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.

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