South African man settling in as Victory Life pastor
Some have mistaken Criag Smee’s accent as Australian.
Those who do are about 6,000 miles off.
Smee, who was installed earlier this month as the new lead pastor at Victory Life Church in Brownwood, is from Cape Town, South Africa.
Smee replaced former lead pastor Stan Roberts, who relocated with his wife, Kathy, to Sherman.
The 46-year-old Smee and his wife, Leanne, who is from Johannesburg, are the parents of three — Kevin, 20, Bianca, 18 and Kyle, a ninth-grader at Victory Life Academy.
Craig and Leanne Spree have been in the United States for about five years, and Craig joined the staff of a Victory Life church — part of Duane Sheriff Ministries — in Oklahoma. 3 1/2 years ago. Sheriff was present at the Brownwood church the morning of Sept. 8 as Smee was installed as lead pastor.
Smee, who has been in ministry for 22 years, has an entrepreneurial spirit and has started and sold businesses. His expansive business background includes being involved in digital banking and digital marketing.
He’s a big, gregarious man who often greets people by asking “are you strong? Are you well?” He listens intently, bounding easily from topic to topic as a conversation unfolds.
In an interview in the church’s lobby, Smee frequently used the term “leverage.”
“Every single thing in the church must be leveraged for the community,” Smee said. “That word ’leverage’ for me is important. What lever can I pull right now to unlock the best possible benefits for the community? What do I have in my hand? That’s what God asked Moses at the burning bush: ‘what’s in your hand Moses?’”
Smee defined his vision for the church, saying, “the global vision is, we exist to see people transformed by Jesus Christ. But for me, I have a really big heart for the church being relevant — relevant in community, relevant in business, relevant in politics. We have been idle and quiet for way too long while the world is in distress and the world is in a mess.
“We preach Jesus, we don’t often do Jesus. My personal vision would be to get the church relevant again in the community it serves, and to genuinely help people unlock their purpose. A lot of people are on the treadmill of life, not really running a race, and they’ve each got a contribution to make to the community they serve. From a community perspective, church must be relevant, and from a people perspective, they need to feel relevant too by walking out their personal purpose and vision.”
Smee’s early life resembled anything but ministry. He worked at one time as a paramedic who never felt “the genuinness and realness of God,” Smee said.
As a paramedic, Smee could treat people medically — but he couldn’t help anybody find purpose or peace.
Smee realized that’s what he lacked as well, and he went on “a sojourn of seeking,” studying multiple religions. After a time of rebellion and partying, Smee sensed Jesus Christ telling him “you’ve been doing it your way. Let’s do it my way now,” Smee said. “And off we went.”
After Smee and his wife served in ministry in South Africa, Smee believed he was called to the United States.
After serving on the staff of the Victory Life church in Oklahoma, Smee was asked to become the lead pastor of the Victory Life church in Brownwood.
“Love it here,” Smee said. “Absolutely love it here.”
Speaking more of his vision, Smee said he wants to see marriages restored, children honoring their parents again and moral code put back into people’s lives.”I supposed it’s every pastor’s dream to see that happen,” Smee said.
A video posted on Victory Life’s Facebook page depicts Smee preaching, saying church “is not a social club … not a group meting I have to attend, not a drive-thru pick-me-up, not a religious tradition or set of rules and hoops to jump through, not a self-help program. It’s not a building, it’s not a process.
“It is you. Church is a movement of people following a loving God and helping others, at the very least attempt to walk out their purpose.”