Friday Five: Colin Smith

If you listen to Christian radio, you’ve likely heard the distinct Scottish accent and solid Bible teaching of Colin Smith, Senior Pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Colin was raised in a Christian family and felt the call of God to pastoral ministry from an early age, training at the London School of Theology.

Prior to his ministry at The Orchard, Colin served as Senior Pastor of Enfield Evangelical Church in Enfield, UK. He also served as President of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. He is the author of several books, including, 10 Keys for Unlocking the Bible and The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life. Colin is also a council member of the Gospel Coalition

Colin’s teaching can be heard through his radio ministry, Unlocking the Bible. Colin was kind enough to take time to chat with me for today’s Friday Five:

You took a less common journey to pastoring an American evangelical church, arriving from a pastorate in London to your church in Arlington Heights, IL.  How did this happen?

Coming to the States was an unusual and surprising providence of God that came in three parts.  First, I came to know Stuart Briscoe who invited me to spend time with him at Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin. Second, the Free Church in the US has connections with the Free Churches in the UK. Through this I got to know a number of Free Church pastors, including Greg Waybright, my predecessor, at Arlington Heights Evangelical Free Church (now, the Orchard). Third, in 1995, Karen and I enjoyed a vacation in the States, visiting with friends and preaching in their churches. I preached at Arlington shortly after Greg Waybright had announced his move to serve as President at Trinity International University. The Lord’s blessing to be on the preaching that morning and when we returned to our hotel in the afternoon there was a voicemail waiting from the chairman of the search committee.  The story rolled on from there.

What differences have you seen in the American church versus the evangelical presence in England and much of Europe?

The church in Europe is heading down the post-Christian track. People don’t come to church unless they are Christians or have a strong friendship with a Christian, and a sense of need growing within their lives. So, large events don’t excite much passion. The attraction model of church doesn’t work here. In the States, there is still residue of the feeling that going to church is a good thing for a family to do. That is diminishing somewhat, but is still very strong in the Midwest. The result is that there are many more nominal Christians in congregations here compared to what you would find in Europe. That presents a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is that these folks think that they are Christians, though in many cases they have never grasped what it means to have saving faith in Jesus Christ. The opportunity is that at least they are receiving ministry from the Word of God and where God’s Word enters, it brings life.

One of your emphases is unlocking the grand ‘one story’ of the Bible. Why is it so important to read the Scriptures this way?

The whole Bible is about Jesus Christ. It is not a book about us, but about Him. Christ is present in all the Scriptures and we do not understand any Scripture until we see it in relation to Him, – showing our need of Him, revealing what is ours in Him, showing what it means to follow Him.  It’s important to start from knowing what the Bible is before we get down to the business of understanding what any part of it says. Without this overarching perspective we loose site of the forest and get lost in the trees.

I found that many people view Scripture as a source of devotional thoughts rather like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Approached in this way, a person can read texts from the Bible for many years without ever connecting with Christ who’s Word they are inadvertently reading.

There seems to be resurgence in expository preaching (preaching systematically through a book of the Bible). Why is this?

I agree that there is resurgence and I am thankful for it. We’ve had too much preaching that has been centered on the felt needs of people, or the felt passions of the speaker. The result is that many congregations experience a famine of the Word of God. God has promised to bless His Words, not ours, so we need to draw our words and fill our words from His. My one concern with the expository resurgence is that speakers who feel that they have to cover everything that a passage of Scripture says, can get lost in the details and lose the big picture. The sermon can end up sounding like an ‘explanation’ rather than a ‘message’.  It can easily become cerebral as if the mark of a good sermon were simply that a person understands the passage. When expository preaching is approached like that, I’m sometimes left with the impression that the speaker has done half of the preparation. He got to the point where he was ready to shape the sermon which ought to be a message spoken with clarity and relevance to the soul of hearer lifting his or her gaze to Christ. To say that our calling is to ‘preach all the Scriptures’ is to miss the point. Our calling is ‘to preach Christ from all the Scriptures’.

If you could give one piece of advice to a young preacher, what would you say?

The usefulness of your ministry depends in large measure on the depth of your spiritual life.