Quality vs. Inclusion: A Drama Coordinator’s Conundrum

When I travel the world conducting drama seminars and negotiating mid-East peace agreements, one of the things I’m always asked is how to build a drama team that emphasizes a quality product on-stage while still being inclusive of those who may not yet be quality products on-stage.

Okay, so I don’t travel the world and I’ve never been to the middle East (although I did once negotiate a peace agreement between the GI Joes and Transformers in my back yard.) I can say, though, as both a worship pastor and drama coordinator, that unless your church is in that top 1% blessed with Broadway actors, you probably have to walk the tightrope between quality and inclusion. As for the other 99% of us, we have to use who we have — dramatists that range from “A” quality actors/actresses, down to the “Let’s find a different ministry for you” folks. We all feel pressured to use our best people week in and week out, but often this leaves us with little energy or time to invest in the ones who have heart and potential, but who need more repetitions and work to develop their skills.

So, how do we incorporate these folks into the big picture while still offering our best on Sunday? While I don’t claim to have THE answer, I can offer some ideas from my own experiences…

#1. Set a standard.

If there’s anything that we can learn from American Idol, it’s this: everyone has a different standard of excellence. The same guy who’s been told his whole life how great a vocalist he is can find himself mocked off the stage when he stands in front of a group of judges with a vastly different standard than his parents/friends. As leaders, our first job is to define reality, and these are sometimes the most painful, yet productive, conversations that we can have. There’s nothing I hate more than telling an actor or actress that, while I appreciate their willingness to serve, I can’t use them at their current skill level. I’ll always follow this with some recommendations for growth and learning and an invitation to come re-audition, but there’s a bigger picture at stake here, and as the leader, it’s my job to create and protect the culture of our drama ministry; this begins by defining the standard itself.

#2. Develop a farm system.

In professional sports, teams have layers of opportunity for players to grow in their skills; it’s called their farm system. Unless you’re a prodigy, you’re probably starting out in ‘single A’ and working your way through the system. In many ways, we can develop our own farm systems, by incorporating drama at the various levels (i.e. children’s ministry, youth ministry, ‘outreach’ drama team, etc.), and bringing some intentionality to how we train folks (especially students) in these areas.

#3. Get creative with opportunities.

Video bumpers, dessert theatres, creative announcements…these are just a few ways that you can include more of your drama folks into the life of your church. For many of our “work in progress”-type people, simply getting more reps will build the confidence required to make an improvement. With film, you can always do another take. With dessert theatres and special drama showcase nights, you can include the goofy with the profound and build some team community in the process.

#4. Take your planning to the next level.

Many times, we find ourselves using the same “A” level actors over and over again because we’re always on a tight schedule, and we don’t have time to prep our up-and-comers. Often, better planning = more inclusion. Sometimes this has to be communicated up the chain of command, but consistent “last minute” planning is the death of building a long-term thriving drama ministry.

The truth of the matter is that we were all bad at some point until someone poured into our lives and gave us some reps; and in Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul reminds us that this is the core of our job as ministers and leaders – “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”; it’s a messy and divine venture, but it’s worth the effort.

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