all know who that is out there? That's my son, Michael W. Smith.”
“He was so proud of me,” Smith recalled with a chuckle. “He thought that I hung the moon.”
After hearing his father speak those words, the artist said he heard the voice of God tell him, “That’s how I feel about you.”
“It took my breath away. It was an epiphany moment for me,” he said. “I have told that story at many concerts at the end of the night, equating that with the love of God.”
Because of the way God has been portrayed in some evangelical circles, Smith said, many people “struggle with [the idea of] being friends with God,” adding: “They can't quite grasp that He actually sings over you, and He dances over you. In all these promises of God [He says] how He wants to just father you.”
Other times, he said, some who grew up with abusive fathers or simply didn’t have a father figure “don’t want anything to do with” God because of their experiences.
“It’s a tricky thing to … be able to portray the truth,” he said. “But you finally see people get it, and it's like a light bulb goes off. And it's a game-changer because you'll never be able to walk into your full destiny until you know that you're loved.”
He continued: “When you understand the Father’s heart of God, and knowing how much He loves you, what do you do? You just respond to it. And when you respond to it, you walk in obedience, and you want to do the right thing ... you just want to please God; you go, ‘God, what can I do to further Your Kingdom? Because of what you’ve done for me, you just want to love Him back.”
“When you see travesty and you see people doing crazy things, they don't know the Father. But they can know the Father. I’ve seen evil like you've never seen it, and I've seen those people turn their hearts to Jesus. So there's hope for everybody.”
Passionate about caring for the next generation, Smith founded Rocketown of Middle Tennessee, a faith-based youth outreach facility in the heart of downtown Nashville, nearly 30 years ago.
“A lot of what we do is we just mentor and love on kids who don't have very good families at all,” he said. “These kids know that they're loved and they're cherished and no matter what they've done or where they come from, we just love them."
Through his book, Smith says he prays readers come to realize just how good of a Father God truly is, stressing that believing in God’s goodness is a “game-changer.”
To raise children who know and love the Lord, the "Breathe" singer encouraged parents to communicate with their kids, apologize when wrong, and most importantly, love their children the way Jesus loves them.
“And that comes with a lot of patience and boundaries,” he emphasized. “I've got my issues — we all do, but if there's any good in me, it's first and foremost Christ's work in my life. It's my dad and how my dad taught me to do life and watching him model it.”
“There will be trials and tribulations,” he added, “but just stay consistent. You stay the course. And you pray a lot. You pray for your kids a lot, that God’s hands will be on them [and that] there will be a hedge of protection around them. And just live the life.”
Smith is one of CCM’s most recognizable names, with three Grammys and numerous chart-topping hits and worship songs under his belt. The artist said that over the decades, he’s felt called to write songs "based on life experiences" or those that speak to current events, from the Columbine shootings to 9/11.
“If there's a crisis, I feel like, ‘I think I need to write a song that pertains to this,’” he said.
Now, Smith is gearing up for the re-recording and re-release of his No. 1 highest-selling album of all time, Worship, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the album’s release on Sept. 11.
This time, the album, which includes hits including “Draw Me Close,” “Let it Rain” and “Breathe,” was recorded with a 60-piece orchestra.
“It’s a top-five for me. It’s going to make you cry,” Smith revealed. At the end of the album, there’s a hidden track called “Sing Again” — a song he describes as his “post-pandemic song.”
“I feel like it needs to be heard. And I think it's a real encouragement for people," he said, sharing the song lyrics: "These barren lungs will breathe again/ Through suffering we’re stronger in the palm of His hand/ Like a beacon in the night, hope illuminates the sky/ Reaching for each other and as we carry on, we are keepers of the light.”
“Keepers of the light is hope, and that's the Church,” Smith added. “We have this thing where we're keepers of the hope of Christ that the world desperately needs to hear about. That's what the song’s about."
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org