Church as a Holy Drama

One of the difficult practices that has saved my bacon on more than one occasion—even though it is challenging to do—is that I’ve refused to be told by those who steward our church’s finances who it is that gives to our church financially, how much they give, and who doesn’t give.

I simply can’t handle the knowledge.

There are two basic reasons I’ve recused myself from such information. First, and foremost, money has a very powerful way of clouding the way a pastor thinks about people.

I don’t want to paint all pastors as the same. But, I think all pastors are the same.

When, and if, a person of great means enters into our worshipping communities, we are, as pastors, most likely to find out about it at some juncture. And that knowledge can cause us—whether we’re aware of it or not—to act differently toward these people. I’m almost certain that is why the apostle James so quickly says that we must not give preferential treatment to the rich in our communities. The commandment was for the pastors, indeed.

Secondly, one’s giving record does not equal one’s importance in God’s Kingdom. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has not only a value, but a part to play in a local church. Anything that gets in the way of helping people find their value and place in God’s community is a roadblock from hell. I don’t ever want to put people in a position because of their giving record.

The Church is a holy drama

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis taps into this idea quite strongly as he speaks of the life of the living God:

In Christianity, God is not a static thing…but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life almost like a drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.

Certainly it is not only fair but also important that we come to see the life of God as a kind of dance, or movement, or drama; so likewise, we might add, is the proclamation of the good news in the world.

Any good drama has a cast, a script, a director, and an audience. As we watch the gospel being proclaimed through the narrative of Acts, Luke is quick to point out that it is a gospel proclaimed from the communal perspective of the “we.”; it rejects the vantage point of the individual alone. “We” preached Jesus, “we” traveled to this city, “we” saw this healing. Why would this be important for Luke? Kevin Vanhoozer has suggested that, in line with Luke’s desire for a corporate witness, the church is in its realest sense a kind of play or theatrical performance; the church as a holy drama.

It a drama with all of the parts working together. God is our director, the Scripture are our script (what Vanhoozer calls the “dramatic fittingness”), the church is the players, and the world is the theatre looking on. The church’s task, in this light, is not to be altogether innovative or provocative; rather, it is the task of the church, Vanhoozer suggests, to keep in step with the Spirit to live the script well. To press further, is it really possible for us to even think the mission of God can be done individually in the same way Oklahoma could be done as a one-person monologue?

No. The church’s mission, like a play, can only be lived out in community and no other context is given in the gospel narratives (John 13:34-35; 15:12; 17:11, 20-26). This creates a context for differing communities to riff, or improve—again, given they are faithful to the main story. Each community may live out the gospel uniquely, so long as it is within the faithful bounds of gospel orthodoxy.

Participation, not observation

Such a vision effectively undermines any relationship with the church based on observation, rather, it requires participation. All actors are needed for a show to work. Of course, the New Testament never instructs us that one’s salvation through the work of Jesus is primarily initiated out so they might ‘go to church.’

Church attendance, as such, is not a fruit of the Spirit. Yes, Scripture admonishes us to continue “gathering together” and for a very important purpose. Jesus said his followers were “born again” into the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). This is a call to participation, not one to passive observation. And it is in playing the part the Spirit has given to us that the church is able to perform the gospel.

For church planters, the importance must be placed on listening to the director. And the director will always remind us that a community is formed and forged by all kinds of people—people behind the scenes, those who make the stage, light people, and the actors.

As a practice, try this: find one person, one who is willing, who does not exhibit all the classic leadership qualities, and help them find their place.

  • Help the introvert start a church library.
  • Help the computer geek start a church blog.
  • Help the divorced father connect with other divorced fathers for a dinner.
  • Help the person who can’t preach find good resources for you to preach.

As we help others discover their part in the play, their role, they will learn to know the Director in a whole new way.

Become a V3 Church Planter.

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Image credit Andy Roberts.

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AJ Swoboda
Dr. A. J. Swoboda is a professor, author and pastor. He teaches theology, biblical studies, and Christian history at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. He is also the author of A Glorious Dark, a blogger and a frequent contributor to a number of publication. He serves as a pastor at Theophilus and lives with his wife and son just down the road from Hot Lips Pizza in urban Portland.
AJ Swoboda

4 Comments

  1. Arlene Rauen Jul 18, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for the good reminder of lifting people up & getting back to the basics of helping people connect and find their place in the body…Awesome read and pass -er-on-er!!

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