Story Magazine - Fall, 2012
An improv artist in the pulpit
by John Klawiter, M.Div. '12
Pastor Mike Weaver, M. Div. '98, was a year into his call at All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington, Ohio, when he noticed a poster at an ice cream shop for a class called Improvisation Skills for Professionals.
"I took the class," said Weaver, "and I was like, 'I'm home.' Within an hour, I had these connections, we were playing. It was creative." He immediately signed up for the first round of classes, which lasted seven weeks. When those were completed, he took on a whole year. His trainer suggested that Weaver and his classmates start a troupe.
"We started performing twice a month at a local bar," he said. "It was terrifying and exhilarating."
It didn't take long for Weaver to also notice the connection improv had to his faith. "I was loving it as a craft," he said. "But I was also seeing how it was applicable to my life, leadership and my Christian faith. The majority of the stuff I was learning was here in the Word. This is helping me live my faith in a different way.
"Improv helps me live more incarnationally." [Since embracing improv], I live in a more freeing and honest, present way." He has been immersed in improv ever since while still working full time at All Saints.
Members of All Saints have even attended a class that he hosted to teach improv. "Eight or nine people took it," said Weaver. "It was purely training.
Then we reflected on what this means for our Christian faith. It's been fun to keep track of these people as many of them became the drama people for our contemporary service."
One of the members of All Saints, Stacy Wendt, took the class. "The biggest lesson was that the performer responds to every suggestion with 'Yes, and ...'" said Wendt. "It's easy to go negative on ideas, but if you do that in improv, it shuts down the whole scene. It's very applicable to life and to faith because 'no' shuts down relationships with God
and other people."
Improv has also had a positive influence on Weaver's preaching. "Improv allows me to prepare to let go and stop worrying about the outcome or if I should say this or not, but what's really going on in my heart," said Weaver. "It's about speaking truthfully.
"As a preacher, in that moment, I'm responsive to what the Spirit is doing. I'm open to what the Spirit is doing. I'm just preaching in the moment. It allows me to be very comfortable in my skin."
Weaver also acknowledged the value of the improv principle of "make someone else look good" as a leader in a congregation. "It's more about lifting up that lay person and letting them shine," said Weaver. "More importantly, let God shine--it's not about what I do, it's what God is doing. Look at that cool thing that person did when I put myself second."
Weaver has taken what he's learned and put it into two books. "Your Life ... Improvised: 7 Improv Secrets to Help You Be Happy, Live Freely and Connect with God and Others Naturally" is written for the average Christian. His newest book, "Your Ministry ... Improvised," was just released this summer and "looks at the church in general," said Weaver. "[The church is like] an improv troupe to tell God's story. How we tell it matters."
Weaver is the director of The Group Mind, a company that consults with churches through the skills of improv. Weaver's books can be purchased at www.thegroupmind.com.