I’ve always believed that if you’re going to present drama in a worship setting, you need to do it as well as possible, for two reasons. First, we’re presenting it to Jesus, and He deserves our best. I still believe that. I also believed, though, that in our modern world, people would see through bad drama in an instant and shut it off, and we’d have lost the opportunity to touch hearts. I had that belief challenged in a major way this week.

My friend Heidi and I (another drama team member) went to see a play called Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames at a local church. You may have heard of this – it’s been around since something like 1979.  A ministry team comes in and uses church volunteers to put on this play. They rehearse for two days, and present it over three nights. The idea is to scare the hell out of people (literally).

Well, of course the acting was awful. How could it not be, when you take untrained volunteers and give them two days to learn an hour+ play? The script was pretty bad, too. In scene after scene, a good guy (ie – Christian) and a bad guy (ie – heathen) are standing around talking about why the heathen won’t accept Christ, then some horrible accident befalls them (these became more and more unbelievable as the evening went on) and they end up standing at the gates of heaven, where the Christian is welcomed by Jesus, and the heathen is dragged kicking and screaming into hell. This might have been interesting once. After an hour, it became quite monotonous.

At the end, the director comes out and makes an impassioned plea for people to come to Jesus. Here’s what shocked Heidi and me – the night we were there, over 40 people went forward to the altar. Apparantly they’d had similar results the night before. And I just don’t get it. It really shook up what I’ve believed about drama ministry. If shlock gets results, why not just present shlock?

I’ve spent two days thinking about this, and after working through my initial defensiveness, here’s the conclusions I’ve come to. Sure, it’s possible to scare people into the kingdom of heaven, but do you really want to? I guess it works as a starting point – and I hope many of those 40+ people will move forward from their walk to the altar Monday night – but when you’re facing trials on earth, you need more to hang onto than the fact that you won’t end up in hell. You need a person to cling to. We have that in Jesus, but there was next to nothing mentioned in this play about why you’d want to turn to Him. The only scene that was watchable was the one where a man mentioned to his friend that he’d seen a change in him since he’d become a Christian, that he smiled a lot more.

I guess the play was the dramatic equivalent of fire and brimstone preachers, tent revivals and stereotypical screaming Christians. Maybe some people enjoy that. I don’t get it.

For me, I’m settled in my mind to continue with what I’m doing. Maybe I don’t see the numbers, but I do see the light that goes on in people’s eyes when they catch onto some small part of how Jesus can make a difference in their lives. I’ll take that.