The art of miming originated in ancient Greece, and the word mime is taken from a masked artist named Pantomimus. Miming is the art of conveying a message through exaggerated gestures or body movements without the use of words or props. A mime is a person who specializes in this art. In recent years, miming has entered the church as part of dance and drama ministries.
One instance in the Bible where a form of miming is mentioned involves David on the run from King Saul. David flees to Gath but fears that Achish, the king, will reject or kill him, so he fakes insanity: “So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard” (1 Samuel 21:13). David was not pantomiming for entertainment’s sake, but he was using some mime techniques to communicate a clear message that evoked the desired response. His miming was effective; King Achish left him alone. Another case of “biblical miming” is Zechariah after his vision in the temple: “He kept making signs to them and remained mute” (Luke 1:22, ESV).
Within the last few decades, art, dance, and mime have made their way into church services as creative ways of expressing worship. While traditionalists may raise some red flags, we should always let Scripture cast the deciding vote about whether or not something new is pleasing to God (see Acts 1:24–25; 17:11). Mimes often paint their faces white and wear all black to draw attention to their body movements. Some people have objected to the face-painting, citing pagan cultures that have connected such painting with gender-blurring or sensuality. Others voice concern about the dress of some mimes, noting that tight-fitting body suits can be a distraction from the message. Still others see miming as entertainment and not conducive to a true worship experience. There is merit to each of these concerns. However, abuses of an art form do not make the art itself wrong. Oil painting can be used to depict the Last Supper or vulgarities—but the existence of vulgar pictures does not make oil painting sinful. In the same way, the effectiveness of miming is not nullified by those who pervert the art form.
We tend to grow comfortable with worship styles that fit our own culture, traditions, and taste. Miming and other performing arts may be treated with suspicion in a church or immediately rejected simply because they are outside of one’s experience or tradition. But a knee-jerk rejection of mime as a form of worship solely because we are unaccustomed to it is overly hasty.
If a church plans to incorporate miming in its services, the leadership should probably consider these questions:
1. Who is performing the mime?
Leading a congregation in worship is a sacred honor. In the Old Testament, only the Levites could lead in musical worship (1 Chronicles 16:4; 2 Chronicles 20:19; Ezra 6:20). They were specially selected by God and were to keep themselves ceremonially clean before they could lead the people. In order to keep pantomime presentations from becoming mere theatrical entertainments, performers need to be of godly character and commitment. A drama ministry should be just that—a ministry. No one should attempt to minister before a congregation without being called of God and serving from a humble heart.
2. What is the focus of the mime?
Some presentations have a confusing storyline, overly dramatic actions, or a shallow theme that leaves the congregation no better for having viewed it. A worship service should be about worship. Period. It is not a time to display talent, garner attention, or have fun with friends. Everything in a worship service should be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Everyone on the stage or taking part in leading the service should have as their singular goal the glorification of the Lord. A mime presentation may be artistically beautiful, professionally done, and receive a standing ovation. But what is left in the minds of the congregation when the actors have left the stage? Is it the strong biblical message of the mime, or is it how great everyone performed?
3. What subtle messages may be sent during this mime presentation?
The actors may have the best intentions, a masterfully written presentation, and talent to spare. But audiences do not always receive the message that was intended. A lack of careful attention to modesty can nullify the whole presentation. Since the attention is directed to body movement during a pantomime, young women in spandex or young men in leotards may be sending a message they did not realize they were sending. With all eyes on the moving bodies of the actors, where are those eyes most likely to rest? Many church mime and dance teams have discarded spandex in favor of all-black tee shirts and jeans, which still make the point without over-emphasizing body parts that could cause distraction (see 1 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 6:3).
In one sense, the Bible promotes miming as a way of life. One aspect of miming is mimicry, and the apostle Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). God’s desire for each of us is that we “become conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). He wants us to “mime” Christ’s actions. In one way or another, we are all mimes. We are constantly patterning our lives after someone or something. We can allow our movements to reflect our culture, a peer group, tradition, or the will of God (Galatians 1:10; Romans 12:1–2). A Christian should behave as a “little Christ.” When we mime His actions, we know we are pleasing to the Lord (Matthew 17:5).