Role-playing Teaches

Do-it-yourself drama is one noun-phrase definition for role-play. Verb definitions include my own: Assume the position, knowledge level, physical ability, attitude, time, and space of another person in real or hypothetical situations for learning purposes. This definition fits nicely with the twenty-first-century concept of Sabbath School classes as training groups that develop profitable connections for Christ with the world around them, using the Holy Spirit’s leading in the Sabbath School lessons.

Teachers in all educational settings know that not all students appreciate role-playing. However, team players can enthusiastically support other class members who need or enjoy this experiential learning approach, and this, in turn, supplements their own traditional learning methods. How? By observing the role-play and participating in the discussion that must always follow a role-play.

Whether the role-play session is impromptu or has been rehearsed, these steps increase the success and enjoyment for all class members:

  • Establish a serious atmosphere. The situations and persons typified should be the types that participants could encounter in real life. Then role-plays can help students be more effective Christians.
  • Role-play facilitators must be comfortable in that role. This is not so much what the facilitator says or does but the aura of acceptance with imperfect attempts. To increase their own comfort level, role-play facilitators can practice with another person outside the classroom.
  • Maintain control. Avoid the extremes, entertainment and fantasy on the one hand and perfectionism and unrealistic expectations on the other.
  • Break the ice. We’re familiar with the use of icebreakers, and that principle is often called “warming-up” in the role-playing arena. The facilitator warms the group by interviewing each of the players in their role and involving them imaginatively in the situation. So every member is involved in the warming-up process, either as role-player or observer. Or put the entire class into pairs, small groups, or solo role-plays to reduce the embarrassment factor, “Everyone is looking at me.” In a group of three, for example, two people are role-players and the third is their sole observer.

Note: Warming up exercises consume no more than three or four minutes of class time.

Warming-up Activities:
Reversing roles for a second go-round increases the learning.

  • Solo or in pairs: Sixty-second Ingathering. Solo players seek to hold the attention of one of the following invisible people who answer the doorbell: a newly married woman, a man recovering from a beating by muggers, a grumpy senior citizen, a hostile 10-year-old, a vivacious teen. In pairs, one player is the Ingatherer and the partner answers the door.
  • Solo: God’s butterfly: The role-player pretends to be a caterpillar who progresses to spinning a cocoon that encloses it, the tube splitting, and emerging through the crack as a beautiful butterfly.

Realistic role-play prepares Sabbath School members for adversity without losing faith in God:

  • Their witness is rejected. How can they regroup or move on?
  • Witnessing contacts dislike them or are just mean in general. Can they change their approach, or should they just forget the incident?
  • Fixes haven’t resolved problems. Do they persist with the issue, or the person, or both? How? Or, if they should let go, how?

Number one. Remember that the number one fear of many adults in learning situations is the fear of appearing to be foolish or stupid. Even when they need and want clarification, they may be ashamed or afraid to ask for it. Role-plays provide a good “cover” for getting help with difficulties they are facing.

Number two. Role-playing can give people an opportunity to experience new situations in a safe environment and to stretch their ability to reason by being exposed to more seasoned or more mature thinking patterns.

Let’s Role-play!
Class facilitators must realize that they know more than other participants about the specific role-play and what they hope to accomplish. Facilitators must help class members lead guests and those who haven’t studied the lesson in the direction of the lesson principles: 

1. The traditional idea about role-playing is that a leader provides a written scenario that participants are to enact. The resource for role-plays in this section is the Sabbath School lesson for discussion on December 10, 2005.

WARM-UP: Three-minute Ingathering

Scenario 1: Is This Love?
Unknown to his mother, the live-at-home father of a young teen has been demanding that he become a bag man for his drug trade. The teen’s mother has been an active church member for the past six years. The teen has been active in the Sabbath School and the Pathfinder program of your church for this entire period. The Sabbath School superintendent has been the “adopted” grandmother for the teen, his mother, and younger sister for the past five years. The superintendent has observed the teen’s frustration and fearfulness. Not knowing the facts, she tries to get him to open up. They are walking in the city park after a light snowfall on a Sunday afternoon. Roles: teen, superintendent.

Scenario 2: Love ’Em But Leave ’Em
1. The parents of a young adult are delighted that their daughter has “cleaned up her act”—no more purple hair or Gothic clothing, and her “even stranger-looking friends” have parted her company. They rejoice that she is now working within her field of study and that her relationship with them is sweet and supportive. They are happy that the young adult Adventists found her in her former lifestyle and walked her into newness of life; however, they resent their religion, especially Saturday observance. The parents are nagging their daughter to sever all relations with the Seventh-day Adventist young adults and her new church and to build a network of Catholic friends and a Catholic worship regimen.
Role-play Option 1: A young adult Adventist friend, the daughter.
Role-play Option 2: The daughter, and her Catholic father or mother.
Role-play Option 3: The daughter meets with two Adventists to explain her belief that she should return to the church of her childhood to please her parents.

2. There are variations to role-plays that offer new insights. Picture-based role-playing is an interesting option. The resource is the lesson for discussion on December 17.

WARM UP: Participants are asked to look at a picture of a person taken from a magazine or other source and to feel with that person. The plus for this option is that they can put themselves and their feelings into their comments without exposing themselves.

Picture 1: A person who appears to be fretting over grave issues.
Picture 2: A person in the forefront is rejoicing while a person or animal behind or on the left side of this person is visibly angry. Focus on the joyful person and then on the angry person or animal.

Sneaky Pete: A radiant thirty-something Christian, third-generation Adventist, expends much of his/her time and resources to support the new local church. This person has had a spotless reputation, but within a month he/she has been falsely accused of embezzlement by his/her employer and making sexual advances to a member’s spouse. He/she is devastated and confides in the pastor/pastor’s wife. Roles: The victim and the counselor.

Missing the Point: After eight months of legal investigation and malicious gossip, the Christian in Scenario 1 has been exonerated of both charges. At prayer meeting, he tells of the ordeal and his increased faith in God. After the service, a person who is currently taking Bible studies confides to the Christian in the parking lot: “What kind of God would allow such a good person to suffer like this?” Roles: The Christian and the Bible student.

3. Role-plays can help twenty-first-century Christians and unchurched people better understand biblical characters’ frame of reference for their messages. The resource for this series is the lesson to be discussed on December 24.

WARM UP: Three-minute Ingathering (Let’s Role-play, section one.)

Scenario 1: Getting the Point
A church member’s son reads with his friend the story of Ephesians 6:13-17 from his Bible story book that has pictures of the armor. The friend’s father, a military man, sees the book and derides the story as “archaic and foolish.” The member’s son is very distressed by the words, tone, and body language of his friend’s father. He tells his father, who decides to enlighten the friend’s father about the role of the armor for Roman soldiers in Paul’s day and for men in 2005.
Role-play Option 1: Two fathers.
Role-play Option 2: Church father and his son.
Role-play Option 3: Church father and unchurched son.

Scenario 2: Sticking To It
A spiritually strong member talks to someone about Christian warfare.
Role-play Option 1: A young adult talks with a presumptuous church peer.
Role-play Option 2: A senior talks with a middle-aged new convert who confides about a struggle.
Role-play Option 3: A new convert talks with a long-time member who believes that the pastor has wronged him/her and wants to leave church fellowship.
Role-play Option 4: A member talks with peers who have separated after 15 months of marriage due to differences of opinion about information given at a seminar on music. Both partners are musicians. Both have been church members for more than 10 years.
Role-play Option 5: The same scenario as above except that the couple at odds are to be married in the spring.

Faith Johnson Crumbly
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists