Students use pottery, drama to illustrate God's Word
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--For two students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary the arts are a valuable method to introduce the gospel and illustrate principles from God's word.
"I realize that when God gives us gifts and abilities he calls us to use those gifts for him. It's important that I be faithful in using those abilities that he's entrusted me with," says Mark Nickens.
Nickens and fellow student Steven Cole have found ways to use their abilities to visually illustrate the truth of Scripture. Nickens uses pottery to explain how God shapes and molds people, while Cole's dramatic portrayal of the Last Supper reflects the authentic emotion and humanity of Jesus and his disciples.
"Several years ago God showed me how he could use my pottery to show people what he was saying in the Bible," said Nickens, a Ph.D. student and a professional potter. "I realize that when God gives us gifts and abilities he calls us to use those gifts for him. I think that God has given me the talent of making pottery and I want to be faithful in using that."
With Jeremiah 18 as his text, Nickens demonstrates to groups how to make a pot and then explains the spiritual applications that God was drawing with that process.
He recalls, "I was struggling with the concept of emptying myself yet being filled with Christ. One day as I was working I realized that was really what I was doing with the clay. I was hollowing out the clay from the center, actually emptying its own material from it, and then remaking it and using it for a new purpose."
The spiritual lessons Nickens learns from his pottery are the ones he shares with the groups that he speaks with.
Nickens said he wants people who hear his object lesson to understand the idea of centering. The process of "centering" is an essential one for making a strong pot. It involves smoothing the clay to make it moldable and bringing it into alignment.
Calling this the "process of preparation," Nickens said, "I need to work out things that don't belong in the clay, and add the water that needs to be on the clay for it to be moldable. I think God goes through a similar process with us -- removing the things that harm us and adding qualities that will strengthen us."
Just as this is one of the hardest parts of pottery, Nickens noted, "Sometimes it is awfully hard to stay centered on God and to get rid of the things that harm the person. Leaving the inconsistencies in the clay will harm the pot, and leaving those damaging things like worry or anger in our lives will lessen our usefulness to God. But it is so important that we allow God to lay a foundation for his work and allow him to build us in whatever shape he pleases."
Nickens wants people to understand the importance of staying focused on God., "When a person gets knocked off-center and loses that focus, the struggle begins."
Just as Nickens creates a variety of objects out of the clay, such as bowls, vases or cups, he said, "As created beings, it's not ours to know what the end product in our life will be. Our only responsibility is to be faithful along the way and submit ourselves to God's shaping."
The germ of the idea for this object lesson began three or four years ago, and Nickens' presentation has been evolving ever since.
"The more I do it, the more insight I have. God teaches me through my work, and he'll also speak to other people through my words. They'll come up to me after the program and talk to me about what applications they took from what they saw me doing. It may not have been something that I even knew I said, but it made a difference to those people. If that lesson strikes me, too, I try to incorporate it more purposefully in my next presentation."
Nickens said, "I'm actually terrified of speaking in public, so I have to rely on God using my words to impact people."
Preferring groups older than junior high age, he said, "I've done this for groups ranging from eight people to 250 people. I'm happy to do it anywhere."
Although he has a professional pottery business, Nickens does not try to sell his product through these presentations. He is considering ways to leave the people with a tactile reminder of God's role as a potter in their lives.
"This is such a visual subject, and I would like to be able to give them something to prompt their memories."
Dramatic ability has allowed Steven Cole, a master of divinity student on the Louisville, Ky., campus of Southern Seminary, to recreate the Last Supper for congregations.
"There's something really powerful about the dramatization of the Word. It speaks straight to the heart, bypassing the head which sometimes gets in the way," said Cole, who has been using drama in the church since 1976.
To portray the meeting of Christ and his disciples, Cole has taken a compilation of the Scripture passages that retell the happenings of the Last Supper and developed them into a script. He also has taken historical facts regarding the disciples and scripted them to introduce those characters to the congregation. The script that Cole works with is one that he has adapted from a previous presentation used by his father and a former pastor of Cole's.
After the church has selected twelve men to portray the disciples, Cole then gives scripts to them and goes through a dress rehearsal with the men before the service.
"I think seeing the meal take place makes it less of a story and more of a real happening. People can relate to the emotions that are taking place between Jesus and his followers," Cole believes.
This has also helped Cole realize the historical nature of those experiences. Cole said, "Since I'm portraying Jesus, I have to think about how he felt knowing that the passion was approaching, knowing what was coming and knowing how little his disciples understood. The humanity of Christ has been brought to life for me."
It excites him to know that God is using Cole's surrendered acting abilities to reach out to people. He recalls one year where he returned to a church after presenting the dramatization in the same church the year before. A man at that church who was portraying one of the disciples was "a huge mountain of a man who didn't look like he would willingly volunteer to be on a stage in front of people.
"I asked him why he was taking part in this, and he told me that last year when we had presented this drama he had accepted Christ as his savior," Cole said.
"That bowled me over."
In addition, Cole said, "One of the most powerful things involving a great deal of ministry happens within the group of men portraying the disciples. This is often a cross-generational group, and for many it is the first time that they're embracing each other, touching each other, as was the custom in Jesus' day. It can bring about a deepening of relationship for those men."