Go with your strengths. If you don’t have people who are gifted and passionate about drama, don’t do it.
Drama is not my strength. I organized a “Last Supper” drama for Maundy Thursday one year. No one had speaking parts, but I still went crazy trying to organize it. Never again.
My friend Linda, on the other hand, is very talented in drama. She’s active in community theatre as an actor, playwright, and director. She’s turned the history of Marion, Illinois into a play. And she’s written quite a few short dramas for worship. I wish Linda were at my church. Perhaps someday she’ll write a post about how she started the drama ministry at her new church.
But there are ways you can use drama in worship even if you don’t have people like Linda.
Dramatize the Scripture Reading
I attended a seminar with Bible scholar F. Dale Bruner. Each morning he would teach a passage from the gospel of John. Before he taught, he would do a dramatic reading of the passage from memory, sometimes paraphrasing and adding simple motions. He said that when he taught in the Philippines, it was so hot that people kept falling asleep in his afternoon classes. So his wife, Kathy, suggested that he memorize the passage and his lecture. It brought the passage alive and kept people interested.
One of the steps I’ve added to my sermon preparation process is to read the passage out loud several times. If I do that every day before Sunday, I’ll be able to dramatize the passage even if I don’t memorize it completely.
Another simple way to dramatize Scripture is to have different voices reading different parts. The scripture I used last Sunday was Psalm 148. I read the odd verses, and the lay leader read the even verses. Very simple, yet we got several comments that people really liked it. Adding one or more voices helps people hear and understand the passage better.
For Palm/Passion Sunday last year, instead of a sermon, we did a dramatic reading of the whole passion story, using Eugene Peterson’s The Message. I read the narration, and the other voices came from people sitting in the congregation.
Readers Theater is when you have two or more people reading a script without movement, costumes, or memorization. It takes a little more work to coordinate, but is a good way to start adding simple drama.
The journal Reformed Worship is an excellent source of Readers Theater dramas. All but the last two issues are available online. It’s worth the price of the subscription.
John C. Bush uses a service for Good Friday at his church, And There Was Darkness. The heart of the service is two readers reading from the gospel of Luke, alternating between the birth narrative and the crucifixion. It’s one of the most powerful readings I’ve seen.
Bert Witvoet wrote two “dialogues with scripture” using the Ten Commandments and the 23rd Psalm. He says,
Here is a fresh approach to the reading of the Ten Commandments and of Psalm 23. People tend to tune out when they hear an overly familiar passage of Scripture. Juxtaposing the way our society expresses its views on moral issues with the commandments gives the reading fresh meaning…
I’ve found the Iona books Cloth for the Cradle, Stages on the Way, and Present on Earth very helpful. They contain prayers, readings, scripts, and symbolic actions. The language is fresh. Even though I haven’t done much with the scripts, I’ve used many of the prayers and readings.
Special seasons are a good time to incorporate drama into worship because people are a little more open to new things during Lent and Advent. Perhaps this Christmas would be a good time to try drama.
How do you incorporate drama into your worship?