March 14, 2006

Purpose Statement and Values for Christian or Church Drama

Love them or hate them, church drama teams are most Christians' only exposure to live theatre. We've all seen them done poorly, but I believe that they can be done well. Here's a little statement of purpose and values I put forward at a large Orlando church when they asked me to head up their drama department.


To encourage the exploration and expression of God’s truth through the theatre arts


God is the first and greatest artist. The arts are not just a nice gift from God. They are an essential part of His character. As Creator, He is the master sculptor, choosing vivid colors and brilliant shapes in his works. We live in a sea of “purposeless” beauty; beauty that extends in scope from the vastness of galaxies and star systems to the miniscule order and structure of the vein of a leaf. If we served a God for whom the arts were merely a side note, the created order would have many more grays and unimpressive forms. As Son, He was a storyteller in the first degree. How much more pragmatic it would have been if Jesus had come equipped with a list of memorized steps for entering the Kingdom that He was ready to recite when asked. But instead he chose parables, metaphors, and often downright baffling statements to ensure his listeners would have to wrestle with His truth; that it would knock their hips out of joint, so that they might own that truth once they understood it. And finally, as Holy Spirit, He is the inspirer of the arts. Most obviously He inspired the literary collection of histories, stories, poems, and songs we know as the Scriptures. However, one could go so far as to say that He has a hand in the inspiration of all artists who are using their gifts to explore Truth. Therefore:

v The Church should be leading the way in their artistic quality because they have the greatest understanding of the first and greatest Artist.

v As a Church, we need to be modeling and equipping proper attitudes about the arts as a vital aspect of imitating God, both to artists and audiences.

v Theatre, and the appreciation thereof, need to be seen as worship.

v Performance and appreciation of so-called “secular” art can result in a better understanding of our God, our selves and our world.

Imitating the first and greatest artist needs no justification. With imitation of the creative nature of God as our purpose, we need not come up with further justification for the arts. They don’t need to “reach the lost” or “fill church seats”. The arts are a good thing to do, because God does them. Period. More often than not, other derivative benefits become evident: the building of community, the exploration of truth, the portrayal of ideas and concepts that cannot be captured in direct communication, however, there need not be tangible or measurable goals at the outset of an artistic journey.


v There should not have to be a measurable outcome to efforts put into artistic expression.

v Arts ministries should be giving all people, not just those talented enough to be in “productions”, the opportunity to explore the arts

v Theatre, sculpture, dance, poetry, literature and the appreciation thereof need to be seen as worship, as much as music.

The power of the arts is in the processing of abstract truths contained therein. If you’re reading the Cliff Notes to The Great Gatsby, you’re missing out on one of the most enriching journeys into truth that American literature has to offer. The power of the arts comes in the wrestling with ideas and concepts contained therein. Therefore, when we read the notes about a novel or explain the meaning of a song or dramatic piece we are short- circuiting that “wrestling” process. A famous French painter said “Once I understand a work of art, it is dead to me.” The joy and strength of the arts is the exploratory nature of them. If we say “Today we’re going to be talking about how sometimes communication in family can break down and it looks something like this…” and then follow it with a drama about communication breaking down, then we have short-circuited the process. There’s no reason to do the drama once you’ve revealed the purpose. But if people must connect the dots themselves, they will feel that much more “connected” with the ideas being presented. This concept, of letting the art speak for itself, requires faith. Faith in our audience; that they are not morons. Faith in our art; that it is powerful and accessible enough for people to enter into the journey. And faith in the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that worked in the artists, inspiring them to create the work of art, can and will work in the hearts of the audience to interpret the art. Therefore:

v Arts pieces should not be explained to the congregation.

v Dramas should stand alone to some extent and have the capacity to explore truth without a sermon to “finish the job” for them.

v Drama can complement the truths of the message, exploring abstractly what the message explores more directly, but the benefits of the abstract approach to truth are stifled by direct exposition about their meaning.

All endeavors, including artistic ones, will only please God if accomplished with love and community. St. Augustine states that God’s image was perfect in man before The Fall. And that sin shattered that image into a million pieces. We each now carry a broken portion of that image and when we work in community we’re allowed to put our pieces together and better reflect His image through us.


v While we will not proclaim the Discovery Theatre Arts Team to be a small group, we will endeavor to uphold each other in needs mental, emotional and spiritual.

v We commit to treating each other, and teams with which we work, with respect and compassion. We will be prompt, organized, prepared, and professional to the best of our ability.

1 comment:

Stephen Nettles said...

I really appreciate this piece. I'm going to present this to some of the YWAM folks and people at my church. I think this is what Christian theater should be. It's nice to find the, I guess manifesto might be the right word, that I've been looking for so long.