I would never say discipleship is a laughing matter. It’s a glorious process in which the Spirit works to form God’s people into the likeness of Christ. It’s the call of all Christians and the purpose of every church. Discipleship is serious business, but I think comedy provides a helpful way to understand it.
Every discipling encounter takes one of two forms: planned or unplanned. I’ve come to frame these forms of discipleship as “sketch discipleship” and “improv discipleship.”
Sketch Discipleship (Set-Aside Moments to Teach)
“Sketch discipleship” refers to planned discipleship, and the name comes from a specific form of comedy.
In the acting world, a sketch is a short scene or vignette performed by a group of actors or comedians. These sketches are scripted, rehearsed, and performed within a specific time frame. Saturday Night Live is the most recognizable example.
Many of our discipling encounters take on a form similar to sketch comedy. They’re set-aside moments dedicated to reading Scripture, teaching biblical truths, praying, and facilitating Christ-centered conversation. These moments are expected, planned, and often rehearsed.
Biblical examples of this form of discipleship can be seen in the righteous man’s consistent meditation on God’s law (Ps. 1:1–3), the devotion of the early church to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42), and the example of daily prayer given by Christ (Matt. 6:9–13).
Modern examples of sketch discipleship could include a family that schedules daily Scripture reading at breakfast or a Sunday School teacher who preps to teach a class. It could be two friends who read and discuss a classic Christian book or a parent rehearsing how she’ll lovingly correct her teenage son. No matter the location or number of people, this form of discipleship is typically mapped out. It follows a pattern and is usually predictable in its scope and outcome.
While planned discipleship might be the most common way discipleship is explained, it’s not the most common way discipleship is experienced. Broadly speaking, discipleship is formation, meaning whatever is forming our identity, character, and direction in life is discipling us. Planned teaching moments shape us, but so do life’s unplanned moments. Understanding this aspect of our spiritual formation leads us to the next form of discipleship: improv.
Improv Discipleship (Sought-After Teachable Moments)
Improv (improvisation) is an acting form in which the performance is unplanned, unscripted, and created spontaneously by the performers. Typically, the only direction given is a suggested topic or scenario. The actors must improvise and turn these minimal directions into comedy gold.
Whatever is forming our identity, character, and direction in life is discipling us.
Similarly, improv discipleship takes life’s unexpected moments and turns them into teachable moments that point to Christ. It usually involves our reactions to situations and responses in conversation.
Biblical examples of this form of discipleship can be seen in the “as you go” style of teaching the Israelites were to give their children (Deut. 6:4–9) and the theological correction Priscilla and Aquila gave Apollos after hearing him teach in the synagogue (Acts 18:24–28).
Modern examples of improv discipleship could include a father apologizing to his son after losing his temper or a grandmother pointing out God’s glory in creation while taking her grandchildren on a walk outside. It could be a college student praying for a friend after she receives bad news or a believer declaring the goodness of God in the gospel after a neighbor expresses his doubts. Often it looks like responding to news events or social media controversies with insights grounded in biblical wisdom.
In acting and in certain forms of music (like jazz), good improvisation can seem effortless. But in reality, it takes a lot of skill, cultivated and practiced over time. If we want to be more effective in improv discipleship—faithfully pointing to Christ in the unplanned moments of life—we need to develop and practice skills.
That’s why activities like personal Bible reading, prayer, and meditation are called “spiritual practices” or “spiritual disciplines.” What we discipline ourselves to practice privately will spill out of us relationally, when opportunities arise. Conversely, if we aren’t practicing spiritual disciplines and cultivating Christian wisdom in between discipling encounters, then what spills out of us in the unplanned moments of life won’t be of Christ.
How Sketch and Improv Work Together
In college, we had a comedy group on campus called “informal” that performed a mix of sketch and improv comedy. Several group members lived on my dorm floor, and I saw how well their two brands of comedy complemented each other. I learned that some of the funniest moments in their sketches were improvised and some of their greatest improvisations flowed out of their sketches. Their improvement in one always sharpened their skills in the other, increasing their overall success as a group.
What we discipline ourselves to practice privately will spill out of us relationally, when opportunities arise.
Similarly, sketch and improv discipleship differ, but they’re not designed to work in isolation. A wise disciple recognizes the relationship between the two forms of disciple making and moves seamlessly between them. I say “wise” because discipleship isn’t just a mission we pursue; it’s a skill we develop. It requires wisdom.
Wisdom is the ability to apply the right knowledge at the right time in the right way. Similar to a comedian’s ability to tell a joke with the right timing and delivery, or an athlete’s ability to adjust his playing style in the middle of a game, a wise disciple of Jesus can apply one form of discipleship then another, depending on the circumstance.
As you strive to fulfill the Great Commission, I pray the ideas of sketch and improv discipleship provide you with a helpful framework and renew your joy in making disciples.