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Jesus Returns to the Woodlands!|
January 6, 2014
My friend Bob Sacamano has long been convinced that the Second Coming of Jesus
will take place somewhere in New Jersey. He was kind of confused when I wrote
him on Christmas Eve saying that Jesus had returned to the Woodlands, Texas.
Apparently, he didn't read a column I wrote for Town Hall last January. You can
here if you'd like.
In that column, I criticized a highly secularized 2012 Christmas Eve service at
the Woodlands Church, led by Pastor Kerri Shook and his wife, Chris. The event
was more than just highly secularized. It was downright disrespectful. Jesus
wasn't the focus of the service. Production was the focus. There was a moon
walking Michael Jackson look-alike during the opening. Later, a film clip was
shown during which the Lord's name was taken in vain numerous times. Then, there
was the very bad co-preaching of the pastor's wife. The entire service was a
disaster. And so I wrote about it.
Last year's column "Fellowship in the Woodlands" may have been harsh but it was
also constructive. No one reading the column could have missed at least three
implicit suggestions for improvement. I wrote the column sincerely hoping the
Woodlands Church would consider doing the following:
1. Shift the emphasis of the Christmas Eve service from production to the birth
2. Replace taking the Lord's name in vain with some degree of reverence.
3. Nix the co-pastoring and let the head pastor actually preach the Gospel.
You can hardly imagine my surprise when I went back to the Woodlands Church over
the 2013 holiday and witnessed one of the best Christmas Eve services I have
ever seen. The service was excellent for three reasons:
1. There were no hi-tech distractions. The opening featured a reminder to
parent/attendees that they should use the nursery so their children would not
take the focus of the service off the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The
song that followed (and a video clip that followed the song) was focused on the
importance of the birth of Jesus. The service was off to a good start.
2. There were no props cluttering the stage. A train engine (there to
remind people not to "miss the train" by not accepting Jesus) that cluttered the
stage the year before was replaced by a simple podium.
3. The senior pastor delivered the message himself. There was no
distraction caused by a theologically untrained co-pastor. It was a simple
presentation of the Gospel. The message focused on humility. It was the
antithesis of last year's pretentious high-dollar, high-tech event.
Kerri Shook did what more pastors need to do on Christmas Eve, which is one of
only two times many folks attend church per year. In simple terms, Shook
explained that there were two ways to get to heaven. We could either be perfect
or we could admit the impossibility of perfection and accept the sacrifice of
Jesus. In other words, he explained that there is really only one path to
heaven. (I hope Joel Osteen was listening to the podcast!).
But accepting our imperfection requires humility. Pastor Shook talked about the
importance of humility by showing it himself. He admitted his own imperfections
and the imperfections of his church as he urged people to do more than just
attend two services a year. He urged them to seek a church home and warned them
to stop using the imperfections of the church as an excuse for not joining one.
"If you ever find the perfect church, don't join because as soon as you join it
won't be perfect anymore."
The message may have been pithy. But it was timely and accurate.
Cultural commentators really enjoy opportunities like this. We spend a lot of
our time writing about the pitiful condition of the culture. We hope people will
read what we have to say and act upon it. If they don't respond to us when we
write to them directly, we hope our readers will help us get their attention. In
this case, writing about the Woodlands Church's past excesses seems to have had
the desired result. My previous column was retweeted and Facebook-posted by
hundreds of folks in the Woodlands alone. It clearly generated a much needed
The larger point of all this is that our Christian heritage is in jeopardy
because the church has forgotten that it is supposed to shape the culture rather
than responding to it. Pastors need to put pressure on the culture to change
rather than trying to accommodate it. When pastors fail to do so, the Christian
community needs to put pressure on them.
This episode also reminds me of something George Eldon Ladd wrote in Gospel
of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God over a half a
century ago. In that classic book, Ladd addressed a number of issues. Among them
was the question of when Jesus would return. Ladd emphasized the fact that
scripture doesn't say exactly when that will take place. But he reminded us that
one thing is clear about the timing of Jesus' return: it won't happen until the
Gospel is spread to all four corners of the earth.
In 2014, the church needs to get rid of the gimmicks and get back to basics. I
take my hat off to Kerri Shook for setting a fine example on Christmas Eve in
the Woodlands, Texas. I'm already looking forward to another return visit.
Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina
Wilmington and author of
Letters to a Young Progressive: How To Avoid Wasting
Your Life Protesting Things You Don't Understand.
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