A banana, a vacant lot and the word “ulterior.”
Do these things have anything in common? Nope. But in an improvisational comedy show comedians take the words, props, and situations they’re given and create a dialogue.
Improv is distinctly different from acting where there is a script to follow and lines that need to be memorized. For improvisational comedy to work, actors are given a scenario or prop to work with to move dialogue forward with only a small amount of guidance. If you’ve ever been to an improv show you know that what is shared is completely unexpected and that other comedians just need to roll with it.
Here’s another scenario:
A zoom room, an atheist and a chai latte.
Would you be able to start a spiritual conversation in a scenario like this?
In Luke 9:1-6 Jesus sends the 12 disciples to share the gospel and tells them not to take anything- no props, no pamphlets, not even an extra cloak for their journey. Instead, he gives them “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Later Luke writes: “So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.”
Jesus sends the disciples out with power and authority to proclaim his good news and heal the sick. Though it can be difficult for us to grasp this while we send emails and log onto yet another meeting, Jesus has given us this same power! It is good news that he can set us free from the dark forces that oppress us personally and globally. It is newsworthy that he can heal broken relationships and restore love between estranged family members. It is good news that Jesus offers forgiveness in our shame and resentment. We don’t need props or strategies or to read another book to get the gospel script right when we’re talking with friends far from God. We need a willingness to be open to follow the Holy Spirit to see where the conversation goes when people begin to open up about their lives.
In real life conversations, we don’t know what to expect when people open up and share about their lives, especially about spiritual things. Someone might casually mention that they’re divorced and have to figure out holidays with their kids who are far away, or that they’re selling their house because their husband just died. These are moments where we need to realize that God has placed us in these scenarios to share the good news of his love with others, no matter how bizarre or unexpected the scenario turns.
I recall a conversation with Jenna, whom I attended a leadership conference with years ago. We both found the content engaging and chatted about our takeaways as we walked to the parking lot to our cars on a warm fall day. The morning section had been about exploring our own personal mission, which lent itself to deeper conversation. As we talked about the seminar, Jenna began to share about her spiritual beliefs in the power of electricity and how it shaped her mission. It caught me off guard since I had never encountered someone with this belief system before talking with her.
She stopped next to her car, leaning up against as she shared, “there is definitely a connectedness you can feel when people are together- I believe this is a form of electricity that can join people together to become a more powerful force.”
Trying not to seem surprised or blurt out “that’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard of,” I just remarked, “wow, I’ve never heard of people connecting spirituality with electricity.”
My improv scenario had just become: a leadership seminar, electricity, and a parking lot.
Nothing had prepared me to talk with Jenna about her beliefs in electricity. There were no books I read, podcasts I listened to or seminars I attended with experts weighing in on how to talk about Jesus with the believers of voltage and watts. Like an improv comedian, I just had to take our conversation and run with it.
There are a few terms from improv comedy that relate well to talking about spirituality and being open about Jesus with people far from God.
An offer: Any dialogue or action that extends the scene.
Accepting: Embracing offers by other performers to advance the scene.
Jenna made an offer to me to share about her beliefs in electricity. I wanted to “advance the scene” and learn more about her life and background. Frankly, I found her belief system a bit bizarre and not well reasoned. Yet I knew that if I attempted to argue with her about why her beliefs didn’t seem valid, logical or spiritual enough, I would block the dialogue and squelch any chance of her feeling valued in the conversation. She accepted my offer when I asked an open-ended question about her belief system: “Was this a belief you grew up with?”
Jenna felt comfortable sharing about her beliefs in electricity and because we had established an open dialogue about beliefs, I shared about my experiences with the Holy Spirit. Without going too deep I shared some examples about how I saw the Holy Spirit’s power in my own life uniting people towards a greater purpose and channeling God’s love through his people to others.
Jenna remarked as we watched people come and go in the warm parking lot- “it’s like the Holy Spirit is a kind of electricity channeling itself through you.” “Well,” I replied, shifting my feet and silently praying that the Holy Spirit would show up to help me in our conversation, “kind of, except the Holy Spirit isn’t impersonal like electricity. He actually wants to have a relationship with us and teach us to follow God and love others.” Jenna dug her car keys out of her purse and looked at me thoughtfully. “Huh. That’s interesting,” she said. “I’ve never really thought about God being personal like that. I’ve always pictured him as distant and uninvolved.”
We stood in the parking lot talking for a little longer about our beliefs and the leadership seminar. Though there wasn’t any big dramatic spiritual moment, Jenna seemed to feel like she could trust me enough to share her beliefs and continue the conversation. I drove home that day smiling at the ways God had opened up my world to connect with someone and help them feel valued though they believed something different than I did.
Jesus has given you power and authority to share his good news of how he is present in your life and in the world even in the most unexpected conversations. What does a zoom room, an atheist and a chai latte have in common? We may not know, but the Holy Spirit does. Reflect on this last week and the interactions you’ve had with others. What type of improv scenarios have you found yourself in lately? Were there moments where people were willing to be open and “make offers” to you about their beliefs? Dialogue is a two-way street- it feels weird if only one person is open and sharing. What are ways you’ve “made offers” to initiate a dialogue about your faith experiences?
Take a deep breath, pray, and jump in! You might have a lot of fun and learn things about God and others that you never would have if you don’t take people up on their offers to share their lives.