Invasion of the Flying Drummer Angels - Word&Way

Invasion of the Flying Drummer Angels

We’re deep into Christmas pageant time, so we hope the director of your church’s program didn’t forget the verse about the flying drummer angels.

At least that’s how a Southern Baptist megachurch in Texas is prepping their Christmas extravaganza that will feature almost 1,000 people in the cast, choir, and orchestra (not counting the live animals ready to bring “gifts” during the show). A TikTok video of a practice at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano went viral last week as it showed men beating on drums while soaring along zip lines over the pews. You know, because biblical inerrancy.

And while the scene might be perfect for a rousing medley of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” it sparked a lot of online criticism for how much the church was spending to put on its big show. As one popular comment quipped, “I simply love in the gospel when drummer boys fly around the manger. It adds a certain dignity to the birth of Christ.”

The church’s spokesperson pushed back against the criticism, telling the San Antonio Express-News that “for more than a quarter of a century,” the church has “pulled out all the stops in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season.” (The church is 45 years old, so by their own logic they didn’t love baby Jesus very much the first couple decades.)

“At Prestonwood, we believe Jesus deserves our absolute best, especially at Christmas,” the spokesperson added about their annual “The Gift of Christmas” pageant.

Screengrab of flying drummers during the 2018 “The Gift of Christmas” pageant by Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.

It really sounds like quite a show and truly the best they can do (and it gets lots of positive mentions in the church’s Tripadvisor reviews). Bobby Ross Jr. featured it in an Associated Press article back in 2003, using it as the key example of “giant Broadway-style productions” put on by megachurches. Ross estimated the ticket sales brought in about $1.2 million. And the prices — like the size of the show — have gone up quite a bit since. But Senior Pastor Jack Graham justified the performance: “It’s the music and the pageantry that put the melody in the heart in the greatest story ever told.”

Lest we seem like Scrooges, we’ll avoid saying “bah humbug.” But the justifications of the big show seem to miss the reason for the season. Does giving our best to Jesus mean putting on the biggest, coolest, costliest show we can? Does it take a big pageant to put the melody of the greatest story in our hearts?

We won’t explore these questions with three spirits, but we will try three acts. In this issue of A Public Witness, we’ll take you on a visit to big megachurch shows of Christmases past. Then we ponder in the present what it means to give our best to Jesus before offering a vision of what future celebrations could look like.

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