As a teenager, Heather* wasn’t confident in her acting abilities.
But she loved being on stage and working with other people to create a performance.
So when her church’s youth group decided to perform Pilgrim, a new musical, she knew she wanted in.
But no one could have predicted how this musical would impact her faith.
“It was the first time I had heard of a Christian musical,” Heather said. “I was excited to work with other Christian kids who loved acting, singing, and dancing!”
The musical Pilgrim is based on John Bunyan’s well-known book The Pilgrim’s Progress.
In this story, Christian, a young man from the City of Destruction, faces a calling from the King to journey to the Celestial City.
It’s an allegory for the Christian life. During his journey to the Celestial City, Christian faces trials and temptations of all kinds, including the town of Vanity Fair, the Swamp of Despair, and the characters of Vain-Hope and Worldly Wiseman.
Pilgrim is updated for a modern audience, but it includes many of Bunyan’s original scenes and themes.
“Once we contacted the writers of Pilgrim and saw the script, I was more excited than ever,” Heather shared. “It was funny, heartfelt, and theologically deep, all in one.”
Pilgrim was created by Christian Theatre Publications (CTP), “a group of Christians seeking to bring God glory through the performing arts.” Based out of a prominent church on the East Coast, CTP creates full-length dramas based on Biblical stories and ideas.
Heather’s youth group saw the musical as an opportunity to reach out to their community.
“From the beginning, we intended our performances to be a witnessing tool,” Heather said. “We believed that the musical could illustrate the Gospel in a powerful way.”
Producing Pilgrim was a long and challenging process, however. Heather and her friends had to get the scripts, find enough people to play every role in the show, and rehearse for weeks—all without the help of adults.
“Everyone had busy lives and busy families, but we were all really passionate about this show,” Heather remembered. “So we didn’t wait to see if adults could help us out. We just got started!”
But rather than being daunted by the prospect of doing it all themselves, Heather’s youth group accepted the challenge and took it as an opportunity to trust God’s provision.
“Thankfully, we had very talented people in our youth group. Choreographers, singers, actors, directors — God provided someone to fill every role we needed!”
It was still a demanding process for all of the young people. Heather herself served as an actress, a musician in the pit, and a member of the musical’s leadership team, while other teenagers took on the roles of directors, coordinators, and dance coaches.
But as exhausting as it was to rehearse every week and coordinate everything the cast needed, the youth group found themselves energized by the content of the show and the thought of presenting it to their community.
“We couldn’t get away from the spiritual themes in the show,” Heather said. “The Gospel was there, Christ was there, throughout the script.”
Acting out the Gospel story over the course of several months was a spiritually transformative experience for many of the cast members.
“During every performance, there was a scene where the King removes Christian’s burden of sin,” Heather remembered. “And every time I saw it, it would hit me in a new way that Jesus really did that for me!”
Heather called her participation in Pilgrim “one of the most formative experiences in my Christian life.”
The founders of CTP, who wrote Pilgrim, would say that this is exactly the ministry’s intention.
“Our goal is to use the stories and truths of Scripture to provide theatre than anyone can enjoy and ponder,” CTP writes.
Pilgrim isn’t the only powerful musical created by CTP. The organization has also written Esther, Acts: A City Rising (a show about the early church as described in the Book of Acts), and Pilgrim: Her Story (a female-led version of Pilgrim).
Each of CTP’s musicals conveys “biblical values in an energetic and entertaining way.” The plays use Broadway-style music and dancing to tell God-honoring and heartfelt stories.
For many Christian teenagers like Heather, these musicals can provide new insight into the Christian life.
And for audiences everywhere, the shows provide opportunities to reflect on God’s stories throughout history.
To learn more about CTP’s musicals—and upcoming productions around the country—visit the ministry’s website!
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.