Michael W. Smith
Although most people know Michael W. Smith as a Grammy Award-winning Christian music star, this month marks his feature-film debut. Starring in "The Second Chance," Smith plays Ethan Jenkins, an associate pastor and musician in a wealthy suburban megachurch, called The Rock. The church's board sends the Gucci-wearing Jenkins to work at an inner-city church, Second Chance, with its African-American pastor, Jake Sanders (played by Jeff Obafemi Carr). There, Jenkins faces problems he never experienced at his well-to-do megachurch, such as gangs, prostitution, and homelessness. The two pastors clash as they try to find common ground in dealing with their churches and their cultures.

Smith, a spokesman for Compassion International, was recently nominated by the White House to serve on the President's Council in Service and Civic Participation. He spoke to us about how we can overcome the racial divide in America's churches, the importance of serving, and how music can get us through tough times.

Do you know any pastors like your character, Ethan Jenkins?
I know of some. I don't know them real well, but I've observed them because that's what I do as I travel around the county. You meet a lot of pastors who play the game. They're comfortable, in my opinion. I don't want to judge. It's just an observation, but a lot of people don't like change. They kind of want to keep the peace and don't stir it up. That's not living life to me. If you're going to say to your fellow black guy, "Hey, what's up?" and go work in the soup kitchen once a month, I don't think that's enough.
What kind of advice do you have for people like that?

It's all about serving. It's all about crossing those boundaries and taking risks. This life is not supposed to be comfortable. We have to take the time to know our fellow man and to know our brother of a different color. We're not supposed to have a nice cozy little town with our big megachurch and have very little impact on the inner-city. If there's an inner-city where you live, you've got to somehow reach beyond that.


In the movie there are two churches–one is small with limited funding yet manages to be very active in serving its community, and the other is a megachurch that's well-funded, but its members aren'tactive in volunteer work. Is one of the messages of the film an anti-megachurch one? 
It's always a challenge for megachurches to try to figure out how you have community when you have 15,000 people in your congregation. That's why I always think home groups, or cell groups, are important. 
What do you find the new trend in churches and ministering to be? Are we shifting away from the megachurchs?
I think a lot of churches have it figured out. You've got to stick to the Gospel. But I think there's some megachurches, or any church for that matter, who are trying to lure the audience in, and they're using entertainment. I think because of that you're watering down the Gospel.
 If you honor God and preach the Gospel, your church will grow. You also have to have a dynamic where you're in a good team. You can have a megachurch and be unhealthy on the inside. I think that's the challenge. When you go into a church and they have a Starbucks and a restaurant—and there are churches that have that—their own workout facility and gym and lap pool, it's mind boggling to me. But as long as they don't stray away from the most important thing—loving on people and sharing the Gospel.
The movie highlights the racial divide in America when it comes to churches. How can we overcome that?
We all know Sunday morning is the most segregated time of any day of the week. There's a problem but there's nothing really being done about it. Obviously I think there's a few exceptions. I was just at Prestonwood Baptist Church—a megachurch with 20,000 members. They're partnering with an inner-city church. They have really worked hard, and it's working, because they made a commitment to make it work. It's not a one-sided partnership. 
I don't know what it's like to walk into a store and having someone following me all the time because they think I'm going to steal something. I don't know what that feels like. But I was just with a black pastor in the inner city in Cincinnati, who is an unbelievable guy, and it still happens to him.
 I don't blame him for being angry. Those are the kinds of things that we have to take the time to understand—where they come from. And it's a two-way street. They have to understand our culture as well. Once we get a feel from where we're coming from and take the time to get to know each other, then I think you could work together.
For me, one of the most memorable scenes in the movie was when one character washed the feet of another as a sign of repenting after having judged him. What was the significance of the scene to you? What's the message there?
We cried all day doing that scene—it's one of my favorites. I just think, here's a guy who's probably not running on all cylinders—he's a janitor at the church—and somehow he senses God speaking to him, that he overstepped his boundaries and that he sinned on his brother who was one of his best friends. He takes a risk, and grabs the bowl, and wants to ask for forgiveness.
As you see in the scene, it totally annihilates Jake—it annihilates everybody in our little staff—we're all deeply moved by what we're seeing. That was a real catalyst [because] Jake walks over and I grab the bowl at the same time he does and I'm just not going to let go and I'm going to wash this guy's feet. I'm going to humble myself. We both attempted to try to humble ourselves because he was going to do the same for me.
 So we found common ground. He rides my butt through the whole movie and never lets up on me and I take it. So during that scene, we both turn a corner in our relationship.