What do you do after you use theater and drama in youth ministry?
The show is over. The curtain is down. Everybody and the youth are gone. It’s quiet in the sanctuary or theater or youth room. It’s a weird feeling to be at the end of a giant project, or even a small one, and not know what to do with yourself. In ministry, there is a deeper longing: a longing to see everybody know and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, so you begin to doubt. You ask yourself, “Did it help? Was it worth it?” And then, “Now what?”
We find ourselves wrapped up in the very real temptation of measuring the success of a ministry tool against…well, against our own ability to wield it. “Was the message clear? Did the audience get it? Will they come back?” Remember: theater and drama ministry, as any Christ-based ministry, is not about us. God is faithful to do what He has promised in His Word. God, too, will call upon you to continue to participate in the relationships that have been formed as a result of using theater and drama in youth ministry. And now, at the end of the production process, God even invites you to rest. Bury yourself in the Word, and find peace in His presence alone. Ask yourself again the question, “What now?” Let’s answer this question with intentionality.
The first and most important thing to remember when coming to the end of a theater and drama production (whether it be specifically designed by and for youth or by and for adults) is that this was never about us in the first place. Jesus commanded us to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). He is the one who does the work in the hearts of men. He comes to us in His Word and sacraments, and we are instructed to go and share this news with a lost world. As you close your production, or as you put away the skits and lesson books, remember what His Word says: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). What a beautiful promise He has made, and He will keep it!
Consider the audience. What about those we don’t see on a regular basis after the production, or may never see again? It’s an overwhelming task sometimes to be responsible for loving strangers in Jesus Christ’s name, but He has not abandoned them. This is why it’s so good to remember that Jesus Christ is the One who does the wonderful work in their hearts. He is responsible for their salvation and is the only one who can give it. At the same time, we also have the wonderful privilege of being intentional for these strangers. Here’s one example: provide your audience with resources. Most productions have programs with names of the actors, scene titles, and crew positions listed. Reserve a page for simple, Scripture-based discussion questions. Include a statement that encourages individuals to seek pastoral guidance. Assign chaplains to your theater and drama projects. Invite a pastor or a trusted deacon to pray over the production process on a regular basis. Ask these individuals to attend the performances and let the audience know that they are available to talk to and to pray with. You’ll be surprised at how many of your own cast and crew members come to lean on these faithful individuals, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
God calls you to participate in the relationships that have been formed as a result of using theater and drama in youth ministry. This might seem like a given. You serve in a church, and you probably see and will continue to see these youth on a regular basis. You might even be saying to yourself, “I’m only directing a skit for Vacation Bible School. How invested do I need to be in follow-up?” But, trust me. It’s more than just choosing whether or not to direct more plays or believing the skit for your toddler audience was important or even comprehended (remember, Jesus Christ does the work in the hearts of toddlers, too). It’s about addressing the fact that you’ve introduced Scripture to youth and in a way that is significantly impactful, and you’ve perhaps encouraged them to consider vocations in teaching, pastoral discipleship, or in Christian outreach. This absolutely requires a certain amount of follow-up.
In fact, not everybody considers the truth that there is an “after” to the end of a production. Most people assume that the end of a production means wrapping up, cleaning up, and locking up. But the difference between the ministry-related arts and secular arts is that there is a very valuable period of time following a production that involves far more than just counting the offering and washing the costumes. We’re not even talking about on-going networking, although it’s always important to have your next production (or skit or lesson) in mind. I’m talking about maintaining connections with the performers and giving them more opportunities to utilize their stage-found confidence. Invite them to come alongside you in teaching the younger children. In fact, if you can, approach them before the very last performance of your production while the interest is very high. Partner with Sunday School teachers, and direct the youth in on-going skits based on parables and Bible stories. It doesn’t take much to do this. All you really need is a narrator to read the Bible stories and a few youth actors to perform them. Not only do many youth have a natural desire to teach somebody something they know, but the children watching them have a natural desire to imitate those who are older than themselves. The youth will witness first-hand the child-like faith of those they are teaching and perhaps begin to see for themselves the importance of and the need for Christian education.
There’s also another kind of relationship that deserves attention: the kind that comes unexpectedly, the kind that comes with serving youth in today’s culture, the kind that is potentially and prayerfully eternal. A few years into my directing of theater and drama ministry, I had a theater student that only participated in our program for one year. He was a senior in high school, and he was a kind, talented, intelligent young man. He was deeply loved by all of those participating, and he had a heart for the tasks we were trying to accomplish. And yet, he was struggling with something inside himself. He finally told me that he could no longer be a part of our theater and drama ministry team because he had been fighting homosexual desires. A lot of conversation, some tears, and a great deal of listening happened around this decision, but I loved him through it, and I agreed that his decision to step away from Christian ministry was wise until some of these issues could be dealt with.
Years later, via social media, I discovered that he had moved to California to train in music, and that he was intentionally living with another man. He, at one point, had become “engaged,” though I do not believe he followed through with this decision. Not long ago, during the Christmas season, he wrote to me. I hadn’t heard from him in years, despite my reaching out, and it surprised me. He simply said, “I heard the Christmas music in the car the other day, the music we used in the Christmas play I was in. Whenever I hear that album, I remember. I will always remember you and the ministry when I hear these songs.”
Wow. To this day I’m overwhelmed by the power of Jesus, His story, and His Word. I pray for this young man often, and it is my prayer that he will always know that there is a God who patiently pursues his heart. I also pray that because we had formed a significant relationship through a difficult time, and because he had heard the Gospel on stage and in song (and still hears it, praise God), that the Lord will remind him that he has at least one friend who will unashamedly, unapologetically point him to Jesus Christ, and that he has one God, by grace through faith, who has redeemed him for all eternity. Pray for wisdom in these moments. They will come.
Finally, at the end of your full-length production or your small Sunday School skit or your simple youth gathering lesson, God invites you to rest. He knows, more than anybody, the stress of ministry and the pressures that come with it. You need prayer. You need spiritual support. You need a vacation. You need spiritual nourishment, physical rest, and a social outing that doesn’t require the use of an agenda. Give yourself permission to go away from the crowds, just as Jesus did. Whether you are the type of director who feeds off of the activity and thrives on the rush of production, or the type who fears it all, rest is so very important. Give yourself time to grieve the end, to anticipate the new and the next, and to spend quiet time in Scripture and in prayer for no other reason than to be fed. Don’t do research. Don’t think too hard about how this or that or the other Bible verse could have been better communicated on stage or by a particular actor. Remember my first point: God will do the work in the hearts of men. Now, He wants to minister to you. He gave Himself for you, and He loves you beyond comprehension. Believe and rest, then quietly whisper and pray and proclaim this glorious truth: to God be the glory! Amen.
Photo by andrebog at Morguefile.com