by Joe Caddy
The Salvation Army has long understood how music and fine arts can provide an effective medium to present the gospel in a way that resonates with all types of audiences. Over the years the Army also has invested in effective summer camp ministries which not only give campers an opportunity to commune with nature but to draw closer to God.
Over the past couple of summers, these two important ministries have combined in a new way as summer camp staffs have implemented an imaginative presentation model known as Jesus Theatre which uses the creative arts to present the Good News in a visual and creative way leading to an invitation to accept Christ.
Originally created for use in Salvation Army camp ministries in the Eastern Territory, Jesus Theatre utilizes a mix of theater and movement set to music. Camp staff spend time learning and rehearsing the 30-minute piece during their orientation and present it to campers throughout the summer.
Whether it is the piece titled “Balloons” which was performed at camps in summer 2016 or “Under Construction” which has been featured this summer, each Jesus Theatre presentation contains a symbolic representation of the entire gospel story from creation to salvation to regeneration.
By utilizing a cast comprised of camp staff members, Jesus Theatre also provides counselors and program staff the opportunity to take a greater role in the spiritual development of their campers. Cast members effectively serve as ministers of the gospel and their participation in the production often opens lines of communication for them to engage in meaningful conversations with their campers about Christ and His teachings.
While Jesus Theatre was created with camp ministry in mind, it also can be an effective means of presenting the gospel in corps as demonstrated by the Creative Arts Service Team (CAST). Over the past two summers, CAST has performed an adapted version of the show as part of vacation Bible schools, day camps, and evangelistic campaigns throughout the territory. In July 2017 members of CAST and the Bill Booth Theater Company combined to present Jesus Theatre in Spanish while on a short-term mission trip in Argentina.
While producing a Jesus Theatre piece requires time, effort and imagination by the cast, the key to the presentation’s effectiveness lies in the cast’s capacity to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Each presentation ends with a choice to accept God’s gift of salvation. So far, the response has been overwhelming.
“Jesus Theatre allowed us to set the spiritual tone on the first night of each camp,” explained Major Cyndi Shiels, former Kansas and Western divisional youth secretary. “It was effective in delivering the gospel in a powerful way which spoke to all age groups. I believe this impacted all areas of our camping program in a great way.”