Casting the Bible: Bringing Faith to Life in Youth… | UMC YoungPeople
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April 2024

Casting the Bible: Bringing Faith to Life in Youth Ministry

By Mellissa Gepford

At a recent leadership retreat for high school students, I found myself at the crossroads of tradition and innovation in youth ministry. I was invited to preach a thirty-minute sermon on breaking down barriers and stereotypes, so I chose to embody that message. Instead of standing at the front of a room, forcing students to listen to me talk, I drew inspiration from the entertaining and thought-provoking Bible Binge (now Faith Adjacent) podcast. We were going to embrace a more interactive and engaging method to explore the scriptures together.

The Bible Binge takes a casual and conversational approach to classic Bible stories, treating them as if they were a book, movie, or TV show. The hosts, Knox and Jamie, provide fun commentary and historical context, injecting humor and relatability into the sacred narratives. To prevent unintended sacrilege, they bring in knowledgeable guest Erin at the end of each episode to add context. The result is an approachable and entertaining exploration of the Bible.

Over the years, I have laughed right along with them as they cast the Bible. The Voice of God is portrayed by James Earl Jones, the Serpent by Tilda Swinton, and Mary, Jesus’ mother, by Viola Davis – these choices breathe new life into familiar stories. Inspired by this, I decided to let the students take charge of casting characters during our time together.

Rather than lecturing, I introduced the concept by explaining stereotypical archetypes found in media. Characters like Princess Anna from Frozen as the Lover; T’Challa in Black Panther as the Hero; and Yoda in Star Wars as the Sage provided a foundation for understanding character roles. With this knowledge in hand, we read the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10. After a first glance at the text, the students divided into three groups and made their casting decisions.

The crowd, seemingly just extras in the story, was cast as the entire NBA and WNBA. Jesus, the enigmatic central figure, was portrayed by the imaginative choice of Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino). Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho, was humorously assigned to Danny DeVito - whom Knox and Jamie actually cast in the podcast!

As we recounted the narrative with these unconventional characters, something magical happened. The students were able to visualize the events, evoking a playful and silly energy into the text. The engagement level skyrocketed as they explored the story through a modern lens. Jesus passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus climbing a tree, and the subsequent dinner invitation took on a fresh perspective.

More importantly, the casting exercise facilitated deeper understanding. It allowed us to analyze character motivations and actions, prompting insightful discussions on the underlying messages of the story. Zacchaeus, originally perceived as a trickster, became a complex character undergoing transformation. The narrative unfolded with renewed relevance, showing Jesus inviting Zacchaeus not in spite of his actions but because of who he was—a child of God.

This practice isn’t just some one-hit wonder – it can be recycled with just about every Bible story. Casting the Bible adds a touch of creativity, making the stories relatable and memorable for young minds. It's one method that not only brings the scriptures to life but also fosters a deeper connection between youth and their faith.