Be The Message by Kerry and Chris Shook

Tired of Talking About God? So Were Texas Megachurch Pastors Kerry and Chris Shook

Are you troubled by the disconnect between the words you speak and the life you live? Do you find it easier to offer words instead of actions? Would you’d like to see your faith become more active and life-changing in the world around you? Pastors Kerry and Chris Shook, founders of Woodlands Church outside of Houston, felt that way. Even though their calling involved preaching and teaching, they became weary of sermons and words. They felt a gap between what they were saying and meeting the needs of people around them.


They decided to do something about it. In a nutshell, they chose to talk about God less and walk with God more.

Be the Message  is their story of waking up to the gospel—not just a gospel of words and sermons, but the gospel of intention and action and people—and how doing so changed their family, church and personal relationship with God. It’s their story of taking one step after another to live out God’s gospel in the world.  And it’s their call for us to do the same.

“Something shifts inside you when your faith is acted out,” they write. Indeed, one of the profound secrets they discovered is “You are the gospel.” The verse “the word of God lives in you” is really about life message—your life lived out, and it’s different for everyone.

For the Shooks being God’s hand and feet in the world played out in countless and different ways from transforming their local church bookstore into one of the largest fair trade/direct trade stores in the country to helping a post-earthquake remote village in Haiti transform and sustain itself by learning how to produce 4x more coffee.

But their story is not intended to call everyone to a life mission overseas. Each person brings a uniqueness to how he or she lives out the gospel. Be The Message provides a roadmap to the possibilities ultimately serving as an inspirational, idea-filled look at making our lives shout through actions not words.

“Our goal is that by the end of the book you will be able to clearly see the life message of Jesus and you’ll also have a much clearer view of what your own life message is, the way that God wants to walk and speak and reach others through you so that you can not only read the message but be the message.”

Along the way, the Shooks wisely remind us that God never asks us to do something big for Him. He asks us to take small steps of faith so He can do something big in us and through us.

With a foreword by Rick Warren. www.bethemessage.org

About the Shooks

Kerry and Chris Shook founded Woodlands Church outside of Houston, Texas, in 1993. Since then the multi-campus church has grown to an attendance of over 18,000 people and is recognized for its ministries to the poor and powerless.  Woodlands Church also has one of the largest fair-trade/direct-trade stores in the country with the goal of lifting generations out of poverty by empowering their lives with hope. Thousands of people in over 200 countries tune in weekly to Pastor Kerry’s televised broadcasts. The Shooks’ first book, One Month to Live, is a New York Times bestseller. Kerry and Chris have been married thirty years and have four grown children.

Excerpt

Be the Message: Taking Your Faith Beyond Words to a Life of Action by Kerry and Chris Shook (Foreword by Rick Warren, WaterBrook Press, September 2014)

I’m sick of sermons. I’m tired of talking about God. I’m tired of hearing about God.

Now, that may seem strange to you. After all, I’m a pastor. I preach and teach. It’s my job to talk about God. In many ways, my life is all about words and messages. It’s what I’ve been gifted to do. It’s been my vocation and calling.

But frankly, I’m tired of all the words. I’m tired of all the messages. I’m tired of hearing myself preach.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the call that God has placed on my life, and I love teaching His life-changing Word. I still believe that there’s deep value in all of that. But increasingly I’m feeling I talk so much about God that I sometimes fail to really experience Him. Sometimes my life seems more about words than it is about actions.

I want to talk about God less and walk with Him more.

I want to hear about God less and experience Him more.

The highway near our home is lined with more than our share of the nearly half-million billboards in the United States. As we drive past them, we can listen to our choice of the dozens of radio stations that fill the airwaves. Add to that another dozen broadcast television stations, hundreds of cable channels, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, text messages, junk e-mail, and plain old-fashioned direct mail pouring into our mailboxes, and you see what I mean.

We’re inundated with information. Our culture saturates us in a constant stream of daily messages that comes from every direction imaginable. And the church is square in the middle of the problem, pumping out its own stream of information to help us increase our spiritual knowledge and become better Christians. There are 350,000 religious congregations in the United States, most of them with their own website. A quick check of Amazon.com as I’m writing this shows more than 159,000 Christian-living books, the precise category for this book.

That’s a lot of sermons, Bible studies, podcasts, and audio files. In the midst of all that noise, the Christian message often becomes just another slogan. It seems we’ve taken the disciples’ experience of literally walking with Jesus, an experience lived out in the early church and divinely recorded and carefully handed down through the generations, and made it into nothing more than a sound bite. We’ve turned the inspired, life-giving Word into just one more set of words among many.

And we’re party to it. We roll from sermon to sermon, Bible study to Bible study, event to event, striving to learn the language of faith—all with good intentions as we seek to be deepened and enriched spiritually. Yet so often it becomes just a rote exercise in saying the right things and giving the right answers. In doing so we reduce the gospel to a collection of tips and techniques, catchy phrases that show our mental agreement with certain philosophical and theological propositions, and a whole heap of pat answers.

We wind up with a lot of words and are quite separated from the actual experience of Jesus. For all those “spiritual” words, not much translates into how we live.

We’ve mastered messages. We haven’t mastered life.

Hiding Behind the Words

This disconnect between message and life is something I experience as much as you do. It’s something I’ve become more keenly, and more painfully, aware of in just the past few years.

As a pastor, I’m especially careful to make sure my life honors God, that my life in private matches my life in public. But there are other ways message and life get disconnected for me probably as much as they do for you.

For one, I have to admit that sometimes I hide behind the words I’m speaking. I notice this happens when I’m with someone who’s in emotional or physical pain. I sometimes just don’t know how to respond. There’s an awkwardness in those moments, and to relieve the tension I find myself spouting the handy message, the Christian slogan about suffering, hope, and God’s purposes—all true words, for sure, but words I’m actually hiding behind.

I too easily speak the sound-bite answer rather than live alongside someone in the painful question. Shouldn’t I have the courage to sit without words beside that hurting soul?

Do you do this too? Give someone a message instead of your life? Do you find it easier to offer words instead of actions? Do you do as I do, often hide behind a nice-sounding message about someone’s need rather than get your hands dirty in actually doing something to help?

It happens on a grander scale too.

I’ve realized my response to global problems and issues becomes just another set of words. They sometimes gush out of my mouth in the form of sound bites and statistics. I can say that of the 7 billion people on the planet, 1.4 billion live on less than $1.25 a day, 1.7 billion lack access to clean water, 35 million are living with HIV/AIDS, and 21,000 will die today of hunger or hunger-related causes.

All true, but the problem in saying this is that I’m hiding behind the message of the numbers. Sure, the numbers describe a real problem, but rattling them off is my way of sounding good while disconnecting that issue from my life. “The global problem is so big, and it needs to be addressed.” And by saying those things I can sound like I’m really in the moment, really caring, really trying to change the world—all without being personally involved.

This changed for me when I read a news article about Stephen, a nine-year-old boy.

Stephen lived in a slum outside Kampala, Uganda. Orphaned and living on his own, he provided for himself by breaking rocks with a homemade hammer, working twelve hours every day in the scorching heat of the sun. Every twelve hours he managed to fill three five-gallon buckets with crushed rock. For all the dust and sweat, Stephen earned six cents per bucket, or eighteen cents for a day’s work, which he used to buy food. After each excruciating day of backbreaking work, he spent the night alone in a mud hut.

Now, this was just a news article on child labor, but it touched me personally. Reading about a real boy enduring hard labor couldn’t help but affect me deeply. I thought about my own kids, about the children of other families I know. What if he were one of ours?

This was a wake-up call alerting me to the disconnect between my message and my life. Spouting facts and experiencing reality are two different things. I could look like a world changer without it really affecting my life. And that troubled me. How could there be such a gap between the desperate life of this child and the comfortable life I was able to have.

Yes, this was just a news article, but for me it became the beginning of more, something that would bridge the gap between my message and my life.

Excerpted from Be the Message by Kerry and Chris Shook Copyright © 2014 by Kerry and Chris Shook Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

BIOGRAPHY

Kerry and Chris Shook are gifted communicators and New York Times best-selling authors. Kerry and Chris founded Woodlands Church in 1993; and since then it has become a multi-site church with over 18,000 in average attendance every weekend.

Kerry and Chris have a worldwide television ministry that broadcasts to a local, national and international audience. Kerry and Chris can now be seen by millions in 50 states and over 200 countries worldwide.

Chris is the Director of Missions and Women’s Ministry at Woodlands Church. Her missions’ work has touched thousands of under-resourced people locally and in numerous countries around the world. Her Women’s Ministry is one of the largest in the country providing fellowship, worship and Bible study opportunities to hundreds of women each week.

Kerry and Chris are co-authors of the best-selling books One Month to Live: 30 days to a no-regrets life and One Month to Love: 30 days to grow and deepen your closest relationships.

Kerry and Chris have been married thirty years and have four children. Ryan lives in The Woodlands with his wife, Sarah, and he is the Director of Marketing & Design at Woodlands Church. Josh is a singer/songwriter and lives in Nashville. Megan serves as Student Ministry Worship and Missions Pastor at Woodlands Church, and Steven attends Belmont University. Ryan and Josh are co-authors of the New York Times best-seller Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own.

Q&A with Kerry and Chris Shook 

Interview posted originally at Pastors.comBe the Message: Taking Your Faith Beyond Words to a Life of Action ( Foreword by Rick Warren, WaterBrook Press, September 9, 2014) 


“I’m sick of sermons” are the first words in Pastors Kerry and Chris Shook’s new book launching today, Be the Message:  Taking Your Faith Beyond Words to a Life of Action (Foreword by Rick Warren, WaterBrook Press, September 9, 2014) as well as Be the Message Church-wide Challenge on Sunday, October 12.  Never ones to shy away from honesty and truth, Kerry and Chris go on to say, “Don’t get me wrong.  I love the call that God has placed on my life, and I love teaching His life-changing word.  I still believe there is deep value in all that.  But, increasingly, I’m feeling I talk so much about God that I sometimes fail to really experience Him.  I want to talk about God less and walk with Him more.  I want to hear about God less and experience Him more.”  In this interview, just as in their books, Kerry and Chris have chosen to speak as one.

First, since it’s coming up soon, what is the Be the Message Church-wide Challenge, and how can pastors get involved?

On October 12th we’re signing churches up now from all over the country to take their church through the Be the Message Church-wide Challenge.  The challenge is a great tool to help a church really “live the sermons” and make a huge difference in their community.  The book, small group curriculum and weekend messages are all designed to challenge Christ followers to really put their faith into action.  We’re also asking churches around the country to join us on what we’re calling National Be the Message Sunday on November 16, 2014.  Woodlands Church, along with churches all over the nation will be cutting our worship services in half on Sunday, November 16 so we can go out into the community and live a sermon.  At Woodlands Church we will cut the service in half so our congregation can pack 100,000 meals to go to people we minister to in Haiti.  You can learn more about Be the Message Challenge and National Be the Message Sunday at www.bethemessage.org

It’s not every day that pastors go public proclaiming, “We’re tired of talking about God.” And yet this was the catalyst for your own personal re-awakening that you talk about in your new book. How so?

It’s been a journey for both of us that has changed the way we think and live.  It’s really altered our ministry as well.  While we love to talk about God and it’s what we’re called to do, we began to feel a real disconnect between what we were saying and experiencing in our own lives.  It became less about the words we were saying and more about the life we were living.  When the Word became flesh and lived among us it changed the world.  The message has to be more than words.  Our desire is to talk about God less and walk with Him more. We really want the message of our lives to communicate our core values.  It’s created a deeper desire for an authentic life that is integrated in what we do and say.

How has this experience changed your relationship with God and view of the gospel?

It’s the one thing that has changed everything.  As we focus more on a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, one of the things we’re learning is to shut up and just listen to God.  We’ve discovered that we have to stop talking long enough to hear God’s divine whisper.  Out of those encounters we have a message that is life changing.    We’ve discovered that God never asks us to do something big for Him.  He only asks us to take small steps of faith so He can do something big in and through us!  As we’ve done that, God has led us on the greatest adventure we could never have imagined.

You say it’s had a big impact on your family life? How has it changed?


It doesn’t matter whether you’re a pastor’s family or not, kids have a keen hypocrisy detector.  It’s easy when it’s just you to fool yourself into thinking you are living a life consistent with what you say you believe.  Our kids, now in their late teens and twenties, have always been quick to let me know when I lapse into saying one thing while doing another.  They were God’s way of helping me confront the integrity gap in my own life.  I would tell them how much they meant to me and how I loved them, yet too often I left them feeling not as important as the church or the message I was working on to preach.  My life message wasn’t always communicating the words I was saying.  Being the message is demonstrative.  It’s caused us to listen more with undivided attention.  That was a wake-up call for me.  It’s caused me to consider my own life message and what it was shouting at my family.

How can people be the message today?

The good news is that regardless of your past, you get to choose today what your life message will communicate.  Regardless of your sins and mistakes of your past, because of God’s grace, the rest of your story has yet to be written.  God loves to take our greatest mess and turn it into our greatest message.  The power to be the message is Christ in you!  The Word that became flesh and lived among us 2,000 years ago is the same Word that longs to clothe Himself with your humanity and mine.  Christianity is not a sermon or a liturgy of words.  It’s a personal relationship with the Word, Jesus Christ, that changes us.

The Internet and social media have been wonderful tools for pastors to reach their congregations and people around the world. However, has there been downside to this, too? Do you think it’s caused more talking about God and less walking with God?

God has provided a remarkable means for reaching others through the Internet.  It’s a powerful tool that we use along with untold ministries on the web to communicate the message of Jesus Christ around the world.  The problem is that it’s easy to substitute our connections for real community.  It’s easy to let our faith turn into only words rather than really getting into people’s lives.  Being the message challenges us to love the one in front of us, moving beyond a Facebook relationship to a face-to-face relationship, actively engaging the people in our lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ and learning to do life together in a community of faith. 

How has a life of action impacted your approach to how Woodlands Ministries reaches out to disadvantaged people around the world, particularly in Haiti and Africa.

Poverty, disease and natural disasters offer the church the greatest opportunity to be the message, to step up and let Christ offer hope and a hand up to those who’ve been knocked down.  Never before has that come home to us more than when we went to Haiti right after the devastating earthquake a few years ago.  The loss of life and destruction was beyond our imagination.  When I (Chris) went to Haiti following the earthquake, I didn’t even know where to begin. So I did what we had always done and led a small group from our church to help out on the ground in whatever ways were needed, this time in the capitol of Port-au-Prince. While there, however, a chance meeting with a group of people from the mountains outside the city changed everything. (That’s part of the adventure of being the message.  God arranges divine appointments to accomplish His purpose through us.)  The mountain villagers were not only affected by the earthquake but already lacked jobs and homes. Our group ventured up the mountain to the village to see for themselves. After several meetings with village leaders during the next year, our team helped them to redevelop their coffee bean farms and quadruple crop production. The church eventually began buying all of the village’s coffee beans and importing them to Texas. After roasting the beans locally, we started selling bags of coffee at our bookstore.  In what’s become one of Haiti’s largest co-ops, more than 2,000 small coffee farmers now participate in producing beans for what we label here as Summit Coffee. Today the people in this same mountain village have homes, consistent incomes, a store, a church, health services, and their own gas station. A chance meeting literally changed an entire village.

We’ve seen similar results in Africa through our farmer’s field schools that educate local farmers in producing more fruitful crops and using that means to not only support their families but communicate the gospel of hope to the hopeless.

How have these efforts helped transform Woodlands Church’s bookstore into one of the largest fair trade/direct trade stores in the country?

It really began with selling Summit Coffee grown in Haiti.  That experience led us to consider how we could use our bookstore to be a message of hope for the hopeless rather than just another means of selling Christian books.  We began working with nationals in the remote areas of our missions outreach and discovered people who not only loved Jesus but had incredibly gifted skills to make items of value like what you see in a Pier One Imports store.  As we prayed, we sensed God leading us to completely redesign  our bookstore into what has become one of the largest fair trade/direct trade stores in the country, featuring a wide variety of merchandise made by and directly benefiting impoverished people and families around the world.  The goal of the store is to lift generations out of poverty by empowering their lives with hope.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Becoming a Christian is a decision that will change your destiny.  Being the Christian you have become is living out that destiny.  It’s a moment-by-moment process of surrender for me.  I can’t get control my life.  (I try that all the time, and it never works!)  But, I can choose to put my life under Christ’s care and control.  Only then, am I empowered to be the message I so love to proclaim.  Every day I have to say, “Jesus, I need your power today to love my family unselfishly because I so easily get self-centered.  I need Your wisdom today to lead the church because I feel clueless about what to do next.  I need your strength today to break free from destructive habits that hold me back.  I can’t do this without You.”  As I surrender to Christ daily, He fills me with His strength, His wisdom and His love.  The world is as tired of just hearing sermons.  They want to see a sermon lived out!

BIOGRAPHY

Kerry and Chris Shook are gifted communicators and New York Times best-selling authors.  Kerry and Chris founded Woodlands Church in 1993; and since then it has become a multi-site church with over 18,000 in average attendance every weekend.

Kerry and Chris have a worldwide television ministry that broadcasts to a local, national and international audience.  Kerry and Chris can now be seen by millions in 50 states and over 200 countries worldwide. Chris is the Director of Missions and Women’s Ministry at Woodlands Church.  Her missions’ work has touched thousands of under-resourced people locally and in numerous countries around the world.  Her Women’s Ministry is one of the largest in the country providing fellowship, worship and Bible study opportunities to hundreds of women each week. Kerry and Chris are co-authors of the best-selling books One Month to Live:  30 days to a no-regrets life and One Month to Love:  30 days to grow and deepen your closest relationships.

Kerry and Chris have been married thirty years and have four children.  Ryan lives in The Woodlands with his wife, Sarah, and he is the Director of Marketing & Design at Woodlands Church.  Josh is a singer/songwriter and lives in Nashville.  Megan serves as Student Ministry Worship and Missions Pastor at Woodlands Church, and Steven attends Belmont University.  Ryan and Josh are co-authors of the New York Times best-seller Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own.