Sean Smith is one of those people who manages to challenge you without even realizing it. When you come away from a conversation with him, there is the strange sense that you want to be a better person, to love God more, to put up a stronger fight against your own pride and sense of entitlement. Some would say it's because Sean exhibits a genuine humility; Sean, on the other hand, would say it's just God working in people's hearts.
Just like the rest of us, Sean has played the game of tug-of-war with God. In 2005, he felt the call to full-time music. At the time he had a successful sales job and pursuing music seemed like a foolish thing to do, especially in light of supporting his wife and two young children. But God was persistent in calling Sean, pulling him, pushing him even.
The songs on Sean's debut album, Real, tell a bit of that story. They're songs of hope and faith and struggle. A lyric from "Called Because I Can" never ceases to bring tears to my eyes: Follow as you should / you weren't called because you could / you were called because I can. And it's just that type of lyric that illustrates the kind of man Sean is: he's not flashy, not glitzy, there is nothing "rock star" about him. He'll tell you himself-he's just one man on a journey with God at the helm. And it's not even about the music as much as it is about the story of what God is doing in his life and the lives of those around him.
One of the paradoxes about Sean is that he views his situation with such casual gravity. He realizes what a small role he plays in what God is doing, yet it's easy for anyone to see that God is doing remarkable things. For instance, he's an independent artist whose national debut release somehow managed to land the top-spot as LifeWay's first #1 New Music Release of 2007, ahead of all the label artists whose songs play on every Christian radio station across America. A five-time Momentum Award Winner, Sean was named the 2007 Male Vocalist of the Year, and in 2006 took home four Momentum awards, including Album of the Year for Real. That's no small feat.
Sean's taking it all in stride, though. In fact, he probably wouldn't even mention any of this to you if you asked him about his career. When I met Sean, he was attending a seminar I was teaching at the Gospel Music Association's Academy, and we talked for a bit before he casually handed me his CD, failing to mention that Multi-Grammy/Dove award winner Phil Naish produced it. When I put it in my stereo, I was blown away by what I heard. Immediately, I heard tinges of Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith throughout the 10 songs on Real. Sean could hardly eschew references to his influences, because his music could sit side-by-side with any of them on a stage or a stereo.
That day, I was encouraged by the words of his songs and challenged for the first time by his humility. It was clear to me on that first listen that God had set Sean apart for this. And it continues to be clear to me every time I talk with him or hear his music. He's a rarity-an artist that feels more familiar than famous, no matter how many albums he sells or how many awards he wins. I'm so glad we serve a God who beat Sean at that game of tug-of-war... our ears and our hearts will be all the better for it.