The Arts In Worship: Theater
I love words, beauty, and a sucker for a good story. As a believer, one of the most compelling aspects of the gospel (the story of Christ and his people) is the depth and simplicity of the story's details. Like any good book, the reader can trace the narrative within the gospel story. By tracing our testimony (i.e., our lives lived) and our emotions within the words of scripture, we can increase our ability to recognize the feelings of those around us. Therefore, allowing us to see that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. As leaders in churches, we are responsible for being a connection place between God and man. There are many ways to connect, and one of the ways we can teach our congregation to see these connectors is to expose them to live theater in our worship gatherings.
I will never forget the afternoon that I saw the famous musical, Dear Even Hanson¹. The theater was packed, and every corner was waiting for the heroin to enter, donning a cast. My ears had heard some of the music; still, this music left my mind detached from the story's context. I had no idea amid this theater — I would find God. Taken with the themes of depression and suicide — I wept with strangers. I wrestled with my emotions, causing me to love my family deeper and embrace the humanity of those around me with both tears and a smile. I heard God speaking in that theater, and the truth of his love crashed over me wave after wave.
“Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground.
You will be found!
So let the sun come streaming in.
Because you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found!” — Dear Evan Hanson (Benj Pasek; Justin Paul)²
I've always known that an emotional connection is essential. Still, after that day — something changed, and I began to bleed, connecting people to Christ artistically, a link or common theme in scripture. A secular theatre experience opened my mind to an entirely new reality. I had just sat through the Gospel story, connected to the heart of God, and I knew people deserved to hear the word of God told through this theatrical lens.
Throughout the Bible, we can see that Jesus was a prolific storyteller. When Jesus spoke in parables (stories), such as in Matthew 13, he used the vernacular of everyday life, which caught many people's attention. He met them in their reality, with their words, and shined a light on a walking path. One of Jesus' most powerful tools in ministry was getting people to a new reality in Him. One reason to add theater to our worship gatherings is to shine this unique light to help illuminate our congregants' paths. We show them the way to walk, proving that they are not alone in their feelings or struggles. We teach them how to rejoice and how to grieve. We illuminate God's hand in every season of life by creating connectors between the actors and our congregations through the narrative.
Life is messy; we as humans need more than the false imaginations showcased in movies or the lofty words on a page (often merely someone else's story); we can profit from the living words laid out before us. Our stories, loving God, and forgiveness are entirely covered in grace. With theater — we take up residence within the moment created. Actors portray fresh, emotional performances in real-time right in front of us. Therefore, serving as a reminder that the word of God (the story of God) will cut to the very core of our being, where soul and spirit, bone, and marrow meet! It interprets and reveals our hearts' honest thoughts and secret motives while giving us the physical reality of someone bearing witness to God. Ultimately emphasizing what we are asking our congregants to do — bear witness to God in the day-to-day journey of life.