As Drew Archer contemplated how to pay for his seminary tuition several years ago, he turned to an unexpected skillset.
After seeing a production of “The Gospel of Mark” in New York City by Christian dramatist Max McLean, he was inspired to learn and perform the one-man, Scripture-driven show himself. He saw it as an opportunity to both advance the Gospel and help him earn money for tuition in settings ranging from churches to coffee shops to parks.
But Archer is no newcomer to acting. He and his wife met as theater majors in college and then moved on to professional acting careers that had them crisscrossing the country for a decade, including a stint in New York City.
When he decided to pursue ministry and enroll in seminary in 2012, it seemed natural to find a way to join his two loves: theatrical performance and God’s Word.
He was drawn to “The Gospel of Mark” for its solitary focus on Scripture. “I thought it was really powerful,” said Archer. “Having to process large portions of Scripture all at once really helps us listen to what the Bible is saying.”
Archer, who currently serves as assistant pastor of St. Paul’s Presbyterian (PCA) in Atlanta, notes that the Gospels were originally heard all at once. He recently launched TheaTheos, a performing arts ministry overseen by St. Paul’s, as an outreach and teaching tool for churches. TheaTheos performances offer a new way to experience Scripture, and especially attract those who might not normally come to church.
He relates the story of some agnostic and atheistic friends he knew through the theater world who came to his performance at a Charleston church. “They came because of me,” said Archer. “They listened to me recite the Gospel for 90 minutes. If we can build relationships in that way, empathy grows. People say, ‘I want to know what you care about.’”
This may be the real value in TheaTheos performances of Scriptures — bridging the gap so that churched and unchurched alike can experience the Gospel’s unvarnished power.
Hearing the Word Anew
St. Paul’s Presbyterian’s senior pastor, Tolivar Wills, has seen firsthand the effect of Archer’s performances. He witnessed reactions of passers-by when Archer performed “The Gospel of Mark” on Atlanta’s Beltline walking trail recently. “People were transfixed,” said Wills. “You could tell this was not like anything they had ever seen.”
He noted that long readings from Scripture affect us in ways we can’t completely articulate. “Many responded with gratitude, and some were shocked,” said Wills. “‘Why is this doing this to me?’”
Archer’s performance of Scripture is powerful, Wills says, because it connects with us on a deep level. It’s not just what Archer says as he performs, but also what he doesn’t say. There are long pauses, body language cues, and a physical presence of emotion. “It’s beautiful,” says Wills.
Archer knows that his performances reach people because of the source material. He enjoys the process of studying a script and trying to understand character motivations and emotional connections, which is what he has been doing for 20 years in the theater. But his work with TheaTheos offers one clear distinction. “With the Bible, you have a good text all the time.”
To learn more about TheaTheos visit TheaTheos.com.