Improvisational Christianity: I hope you like me.

Starting a blog for a new “audience” is awkward.

This first post feels a little like a Match.com-ish plea for you to like me. Just so you know, I really do want you to like me. I love the approval of strangers.  That said, I will pretend like I don’t care what you think of me. My shrink calls that instinct “self-preservation” and I am really good at it.

I’m thankful that Doug Pagitt invited me into the conversation on this blog. With no sense of false humility (just genuine, completely admirable and noteworthy humility) I can say that I am not entirely sure what I have to contribute here. I fancy myself an armchair theologian, but have no real academic credentials. Reading hundreds of books has made me a theology nerd with only a Bachelor’s degree in Bible.

The good news? No student debt.

Bad news? I’m not officially smart.

So read at your own risk.

I have been a church practitioner on and off through the years as a pastor and church planter. I probably have more to say about my failures in those areas than any perceived successes. I’m also the author of an allegorical fantasy novel called Between Two Kingdoms. (I find strategically working self-promotion into a personal introduction to be a little pathetic, but I can’t help thinking that if just two of you click on the link and buy my book I will be $1.12 richer. And just in time for Christmas shopping!)

And I am also a movie producer and actor. Again, I am far from finding my stride in this area of my life, but I’m pleased where it all is leading. (You can check out our production company at www.rebelpilgrim.com to see more about our recent films. We have a romantic comedy in post-production for a theatrical release in about a year.)

This is what I look like. (As an Amish farmer.)

The above photo is from my comedy Hitting The Nuts, a poker-themed improvised mockumentary I produced in 2010. The beard is real. Don’t be jealous.

Ultimately, I’d like to have a significant voice in pop culture. My reasons for this are a mixed bag. But they aren’t going away, so I’m going to try to make it happen.

Here’s my life story:

I grew up an evangelical Christian in the American Midwest.

I felt “called” to be a pastor by age 12.

Graduated from Cincinnati Bible College at 22.

Started a church in Las Vegas when I was only 25.

I was quickly labeled as a leader in the post-modern emerging church movement (and later house church movement) of the 1990′s.

But I was secretly on the verge of giving up altogether on Christianity.

So I left everything. Including the conversation.

Around the age of 30 I resigned as a pastor, quit the church and began acting in a nightly comedy show in a casino while studying improv at the renowned Saturday Night Live feeder-school, The Second City. It was through baptizing myself in the world of improvisational comedy in Las Vegas that I found God again.

That’s weird, right? Or at least ironic.

I moved from Vegas to live in Hollywood in 2005. But four years ago I abruptly returned to vocational ministry (and to Cincinnati.) I noticed something strikingly familiar throughout the Biblical narrative of God, Israel, Jesus and the Church. The simple rules of play that I had learned and mastered as an improvisational comedian are found in Genesis One – and the other 1,188 chapters to follow. YHWH is an Improv God. Jesus is the King of Making-Stuff-Up. (Almost cussed there. Probably should have. You get the point.)

Jesus’s early followers mastered the art of improvisation under the direction of  “God’s Unique Wind.”

It all got me thinking…

What if the God who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” is constantly changing? What if what makes him “the same” is, at least in part, his never-ceasing ability to improvise? What if following an Improv God is way more about listening and reacting than planning and producing? What if in the beginning God created…but he never stopped…and never will? What if there is way more freedom to improvise our way through life than most of us are comfortable with? Are we ready for that kind of God? Are we ready for that kind of Christianity?

I propose that the God of the Bible is that kind of God. And regardless of how ready we are, he is inviting us to start making up history with him, one scene at a time.

That’s why I’m writing a new book called Improvisational Christianity. And I’d love to flesh out some of the ideas here with you. We may together find out that I am completely full of it – that my premise holds no water and is as heretical as it sounds. In which case, I will probably still publish the book because I think it has a catchy title. But I will feel super conflicted about it.

My plan is to post here weekly – mainly on Fridays. I look forward to it.

@JoeBoyd blogs daily at www.joeboydblog.com.

  • http://jwstevenson.com Vanessa Luckey

    Well hello Joe!

    Great blog. Being a Joe “fan” of sorts, having enjoyed many of your sermons, although not a member of your church (you might remember a note I sent you about VCC being my “resort or vacation”church), and ALSO enjoying see your improv show at Tazo, (which I hope you will do more soon because my husband had never seen anything like that and thought I was crazy because he grew up “religious” and still wrestles with that, so it was a little edgy for him, which I thoroughly enjoyed), I have admired your gifts from afar and have tremendous respect for how you have allowed the Father to bring them together in such a way that glorifies Him and exemplifies Kingdom. I really need to read your books and see your movies sometime, although you had me with the title “Hitting the Nuts”.

    I guess, when reading your perspective, I would qualify as one of those Improvisational Christians, having certainly not followed the path of the church I got saved in (pentecostal……so you KNOW I have issues), but allowing the Spirit to lead me and my husband to a church and pastor who exemplify what it is to be an Improvisational Christian. He always says, “We know what God has said, but we also must know what He is saying” and “We don’t know what God CAN do, we only know what He’s done”.

    Taking God out of the box is an incredible difficult and flesh burning thing to do. God in a box requires so much less of our hearts, our minds, our obedience and ultimately our worship (because worship at it’s essence, when first mentioned in the Word with Abraham and Isaac is faith, obedience and sacrifice). Abraham was also a supreme Improvisational Follower of YHWH.

    The Word says He knows the end from the beginning…..so this God’s sameness is constant. Perhaps what fluctuates is our ability to be consious of Him, to know Him and recognize Him. Just as in the last 100 years our world has turned upside down 1000 times with the increase of knowledge that has come to the earth, it is because of the information we now have access too, the online tools, books, reference material, historical documentation, AND also, the knowledge of what HE is doing IN the Earth almost instantaneously around the world all the time we are almost experiencing a Genesis 1 experience in our daily lives. Our world constantly evolving and changing with the advent of new technology developed by the same human minds that only 100 years ago was beginning to understand the combustion engine and aerodynamics, light bulbs, sound engineering, germs, etc.

    I mean really…….if you are not an improvisational human being in these days you really suffer. My husband just got his first Android. I’m ANGRY because it’s so much superior than my Android that I got 1 year ago, which was so much better than the Blackberry he got 2 years ago.

    No, Improvisation is a must in our lives with Him in these days. No much going to church because it was where mom n nem and gramma n nem went to church because great granddaddy was the head deacon. He who hath an ear…..

  • http://gentry13.wordpress.com gentry13

    Welcome back to the conversation Joe. Your (easily accessible) contributions were missed!

  • Theophile

    Hi Joe,
    Do You need a Priestly Hierarchy Document(PHD) to read the Bible and consider it’s content? When we actually read the book we find so many plain answers to popular arguments, like: Was creation week 7 literal days? considering the mechanism(sun, moon, stars) for determining literal days was not in existence until day 4, that is almost a moot point. One of my favorites Genesis 1:29; And God said, behold I give you(us) every herb bearing seed, upon the face of all the earth…Now who other than Satan would:
    Take credit for(Devils weed)…
    Tax, regulate, or otherwise make criminal..
    God’s 1st gift to man(us), on the 1st page and chapter of the Bible?
    Have You read Foxes book of Martyrs**? The men and their testimonies described there, point to the light of the Bible in a world that loves darkness. I can’t believe how few today know of the sacrifices so many have made, so that we can hold and read the Bible. So many “This is what the Bible says” best sellers line the shelves, and so many read them, to become “informed”, yet so few dust off their Bible, and find out what it really says.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22400/22400-h/22400-h.htm

  • Deborah Arca

    Joe, I am loving your insights here about the improv God! Write that book! I was never more alive than when i took an improv class in San Francisco several years ago, and had this major aha moment about life being improv, and improv being life. especially the improv “rule” of always saying ‘yes’ to an offer (or an invite – can’t remember what they call it in improv) … we’re constantly being invited the new of the next moment, and if we don’t say yes, then we’re closing down an opportunity to something new & creative. and is that not a great rule for life, and life with God?

    As you say: “What if following an Improv God is way more about listening and reacting than planning and producing? What if there is way more freedom to improvise our way through life than most of us are comfortable with? Are we ready for that kind of God? Are we ready for that kind of Christianity?”

    YES!

    • Rich Reis

      Responding to “What if the God who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” is constantly changing? Just an hour ago I was driving and listening to Emerson Eggerichs speaking on Love and Respect, one comment being that women (and the “women’s movement”) say that men do not deserve respect until they earn it. Not the point of this post, but I disagree: ‘Respect is given, trust in earned, as in, we give respect because every person is made in the image of God, therefore we need give respect to people as we need give respect to God.” And then I thought, God is always trustworthy, yet He has to earn my trust, not because He is untrustworthy, but because I fall short in my own trusting, learning that He is trustworthy, as I allow Him to proof His trustworthiness, again, not because He…but because I need to learn. And this is one of the most profound lessons I have hearned in walking with Him for some thiry years, that He is trustworthy despite my disappointments, He is being faithful, and will have His way for my good in the end.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/home Jim Fisher

    Not too long ago I hopped off my perch, stood on the edge of the window, spread my wings and flew. I flew above the flowers, across the meadow, to the spring and beyond. And as I warbled my sweet concerto in G, I sang His improvisations instead of my own, trusting in faith that each note would arrive and sing through me in time with the beat of His heart.

  • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

    Joe, I’m excited to take this journey with you. I’ll be reading and following along!

  • Pingback: I God Supposed to be Fun? « rebel pilgrim


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