What is Performative Bible Study?

Performative Bible study allows participants to go back into the biblical world and explore for themselves how they would have responded to questions that a passage poses. It is based on a new university pedagogy called “reacting,” where instructors fashion learning games and exercises to draw students into learning about the humanities.  To learn more about the potential of performative Bible study, click here. To see it in action, see the short “Performative group activity” video below. For aids to help the leader or teacher design such a group discussion, see the “Step by Step” video below.

Below is a video that gives a demonstration of performative Bible study, based on how a group of twelve college-aged students “played” Luke 24. If you would like to bring performative Bible studies to your church or organization, Memoirs of an Unfinished Tale offers an imaginative script, based on the Book of Acts. Purchase the book here.

Performative group activity

Step by Step: A Guide for Leaders

Some quick advice about running a performative Bible discussion from Memoirs of an Unfinished Tale–and you do it in an hour:

  1. Ahead of time: the leader and “the script” (variable prep time)
    1. Choose a passage that is short and dynamic with action and potential team dynamics.
    2. Dissect the passage based on guide or skill: What is the overall context? What is going on? What is the Scripture’s message?
    3. Design a performance that allows interaction between teams/positions and think of the questions that the performers should be aware of that reflects their position.
    4. Compose a role-playing guide for each of the teams/positions.
  2. The discussion begins: the leader as “director” (10 minutes)
    1. Describe the scene/context of “the script” for everyone.
    2. Assign the teams.
    3. Distribute the role-playing guide to each team/position.
    4. Introduce the concept of performance and its basic ground rules.
  3. Team meetings: team “rehearsal” (10-15 minutes)
    1. Read passage carefully in team meeting.
    2. Assign roles to team members as needed.
    3. Rehearse team position and think about their role.
    4. Consult with “director” as needed during meeting time.
  4. “Showtime!”: Interactive performance among teams/positions (20 minutes)
    1. Interview with each team and its members based on designed questions.
    2. Dialogue or cross-examination among other teams and their members.
    3. Conduct “business” that passage or script has designed.
    4. Guidance as needed by leader throughout.
  1. Debriefing and back to “reality” (10 minutes)
    1. How did each performer react to their position or role?
    2. What did each team and performer learn as the performance unfolded?
    3. Leader sums up what performance showed and what the passage seemed to teach.

Ideal discussion specifications:

  • Four teams/positions
  • 15-30 people in the whole group, thus, 3-7 people on each team
  • As many actors per team as the “script” allows
  • Duration: 50-60 minutes