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Kim Walker-Smith on What We Get Wrong About Revival

Kim Walker-Smith on What We Get Wrong About Revival

When it comes to experiencing revival, worship artist Kim Walker-Smith knows what she’s talking about.

Walker-Smith spent 21 years leading worship revivals with Jesus Culture around the world. Beyond that, she was a school of ministry graduate who had studied past revivals at different moments in the church’s history. Over the last few years, however, she’s begun to rethink her idea of what a revival is, specifically what it is we’re asking for.

Eventually, she realized she did want something deeper, something more.

“I don’t want just a moment in time,” Walker-Smith said. “I would love something that stands the test of time, endures and grows.”

As she began to explore what true revival would look like, she embarked on a journey “through the wilderness,” as she calls it, walking down paths she never expected. Ones that led her away from Jesus Culture, ones that led her to release her first solo album after three years away.

Walker-Smith will release her upcoming album Under the Big Sky later this summer. Ahead of the release, we sat down with the worship artist to hear more about her wilderness journey and how she’s redefining revival.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

You’re releasing your first album in three years latest this summer. What’s been going on in your life these last few years?

Kim Walker-Smith: Well I moved to Montana three years ago from California, so that was the biggest one. I guess one of the biggest changes that has affected everything was I left Jesus Culture. It’s always kind of a hard and significant thing to talk about when you say something as substantial as that, and people react with concern, assuming the worst and wondering what’s going on.

I get it. Like, it’s really hard. I was with Jesus Culture for 21 years, and it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around that. I honestly thought that’s where I would be probably forever, maybe until I retired. But we had been feeling for quite a while that God was going to be moving us out and into something new and different. I honestly tried to just ignore that for quite a while.

I started even having dreams, which I’ve got to tell you, as a mom of three young kids, I wasn’t really ever having dreams because I didn’t sleep through the night. You know, like I wasn’t sleeping deeply enough. I’ve got little kids. I wake up all the time in the night with them. So the fact that I was actually having these moments where I was having dreams, and the Lord was just really speaking. Finally, it was just undeniable. We made the big and really hard decision to leave and transition out. Jesus Culture planted a church in Sacramento and in San Diego a few years ago. That’s kind of been a significant focus. So part of it was just being in a different state, obviously away from all of that. Part of it just felt like it was time to build some new things. We left with sadness, you know, sadness to leave everybody in our community of so many years.

But also just excitement for what was ahead. So this is the first time I’m releasing music on my own and doing it completely separate from the label, but also from the movement and the ministry I’ve been a part of for so long. This is also the first time that, when it came to songwriting, I really just went in with open hands and said, “I just want to see what comes out in the writing.” I’m not writing specifically for a certain record or conference or church or movement, you know, there wasn’t any kind of big focus I was trying to write for. So all of these songs have just been birthed out of these last few years of me processing what I’ve been walking through and doing, looking ahead to the future.

It’s also the first time that there’s going to be a few songs on there that I would say are not worship songs, which is really unique for me and different. That wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t really the plan. It’s just kind of what happened, what came out. There’s a song I wrote about my family. There’s a song I wrote called “Mama” that’s just about being a mama and fighting for my kids. There’s a song called “Whole World,” which is truly about God. It’s definitely a good Christian song, I would say, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a worship song. I differentiate the songs we sing to God and the songs we sing about God.

Knowing all that, what common threads ties these songs together?

Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I felt like the theme was kind of coming together as the songs were coming together because, again, I didn’t go into it with a specific theme in mind. On the other side of it all, I think the theme is these songs are really prayers emerging from the wilderness. This is how I’ve felt for the last three years. I felt like I’ve been in the wilderness, but it’s not been a negative thing. It’s actually been really good, a blessing, and I’ve felt drawn much closer to God during this time. These songs have been the prayers that have come out of there.

There’s been a lot of confession, a lot of repentance in the songs, a lot of desire to be honest. And I think before you can start pointing your finger at what you think is not right in the world, the church, or anywhere else, you have to start with your own self, your own heart, and take a look at it. Are there things inside of me that need to change and be different?

I would say that is probably a theme in these songs: me really examining my own heart and seeing if there are things that should be shifted and changed within me.

Looking at ourselves introspectively doesn’t always come naturally. Do you have any tips for someone who needs to self-reflect on our life and our choices? 

I had this thought one time. I was thinking about how the Holy Spirit inside of us brings conviction. So I was having this conversation with my kids, actually, about this and about when you feel bad about if you did something or my kids fighting with each other, something like that, and they feel bad, and we want to make it right. We’re talking about that conviction and where that conviction comes from and kind of that compass inside of us that directs us in our morals and that sort of thing. I had this thought, I wonder if I prayed and I just said, “You know, Holy Spirit, bring conviction where there’s things in me that need to change, things that I need to face or make right, would you bring that to the surface?”

And I have to be honest, it took some courage for me to pray that because you just don’t really know what’s going to come up. We’d all like to think that we are doing it right and we’re doing good and we know what’s up. We’d all like to think that.

But I think in reality, if I were to be really honest and look at myself, well, I’m not perfect and I don’t have it all right. So I did begin to pray that once I kind of mustered up my courage, and I didn’t really know what was going to happen except that not right away, it wasn’t like right the moment I prayed that, but over a period of time, I do feel like the Lord did bring things to the surface that He just wanted to address in me and to talk about in me and things that I needed to face, things that I needed to confess, things like where you feel like you’ve been wronged and you feel justified.

You could probably think about any person, if I were to go to any person and tell them what happened to me, they would say, “Oh, yes, that was wrong. You are so right in being mad or hurt about this or whatever.” But the reality is even in being justified in whatever it is, it still doesn’t make it okay for me to harbor any unforgiveness inside of me simply because I’m justified, you know?

And so that even that kind of stuff, I feel like are the harder things to face when you feel like you’re actually justified in your emotion or whatever it is. So I think that is like a really good place to start. Just ask God to bring those things about, to show you what is inside of you and examine your own heart about what needs to change or to be different.

When people hear this album, what do you hope they take from the songs?

Well, I think, as usual for me, my number one hope always with any kind of music I put out is that it draws people closer to God. I understand even for myself, there are songs that have been the backdrop to my own walk with God, a certain song that just had a message that kind of carried me through a hard time or a song that just happened to be playing in the background during a particular prayer moment with God or whatever it is. So I understand the significance of songs and how they truly can be a big part of our stories. So I always just pray that over all of these that they’re songs that would be that, be a part of people’s stories and draw them closer to the Lord.

But I would say also with these songs in particular, I actually pray that for people who, like me, have been kind of in a wilderness, that these songs kind of help carry them through. I mean, maybe even they’re in a place like me where they’re saying to God these same prayers, like, “God, look at my heart and help me to face my own heart and the things inside there.”

I hope these songs bring courage to do that. Even one of the singles that just came out a couple of weeks ago, “Let Revival In,” there were some conversations I was having with people online about that. I mentioned that the word “revival” really became kind of an irritation to me. I got kind of tired of the word. It was hard to admit that, you know? But I just kind of felt like, what are we really asking for? What are we really saying when we say “revival”? As a school ministry student years ago, we had studied revivals in the past and these different moments in time. I just thought, gosh, is that what we’re asking for? Because if it is, I don’t really want to ask for it anymore because I don’t want that. I don’t want just a moment in time. I would love something that stands the test of time, endures, and grows.

And that was just like another thing that I said, “God, could you give me a new picture of what revival is and what it looks like and bring some life to this word for me?” And I felt like he did. In talking about that online with people, there were some people who had very similar feelings, like, “You’ve redeemed this word for me, Kim,” and just getting a fresh perspective on it and looking at it. It’s encouraging when you hear, like, you know, you’re not the only one that’s wrestling through these things or thinking through these things. It’s encouraging to hear other people are in that same place.

You can hear more of our conversation on The RELEVANT Podcast.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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