How an Improv Class Improved my Preaching and Enhanced my Life

Drew Carey hosted a TV show called Whose Line is it Anyway that ran for several years until 2006. You can still see re-runs on cable.

The show, based on what is called ‘short-form’ improv, included four characters, most memorable being Wayne Brady. They would take suggestions from the audience and would create characters, scenes, and songs on the spot.

The few times I watched it, I couldn’t believe they just made that stuff up.

Well, about four years ago while at lunch with a professional speaker who attends our church, I asked him what he’d suggest I do to improve my speaking. He told me that attending an improv class in downtown Chicago was a great help for him.

I tucked that thought away until about a year ago I learned that a local comedy club, the Comedy Shrine in Naperville, IL offered improv classes. I signed up, and have been taking classes ever since.

To give context, I’ve always considered myself a very funny guy. The only problem is that hardly anybody else did. I can tell a joke in a sermon that I thought would bring the audience down only to hear cricket sounds in response rather than laughter. When I did get laughter my son would often say, “Dad, don’t let it go to your head. Those were courtesy laughs.”

I’ve finally surmised that my humor is at such a high level that most people simple can’t grasp it. 🙂

As I’ve almost completed five series of improv classes, the most recent a musical improv one, I’ve learned these lessons that have improved my preaching and made me a more rounded person.

  1. I’ve learned to separate the language a person uses from their value in God’s eyes. Sometimes the language used in classes can burn your ears. I remind myself, though, that God deeply loves people, regardless of the language they use.
  2. The classes have helped me connect more with current culture. Often we pastors can get so focused in the Word that we lose touch with what the world is thinking. We must be in the world but not of it.
  3. I’ve built friendships with people who aren’t interested in God, and I really like them. I pray regularly for opportunities to engage them spiritually, yet even without the spiritual connection I have with those who know Christ, I truly enjoy being with these guys. I’ve had some great conversations about Christianity and two of my classmates have even attended our church.
  4. I’ve been able to break the mold many people hold about ministers. I’m afraid many outside the church see pastors as legalist finger-pointers. At first when my class found out I was a pastor, everybody felt a bit awkward. But, now that they see I’m a normal guy that likes to have fun doing improv, I believe I’ve helped tear down the ‘sometimes true’ stereotype many hold about us pastors.
  5. I’ve actually heard more laughs when I preach, even when I don’t tell a planned joke.
  6. I’m more comfortable and loose when I preach. My engineering background lends itself to more linear sermons and a linear delivery style. Now, I’m more open to allowing God to use more of my creative right-brain when I preach rather than relying on my left-brain logic side.
  7. Improv teaches you to respond to what your scene partner says or does, rather than to pre-plan how you will respond. As a result, instead of always pre-planning what I want to say, I’m learning to be more spontaneous with my thoughts and words. I’m finding that those spontaneous thoughts can become some of the most powerful. Perhaps I’m listening more to the Holy Spirit’s voice.
  8. I’m learning to laugh at myself more and not take myself so seriously.

If you have a hankering for such an experience, give it a try. I bet you’ll find the experience will enrich your life as well.

Is Propositional Truth Passé?

At a recent church leadership conference, I heard an author criticize those who believe in propositional truth.

This speaker built a straw man and then tore it down with arrogance and a dismissive spirit.

seek_truthHe even made a comment something like, “Those who teach and believe this stuff are misguided, misplaced, and downright wrong.” He accused those who believe in propositional truth of making propositions and then beating the (heck) out of people. Interestingly, he used propositions to make his point.

On the other hand, I’m reading a refreshing book, Deep Church-a Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, by a guy named Jim Belcher. He graciosly uncovers the weaknesses of both traditional foundationalists and extreme emergents as well as drawing out the best from each.

I look forward to delving deeper into Deep Church. It would be a great book to add to your library.

Does Social Media Hinder or Help Community in the Local Church?

social-media2I just had a great conversation in the doctoral seminar I’m attending at Trinity Seminary. Dr. Bill Donahue, Willow Creek’s guru on small groups is teaching the seminar.

We talked about whether or not real community can happen through social media (facebook, twitter, etc). He didn’t have an answer, but here are some thoughts that surfaced.

  • The verdict is still out as to whether or not social media helps or hinders community. Recently in a Story Chicago conference one of’s guys who works in their online ministry said that they are still asking questions about its effectiveness.
  • Social media has the potential of fostering and opening up community.
  • People tend to open up more quickly through social media than they do when in person.
  • Social media could hinder people from learning to appropriately communicate honest feelings when in the presence of others.
  • Using social media to foster community probably scares boomers.

Do you have any thoughts?

When Things Speed up, Leaders Should Slow Down (from Church Leaders Intelligence Report)

I recommend Church Leaders Intelligence Report. It’s a great distillation of current news and leadership tips. It’s free. Outreach publishes it and here’s the link where you can get it.

Here’s a sample of what you get (from the Nov. 3 edition)

When Things Speed Up, Leaders Should Slow Down

InfoLeadership development consultant Brad Lomenick suggests that when facing times of great intensity and pressure, leaders should:

  1. Always over-communicate.
  2. Be methodical and calm, not intense and short.
  3. List out priorities, so as to not be overwhelmed by the small things that seem to be incredibly urgent, but really aren’t.
  4. Seek out quiet moments for prayer, reflection and thinking. During times of pressure, that is when we need those quiet moments the most.
  5. Resist the urge to let things slide or just settle for something average because of the pressure to get it done. Keep your standards and levels of excellence at their highest—don’t compromise.

Brad Lomenick, On the Journey