What’s wrong with drama at VBS?

Drama, acting, plays… they seem to have become an integral part of most Vacation Bible School programs, Sabbath Schools, and even Christian day schools.

A well-performed skit, play, or movie can certainly elicit a strong response. Drama has power; there is no doubt.

Is it best?

Some would even say it is a great way to reach people “where they are at” — that is, in their current tastes, views, and desires — but is drama really as profitable as its high praise would deem it? Does it really belong in our child evangelism and children’s ministry efforts?

What's wrong with drama at VBS? | Hasten Home [image: boy dressed as Bible-times shepherd]

Understand, the question with drama is not “Can it work?” but “Is it best?”

I would like to propose that our Sabbath Schools, our Vacation Bible Schools — our child evangelism efforts and our lives as Christians, in general — would be better off without the use of drama.

So, what exactly is wrong with drama?

By the end of this post, you will have a good idea what is wrong with drama as a whole. (Although I will leave it up to you to decide exactly where to draw the line, the intent and focus of this post is primarily on children acting out Bible stories for an audience in a church-like setting.)

Then next time, we will discuss what you can do instead and what is so right with the alternatives.

Note: If you currently feel that the use of drama in child evangelism and children’s ministry is helpful, my hope and prayer is that this post will give you a better understanding of the “other side of the story.” I hope you will read through and at least prayerfully consider the thoughts here.

On the other hand, if you already agree with me that drama is not the best tool for our work, I hope this will strengthen and reaffirm your convictions. Studying for and praying about this post certainly did just that for me.

Okay, let’s jump in.

True… but not

Many Christians are keenly aware that worldly drama is the devil’s ground. Movies, the theater, common plays, popular music videos… tend to reek with low morals and jabs at the Creator and His government. Those should be obvious.

By beholding, we are changed.

Garbage in, garbage out. So keep the garbage out, right?

What about drama with “good” morals, though? Or to take it closer to home for child evangelism: what about drama that tells the stories we want every child to hear?

The problem is, by acting the stories out, we are creating a situation where we are sharing something that is true, but not. (Hear me out.)

The story really happened— but it is not really happening.

This person really did that— but this is not really that person.

That person really said that— but we don’t know for sure that that is how they said it; we just think maybe…

You get the idea?

Sure, as adults, we have something of an ability to differentiate those things and to reason them out on an intellectual level; but have you ever read an intense book, watched an emotional movie, got caught up in an intriguing play? Have you noticed that your mind and emotions can get very involved in spite of yourself?

Have you noticed how even after it is over, you feel like you left a bit of yourself behind? How you sometimes have to remind yourself, “It was just a story”?

For the children, simple in their understandings and unhardened by time, that reaction tends to be much more intense — and that distinction much harder to make.

Who is Jesus?

This post has been on my heart for a long time now. A couple years ago, I was reading a beautiful post by Stephanie of Beyond Christian Platitudes. It really touched me. I felt like, in a way, it summed up the point of this whole thing: we want to know Jesus; we want the children to know Jesus — really and truly.

With her permission, I share a paragraph from “Praying Mondays: To KNOW” here:

Jesus…even ushering His name brings me butterflies. That may seem strange to you, but it does. Butterflies and tears. I tried watching The Bible series last night on the History channel. Seeing a man acting the part of someone you hold in your person doesn’t do it justice. The actors and effects were great. They stuck to the story line pretty well. But I just could not connect with the character of Jesus. It’s like watching your spouse in a movie, knowing it is not them, and not being able to attach and love them the same. That was not my Jesus…you can not recreate Jesus. Not in a character. I did not want to take what I have come to know and love in pieces and put it together complete in that movie. The pieces did not fit. I will keep my pieces of certainty of the person of Jesus and wait to see Him return and know completely then. Until then…I keep gathering what He shows me, feeling His presence in me and see Him in action through the rest of His Body. THAT I can love and attach to…hearing His voice in the quiet, seeing Him in others and joy springing up with a passionate connection to Jesus in another. That gives me butterflies….

Jesus is God embodied. The Divine Word expressed. The Law of Love, in the flesh.

Our whole calling is to reflect that same image — but we see through a glass, darkly. Our vision is imperfect — shining more and more unto the perfect day, yes, but still growing.

Herein lies one problem with acting out Bible stories, specifically: modeling the character of Jesus. He is the perfect One to emulate — and yet, honestly, how perfectly is a mere human going to reenact the words, the actions, the manner of Christ? It is impossible to do without tainting His image with our own preconceived ideas and experiences.

"There was no falsity, no acting, in what he did." [What's wrong with drama at VBS? | Hasten Home]

“There was no falsity, no acting, in what he did.”

We will never do the part justice.

And if we ever did, guess who would be likely to get the glory? It might have been the furthest thing from the actor’s mind; it might have been an unintentional transfer on the part of the one offering the praise; but there is a very good chance the actor will come away with the glory.

We must be guarded, for Satan is determined, if possible, to intermingle with religious services his evil influence. Let there be no theatrical display, for this will not help to strengthen belief in the Word of God. Rather, it will divert attention to the human instrument. (Selected Messages, Volume 2, pg. 23)

The bad guy

Then there is the other side of the story: the bad guy.

All the “best” stories have one, right? The Bible is full of them, even: Cain, Pharaoh, Balaam, Pilate, Judas, Ananias, Lucipher himself… They are there for a reason. Humanity at its heart is corrupt. We are warned by their poor choices.

Consider this, though: if we are going to act out a Bible story with conflict (as nearly all of them have), who is going to be the bad guy?

By beholding, we are changed. Pretend play is powerful practice for children. It stretches their young minds to consider options they have; it encourages them to find their God-given talents and dreams. It strengthens their desires.

Men are influenced by their own words.
-Ellen G. White

By beholding even — or perhaps, especially — our own words and actions, we are changed.

Why practice being on the enemy’s side? Why encourage the thought that acting sinful is fun?

Blurring the lines

As if that wasn’t bad enough, acting in itself tends to blur the lines of truthfulness. We talked about the viewer earlier, but what about the actors?

Have you ever caught a child lying, only to be told, “I was just kidding”? Have you ever heard a young person brag about being a “good actor” — meaning, “I have a knack for fooling people”?

Is that a Christ-like attitude?

The Lord has given evidence of his love for the world. There was no falsity, no acting, in what he did. He gave a living Gift, capable of suffering humiliation, neglect, shame, reproach. This Christ did that he might rescue the fallen. (Evangelism, pg. 267)

People trust those who are fully honest. And fully honest people tend to trust more fully.

There are plenty of better ways to get God’s message of love and salvation across. (We’ll get there shortly!) Why blur the lines?

The entertainment factor

Ah, entertainment. The curse of many a person’s existence. The threat to many a professed Christian’s devotional life.

And drama certainly feeds the desire to be entertained. I doubt many would argue with that.

When children (or adults, for that matter) sit in a church service and, five minutes in, proclaim, “This is boring!” there is a really good chance that child is used to being entertained.

Let’s define “entertainment” as a rather passive feeding of one’s desire for excitement or action. It is somewhat synonymous with “amusement” and not to be confused with refreshing recreation. Entertainment, as such, has an unrelenting tendency to dull our desire for holy things: Bible study, prayer, holy music — even good, hard work and evangelism.

Watching dramas of most any sort tends to make us want to be passive in our search for truth… if we continue to search at all.

And it tends to make us want more drama. Spurred by the thought of “That was a really good play,” a person may go in search of another Bible story or lesson acted out. Then the question arises, “What’s the difference between a Bible play and a Bible movie? More funding? Better actors? Why not?”

And the desire to soak in stories as a spectator strengthens.

Pretty soon, the search is for “good family movies.” “This one is good besides that little bit… that should be okay,” one reasons.

But…

The mind does not come down at once from purity and holiness to depravity, corruption, and crime. It takes time to degrade those formed in the image of God to the brutal or the satanic. By beholding, we become changed.
(Messages to Young People, pg. 282)

No, I’m not saying that everyone will take the same path. I am saying the temptation is there, and for some it is very, very strong — why encourage it?

Then going back to the actor’s side, there is the temptation to make people “enjoy” the story more. The untimely humor sneaks in. The variations from reality grow. Facts are twisted for effect. People become animals — or even vegetables. How ridiculous! And yet, you’ve seen it around… professing Godliness, no less.

And in all this, step by small step…

The sanctity of the Gospel is destroyed.

I hope nobody is willing to deny this much at this point: It may start innocent enough, but the direction of the sweeping tide is not good.

Drama, sooner or later, destroys the sanctity of the Gospel message.

Our God calls us to high aims:

But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
(1 Peter 1:15,16)

Everything — everything — we do in child evangelism is either going to uphold His holy character or it is going to mar His image on earth.

We cannot be on both sides of the fence.

What's wrong with drama at VBS? "As [God's chosen messengers] labor with simplicity, humility, and graceful dignity, avoiding everything of a theatrical nature, their work will make a lasting impression for good." - E.G. White

“[L]abor with simplicity, humility, and graceful dignity,”

Time

Putting on a decent skit or play for a Vacation Bible School closing program or a special church service or event requires a lot of time and effort. We do not want to be afraid to invest all the time it takes to give the children the best footing possible in their Christian experience. But is preparing for a dramatic theatrical display really the best use of our child evangelism time and effort?

I wholeheartedly believe the answer is “no.” Drama requires excessive preparation with little long-term benefit (if it doesn’t do absolute harm) to the spiritual life of the child. There are much better ways to invest our resources.

Consider the arguments

Consider the arguments against using drama in your child evangelism:

  • It blurs the lines of truth and reality.
  • It presents the problem of how to rightly represent Jesus.
  • It presents the converse problem of even having to represent the bad guys.
  • It tends to distract the worshiper from praise of God to praise of man.
  • It feeds the desire for entertainment.
  • It gradually destroys the sanctity of the Gospel.

This has been a lot to consider. Next time, let’s talk about what to do instead of skits and plays and such (there are lots of effective and enjoyable alternatives!) and talk about the beautiful benefits of these other approaches.

Ever onward and upward, friends — Hasten Home!

E.G. White quotes on theatrical display

Of special note to my Seventh-day Adventist brothers and sisters (and others who might be interested in some more thoughtful quotes on the topic):
Click here to download my pdf compilation: A Collection of Ellen G. White Quotes on Theatrical Display.


Comments

What’s wrong with drama at VBS? — 12 Comments

  1. I appreciate your intentionality. I first thought this post would be about VBS week’s themed around current tv or movie fads or such. I hate that. A few years ago my son went to a local VBS where I also volunteered and they did LifeWay’s VBS about Paul, but the beginning and ending large group dramas were about facing fears at a theme park – a character was afraid of the roller coaster. Even my child asked – What does that have to do with the Bible stuff? I also analyzed the present day fear that they explored – riding a roller coaster – is that a fear that is common – is that even a fear that needs to be conquered? You get it, I’m sure.
    Still, you have brought up many thoughts on the actual dramatization of Bible stories. I’m going to think on it. Are you willing to read a blog I wrote this year about my intentionality with choosing visuals?
    THANKS

    http://beingmissmelanie.com/2015/05/27/special-needs-a-visual/

    • Sure, Melanie. I will check out your post, too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Things have such a way of getting out of hand! I think when our children are even questioning our methods, it at least deserves prayerful review… and oftentimes, change. God bless you.

  2. Very well put together Sheila and thought provoking. Sometimes we think we need to modernize to keep up with “ever advancing humanity”. But it’s the same trap the Isrealites fell into…wanting something more to not look so odd to others. I think you’re right. And I think that as time nears for our Lord to appear, all these externals will have to be exterminated from our lives. Thank you for this.

    • You’re welcome, Victoria — and praise the Lord! 🙂 You have a good point about not wanting to “look so odd.” After all, we are called to be a peculiar people, representatives of our Father’s awesome majesty and holiness. It all deserves lots and lots of prayer!

  3. Very well written – and as you said, controversial.
    I love drama based on Bible stories and what it can offer. However, I agree, we must be careful in its presentation. Your post gives us much to think about.

    • I appreciate your comment, Sheryl. This admittedly is one of those slightly “grey” areas, where it is really important for each of us to prayerfully consider where to draw the line (and I believe, too, that sometimes even those lines can be situational) — and then to be true to that conviction unless and until the Lord sees fit to one day lead us in a bit of a different direction. God bless you, dear sister.

  4. Thought-provoking, Sheila. I try to be sensitive to the way the story is told in Christian drama to be sure that the Truth is presented without error. You are right, no drama can present perfect truth.

    But then I have to deal with the myriad of Bible translations hot there. Not many seem true to the oldest known scrolls. We have to trust that God’s hand is on His Word, protecting His Truth.

    • I absolutely agree, Sherry. Years ago I learned of the precious promise in Psalm 12: “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” I find that very reassuring. 🙂

      The honest in heart will find the Truth sooner or later.

      I also appreciate your commitment to truth. That has got to be a (the?) most important factor in Biblical drama, if it is to be performed.

  5. Excellent thought provoking and eye opening post. I agree with you Sheila and your points are true and on the mark. Children are fragile and the mind is critical in development. The drama brings confusion and leaves a void. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I’m a trained actor who actively teaches drama and works in ministry. Being someone who disagrees with the overall message of this post, I wanted to let you know that I did take time to read it. I have to say that understanding theater/drama as it is meant to be utilized and studying the art of it may help. Drama and theater is not a modern concept but an age old one that has been around since the Greeks. It is meant to hold a mirror up to society to reveal to people who they really are and hopefully incite in them a change. No actor out there is looking to deceive the world and really it is impossible as in a movie or play it is a given that they are “actors”. God has given us many beautiful things that seem to be solely for us to enjoy…like a sunset or sunrise, a beautiful butterfly that changes to remind us of the Resurrection. Ice cream and sweet things that are sweet like our salvation. Art in all its forms should remind us of the creator. When we participate in holy art we can experience the joy the creator feels in making something beautiful. We are glorifying Him when we offer it to His glory and do it within His service. I know you disagree. I honestly do not think most of the evangelism drama you see falls within the category I’m talking about. Most of the time it is more because parents want to see the kids “DO” something and often the scriptures are rewritten to be entertaining in a way that loses a lot of its beauty. If theater is done by trained individuals who understand it then the experience is different. Also I believe each rehearsal, each attempt to honor a character by understanding that character can lead us to a deeper understanding of the person (becoming more empathetic to others) and closer to God if properly led by a trained leader. This has been my experience (however with older students—middle/high school/college). Many of the movies/films about the life of Jesus I have not enjoyed. I agree that sometimes they fall short. I did enjoy The Passion of the Christ and felt it aided in my reflections on Christ’s suffering. I think the director, actors, writers and producers all have a role in that. Just because it falls short doesn’t mean it is thwarting our spirituality. I see a lot of Christian movies/plays etc. that have a good message and terrible acting or writing. Some that have a terrible script but great acting. Some that are very well done. I would say that like anything Drama can be used in a negative way or fail terribly but it is a tool…and is only going to be used for evil if the people who wield it are trying to use it for evil. I hope you will consider my statements even though I’m sure you may disagree with some of them. Blessings.

    • Thank you for your respectful and thorough response, Evie. I am happy to leave it here for others to consider. I guess in essence and practice I do agree with you that an intentional and tasteful drama can be a powerful force for good, as well. I still would recommend alternative methods as a rule and with the young children, especially; but I am actually very grateful for your well-articulated disagreement. May God bless you.

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