Read an Excerpt
Slice of Life Worship Dramas (Volume 2)
By Shelly Barsuhn
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2007 Rochelle Barsuhn
All rights reserved.
Igniting a Drama Ministry
Igniting a Drama Ministry is a grand title with which to begin. Perhaps something more modest is in order, something like Sparking a Drama Ministry. Most ministries aren't sudden, roaring fires. Even ministries led by passionate, creative people take time to grow in intensity and heat. Are you ready to nurture a small flame? Ask yourself:
Why Our Church?
Consider the reasons you have for wanting to add or grow a drama ministry in your church. Good reasons include:
We want to add still more depth to our worship services.
We want to apply the messages in a personal way.
Our congregation is ready for drama.
Our leadership, including the pastor, strongly supports the idea.
We have individuals who have exceptional talent and drive.
Our actors don't want glory for themselves or a showcase for their talents. They want to honor God.
Our volunteers are in this for the long haul.
We have prayed and believe that this will be a beneficial addition to our services.
Reasons that are not good include:
Big churches include drama in their services.
We know a really good actor.
We want to entertain people.
We like dramas that express "the moral of the story" for people who might not have caught it from the sermon.
Not long ago, the arts in evangelical Christian worship were pretty much limited to music. Drama was part of a long-past tradition that got lost somewhere in history. Services featured choirs, pianos, organs, soloists, and musicians, but not actors. Churches were often wary of people gifted in dramatic arts. A volunteer (often feeling stiff and nervous) might stand at the podium or pulpit and read Scripture, or the pastor might recite a few lines of poetry. But people shivered when they thought of inviting actors onto the stage unless it was for the occasional children's Christmas pageant.
Many elements may have contributed to this discomfort. Pastors have had a justifiable fear of worship turning into performance. Or they have had a mortal dread of bad drama. (There is nothing worse than having to suffer through a poorly prepared or badly acted "skit.") And adding drama to services required advance planning and communication by the pastor, who was already stretched thin by responsibilities.
But the early modern practitioners of drama in worship quickly learned that there is much to be gained. Worship that mixes a variety of art—music, Scripture recitation, video, drama, movement—feels fuller and richer. God is honored when individuals use the gifts with which they have been wisely provided. The arts can underscore the week's theme. Sometimes they eloquently express the inexpressible. Not everyone learns or experiences worship in the same way, so using a mixture of the arts can help people of all kinds find a connection point.
What is the appeal of drama? It's storytelling. Stories are about people, and we learn through stories. Jesus knew that. Drama can disarm people and make them pause to think. It can prime the pump for information to follow. It can ask questions that listeners need to ask themselves. It can touch nerves. It can commiserate. It can challenge.
Involve Your Pastor
The support and involvement of your senior pastor is the lifeblood of a thriving drama ministry. With the security of his or her enthusiasm, you are free to fly, or at least to test your wings. Your team will feel loved and, therefore, empowered. To be frank, sometimes the affection of your pastor is all you have in the beginning.
Start by asking your senior pastor for a synopsis of the coming year's sermons. When his or her heart pumps with alarm, explain that you don't really need much—just the date, the general topic, a few lines of description, and maybe a Scripture reference or two. Offer any incentive you can devise for your pastor to supply this information, for it is the starting point of your team's creative process. Help your pastor understand that only with advance planning can the drama team prepare well-executed vignettes that augment worship. Let your pastor know that you want to produce dramas that tie in smoothly with the sermon. Remind him or her of the horror of badly done drama that results from a lack of advance planning.
If obtaining a year's worth of topics is impossible, ask for six months or four months. What you're after is adequate time for planning, gathering scripts, casting, propping, and rehearsing. (See the proposed timeline on page 22.)
Early in the process, develop a system of communication with your pastor—meetings or phone calls once per week, per month, per quarter, or whatever meets his or her comfort level. Designate one primary contact (probably the drama director) to serve as the liaison with the pastor. Don't overwhelm your pastor with details, issues, problems, and complaints. He or she needn't—and shouldn't—oversee the day-to-day operations of the ministry but should feel included in plans so there are no surprises on the day of performance.
Build Your Team
Fill key positions by approaching people you know rather than by placing notices in the church newsletter or website. (The exception would be periodically announcing an audition for new actors.) By tapping folks whom you trust and who have the skills you seek, you'll save yourself some of the embarrassment of having politely to decline offers of assistance from people who want to be involved but lack the necessary skills. This uncomfortable situation will arise at some point, and when it does, remember that people can serve on a drama team in all sorts of ways that don't require acting abilities.
The drama director should be someone experienced in the dramatic arts who can serve in the paradoxical roles of quality-control engineer and creative visionary. Because this person is the communication link between the senior pastor and the drama ministry team, it is advisable to have one person serve in this capacity rather than several volunteers, in order to keep the vision and communication cohesive.
Responsibilities of the drama director (besides the grunt work of hauling props offstage when there's no one else to do it) include:
effectively communicating with the senior pastor
holding auditions for individuals interested in acting
finding or commissioning scripts
casting (at least until a casting volunteer is found)
serving as the primary liaison between drama team members
distributing approved scripts for memorization
arranging for and conducting rehearsals
blocking—i.e., determining movements on stage
eliciting better performances from actors
selecting props or communicating with prop volunteers
stage management—i.e., making certain that the actors and props are where they need to be during the worship service
building the team through social opportunities, prayer, and encouragement
The actors you seek must be servants first, which means they are in the ministry because they wish to serve God with their gifts rather than be spotlighted on stage. This is an important distinction that is surprisingly easy to detect. Are your actors eager to do all that goes along with an effective drama ministry, even when it has nothing to do with those few minutes on stage? The list of responsibilities includes prayer, hauling set pieces and props, making phone calls, mentoring others, and wielding a paintbrush. Servants don't criticize or disparage others in the ministry, hold grudges, or create cliques. There will be misunderstandings and difficulties, hurt feelings and misspoken words, but these should be rare events, not defining characteristics of the group. Instead, unity, friendship, forgiveness, and common purpose should pull the group together.
Support positions are also servant roles filled by talented individuals. There are numerous ways to be involved in a drama ministry. Large productions (Christmas events or dinner theatre) require a visionary production designer (someone who creates the look of the play). Also essential are prop gatherers, backdrop painters, costume designers, people who sew, media (sound) volunteers, lighting artists, and stage managers. These individuals have less visibility than the people appearing on stage, so make efforts to thank them graciously and communicate their importance to other ministry members.
Make a Mission
With the team in place, consider your plans and purpose. Invite your team members to go through this exercise with you. State your mission, vision, and objectives. Write them down. Create a plan for at least one year. (The drama director and the senior pastor are the ones who should finalize the document.) A sample document might look like this:
To worship and glorify God through theatre arts.
We aim to present thoughtful and engaging dramatic elements of the highest quality that enable participants to consider and apply spiritual insights in a new and exciting way.
To draw in more worship participants
To support the senior pastor by providing dramas that augment the week's theme or message
To create dramatic elements that are an integral part of worship
To create a small community for people gifted in theatre arts
Your one-year plan might include a variety of hopes and dreams:
To prepare and present a variety of slice of life dramas, humorous vignettes, and memorized Scripture
To provide ways for participants to improve their skills through community classes
To incorporate other art forms wherever and whenever possible
To grow the ministry by 10 percent in the coming year, drawing in more people who have God-given gifts in dramatic arts
Give a copy of the draft document to your pastor for input, and once it has been finalized by the senior pastor and the drama director, provide a copy to anyone who joins your team, whether an actor, painter, or costume designer. Make certain that every participant understands what is at the ministry's core. Update as necessary.
Gather High-Quality Scripts
Your scripts can be engaging, funny, serious, or experimental. Scripts perform many functions, including setting up or ending sermons, asking questions, or helping viewers recognize themselves and situations they have personally encountered. Worship dramas are most often short, between three and ten minutes, with five minutes being a comfortable average length. Steer clear of didactic or moralizing dramas. Your audience will recognize them as artificial.
Adapt scripts to meet your specific needs. Consider who in your drama ministry is available to play roles. If a particular role is written for a female, try rewriting it for a male, and vice versa. Change the names of characters or places when necessary. Make scripts work for your unique setting.
Try not to "give away the ending" before the worship experience unfolds or your pastor has had a chance to speak. Consider placing scripts that provide a resolution at the end of the service or breaking them into two segments, delivering the first part before the sermon and the second part after the sermon. For a different effect, intertwine music with drama. Spend time brainstorming with media and musical staff about ways to include music, video, imagery, or sound effects.
Grandiose plans are a quick way to squash the productivity and enthusiasm of a talented, start-up team. Build stamina gradually, and demonstrate your reliability to pastoral staff and worship-service participants by perfecting small projects. Don't risk instant burnout by planning elaborate sets and backdrops or by bringing large casts on stage. Forget the epics. Simple is good. Begin with reader's theatre, especially Scripture. Move on to memorized Scripture, using people who have the voice and the gift. Look for opportunities to practice and build experience by presenting dramas at times other than Sunday morning: special events, family camp, Bible studies, etc. Grow and expand as your group's talent expands. As your team and experience grow, so can your productions. While worship-service dramas should remain short, you may wish to develop longer, even full-length, plays for outreach events or holiday programs.
Slice of life dramas make use of carefully selected outfits that the actors bring from home. Producing a Biblical or large-scale production requires the expertise of people gifted in design and historical reference. A blessed drama ministry includes a talented costume designer and a legion of people willing to sew. The bathrobe is dead! High-quality costumes are a worthwhile and long-lasting investment. With a committed team of volunteer tailors, your cost will be minimal.
Anticipate longevity and set up your ministry to achieve it. This expectation comes directly from your pastor. Hearing that your pastor expects this to be a long-lived ministry gives the drama director and other team participants both a positive sense of support and the burden of accountability. Commit to continuing the ministry even when you confront such difficulties as attrition, casting difficulties, surprising and discouraging amounts of set and prop hauling, and criticism. It is highly likely that you will receive criticism. Learn from constructive comments, and be prepared to overlook anonymous, inappropriate, or sour responses from lone individuals. Your pastor may, of course, wish to respond to comments and choose which are valuable to your team and which are best left unsaid. Change can be difficult for some worship participants. With your pastor's help, you'll be able to discern valid criticism from isolated gripes.
After the first few months, rate your efforts. Include your pastor in this exercise. Have the dramas hit the set standards? Is your pastor feeling encouraged? Discuss frankly what could be changed or improved to keep the ministry dynamic and growing. Look again at your documentation. Is it still accurate?
Call It What It Is
Your presentations can be vignettes, comedies, slices of life, or dramas. It is best to avoid the word "skits" because the term lowers expectations of quality. Skits are done on the fly with little preparation. Calling your presentations vignettes or dramas expresses the amount of time and effort that you will be putting into your work.
When you fill the basic requirements, you're ready to launch a ministry. At a minimum you should have:
regular prayer support from the participants as well as other volunteers
individuals and leaders who are willing to commit to long-term and frequent participation, not to one or two times a year
a realistic budget for a minimum of props, costumes, and scripts
A Few Drama Types
To avoid complete volunteer burnout, don't try to present a drama each week. Plan out the year, or quarter, in advance. Which weeks would most benefit from the addition of a dramatic element? Submit a written plan to your pastor. Vary the type of drama in order to use the gifts of your team and keep the audience interested.
READERS' THEATRE: This narration-based drama is ideal for a beginning team. There are no sets or full costumes. Actors stand or sit on chairs or stools, and they openly use scripts. You may wish to create folders or booklets to lessen the distraction of turning pages. Actors should be well-rehearsed and familiar with the script. Reading Scripture in the style of reader's theatre is an excellent way to begin your ministry.
MEMORIZED SCRIPTURE: Presenting Scripture is not a performance. It is a way of making verses come alive through skilled individuals. Consider having your speakers stand or sit someplace other than the pulpit or podium. Include natural gestures and movement when appropriate. Scripture can also be a backdrop for other action on the stage, including dance or mime. Adding music or imagery on a screen can create other layers of meaning, but don't feel that you must add anything at all. Scripture alone is powerful.
SLICE OF LIFE : Emphasizing realism and emotion in a short time frame, slice of life pieces capture a dramatic or arresting situation or conflict. Open- ended scripts are more personal and leave the viewer asking, "What would I do?"
COMEDY : To present a comedy well, you need a top-notch script and actors with an outstanding sense of timing. The tiniest gestures, facial expressions, and inflections make all the difference. Comedy is a wonderful way to diffuse difficult topics.
Excerpted from Slice of Life Worship Dramas (Volume 2) by Shelly Barsuhn. Copyright © 2007 Rochelle Barsuhn. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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