Back to the Future: Elements of Drama Past, Present & Future
Books continue coming out about the future of the church—How can it survive in this new age of technology? What about church drama? Will drama still have a purpose in this millennium? After all, drama in a worship service is a new thing, only 15 or 20 years old.
Or is it? To understand the future, it is good to look back, so let’s jump in the old time-traveling DeLorean and go back to the future, before contemporary worship, to discover the genesis of drama.
Illustrating the Message
Our first stop is the Middle Ages. In the church, the Bible is read in Latin, which most people in the pews don’t understand. But in the courtyard, a troupe of actors performs miracle or morality plays—series of short plays portraying great works of God in the Bible and in the lives of his saints. Except for the burlap clothes and lack of soap, these folks seem like us, using drama to illustrate the message of God.
Let’s hop back into our time traveler and check out the state of drama before there was a church.
Sharing Our Weakness
Ah, ancient Greece—a lot nicer looking than those dark ages. And tons of people are cramming into an amphitheater to see a play. They consider theater a religious event all right, but it is a festival to the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. The play they’re doing is the great Oedipus Rex, about a man who reaches the heights but is brought low because of his selfish pride. In fact, most Greek drama is about pride and how it is the downfall of humankind. Hmm, in drama ministry, one way we use sketches is to reveal the struggles we all go through, preparing the audience to receive the answers in the Bible. The ancient Greeks didn’t have the answers, but they sure knew how to use drama to reveal character flaws that people could relate to.
Engaging through Story
One more stop on our blast to the past to see if there was drama before written plays and stadium seating. Let’s drop in on the people of Israel in Egypt. They have been here about 400 years, ruled by a Pharaoh who has forgotten the story of how their ancestor Joseph saved Egypt. But they have not forgotten. In the evenings, they tell one another the stories of Abraham and of Joseph, the dreamer. When they share their stories, they pause here for dramatic effect, adopt a limp when reenacting Jacob’s wrestling match with God, and laugh with Sarah at the thought of a 99-year-old pregnant woman.
No matter the year, people love to communicate with one another through story. As directors, actors and writers of drama, our ministry is in our storytelling.
Back to the Future
Wow – it’s good to be back home. Steering our DeLorean ahead, what do we see? We see the church still vibrant and alive, revealing truth and serving our neighbors. And we see drama in worship: as sketches, on video, on the Internet, on Zoom and whatever other technology becomes available, because we love stories. No matter what age we’re in, people will continue to love being engaged through story and drama. And when we illustrate the message of God or reveal the nature of our hearts, and through that story engage a person sitting in a pew, that is drama ministry. The future will simply bring us more opportunities to share our story.