Irony in its truest form occurs when there is tangible evidence of the turnabout. Living proof of this change in fortunes is Restoration Church Pastor Jae Smith.
The Greenville native has pastored one of the city’s most vibrant and diverse churches for the last four years — quite a testament to what God can do for anyone with a willing spirit.
“I grew up as an atheist and got saved at the age of 16,” Smith recalled. “I knew immediately that God had called me into ministry.”
By the time Smith was 18, he had assumed the position of student pastor at the church. And by the time he entered his late 20s the congregation witnessed his spiritual growth and asked him to become pastor.”
His acceptance of Christ and trajectory towards leadership epitomize the name of the church. Smith’s mission is to demonstrate to the community what it means to have a church body that exudes restoration.
“We have every age group from newborn to ages 85 to 90,” he said. “We have blue collar workers, white collar workers, African American, Caucasian and Asian members of our church. It’s pretty cool because, we want to be an example of how to restore and continue right relations among believers.”
Sunday worship is a lively affair. Smith refers to himself more as a preacher than a teacher. His spirited sermons and booming vocal delivery of the word prompted a question from his 8-year-old daughter, Bellani.
“She said, ‘Daddy, why are you so mad all the time,”’ Smith said. “I told her that I was mad with the devil. My strength is preaching, and I do it loudly!”
In addition to Bellani, Smith and his wife, Christina, have two other children, Liam (4 years old) and Eliana, who is just a few months old.
The key to Restoration’s appeal across so many demographic divides is its relational aspect.
“We make it really easy to get involved at our church,” he said. “As soon as someone joins the church, within three weeks we are sitting down with them having lunch to find out why they want to become part of something bigger than themselves. Everybody has gifts and attributes, and we try to use them in a real way. We don’t try to be a churchy church.”
Smith carries this approachability and everyman demeanor everywhere he goes whether it is working out in the local gym, enjoying watersports, or delving into his new small business of woodworking.
“I use time away from the church and downtime in general as a way of connecting with people,” he said. “Because as soon as people find out that you’re a preacher, they think that they need to act a certain way around you.”
“I just try to lead the church in a real way,” Smith added. “And if I were not preaching, I’d probably be teaching. I taught one year several years ago at Greenville Christian School and that was one of my most enjoyable experiences.”