By Paige K Slighter
“We do our best to be loving and non-judgmental to everyone so we can foster relationships with those who are turned off by faith.”
Since the COVID shut down began in March, the Wagners from Pennsylvania have been watching Woodland’s sermons every Sunday morning with their young sons Charlie and Drew. Charlie’s still a baby, so he drinks his breakfast during church, while Drew (7) plays with Legos and asks a lot of questions. Sometimes his questions extend past Sunday’s live stream into the next week. Emily and Andy are very open to exploring these questions because their families encouraged them to seek out truth when they were young. Emily has three uncles, a grandfather, a great uncle and a cousin who are all pastors and have encouraged her and Andy to continue exploring their faith. The Wagners both grew up with Anabaptist beliefs in the Church of the Brethren. And that’s how they stumbled upon Woodland Hills.
Woodland also aligns with Anabaptist ideals. If you’ve never heard of our Anabaptist thread, you may be wondering what it is. Emily breaks it down pretty well. She says, “The primary elements are nonviolence and a clear distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.” The Anabaptists saw that the Church is not a building, but God’s people peacefully living out his Kingdom wherever they are. Anabaptists have other core beliefs as well, such as believer’s baptism, discipleship, simplicity, enemy love, kingdom community, and the separation of church and state. While the Anabaptist tradition is certainly not perfect, they have a heart very similar to our own, and a long tradition of living the theology that we preach at Woodland Hills.
Though it’s not always easy, the Wagners try their best to represent Jesus to those who are skeptical of Christianity. Emily says, “In trying to introduce people to Jesus, there’s the ‘so what’ factor… people in our generation aren’t really moved by the traditional arguments of faith, but rather they want to see what difference that faith will make in our lives, community and ultimately the larger society.” That’s why Emily and Andy try their best to share – and be! – examples of Jesus’ transformative love. They help out whenever it’s needed and share their resources. Most of all, they stay connected with nonbelievers and remain open to honest dialogue about faith.
One of their favorite Woodland Hills sermon series is Twisted Scripture, which untangles tricky Bible passages that are often taken out of context. (This series was so popular, it extended into a second season.) The Wagners realize how important it is to explore scripture in its proper social and historical context. It’s also really helpful when conversing with those who are skeptical because often, people have heard the Bible interpreted in the wrong way.
When asked if they would invite a skeptic to Woodland, the Wagners gave a wholehearted, “Yes.” We’re so glad they have been able to tune in, as well as everyone else listening from home during COVID. We hope our messages continue to impact our community near and far and inspire listeners to ask questions and seek out truth.