The Reformation Leader Documentary Project

Posted On April 27, 2017

On Tuesday evening during Reading Week, in the middle of preparations for finals, members of the student body, staff, and faculty paused to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a special “Church History Film Festival.” The major project for the students in my church history class this semester, Reformation to the Present, was to create a set of short documentaries honoring a few major Reformation leaders: Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, and Lady Jane Grey.

The purpose of this particular assignment was to have my students work together to explore the lives and legacies of these pivotal figures in church history, to develop a passion for their examples, and to communicate the enduring importance of their influence. The students collaborated in small groups throughout the semester to research their assigned Reformation leaders, write and revise scripts, gather historical images and other assets, shoot raw footage (one group drove 90 miles to film on location in St. Augustine!), record narration, and pull it all together in post-production. The end result was five thoughtful, creative, and engaging mini documentaries that tell the stories—and remind us of the importance—of some of the individuals God used mightily to advance His work of Reformation in the sixteenth century.

When I first announced this project to my students at the start of the semester, a few of them (possibly bewildered) politely asked why we were breaking from the standard end-of-term research paper. I responded that I’ve got nothing against research paper. I love a well-crafted research paper as much as anyone. But more than that, I love to see students lean into their learning, to tackle issues that drive them to consider the details as well as the overarching meanings and implications, to ask not only “Do I understand?” but also “How can I tell others well?” There’s more than one way to encourage that kind of learning. This semester my students took on the challenge to think (and create) outside the box, to study, learn, and pass on some of the most important stories in the church’s history through the medium of video.

I think the attendees at our little Church History Film Festival would agree that the students in my class told these stories well.

Prof. Brandt is instructor of church history at Reformation Bible College.