Organizing Youth-led Drama

Youth — here I’m thinking mostly of seventh through 12th grade students — are prime candidates to “star” in chancel dramas, dramatic choral reading, readers’ theatre, and other dramatic activities that can clarify and amplify the message of the Gospel in the context of the worship service. Like other fine and performing arts — such as music, poetry, dance, painting, sculpting, etc. — drama, used in the service of the Gospel, has a powerful impact on both audience and actors. Dramatic reading of Biblical texts gives young people an opportunity for service to the congregation. Additionally, dramatic presentations of Biblical texts will help people better understand, remember, and react to the proclamation of the Gospel.

Here are two simple dramatic activities that youth can do along with some suggestions for laypeople and church work professionals regarding writing and directing of dramatic readings.


Reading of the Scriptures

Perhaps the easiest way to incorporate drama in a worship service is to start with the dramatic reading of the Scripture lessons assigned for the Sunday worship service.

The lessons for each Sunday are usually taken from a specific series of readings that can be found in the front of the hymnal or from a series like the Revised Common Lectionary. In either case, the lessons for every Sunday and church festival are predictable so that one can “script” and plan a dramatic reading well in advance of any service. Select a Scripture passage and type it into a Biblical search Web site (for example, Lutheran Hour Ministries “Search the Bible” site at Type the passage in the search box, click on the “Look Up” box; highlight the passage and copy it; paste it to a word processing document; finally, edit the “script” into a dramatic reading, adding movement and voice emphasis directions as in the following example:

A Dramatic Reading for four readers based on Psalm 98:

Reader 1:  (With enthusiasm and strength) Sing! Sing to the LORD!
Reader 2:  Sing a new song to the LORD!
Reader 3:  For He has done marvelous things;
Reader 4:  His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him. (Raise hands to heaven.)

ALL:        Sing to the Lord a new song!
Reader 1: The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations!
Reader 2:  He has remembered His love and His faithfulness to the house of Israel!
Reader 3:  He has shown His salvation to the ends of the earth! (Open arms toward audience.)

ALL:        Sing to the Lord a new song!
Reader 4:  Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth!  (Speaking with strong voice — not yelling.)
Reader 1:  Burst into jubilant song with music of the harp, (Increase volume with this each of the following three phrases.)
Reader 2:  With sound of singing,
Reader 3:  With trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn —

ALL:       Shout for joy before the Lord, the King!
Reader 4:  Shout with joy before the Lord and sing. Sing a new song!
Reader 1:  Let the sea and everything in it resound.
Reader 2:  Let the world and all who are in it be found rejoicing.
Reader 3:  Let the rivers clap their hands, (all clap hands once on each of the words: “rivers, clap, hands”.)
Reader 4:  Let ev’ry mountain that stands on the earth sing joyfully before the LORD!

ALL:     For He comes to judge the earth in righteousness!
Reader 1:  He comes to judge the peoples with equity.
Reader 2:  Glory be to the Father  (All point to sky.)
Reader 3:  And to the Son (All point to the ground.)
Reader 4:  And to the Holy Spirit; (All point from side to side to complete sign of the cross.)
Reader 1:  As it was in the beginning, (Fold hands in prayer, bow head slightly.)
Reader 2:  Is now,
Reader 3:  And will be forever,

ALL:  (Open hands up to heaven — look up to heaven and shout.) Amen! Sing! Sing to the Lord a new song!

Try reading the above example aloud and imagine how it might sound as read by four people. Now consider how you would:

(1) recruit volunteers to read;
(2) organize a rehearsal;
(3) read though the script;
(4) incorporate gestures and facial expressions;
(5) position the readers in the chancel;
(6) use microphones to amplify the actors;
(7) establish a time to go through the reading before the service.

Also, you will have to insist that the actors know the “script” well enough so they are not stuck in it, but can look at the congregation as they speak. They don’t have to memorize the script (although that would be desirable), but they should make the script “their own” by rehearsing it enough so they are not bound to it.

A Dramatic Story Reading from the Scripture

Here’s the story of the Magi put into a script format — a few words were changed to help the flow of dialogue. By using a “character” approach to the reading, the effect on the listeners, from both visual and auditory standpoints, is significantly improved. Additionally, this approach allows more young people to become active participants in worship. You might also consider costuming the readers if you have the time and resources to do so. Using the same cut and paste technique described before, take a Biblical story and assign “parts” to a cast as follows:

The Visit of the Magi
A Script from the Scriptures based on Matthew 2:1-12
Cast: Three Narrators; Three Magi; Herod; Two Priests

1. Narrator 1:  After Jesus was born in
Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to

Jerusalem and asked…

2. Magi 1:  Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?

3. Magi 2:  We saw his star in the east…

4. Magi 3:  And have come to worship him.

5. Narrator 2:  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all

Jerusalem with him.

6. Narrator 3:  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them:

7. Herod:  Where is the Christ to be born?

8. All Priests and Scribes (in unison): In
Bethlehem in

9. Narrator 1:  They replied,

10. All Priests and Scribes (in unison): For this is what was written by the prophet Micah:

11. Priest 1:  “But you,
Bethlehem, in the
land of
Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of


12. Priest 2:  For out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people


13. Narrator 2: Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to

Bethlehem and said,

14. Herod:  Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.

15. Narrator 3:  After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.

16. Narrator 1:  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

17. Narrator 3:  Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold…

18. Narrator 1:  And of incense…

19. Narrator 2: And of myrrh.

20. Narrator 3:  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod…

21. All Narrators (in unison): They returned to their country by another route.

These two simple examples have, of course, many variations.  Below you will find a list of resources that can help you expand, plan, and incorporate more dramatic activities in your congregation’s worship life.  God’s blessings to you as you help your church’s “young and restless” actors proclaim the Good News.


Burkart, Jeffrey E. (1995) “Man Overboard!”: A Musical based on the Book of Jonah.  Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis. #97-6521.

Burkart, Jeffrey E. (1995) “From Pinocchio to Christmas Eve: Drama in Our Lutheran School” New Dimensions, Vol. 4, No. 1, Fall. Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis.

Burkart, Jeffrey E. (1996)  Sure Can Use a Little Good News: 12 Gospel Plays in Rhyme. Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis. #12-3357.

Burkart, Jeffrey E. (1997) Using Drama in School Chapel Services; or, Finding the “Script” in Scripture.  Lutheran Education, Vol. 133, No. 1, Sept./Oct. 1997.

Burkart, Jeffrey E. (1999)  “Don’t Get Burned!” An Old Testament Rhymed Musical based on Daniel 3 (The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace). Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis.  #97-6852.

Burkart, Jeffrey E. (2000)  Drama in the Life of the Church: A Plea for “Equal Time” for Grace Notes, Newsletter of The Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM).  Vol. XVI, No. 3, June 2000.

Eggebrecht, David W. (2004) Spirit in Drama. Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis #53-1111.

Hass, Jane, editor (1994) Adventures with Demetrius the Donkey: 33 Puppet Plays for Worship with Children.  Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis #12-3202.

Intermission Scripts (Various Authors – 1999) – Short, Bible-based, Topical Dramas.  For a list of scripts, contact Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO at the address below.

Nadasdy, Dean (1996) Cross Views: Story Dramas that Teach the Faith. Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis  #12-3355.

Rucker, Robert M. (1993) Producing and Directing Drama for the Church.  Lillenas Publishing Co.: Kansas City, MO #MP-681.

Schroeder, Theodore W. (1996) 15 Life-Related Dramas. Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis #12-32-93.

Schroeder, Theodore W. (1997) The Pilgrim Path: 5 Discipleship Dramas.  Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis #12-3328.

Vogel, Larry (1998) Fearless Pharaoh FooFoo and Other Dramas for Children.  Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis #12-3380.

Some Publishers of Religious Dramas:

Baker’s Plays  (Ask for: Catalog of Religious Plays)
100 Chauncy St., Boston, MA 02111, (717) 482-1280

Concordia Publishing House
3558 S. Jefferson Ave., St. Louis, MO 63118-3968 Phone: 1-800-325-3040; Fax: 1-314-268-1329. Place orders via e-mail:

Contemporary Drama Service
Box 7710-Y, Colorado Springs, CO 80933 Phone: 1-800-937-5297

Lillenas Drama Resources
PO Box 419527, Kansas City, MO 64141 Phone:  816-931-1900; Order: 1-800-877-0700; Fax: 816-412-8390;

Published June 2005

Published June 1, 2005

About the author

Dr. Jeffrey E. Burkart, Associate Dean of the College of Vocation and Ministry and Professor of Educational Media-Communications at Concordia University, St. Paul, MN, is a nationally known teacher, author, speaker, dramatist, and musician who has given over 2,000 presentation and has more than 150 publications including books, articles, plays, Christian musicals, spiritual songs, hymns, CD recordings, videos and films.
View more from Jeffrey

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