What the Church Can Learn From Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live turned 40 this year.

Last night, the sketch-comedy show celebrated its four decades on the air thus far with countless stars ranging from Paul McCartney to Justin Timberlake. The three and-a-half hour show took a look back at some of the most brilliant sketches performed while also revisiting renown sketches such as Celebrity Jeopardy, Weekend Update, The Californians and more. The special drew incredible ratings for NBC, becoming the most-watched prime-time entertainment telecast since 2004 aside from the Super Bowl.

Considering SNL’s incredible legacy and undeniable influence up until this point in history, the church can learn a lot from the show, especially in regards to ministry and the development of leaders:

Their Willingness to Fail

Highlight shows and Greatest Hits albums often give off a facade, placing the spotlight solely on the triumphs while negating to mention the failures.

Looking back as an SNL fan of nearly twenty years, I can think of numerous fantastic sketches and characters that I’ve grown to love and that have influenced culture. More Cowbell, Threw It On the Ground, Matt Foley, Stefan, Debbie Downer, Wayne’s World, The Barry Gibb Talk Show. While these sketches and many more have had undeniable success, there have also been that many more failures produced by the SNL team.

Larry David, Conan Obrien, Stephen Colbert. These writers along with numerous others, while notably writing hit sketches have also put forward and produced sketches that flat-out bombed. This freedom-to-fail gives creatives the opportunity to take risks.

Instead of constantly playing it safe, the cast and writers are granted artistic freedom (of course, within reason) to craft and fine-tune two-minute characters and sketches into Twitter-trending sensations. It allows nobody’s to become Eddie Murphy. This culture that has been created at Saturday Night Live predominately by creator Lorne Michaels has helped shape not only the show’s chemistry but western culture.

Counter to this principle of development, often the church fails to give up-and-coming leaders similar opportunities to grow in their skills and flesh out their gifting. Whether it be due to the lack of options that the church has or fear of the consumeristic-driven church culture we live in, we fail to provide adequate opportunities and grace for developing leaders.

What would it look like for local churches to acknowledge, affirm and encourage young leaders in their gifts and callings? How could we provide more opportunities for these young leaders to develop practical skills in their local churches instead of simply expecting them develop often-irrelevent head-knowledge at distant academic institutions?

Their Boldness

Every now-and-then, SNL is blasted for going too far while the opposite can be true of most churches.

Instead of shying away from difficult, raw and controversial topics, the show embraces the cold with a torch of confidence. Similar to South Park, if something or someone graces the front page of newspapers during the week, chances are it’ll be covered that upcoming Saturday night.

And people look forward to this.

They appreciate, if not crave the direct and honest evaluation of and approach to current events and pop culture. Unfortunately, people frequently learn more about the news when watching shows like SNL, The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight instead of the actual news channels because of the their conservative or liberal filters.

Similar to this tactic of engaging contemporary culture, Jesus and Paul often quoted and examined the rockstars and ideals expressed in art, comparing and contrasting their values and truths with the ultimate truth of scripture.

What would it look like for churches to address current events and teach their community how to process and think through how to respond from a gospel-centered worldview? Instead of forty minutes of one person teaching each week, could the church have one person confront current issues for five-to-ten minutes while another person handle the weekly teaching passage or topic?

Their Farm System

A farm system is a term used for semi-professional teams in sports that provide experience and opportunity for younger players. The hope is that the players will develop and move up from the farm team onto a professional team.

Similar to this developmental system, SNL attracts some of the most up-and-coming comedians and writers in show business. If selected to be on the cast or a writer, the hope is that eventually they will move on to bigger and better things because of their invaluable experience on the show. Every couple years, the show says goodbye to their best cast members and writers who eventually go on to do far greater things.

Similar to this method, Luke recorded a moment in early church history when the leaders of the church chose to operate under a similar methodology. In Acts 13, we see the leaders of the local church in Antioch send out Paul (then Saul) and Timothy to expand the reach of the gospel. Few people, if any, have questioned this decision of sending out arguably one of the greatest apostles. Instead of keeping Paul and sending out someone else, the church sent out their best to plant and establish new local churches in the greater area.

How much more impactful would our next-generation leaders and our local churches be if we sought not keep our best but send them out? What would our churches look like if we didn’t hold our leaders with such a tight grip but instead were more than willing to send them wherever God may call?

Their Influence

Saturday Night Live draws people from all walks of life and influences every avenue of culture. The diversity of both cast and influence goes deep and wide. It is one of the most inclusive institutions today. While inclusiveness can be dangerous, it is also a shadow of the Kingdom of God. The good news of Jesus, while not affirming of all lifestyles, welcomes people from all backgrounds.

Instead of a television show, sporting event or university, what would it look like if the local church was the most diverse and and inclusive institution known to society? What message of radical love, value and acceptance would this communicate to a hate-filled and divided world?

Their Legacy

Undoubtedly, the world would not be the same if Saturday Night Live had never been created. The cast members alone have influenced pop culture and politics more than we can even comprehend.

How much more so is the church called to influence, shape and transform the world through the message of the Jesus by the power of the Spirit to the glory of God?

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