"There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." —1 Corinthians 12:5-6
As the house lights dim, a hush falls over the crowd in anticipation. Those who attend the theatre or enjoy movies know what’s coming next—something that will draw us in and grip our attention. As humans we are captivated by stories. Given the power that drama has to stimulate our imaginations and stir our emotions, dramatic arts can be a powerful tool to enhance the presentation of the gospel.
Drama elicits an emotional response. Whether it’s a movie, a theatrical production or even a video game; whether the storyline is suspenseful, gloomy, humorous, exciting, heartbreaking or infuriating, there’s something within us, as humans, that responds. It’s quite simply who we are.
This isn’t news. Jesus himself used the art of storytelling, telling many parables to share the love of God, explain his divine purpose and teach in such a way that people would understand, remember and apply it to their lives. With stories we are moved to think and to act, to do and to be, something more—something new, deeper and richer because we remember them, and they change us.
The standard elements of a worship service often include congregational singing, Scripture reading, music ministry and a sermon. When a dramatic piece is used, it’s usually an extra item added for special occasions such as Christmas, Easter or a youth service, and these tend to be slightly grandiose. While producing a musical is rewarding, there are ways to use gospel arts without mounting a big production. On any given Sunday, Scripture can be presented in the form of a monologue or a responsive reading; the Psalms themselves are poetry recitations just waiting to happen. Movement can be added to worship songs, sermon illustrations can come to life with silent actors, biblical characters can appear out of nowhere.
Any kind of arts ministry can be of great benefit to both the individual and the corps. It can help those involved feel rooted and connected, enhance their worship experience and provide an opportunity for them to share gifts that may differ from those of traditional musical ensembles. For some, the expression of self and inclusion in worship in this way can also provide much-needed encouragement.
For corps, stepping outside the norms of worship, such as the familiar speaking and singing, to include a variety of talents, can engage the congregation, touch them viscerally and glorify God.
That’s a look at why gospel arts are important, but you may now be wondering—how do I go about it? Who should be involved? What kind of drama?
How Do I Go About It?
The Salvation Army has creative arts departments in many territories around the world. In Canada and Bermuda, the music and gospel arts department has just started to gather dramatic arts resources on their web page, under “Drama.” This includes “ministry monologues,” a series of short videos based on well-known characters from Scripture, which could be added to a worship service or event. Scripts and other suggested supporting material are provided.
They’ve also made it easier for you to locate many of the wonderful resources from other territories that already exist—all accessible for no cost—under “Global Resources.” How to start a community program, hundreds of free scripts and musical scores, ways to incorporate dance and visual arts—there is so much material available, along with information on institutes, workshops and camp opportunities. Seek and ye shall find!
Who Should Be Involved?
Anyone in your corps family or outreach programs can be part of drama ministry. There may be people in your congregation who have been involved in community theatre; youth who have taken dance lessons their entire lives; or people who are good orators who you think would enjoy participating and doing something different.
So, if you are the corps officer or a congregant who “did a little community theatre in high school,” posting an inquiry on the corps’ social media pages or hosting an information session to see who is interested would be a great place to start. One added outcome of this ministry is that multi-generational relationships can develop; teens can be inspired by adults with whom they would not otherwise feel they have much in common.
What Kind of Drama?
Deciding what to do and when to present it to the congregation may be determined by your corps’ preferred style of worship. Start with something simple that involves only a couple of people to see how the congregation responds. You may want to begin with a video of a monologue or a short scene that supports the message or theme of the week. The next time, try involving actors from the congregation. You could evoke the Army days of old for a corps anniversary celebration or create a Nativity scene tableau for a Christmas community event. Puppetry is also a great way to involve the youngest members of our programs and engage them in creativity and worship simultaneously.
The ways in which drama can be used to win souls for Christ are endless and can leave a lasting impact. This idea was not lost on the pioneers of The Salvation Army. General Evangeline Booth was known for her dramatic flair and the methods she used to preach the message of God’s love and hope for all. From her early days selling The War Cry in the East End of London, England, with her father, Founder William Booth, to her position as commander for Canada and the United States, and later as General, she was often costumed and in character as “Miss Booth in Rags.” When she sang and spoke, people listened. She believed in creative evangelism and wanted to reach those who seemed to be unreachable.
Dramatic arts in ministry have been part of The Salvation Army from the very beginning. Today, through Mobilize 2.0, we are on a journey of transformation, with a new territorial vision statement that says, “We are an innovative partner, mobilized to share hope….” Perhaps, as we move forward, we need to look back and be innovative, just as General Evangeline was.
Wendy Woodland is the bandmaster at Corner Brook Temple, N.L., where she loves to use dramatic arts in ministry. She works in the theatre industry and has extensive experience in musical theatre, choral instruction, festival organization, television production and on-air hosting. Over the past year she was the assistant territorial music secretary.
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