BETHANY BIBLE COLLEGE
The Uses of Drama and Storytelling
BY: PHILIP SMITH
SPO # 187
Introduction to Christian Education
Dr. Cynthia Brown
December 11, 2000
In a world so full of fast paced media, glitz, and glamour, the church can find itself in a precarious position. When it comes to teaching the truth of the scriptures, how can the church keep up with society? How can the church effectively minister to and educate its people? The answer to these questions may well be found in the art of drama and storytelling. Thus, the primary focus of this research paper will be to answer the question How can drama and storytelling be used effectively in today s Christian Education? First, there must be an inclusive study of the distinctives of each type of educational tool. Second, there must be an understanding of why these tools might be so effective. And thirdly, the presentation of these tools must be looked at. And then, if the conclusion that these educational tools are effective is found at the end of this research document, then they must be encouraged and implemented in our churches today!
It would seem reasonable to first take a look at the art of storytelling, since it naturally comes before the other arts like drama and role-playing. But first, what is storytelling? Well, it is really a combination of several things. First, it is a ministry. Yes, people are ministered to through the telling of (biblical or otherwise) stories. It is a unlimited way of portraying the truths of the bible to the listeners. Second, it is a message. Whatever is contained in the story should a message wrapped in an attractive package, easily assimilated and digested. (Barrett 1960, 12) Thirdly, it is a picture that is painted with selectively chosen words that produce a desired effect. And lastly, it is work. It is generally well known that one hour of preparation is required for every one minute of production. Telling stories is not easy but the hard work is worth it. (Barrett 1960, 12)
There are basically three elements to storytelling: One, the speaker, two, the story itself, and three, the audience. If a person has numbers one and two, the third is easy to come by! (Barrett 1960, 14) Storytelling is referred to as an art because it takes practice. It is a way of expressing one s ideas to a higher degree. It is something that needs to be learned and prepared for. The best storytellers are those that love people. For it is the love for the audience that brings out the most in a story. (Barrett 1960, 13)
When one looks at the traditional classroom, they think of students sitting in neatly lined up rows of desks and chairs that are quietly and patiently listening. Or at least that would be the ideal classroom. However, research shows that children learn at a much faster pace and on a larger scale when they are encouraged to participate in the learning activity. (Bolton 1972, 91) Storytelling is just one of the avenues in which students can participate in the learning activity. As another author describes it, storytelling is a sharing experience. (Baker 1977, 17) Storytelling is a way of heightening ones awareness to the situation presented to them. People are more apt to listen and tune in during storytelling times. (Baker 1977, 17) Baker adds on a few pages later that storytelling encourages the art of listening. And everyone knows what happens when people listen they learn. (Baker 1977, 20)
Storytelling is not just a catalyst for listening people. Storytelling is also a benefit spiritually to both those who are preparing the story and for those who will be listening to it. While the student or teacher prepares the story, they are firming their own knowledge of the biblical story in their minds. (Bolton 1972, 94)
Drama is also an educational tool that can be used in ministry. It naturally comes after storytelling, since its whole foundation is based on storytelling itself. Drama is primarily a glorified form of storytelling. However, drama doesn t always have to be the big, Hollywood type of production that many are familiar with. Starting small can be the best way to get things going. (Litherland 1988, 3)
Drama provides a unique opportunity to experience events in the life of another person. (Bolton 1972, 127) Particularly in life s earlier years, children have an advantage over adults. The imagination of a child is usually limitless, and allows for them to easily place themselves in the same situation as the person being presented through the drama. Drama is also a way for children to understand things like love, anger, and kindness, because children tend to learn these types of things through what they experience. Drama, of course, is something that everyone can experience together. (Bolton 1972, 127)
The verse that directly supports drama is nowhere to be found in the Bible. However, that verse really isn t needed. The whole of the Old Testament could be the scripts for many nighttime soap operas, sitcoms, and dramatic series. The Bible is clearly a very dramatic story. What better way to teach about this dramatic story than through drama? (Bolte 1987, 14)
Unlike storytelling, drama can better be suited to the age group it is being presented to. For most situations, there are three groups of people: Adults, youth, and children. Let s look at each group individually. First, adults may find it easiest to begin a drama by first involving each person by reading through the scripture or the text. This is referred to as chorale reading. Then choose people for specific roles that they can be identified with. It is known that adults enjoy portraying a character that they can identify with more than those that they cannot identify with. (Litherland 1988, 6)
Next is the youth. Most youth respond well with other dramatic devices like reader s theatre, short skits, and monologues. Teens also seem to enjoy improvisational drama, which gets the teens acting out on the spot. This encourages them to participate without preparation and to use their knowledge of the biblical text together. (Litherland 1988, 13)
Lastly are the children. The children also enjoy drama, although they may be less able to participate than the other groups. Colourful costumes, puppets, and people acting out of character are all ways to keep the attention of children and teach them lessons through drama. (Bolton 1988, 15)
So how can these educational tools be put to use? There are a number of ways for each one. First let s take a look at the art of storytelling:
Whether the group is large or small, storytelling is effective. Smaller groups can be helpful in creating a closer, more intimate atmosphere, while larger groups can be helpful in creating a sense of family or togetherness. (Baker 1977, 64)
At times of storytelling with children it is often effective to use what is known as the Wishing Candle. This is a candle that is lit at the beginning of the story, and blown out at the conclusion of it. This candle helps initiate a mood or setting for the listeners. It also signifies a period of time in which no one speaks except for the storyteller.(Baker 1977, 65)
Baker also mentions numerous helpful tips in presenting a story to a group, such as: Only break eye contact from the audience when you yourself are imagining the scene taking place. Speak in pleasant, low voices that make the listener want to pay closer attention. Speak lowly enough that the listeners must almost strain to hear you. And gestures, when used, should be natural, and only exaggerated when appropriate. (Baker 1977, 58)
There are several different forms of drama that can be used in Christian Education. First there is the traditional role-playing. This involves less people, but helps the persons being involved to connect with the role he is playing. The person begins to understand what that person must be going through. Role-playing does not necessarily require things like costumes or props. It simply requires an imagination and a willingness to subject oneself to the feelings or emotions the character being played would most likely experience. (Bolton 1972, 132)
Other types of drama are chorale reading, as mentioned earlier, and puppet plays. There are other types of drama that can be used, but are far less popular in today s culture and will not be mentioned. However, puppet plays can be extremely useful in education children with biblical truths. They are easy to obtain, the children enjoy them, and it gives the children an avenue once again to use their imaginations. (Bolton 1972, 134)
It has been clearly shown that both storytelling and drama are viable and effective way to minister and educate Christians today. Yes, the world surrounding the church today is fast paced. It is full of glitz and glamour. But the church does not need to be overwhelmed and defeated by that. The church can rise up and minister to people just as effectively through tools like storytelling and drama as the media and the fast paced society can ruin people. Through these two effective ways of ministry, people will be attracted to the church, beckoned to pay attention, and ministered to through the truth of the gospel.
So, are these tools effective ways of ministering and educating people? You had better believe it! Are they needed in today s church to effectively teach the gospel of Jesus Christ? Of course. Do churches need to be encouraged to use storytelling and drama in their Sunday schools, worship services, and small groups? Yes. Storytelling and drama are two of the most effective ways of ministering to and educating people in today s society.REFERENCE LIST
Baker, Augusta, and Ellin Greene. 1977. Storytelling: Art and Technique. New York: R. R. Bowker Company.
Barrett, Ethel. 1960. Storytelling: It s Easy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
Bolton, Barbara J. 1972. Ways to Help Them Learn. Glendale: G/L Publications.
Ison, Colleen. 1993. Skits That Teach Children. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing.