The Touchy Stuff: How to Handle Edgy Scenes
Can we talk shop for a moment? If you’re reading this, it means you’re at least somewhat involved in the drama ministry of your local church: you’re a director, an actor, a costume designer, a set builder, a choreographer, or—if you’re anything like most drama ministers—all of the above. Sometimes we have to wear a lot of hats, and the title of “drama minister” is subject to a great deal of interpretation, but if the title means anything at all, it means this:
You are a minister of the Gospel through drama.
Take a moment and let that job description sink in. Pretty serious, huh? We are called to minister the stories and teachings of our God through the performing arts. Obviously, there are a lot of other less “glamorous” duties that each of us has to shoulder as well. Firemen are responsible for a lot more than just putting out fires. But at the end of the day, when all is said and done, I believe the measure of our success should be how well we have truly ministered the Gospel through drama.
That being said, I’d like to propose that the above job description means a lot more than just offering Christian entertainment. Sometimes a good laugh is exactly what the church body needs, but truly ministering to people will also mean, at times, speaking on subject matter that is a little uncomfortable. Jesus’ teachings were often full of lighthearted encouragement, but he also didn’t hesitate to speak of the darker side of human behavior. Immorality, anger, manipulation, deception, envy—he addressed all of these and more in no uncertain terms, and if we’re called to tell his stories on stage, sooner or later we’re going to have to deal with them, too.
So how do we handle the touchy stuff? Following is a suggested “checklist”:
1) Content check
The Lord gives us a great litmus test in Philippians 4:8 (NASB) — “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” This, of course, doesn’t mean that negative things can’t be discussed (otherwise Paul would be ignoring his own advice throughout much of his epistles), but rather that the way in which those things are discussed should be held to a certain standard.
Is it true? Does the script have the ring of reality to it, or is it artificial? Does it present reality as reflected in scripture? Is it pure? Even in representing a lost world or sinful behavior, is it careful not to provoke lust, covetousness, contempt, or other sin? Is it unspotted by the world’s philosophies and priorities, except for the purpose of shedding God’s light on them? Is it free of profanity, sacrilege, or inappropriate humor? Is it honorable? Does the script, whether intentionally or not, present people as stereotypes or clichés? Does it make light of people of specific races, beliefs, income brackets, geographic locations, education levels, occupations, vocabulary, etc.? Does it honor others? Is it sensitive to people who may be going through spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional difficulties?
2) Motive check
Why do you believe this scene should be done? Is it to minister the light and love of God, or is an audience member likely to feel judged and condemned by the material? Is this material likely to draw people toward God, even if the subject matter may be difficult or convicting?
3) Venue check
Is the Sunday morning worship service the right time and place for this script?
Some material may only seem “touchy” because of the audience. Who is this script intended for, and where can they best be reached? A script dealing with teenage men and moral purity, for example, may not be ideal for an adult congregation: the “target audience” may be more embarrassed than helped when they know their parents are watching too.
Likewise, casting should be done carefully. A married woman playing someone struggling with accepting singleness, or a grown man playing an insecure teenager can unintentionally come across as a bit of a slight and end up alienating the very people you’re trying to reach.
4) Accountability check
Sunday morning is not the time to spring controversial material on an unsuspecting pastor! Different church leaders have varying levels of checks and balances in place to determine what hits the stage during services, but regardless of how much confidence your pastor puts in your choice of script, if you think a scene is even mildly “edgy,” bring it to him for approval before moving, ahead.
Of course, the above checklist doesn’t guarantee that some feathers won’t be ruffled. Prayerfully consider how to answer anyone who may take offense and encourage your actors to do the same. Also bear in mind that you'll never know, this side of eternity, how a scene “went” in the hearts and minds of most of the congregation; for every dissenting voice there may be five silent ones who were touched and helped. Carry on and trust the results to the Lord. That’s what ministers do.