When I first heard about someone buying tickets to go see something they referred to as “The Improv”, I had no idea what they were talking about. Turns out they were going to what was basically a comedy show. Apparently, the program involved a would-be comedian taking the stage and rambling on about people or circumstances, and sometimes reacting to the audience in ways intended to appear spontaneous and, of course, funny. I never heard whether they liked the show, but the idea that improvising could be seen as some kind of art form was intriguing.
Living at “The Improv”
I grew up on a little family farm where we were confronted with the need to improvise in some way almost every day. We didn’t always have the luxury of postponing tasks until we managed to assemble everything we might need. We had to get creative and figure out a way to use whatever we happened to have. Improvising on our little farm wasn’t a means of artistic expression. It was a matter of survival.
Over time, improv performances grew in popularity and eventually came to be its own recognized art form. Given its recognition as a unique artistic genre, it isn’t surprising that some universities have targeted doing improv as a research subject. Colleges will study virtually anything that can be dreamed up, with or without the aid of mood altering substances. There’s probably some college sophomore right now pouring hours of time and thousands of dollars of government grant money trying to determine if folks who snort when they laugh are more likely to get hiccups when approaching a four-way stop intersection.
Lighting up the Creative Brain ~
One intriguing study compared patterns of brain activity in people during improv performances vs. those who were presenting scripted material. During the scripted performance, the area of the brain governing constraint and self-editing was more in control, but during the improvisation routine, the area that governs constraint and self-editing was subdued and the area involved with creativity lit up like a Christmas tree.
My reaction to all that was, “Well, Okay… so what?” But as I was reflecting on a totally unrelated issue, the subject of improvisation and that study came back to mind. For some time, the issue of personal evangelism, or more precisely, the lack of it, has concerned me greatly, and the process of doing spontaneous improvisation might offer an unexpected insight or two.
A Pathway to Devastation ~
The Church of Jesus Christ is God’s primary response to dealing with evil in the world, and engaging unbelievers about spiritual issues is a major part of that response. But somewhere along the way, the mainstream, institutional “church” apparently decided that the critical work of sharing the Gospel should be relegated to a specialized group of “anointed” and consecrated professionals. Many seem to have accepted the notion that approaching others about life’s most vital issues should be left to people who are specially gifted and thoroughly trained. That insidious lie has infiltrated far too many churches and paved the way for the spiritual apathy that facilitates the kind of obscene distortions of truth being proliferated today.
Not Sent with a Script ~
What got lost in all the “professionalizing” of Christianity is that Jesus didn’t send us to present a carefully scripted and polished theater performance. He sent us to walk out on any stage, anywhere, in front of any audience, and do improv. The pattern has been displayed again and again by Jesus Himself and many of His followers. An improv performance can be done by anyone. It can happen anywhere, and the results are often astounding. Just take a look at a few examples:
- Jesus stopped to rest at a well once where a broken and shame-ridden woman showed up. Instead of reciting a memorized section from the Law of Moses to point out her sins, Jesus looked at her waterpot and improvised. (John 4:1-42)
- A bunch of hypocrites came dragging a girl into a room where Jesus was. She had been caught in the act of adultery and they wanted to use her to trap Him in a web of complex religious legalities. Instead of debating them, Jesus improvised and wrote some things in the dirt that turned it all around and set her free. (John 8:3-12)
- A woman Jesus had delivered from a life of shame and despair wanted to express her love to Him, but she had no gift to offer Him worthy of what was in her heart. With nothing else to give, she did an improv performance that will never be forgotten. She knelt at His feet, and as the love in her heart flowed out through her tears, she used them to wash His feet, and then dried them with her hair. (Luke 7:36-50)
- A short little tax collector hated by his own countrymen wanted to get a glimpse of this Rabbi with a message of hope for sinners like himself. The crowd prevented him from even seeing Jesus, much less getting close enough to speak with Him. So, Zaccheus improvised. He climbed up in a sycamore fig tree, and his stellar improv routine gained him a home visit by the Son of God. (Luke 19:1-10)
Paul and his fellow missionary, Silas, had been beaten and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, they hadn’t been given any cleverly devised scripts to recite in case the stage they found themselves on ever turned out to be a jail cell. So, they improvised. All they had available was love and faith, but that was enough. Love composed the melody, and faith wrote the lyrics as they sang out an improv performance that broke their chains in pieces and shook open the prison doors. (Acts 16:16-34)
In our day-to-day life, the “stage” we’re sent to stand on changes all the time and our “audience” is a world full of angry, confused, and hurting people who don’t have answers to life’s greatest questions. We don’t have a polished script prepared for every opportunity to interact with them, but then we aren’t sent to do scripted performances. When confronted with life’s most vital issues, the followers of Jesus don’t do scripts. We do improv.
An Audience is Waiting ~
Real life doesn’t unfold like a well-rehearsed theater performance. We may be spontaneously called upon to express the inexpressible, to explain the inexplicable, to unravel the worst conundrums, and untangle someone’s gordian knot. Our role can be intimidating, but our job isn’t to collect a notebook full of scripts written by someone else. Our job when these opportunities come is to take center stage with nothing but love in our heart and faith in the One who sent us. Then we improvise. We use whatever God gives us and trust His awesome Holy Spirit to do what He came to do. It may feel a little scary, but doing improv for Jesus can do more than make our brains light up with creativity. Sometimes someone’s life is changed forever, and another kind of brightness lights up heaven itself. God described it like this:
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who wins souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30 (NKJV)
Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3 (NKJV)
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“All Paul and Silas had available was love and faith, but that was enough. Love composed the melody, and faith wrote the lyrics as they sang out an improv performance that broke their chains in pieces and shook open the prison doors.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“The ‘stage’ we’re sent to stand on changes all the time and our audience is a world full of angry, confused, and hurting people who don’t have answers to life’s greatest questions. The followers of Jesus don’t do scripts. We do improv.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Followers of Jesus may be spontaneously called upon to express the inexpressible, to explain the inexplicable, to unravel the worst conundrums, and untangle someone’s gordian knot.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Our job is to take center stage with nothing but love in our heart and faith in the One who sent us. Then we improvise. We use whatever God gives us and trust His awesome Holy Spirit to do what He came to do.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Doing improv for Jesus can do more than make our brains light up with creativity. Sometimes someone’s life is changed forever, and another kind of brightness lights up heaven itself.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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