by Roshelle Murray
As I stood dressed in black waiting for the band to start the opening song, my eyes scanned the dimly lit auditorium. Was he there? Did he have a hang over from the previous night’s cast party? Could he finally see the Jesus that I served? “Oh Lord,” I prayed, “Please give Steve the ability to understand the dramatics of this Easter service to finally see your truth, the only truth that can set him free.” Steve, a fellow actor with me in high school, promised he’d come to the Easter Sunday service to hear me sing and act on my birthday. Being a fellow lead actor at the city’s best high school for theater, he had his doubts about a church’s ability to perform any theater well.
As I sang with sixty others on a high rise in the formation of a cross, I stood at the top and gave my all to that particular performance. After the song, I reached behind me, grabbed the white flowing fabric, and pulled it down to outline the large cross. The lights dimmed to a near darkness, and a deep booming voice came over the speakers proclaiming, “IT IS FINISHED,” “HE IS RISEN INDEED,” and other various truths relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then the drama team came forth with monologues filled with prophetic biblical versus, explaining the truth of the scriptures to Christ’s death. The responsive look from the audience brought me tears, and I finally saw Steve’s face as he was bent over weeping.
On May 8th, 2004, Steve wrote me a letter describing how that Easter service, filled with dramatic physical examples through theatrics, was the final stab at his heart forcing him to realize his need for a Savior. This was day that many of the congregation criticized saying it was too much theater and not enough preaching, convinced the theater had no place in our church. “It’s too worldly, too edgy, too contemporary,” many claimed. But I had finally seen the fruit of how the Lord created and uses drama in ministry to capture people’s hearts for the cause of Christ.
I believe that pursuing the theatrical arts in the church can lead to an understanding of a lesson or provoke life changing realizations. It’s a form of worship, just like song and dance and therefore it should be encouraged. The use of drama in ministry is essential in capturing the audiences senses and emotions; being able to show the lessons being taught, and provide the ability to apply them in real life circumstances. Drama should be an important part of the church and its worship because of the sufficient evidence given in the Bible, our church history, and human responses to drama and it’s after effects in one’s life.
Many claim that the theater does not belong in the church because it is worldly and not from the Lord. I take a different stance in believing that every truth is the Lord’s truth. We serve a sovereign King who is Lord over all, and claims all recognition for beautiful things. They are his alone. So when a truth is portrayed through a monologue or a skit, how can this be worldly if our Jesus is the owner of all true things? Our God is a creator, and he alone designed our creative minds giving us the ability to create and share!
The creation story alone is a dramatic statement. Found in the Bible are many examples of dramatic events and demonstrations to prove a point or teach a lesson. Take for example the Last Supper. This is a perfect example of how Christ used a physical dramatic expression to help his disciples understand what was to come. While the disciples were eating with Jesus, he “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them,” saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Then in conclusion after the meal, he took the cup stating, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20). Found in Christ’s Last Supper, he used a dramatic physical representation of what was to come, and even asked his disciples to repeat this act in remembrance of him. How is this not a demonstration of drama? Christ commands His followers to regularly re-enact the last supper. When you partake in consuming the elements you are participating in a dramatic replay of communion.
The prophets also used drama in getting across the Lord’s word or prophesizing about the future. They made grand statements to show the importance of God’s message to the people. Some examples of this would be Isaiah walking around barefoot and partially naked for three years (Isaiah 20), Jeremiah placing a yoke on his neck to symbolize Nebuchadnezzar being used in judgment against the people (Nehemiah 27-28), and Ezekiel splitting hairs from his head and laying on one side of his body for long periods of time (Ezekiel 4-5)
Theater has been found long through out the church’s history. In the late 10th century Christian churches were integrating dramatic performances for their Easter services to build up the themes of the resurrection. Monks would re-enact the women who arrived at the tomb and one would stand at the top proclaiming that Jesus was not there for He had risen! After dramatic telling of scripture like this one, the choirs would then sing song like Alleluia! and Resurrecit Dominus (the Lord is risen).
Beyond the 10th century drama is found throughout the medieval period where since most people couldn’t read, the church took the biblical stories and put them to the stage. The church found it beneficial to teach the basic Biblical truths and church doctrines by performing them. Drama brings the sermons to life.
The church used theater performances to explain biblical truths, and they had good reasons for doing so. Using drama stimulates the mind to relate to the character they see and hear. By choosing to see drama as worship still today, one can worship through their talents and be used to open up the minds of others so they too can see God’s truths! Theater is a communication tool that has power, and it is through this power that drama can demonstrate exactly what the preacher was trying to talk about.
By having live drama, the audience becomes involved, forcing their brains to subconsciously relate and yearn to figure out how it ends, finding themselves wanting to help or understand. For a congregation to see a live drama forces them to become involved emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. The audience will become caught up in the story through the lines delivered from the characters.
Like Steve responded to the Easter service, many respond to any physical dramatic performance. Using drama in ministry gives the church the ability to open up about the untouchable subjects we often ignore. Using a monologue of someone who struggles with homosexual thoughts can aid the audience in grasping the human’s own struggle with sin. We can show the war at hand with our will and fighting to win a battle over sin through a drama.
Drama engages the senses and in return provides a response whether in thought or in action. You are ensured a captivated audience by having a drama in a ministry setting because of this evidence! Theater in the church guarantees positive responses such as: it holds the congregation’s attention, encourages creative involvement in ministry, congregation can identify with the characters, and it is more than likely a change of pace. We live in a world full of visual entertainment. Our eyes our attracted to what we can see and hear. By involving theater in your ministry, you can reach the hearts of those whose ears would turn off a sermon. Drama relates spiritual concepts to everyday life in non-threatening terms and can open the door to further discussions and activity.
We can claim that using our talents from Christ is worshipping him, so one can now say that drama can be used as a form of worship! Just like we worship in song through singing and playing our musical instruments, and like David danced before the Lord worshipping him, so can I worship my Christ through dramas in a ministry setting. Theater does have its place amongst the church and its ministry.
Today many larger churches like Willow Creek have incorporated dramas in their Sunday morning services to bring people back into the church. It is through their professional example that we can learn how to do things with excellence. When you have the talent and ability you must do it well before the Lord. Schultz in his book Understanding Evangelical Media commented on Willow Creek’s success in this area saying, “They avoided under-rehearsed, ineffectively directed, lighted and performed scenes that detracted from the delight as well as the instructional value of the sketches in the context of worship.” It was through using their resources and pursuing an excellence with the talents the Lord gave them that they were successful in bringing in the lost. By incorporating drama in ministry, we can find a way to capture people’s hearts for the gospel of Christ.
 Rucker, Robert M. Producing and Directing Drama for the Church. Boston: Lillenas Company, 1993. Pg. 18
 Schultze, Quentin J., and Robert Woods. Understanding Evangelical Media: The Changing Face of Christian Communication. Grand Rapids: IVP Academic, 2008. Pg. 151