A friend suggested that I might find some direction concerning the drama thing at Sunnybrook if I articulated for myself my "philosophy of church drama". A good idea. The kind of thing I would do anyway. And I find that blogging facilitates such thinking processes for me, so you get to be privy to my ponderings. Lucky you. A forewarning: this may not be great quality writing -- brainstorming rarely is.
So, why do drama in church? (First of all, I should probably clarify that I'm mainly talking about sketches during the Sunday morning worship service. I know a lot of churches don't do those at all, but do drama for special events and such. I'm all for that as well, but since the Sunnybrook man is mainly focusing on the Sunday morning drama, that's where I'm focusing my theorizing at the moment.)
Well, I'm pretty adamant that we don't do drama just because it will entertain people, or to hold their attention, or anything like that. I mean, that may happen in the process, but that's not the goal. Not that there isn't a time and place for simply being entertained at a church event -- but in a worship service, there should be more to it than that.
I think it was somebody from Willow Creek from whom I first heard that a drama should set up the question that the sermon answers. That's the most common use of drama in a worship service, I think: to prepare the congregation for the sermon. Sometimes that takes the form of giving background information. They do that frequently at Sunnybrook--skits that tell the Bible story which is the text for the sermon. This is particularly appropriate, I think, in a "seeker-oriented" church, where you can't assume your listener has any Biblical knowledge coming in.
But what we did more of at Hope -- and what I like more -- are the skits that get the congregation in the right mindset to hear the word of God in the sermon. Something that they can observe and say, "Yeah! That's me! That's what I do. That's what I wonder. That's what I struggle with." Something that puts them mentally and emotionally in the place where they can apply the forthcoming message directly to their own lives.
And I've learned that the simpler such skits are, the better. The more auxiliary stuff involved, the more chance there is that the congregation will be distracted by that from the point of the sketch. My writing mentor Randy encouraged me to keep a piece focused and lean. I feel the same way about the "staging" on a Sunday morning. Having a lot of set pieces and props and extensive costuming often is a distraction more than a help.
I also think it's very important that the sketch and the sermon are closely tied together . . . that the latter flows naturally from the former. If you have a skit that sends the congregation's minds off in one direction, and then the preacher has to corral them back and send them in the different direction he is headed . . . well, that's a lousy skit for that service. It needs to be replaced, or tweaked, or scrapped altogether. We don't need to do drama just for the sake of doing drama -- it needs to be working in tandem with everything else in the service to make a point.
Doing such sketches, however, require several things. You have to have a pastor who plans far enough head to give the drama team time to pull a piece together. You also need writers who can create a piece (or tailor something from another source) to fit the focus of a particular service. You need, obviously, good actors -- and actors who are committed to this as their particular ministry, so they are available when needed. And ample rehearsal time, with a good director.
It's pretty easy to do a crappy job of drama ministry. And it's a challenging thing to do it well. Thus, my desire to be very sure about this commitment. I don't like doing things crappily.