RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Broadway-style music? Costumed performers? Creative movement? If these sound closer to something you’d see on “American Idol” than in a church auditorium, you may be right. But it may be exactly what your church members are looking for to enhance their worship experience.
The use of drama in church ministry is a growing trend embraced by contemporary and traditional churches alike, said Mark James, a drama coordinator at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. A workshop leader at Music Ridgecrest this year at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, James spoke candidly about the impact drama can have in worship.
“Churches are becoming more open to the idea of using drama and other fine arts media related to worship, and that’s great,” James said. “What isn’t great is that a lot of churches are accepting a level of mediocrity. God isn’t honored in half-efforts.”
James, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, teaches communication classes at various colleges in Birmingham. But he said his unequivocal passion is using the arts in ministry. He got his first taste for it when he attended a national creative arts festival hosted by LifeWay more than a decade ago in Nashville while he was an undergraduate student at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.
During the conference he saw Southwestern Seminary’s drama group, “The Company,” perform. After graduating from Carson-Newman, James attended Southwestern. He auditioned for the group that had inspired him and became a member, touring with the drama ministry team for three years. James said his study of the arts and ministry provided “a tremendous training ground for what my passion is” — something he encouraged worship leaders and pastors to bring to their own churches.
Drama is one tool that easily puts a message into a visual form of communication, James said, pointing out the majority of what’s communicated on Sunday morning is done by listening — to the pastor and perhaps to a choir. Drama offers a visual aid that people remember longer. It also assists in communicating subjects that may be difficult to relay in a 30-minute sermon.
“Greed may be a subject that’s challenging for a pastor to get his congregation to understand,” James said. “Allow drama to introduce it, and then the pastor to address it.” It’s easier to hear at that point because the idea’s already been communicated visually.
Another important benefit of using drama as a part of worship is the additional opportunities that are given for church members to use their gifts and talents.
Richella Parham of Durham, N.C., and a member of Chapel Hill Bible Church, was in her mid-30s when she discovered that drama was a gift God could use through her. Though she had been involved in drama during her high school years, her interest waned when she reached college, and after marriage and children came along, there were too many other things to do.
A stay-at-home mom, Parham met Mark James when he announced he was starting a drama ministry at her church at the time, Brookwood Baptist in Birmingham. After the first meeting and script reading, she was hooked. A year later, the group stepped out in faith in the form of a medical mission trip to Rio de Janeiro.
“We presented the Gospel via music and interpretive movement to needy folks who were waiting to see physicians and dentists,” Parham recounted. “Mark choreographed songs, which were recorded in Portuguese, with which the hurting people in our audience could identify, but which clearly identified Jesus as the answer. And people responded!
“Though we were all amateurs, God took our efforts and touched the hearts and lives of these people in profound ways,” said Parham, who now leads a drama ministry at Chapel Hill.
“Drama seems to penetrate that outer shell that many of us have,” she said. “There is hope, there is help, there is real power in the blood of Jesus, and drama ministry is an effective way of leading and redirecting people to Jesus.”