There are ten rules to presenting church drama… unfortunately nobody seems to know what they are! And so, like Jesus did with the laws, we also can simplify the rules of presenting theater in church: love God, love people. If your presentations fit into this commandment, then you cannot go wrong.
That said, there are many ways to approach church drama. Over the years my drama team and I have tried a wide variety and made… ummm… one or two teeny-tiny mistakes. (I hope you sense the sarcasm in that comment.) We have also done a lot of things right. In the following pages I will share with you some of the discoveries we’ve made along the journey. This is not to say that our ways are the only ways, or even the best ways, but they are the ways that have proven to work for us. For example…
GI JOE OR CENTURIANS?
The basic question that arises in many churches is, “Should dramas be period pieces or set in modern times?”
I believe that contemporary dramas in common settings are the most effective. Remember, we are trying to introduce people to the weekly lesson in a way that immediately helps them relate to it and apply it totheir own, personal circumstances. Recreating Bible stories, word for word from scripture, does not accomplish that goal.
Now let me take this moment to acknowledge the power of scripture. Nothing has changed more lives, and the Bible is undoubtedly the ultimate teaching tool. In this book, however, we are exploring a parallel path to changing lives. I am not saying that scripture is not effective, on the contrary! I’m simply sharing another way to present it. All church drama should be based on biblical truth.
That said, the amount of dramas set in biblical times (called “bathrobe dramas” in some churches due to cheap costuming) produced in the past dozen years on our main stage can be counted on one hand. When we do include one, it stands out as something very special and is particularly effective for exactly that reason. The Centurion was one such example. The script is a monologue by a Roman soldier who arrested Christ in the garden, took him to Pilot, to Herod, back to Pilot, whipped Jesus, made him carry the cross up the hill, nailed him to the cross, offered him the sponge with vinegar, stabbed him with the spear, guarded his tomb, and witnessed his ascension. (A fictional amalgamation of many men.) Now, one year later, he tells the story of this deeply affecting, horrifying, confusing experience. This first-person account of the Easter story was a unique, dramatic, emotionally powerful way to educate the audience not only about the facts of the historical account, but about the momentous human impact of it all. It concludes with the Roman soldier, in full armor, on his knees, in tears. I might add that a vast majority of the audience also had tears running down their cheeks.
Bible quotes are also something I avoid while writing church drama. The attendee will surely get to hear scripture within the body of any good pastor’s message, so we leave it to him. Frankly, quoting the Bible to someone who doesn’t yet have a belief in the validity of the book and hasn’t yet dropped his defensive walls may be ineffectual. In a sermon, it is absolutely necessary to reveal the source of the teachings and to assure people that we don’t just make this stuff up, but an allegory is a symbolic expression of a deeper meaning and a parable is a story intended to illustrate a point. Neither of these requires direct quotes to validate their authority. In order to be effective, the truth of them should be self-apparent to the audience.
Richard Harding Davis said, “The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way.” In the case of Biblical teachings, we’re obviously leaning toward the former. The Bible has been around for a long, long time; our challenge is to present its ancient but none-the-less invaluable lessons from a fresh, new perspective.