I blame Tina Fey. Given enough time, my entire congregation might do the same.
A few years ago, on a friend’s recommendation, I read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants. Her writing is equal parts funny, crass, and brilliant (and if you can’t stomach all three, it’s probably best to leave this one on the shelf and ask me for a summary). More than a few pages dramatically changed the way I approach ministry, including her explanation of improvisation.
Improv, she says, depends upon four basic rules. First, say, “yes.” Agree with whatever your partner (or community, or congregation) has created. Second, say, “yes, and.” Agree, and then enter into the creative process yourself and start contributing. Third, make statements. This is a gentler way of saying, don’t be the person that only asks questions. That puts pressure on everyone else to come up with all the answers. Once again, contribute. Help create. And fourth, understand that there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Something didn’t go as planned? Look around and see what unexpected beauty has emerged accidentally. It’s almost always there.
Each one of these is worthy of your consideration. For me, it has been transformative to enter each conversation with a church member assuming I will do everything I can to say yes to whatever idea, scheme, or dream they bring with them. Obviously, I can’t say yes immediately to everything. Sometimes it takes conversation and creativity so we can both say yes to an adapted idea. Sometimes it takes questions to understand the spirit behind the idea, so we can find a different way forward that honors the original intent. (And yes, it’s true: there are times when I have to say no. That’s another post for another day.)
Saying yes has changed the way I approach ministry with others, but also the way I approach daily tasks myself. Shifting the evaluative question from “How could this go wrong?” to “How could we make this work?” invites open, positive dreaming and dialogue. It fosters an expectation of creativity. Frankly, it demands that I be more creative, constantly.
For the community, it communicates that we are all in this together. We’re on the same team, working toward the same goals. Saying yes is not blind acceptance; it is shared initiative and creativity. It honors what people bring to the table, and opens doors to possibilities I would have never imagined on my own.
Theologically, saying yes affirms the ministry of all God’s children and reminds us that creation itself is sacred. In the big picture, saying yes is to look at death, and offer life. It is to look at fear, and offer companionship. It is to look at the dark, and offer light. It is to look at hate, and offer love. In a world that is all too quick to say no, to say yes is to pry open the gates of the kingdom a little bit wider every time.
Jenny McDevitt is Pastor of Pastoral Care at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS. Originally from Michigan, she’s also lived in California, Virginia, and a few places in between. Her dog, Reilly, has been a faithful companion along the way. She loves stories — listening to them, reading them, and telling them. She is good at laughing, stubborn while running, and clueless about gardening.