Dr. Dick Stenbakken’s dynamic ministry career includes service as a pastor, a U.S. Army chaplain, a family therapist, the world director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, and now as someone who gives firstperson narrative presentations at U.S. Senate/Staff Bible studies, the Pentagon, campmeetings, churches, and other events. He has published a book about the Centurion at the cross and the resurrection, done four DVD sets, and appeared on 25 half-hour TV programs with Shawn Boonstra.
The ministry materials he develops spring from his four Master’s degrees and his Doctorate in Education. He blends these disciplines with pastoral experience to bring Bible characters to life. He has taught high school, college, and graduate courses.
Dick and his wife Ardis live in Loveland, Colorado, USA. Ardis edits the annual women’s devotional book, and Dick typically does 90-100 first-person presentations per year. They have two adult children and four grandchildren.
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START THE “BIBLE FACES” MINISTRY?
I began doing first-person presentations as a result of an assignment to prepare and present a Christmas program for Army chaplains and staff members at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, when I was a young Army chaplain. My directives were to provide something which would be “entertaining, spiritual, and have to do with the Nativity story.” My research turned up a first-person narrative sermon by a Presbyterian pastor, Fredrick Speakman, where the Nativity story is told to Luke by the old Bethlehem innkeeper looking back at that night. After doing the presentation in costume for the group, another chaplain insisted that I do it for both of his worship services on Sunday just before the Christmas break. Although reluctant, I did both services, and immediately I saw the impact of these kinds of presentations. That started me on the track of research, costume construction, and a growing list of characters.
HOW MANY CHARACTERS HAVE YOU PLAYED? WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?
At this point I have done over 60 different characters. Most of them are biblical people, but a few historical folks are in the fold as well. Probably my signature character is the Centurion at the cross and the resurrection. I’ve learned so much from Roman military history that has enlightened my understanding of the New Testament in ways that are not found in commentaries. The discoveries have come from deeper historical study and the construction of three different styles of first-century Roman armor. Yes, I made the Roman armor myself and modified other items that were purchased. Because of that and because of my 24 years of active duty as a U.S. Army chaplain, I can readily identify with some of the issues raised by that character.
WHAT KIND OF AUDIENCE RESPONSES HAVE YOU RECEIVED FROM CHURCHES AND VARIOUS PLACES?
The responses have been totally amazing—from the first presentation to those young Army recruits many years ago, to the open acceptance of folks at the U.S. Senate/ Staff Bible study groups where I have been privileged to do presentations (six presentations at the Senate to date).
People most often respond with statements like, “I felt like I met someone who walked right out of the Bible! The story is more real to me now.”
In one campmeeting series, the mother of a 7-yearold boy told me that her son sat right on the front row every evening and never moved. He was riveted to the characters. The next day at home, he would essentially repeat the presentation to her (he got it!). Then, a theology professor with a Th.D. commented on the same presentations: “You put some pieces together for me that I had never connected! I am enriched. Thank you!” That’s quite a spread—a 7-year-old to a Th.D.—to be excited about a Bible presentation and Bible character and to “get it” and retain it.
Seven years ago I presented the Centurion for an Easter Son-rise service at the invitation of a very senior Roman Catholic Army chaplain on a major installation. Whenever I see him, he can go right down the story line of that presentation. He continues to invite me to new places where he is assigned. He is a real supporter and friend.
The day after one prayer breakfast (the character was Nehemiah), I met a man who had been there. He was so excited that he was jumping up and down. “I went home and read the whole book of Nehemiah for the very first time! It is a fantastic book! I learned so much!”
In a recent conversation, a young man told me, “I remember when you came to my school and shared. I was in the fourth grade, and I still remember it.” The stories stick. People remember them, retain them, and are impacted by them. That makes it worthwhile for me to continue developing and presenting characters.
HOW CAN THIS MINISTRY BENEFIT WORLDWIDE CHURCH ELDERS AND LEADERS?
Bible characters have great appeal to people because they make the Bible alive, contemporary, real, and relevant. Stories about people speak in ways that straight theological lectures don’t, yet there is tons of theology woven into the narratives. Jesus told stories. The Old and New Testaments are replete with stories. People remember stories.
One major aspect of these kinds of presentations is that they capture interest and build bridges rather than raising tempers and burning bridges. They are a great, non-threatening way to do community outreach, especially around Easter, Christmas, and other religious or civic holiday periods. Believe me, it is much easier to get free newspaper coverage for these events than for other kinds of outreach because they are unique and have wide appeal.
The person who prepares and presents a character as a first-person narrative will need to dig deeply into the Word, into history, and into the culture of the character in order to do a credible job. That will pull the presenter into the Bible in ways that are unique and will bless the person doing the preparation. The presentation is merely the overflow of what you have learned and the insights you have gained. You become the one who is deeply blessed by your preparation. The people are then blessed by experiencing (quite different than merely hearing) the presentations.
For those who may not have the resources or time to develop their own presentations, and in response to people who have experienced them, there are several DVD sets— ministry tools—that are easy to use in local settings.
WHAT DO THE DVDS INCLUDE?
There are currently three first-person sets and one group-discussion set. The first-person sets are:
• Faces Around the Cross, with seven characters: John, Judas, Peter, Caiaphas, Marcellus Sylvanus (a paganRoman priest), Pilate, and the Centurion.
• Faces Around the Manger, with six characters: Herod the Great, Joseph the Carpenter, one of the Magi, Jesse the Bethlehem innkeeper, James the Just, and a Bethlehem shepherd.
• Miracles of the Master, with six characters: Luke, the man born blind, Jairus, the leper of Matthew 8, Simon the Pharisee, and Malchus.
Each set has two DVDs and a booklet with one page of background on each character and another page of discussion or assignment questions for the users.
The Armor of God DVD is made up of eight 30-minute sessions where five panel members look at various pieces of the armor of God in Ephesians 6. The two-DVD set has over 60 pages of downloadable high-resolution photos, historical backgrounds, and discussion-guide questions for each of the various pieces of armor. Essentially it is four hours of presentations and a book in a box.
More DVDs are in the works, but they are not yet finished.
WHERE ARE THE DVDS TYPICALLY PRESENTED? CHURCH SERVICES? SMALL GROUPS?
The materials all run about 30 minutes, so they can be used in wide and varied settings: worship services, small-group studies, men’s ministry groups, vespers, youth groups, classrooms, homeschools, home Bible study, and outreach. They have also been used as introductions to evangelistic meetings. The only limits are the imaginations and ingenuity of the users. The presentations have been broadcast worldwide on TV since they fit into a 30-minute program slot.
WHAT MESSAGE/LESSONS ARE YOU TRYING TO CONVEY THROUGH YOUR MINISTRY?
My goals are to show that the stories and people of the Bible are real, relevant, current, and viable. The Bible is not a book of the dusty, irrelevant past; the Bible has immediate applicability to us today. The clothing and customs may have changed, but the “people issues” are constant, as is God and the total package of truths found in the Bible. I want people to get new insights and challenges and then dig deeper into the Word for themselves. That will develop character and their relationship with the God of the characters they have seen in these presentations.