Like many ’80s babies, Kim Walker-Smith grew up loving MTV. Pop radio was a common soundtrack to time spent with her mom, a musician and avid music lover.
That soundtrack changed drastically when Walker-Smith was in junior high school. Her mom married a devout Christian, and the family started attending church regularly. The radio dial quickly shifted from Top 40 hits to Christian music.
While she first resented the change, she soon discovered DC Talk and other contemporary Christian acts. These days, Walker-Smith is making contemporary Christian music of her own, integrating elements inspired by her love of mainstream pop.
Walker-Smith will bring her “On My Side” Tour to Lancaster Thursday at the Worship Center on New Holland Pike.
Walker-Smith fostered her own relationship with faith after her stepdad joined the family. She attended a Christian college in California, where a late night drive led her past Bethel Church in Redding, California. The building’s large windows gave Walker-Smith a view of a large group praying, a scene she found unusual for the late hour. She was completely struck by the scene.
“I ended up leaving pretty quickly because I thought this is just so weird,” Walker-Smith says. “I can’t wrap my brain around this. Then, over the course of the next few weeks, I just felt this pull in my heart to go back there.”
When she returned, she met Banning Liebscher, the youth pastor there. She got involved with the church soon after.
Liebscher later birthed Jesus Culture, a popular worship team that released its first album in 2005. Walker-Smith is one of the group’s worship leaders. A clip of her singing John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” during a Jesus Culture concert went viral in 2007, garnering more than 19 million views to date.
While Walker-Smith has found an audience through Jesus Culture, it’s her solo albums that allow her to share deeply personal stories. She first branched out on her own on 2008’s “Here Is My Song.”
On 2013’s “Still Believe,” Walker-Smith spoke of her family’s struggles as her stepdad battled Parkinson’s disease. Walker-Smith is hoping for a miracle on that record, looking to the miracles in the Bible for inspiration.
Sadly, after the album was released and an 11-year battle with Parkinson’s, Walker-Smith’s stepdad died.
“I was really wrestling in my faith at that time,” Walker-Smith says. “It was not, ‘I’m not going to be a Christian anymore,’ it was ‘Are you really who you say you are, God?’ ”
Then, Walker-Smith gave birth to her second son just 14 months after the arrival of her first. She struggled deeply with postpartum depression. Amid it all, she and her husband moved to help plant a new church with Jesus Culture.
“It just kind of felt like one thing after the other,” Walker-Smith says.
Her personal trials and her wrestle with faith ended up strengthening her relationship with her faith.
“Even in my anger and my mess, the things that I think would repel God, he wasn’t repelled, and he actually drew closer to me in those times,” Walker-Smith says.
That experience was the inspiration for “On My Side,” Walker-Smith’s third solo album, which was released in April 2017. Walker-Smith says being so transparent can sometimes feel risky, opening herself to judgment from other Christians. Ultimately, though, she prides herself on her music’s honesty.
“I don’t know anyone who can just be perfect all the time and always believe everything about God,” Walker-Smith says. “There’s always a little bit of wrestling, I think. I feel like the vulnerability and the honesty is what people need and what people really want the most from any art.”
In April, Walker-Smith released an EP of live recordings from her fall “On My Side” tour. When she asked her sound guy to start recording her performances in anticipation of the album, it turned out he already had been. They chose the best for the EP, which she hopes captures the spirit and energy of her live concerts.
“My biggest prayer and hope is that people just walk away feeling more connected to Jesus and feeling loved by God and feeling some hope,” Walker-Smith says. As she speaks of “On My Side,” she says people don’t have to be perfect or have every part of their life in order to have a relationship with God.
“The truth is he meets us where we are, and that we can come as we are, whatever kind of condition that may be in, and he loves us still, no matter what, and even loves us when we reject him,” Walker-Smith says. “I just think that’s a really powerful truth that I hope people catch and hear each night.”