ARTS & How 2 Broadway Actors are Using It To Connect People with Scripture.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: A former client, Presbyterian pastor Jason Tucker, has created with a colleague an engaging and highly practical podcast titled: Reclaimed Leader. Check out this sample episode, which interviews two Broadway-experienced actors and how they are using their talents to make the Scriptures come alive.

Episode 61: Stephen and Juliette Trafton – Living Letters

We all know that stories are powerful.  It’s the reason people lean-in when they hear, “Let me tell you a story.”  Stories shape us.  They make meaning.  They entertain us.  They connect us with one another.  And, we remember them, sometimes for decades after we’ve heard them.  It’s no accident that God inspired the format of scripture to be, primarily, story.

Stephen and Juliette are two successful Broadway actors who started their own ministry of performing the letters of Paul and the Book of Ruth. Today they talk about the transformational power of story, embodying scripture, and the role of the arts in the local church.

Welcome to Episode 61! (iTunes link)

Episode Summary and Timestamps:

The Bright Lights of Broadway

  • Stephen and Juliette share the stories of their journey as actors which led them to Broadway, married life, and then to a growing sense of call to ministry through their local church. 00:05:30
  • They share about the ‘myth of making it’ and the identity and self-worth issues that can often accompany life as an actor. 00:12:00

The Growing Call to Ministry

  • Stephen shares about his journey from Broadway to a small group for actors at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC that helped shape a growing sense of call to ministry.  God gave Stephen a vision for helping bring scripture to life through Living Letters – using theater and imagination to invite the congregation into the experience of the original hearers. 00:15:00

The Role of Arts in the Church

  • Juliette shares a vision for an experience of the gathered church that engages all of the senses in order to fully capture hearts and minds.  Engaging the imagination, the emotions, and the intellect can help the story of scripture come alive for people. 00:22:00
  • Stephen reflects on the arts represented in the Bible and how they worked to shape the people and can have the same shaping effect today. 00:24:30

ARTS & Are Christians Addicted to Mediocrity in the Arts? #FrankySchaeffer

by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., 6/12/15.

Sometimes my students will note that they use the creative arts, such as drama, in their churches.  And this is good.  I certainly think drama can be a creative avenue for ministry.  In fact, most of my readers probably do not know that I have written over three dozen plays, and helped raise money for a Christian retreat center in Indiana through sold-out plays for over a decade.  I stopped directing my plays in the last few years due to the leading of our Lord and the popularity of my books which have given me a forum to talk about church management issues on a national level.

However, I am honored that one of my daughters, Kelly is a graduate of a Christian graduate school where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in theatre (she already has a BA in drama).  However, Kelly said something that struck me.  She said that her theatre friends did not respect church theatre because it was of poor quality. This got me thinking, and I think she may be right.

The reason I bring this up is because we often let people act in drama ministries because they are willing … and not necessarily talented.  The same way that we screen and mentor singers and musicians to ensure we have gifted people; I would like to suggest we mentor and disciple people with theatrical talent to ensure that our ministry honors our talented Creator.  As Franky Schaeffer said, back in 1981 we may be “addicted to mediocrity in the arts” (Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to mediocrity: 20th century Christians and the arts, 1981).

So try applying the same rigorous selection process to the drama areas as you do music, and I am confident our musical prowess can rival our musical competence.

And to stay attune to quality in various arts, why not try the following exercise?  In many of the arts such as music, leaders often visit opera, classical recitals, jazz improvisations, rock concerts, etc. in order to be exposed to quality music.  These actions kept them from being too accustomed to the mediocrity that often over time crops up in churches.  Now, I am not suggesting you (or they) uncritically attend all musical concerts, but that you pick musical expressions such as Christian concerts of various styles, classical expressions by Christian composers such as Bach, Mendelssohn, etc., etc..

So to get you thinking about this, let me tender a question.  When was the last you visited live theatre?  And, what was the quality?  Was it performed by amateurs or by professionals?  And, what ideas did it give you regarding improving the quality of the dramatic arts in our churches?

Here to get you thinking 🙂

PS See these posts for samples my students have submitted of Christians exemplifying excellence in the arts:

> ARTS & An Example of Creativity – The Salvation Army ‘Steel Drum’ Band

PREACHING & Why/How Paul’s Letters Were Performed by a Reader in Public #ScotMcKnight

by: Scot McKnight, 6/11/15.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 5.37.27 AMIn a previous post I observed that Paul’s letters were not read by individuals but performed by a reader (or lector). The lector didn’t read a letter of Paul cold on the spot but instead would have been given instructions (by Paul and his co-workers). In fact, it would not have been unusual for the lectors to have prepared and performed the letter in advance — or a number of times, perhaps rehearsing the letter’s performance a few times. None of this, of course, is discussed by Paul in his letters but he does mention couriers and reading (e.g., Rom 16; Col 4).

Though this helps explain Lucy Peppiatt’s theory about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, the post today is about performance in the world of Paul and is based on the excellent sketch of memorized speech-making by William D. Shiell, in a book called Delivering from Memory: The Effect of Performance on the Early Christian Audience (Eugene: Pickwick, 2011). Shiell is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church Tallahassee. His work is rooted in the excellent work on rhetoric by George A. Kennedy.

Some are calling this “performance criticism,” and perhaps America’s best-known expert is David Rhoads. The facts/details about performance are based on ancient rhetorical handbooks. I don’t know anyone who thinks Paul was trained as a rhetor or a lector, but the reality is that most in the Roman and Jewish worlds would have experienced trained rhetors on a common basis — the public square. Thus, those who “read” Paul’s letters aloud would have “performed” them on the basis of experiencing other lectors/rhetors. None of this stretches evidence and is therefore valuable for learning to “hear” Paul’s letters as they were meant to be heard for he wrote them to be read in the congregation’s public gatherings (Col 4:16).

To quote Shiell, “In Hellenistic Jewish and Greco-Roman audiences, the performer and the audience were shaped together by the recitation [or reading], retention, and response to the performance” (7). Furthermore, “Prior to performance, the reader practices, remembers, retains, and paraphrases the reading” (8). [Is it possible that what we now know as text-critical variants began at the original performance?]

Here are some clear texts about public reading of letters: Acts 15:31; 1 Thess 5:27; Col 4:16; Luke 4:17-20; 1 Tim 4:13-16.

On performance, notice these texts: Acts 12:17; 13:16; 19:33; 21:40; 23:1, 6; 24:10; 26:1.

On audiences, here: Acts 2:37; 19:28; 26:24; 2 Tim 3:16…

Read more at … http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/06/11/performing-a-pauline-letter/

FACILITIES & The 7 Don’ts & 7 Do’s of Building

by Bob Whitesel. (Download the chapter HERE: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – GROWTH BY ACCIDENT Missteps with New Facilities 2. If you like the insights please support publisher and author by buying a copy here. Excerpted from Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Church, Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 76-80.)

1.  Don’t build too soon. Oftentimes a rented or paid-for facility will be less expensive to operate than a new facility. Though architects often laud cost savings of new facilities, they may require large unforeseen expenditures. Repairing a boiler in an existing facility might cost $8,000 to $10,000. But in a new facility, the same size of congregation might have to pay twice to three times that amount. And though a builder/architect may suggest that this would not happen for years, it happened with in the first five years at Mt Sinai. Thus, building cautiously and patiently can help generate a fiscal reserve.

2.  Don’t build too big. Under advice of their architect/builder, and based upon their own overly optimistic projections, the church leaders built a facility that was oversized for their congregation, and their budget. We saw in Chapter 2 how multiple weekend celebrations can give the church more options for attracting community residents. And the four Sunday services at Mt. Sinai provided this benefit. Yet naively, the leaders decided to hold one large combined church service in the new facility. Thus, robbing the Sunday services of their flexibility and convenience, they undermined their attendance. “We all agreed we wanted everyone together, and only one service was the way to do it,” recollected Tim. “But we didn’t expect such a drop-off in attendance.”

3. Don’t build without flexibility. Renovated and rented facilities had given Mt. Zion Church needed flexibility. If they needed to change their usage or space requirements, a different site could be rented. And due to the cramped facilities, multi-functional areas were mandated. But when the new facility was built, many ministries were segregated into activity-specific spaces. Immovable pews were installed in the auditorium, small classrooms were designed, separated by load-bearing cement walls. Since church members were tired of years of cramped and communal space, they tried to give everyone their own area in the new facility. “Everyone was going to have their own rooms at last,” mused Tim. But creating these private enclaves weakened the flexibility that had contributed to growth.

4. Don’t use a plateaued church for your model. Mt. Zion’s leaders had visited several seemingly successful churches in the region. Unfortunately, they did not ask if these churches were plateaued or declining. Of the five churches they visited, two were declining and two were plateaued. But their impressive facilities kept Mt. Zion’s leaders from looking closer. The architect/builder who had designed the lone growing church was rejected in Tim’s words as “too wild for us, it looks like a mall.”

5. Don’t build in a detached location. The building site was an area where many of the leaders would have liked to live and worship. But unlike their first facility (and the rented spaces downtown) it lacked visibility. “It was on a moderately traveled road,” suggested Tim. “But it was across town from the main highway. I really wish we had built adjacent to Route 20.” Visibility is one of the keys to outreach. But unfortunately, churches often link their destiny to a parcel of land that is convenient for current attendees, but in a detached location that slows or undercuts growth.

6. Don’t forget to get information from the right experts. Church leaders thought they were getting the best advice available when they hired the architect/builder of another large and prestigious church. In fact, he had built dozens of churches. But because most of the churches in America are declining or plateaued, the architect/builder was inadvertently experienced in building facilities that contributed to church plateaus and/or declinations.

7. Don’t expect new facilities to increase the church’s attendance. Related to errors two and six above, this must be mentioned again because it is so prevalent in the sales pitch of many architects/builders. As I noted earlier Christians are an optimistic lot. And in my experience architect/builders succumb to this malady just as easily. Together they can give overly aggressive projections. “The architect advised us on church growth projections. He said a new facility would increase our attendance by 10-15 percent,” recalled Tim. “He said they were based on his company’s history. But now I question his figures.” While architects and builders are experts in legal codes, and civil engineering; few are acquainted with the principles and strategies of church growth.

Seven Do’s When Building a Facility

Each of the above Seven Errors have a positive alternative. I have labeled these corrective steps the “Seven Dos When Building a Facility.”

Corrective Step 1. Do wait longer than you think you should before you build. This may require restraint, but waiting can help you further define your needs and objectives. Patience also allows fiscal swings to moderate and more precise financial projections to be created. More money can be set aside for savings as well. Finally, cautious and unhurried behavior allows you to plan your future more precisely.

Corrective Step 2.  Do build a smaller sized auditorium, leaving room for expansion. Creating spaces where everyone can worship simultaneously may not be needed (combined “unity” gatherings can be held in rented facilities[i]), nor wise (we saw in Chapter 2 that multiple celebration options allow us to reach a greater percentage of a community).

Corrective Step 3.  Do create flexibility in your facility, to compensate for the smaller size. Though a smaller facility can cause tension and minor friction, it can lead to creativity. And, sharing facilities forces an expanding congregation to interact and work out this conflict, thus creating interaction between potentially divisive groups.[ii] Designing flexible spaces also provides adaptability for future programming.

Corrective Step 4.  Do use a larger, but growing church as your model. Don’t let impressive facilities and/or reputations dissuade you from discovering if your model church is growing. Ask yourself, does the architect/builder build growing churches or plateaued/declining ones? In addition, ask the architect/builder for references and interview former clients. Ask the references if they feel the facilities have hindered growth to any degree.

Corrective Step 5.  Do build in a visible location. For unchurched and dechurched people accessibility is essential. Robert Schuller tells how fellow clergypersons extended to him their condolences when he could find no other facility to rent other than a drive-in theatre. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” Schuller replied. “The Orange Drive-In Theatre is right on the Santa Ana Freeway, and that’s the heaviest traveled road in the State of California. … Nobody has a better road leading up to their front door than I do! And you have to have a road leading up to your front door before you need a building.”[iii]

Corrective Step 6.  Do get advice from the right experts. Seek out architect/builders who build malls, theatres, and colleges rather than churches. Churches are often designed with a formulaic look and inadequate flexibility. Here I cannot fault architect/builders too much. Most of their church building experience revolves around aging congregations, who are building smaller facilities or merging. As such, these architects have little experience with facilities that foster connectedness and growth. Today, the architects of malls and shopping centers are becoming the designers of connectedness in America. Malls have replaced the streets of small town America as the venue for meeting people and relationship building. One young teenager confided, “It’s at the mall where I feel at home with my friends. There’s a coffee bar, comfortable couches, TVs, a fountain, and lots of people hanging out. It sure beats church.” Unfortunately, the church is being beat by the sense of community created by many of these retail environments. Where once it was said, “I met my spouse at church,” too often today it is heard, “I met my spouse at the mall.”

Corrective Step 7.  Do plan on the size of your church to plateau or even decline moderately after a building project. Change always brings about tension, and as a result polarization between the status quo and change proponents often erupts. In the second book of this series, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It [iv] I explained how you can avoid the polarization that often arises between these groups. But because change is unavoidable, tension will be encountered. Therefore the tension involved in moving into new facilities does not usually grow a church. And because some people find this change especially jarring, they look for a congregation more in keeping with their former church experience. Thus, a decline should be anticipated in budget and usage projections. Hiring an expert in church growth can be expeditious for realistic planning. The American Society for Church Growth (www.ascg.org) lists dozens of church growth consultants trained and skilled in helping churches navigate the precipitous waters of growth, change, and facility expansion.

Read more in Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Church

[i] For ideas on “unity celebrations” that can unify churches with multiple weekend worship options, see “Unity Building Exercises” in A House Divided, p. 187.

[ii] See the second book in this series, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It, to discover how to keep your people from coalescing into factions.

[iii] Robert H. Schuller, Your Church Has A Fantastic Future (Ventura, Calif.” Regal Books, 1986), p. 286.

[iv] Bob Whitesel, Staying Power, op. cit.