For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Jon Acuff. Jon is a New York Times bestselling author and a popular conference speaker. His blog, Stuff Christians Like, is read by more than 5 million readers. His latest books are Quitter and Start.
Today we talk to Jon about the use of humor, the theology of pursuing dreams, and why it's sometimes okay to be "horrible."
You're known for writing humor that pokes fun at the evangelical culture. How important is humor for church leaders in their speaking ministry?
I think it's important. I would caution people this way: if you're not funny or if it is not a gift, don't feel you have to do it. If you're not comfortable talking with a white board when you are speaking, don't feel like you have to use one, even if it becomes popular. Play to your strengths.
You should always use humor to some degree. But I would never tell somebody, "If you are not as funny as Matt Chandler, you are not doing it right." He has a natural gift of humor and he uses it.
It's similar to what comedian Chris Rock says, "There are some topics people will not listen to unless they are laughing at the same time." I use humor as a release valve, a permission builder. There are times as a leader that you don't have the equity in the relationships to share something hard. For me, when I give a speech or preach, I use humor to build that relationship. People can relate to humor. It's part of what makes us uniquely human, something God wired us for.
Satire, to me, is just a vehicle for truth. Look at shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Younger generations are going to those shows not just for humor, but also for news.
In your book Quitter, you talk about pursuing dreams. This has been a theme of your work of late. The church seems to have an uneasy relationship with pursuing dreams. We've grown up thinking that to pursue your dreams is worldly, not in line with "taking up your cross." How do church leaders articulate this?
I think the church expresses and experiences dreams in two ways. First is the idea that you shouldn't have dreams, that they are selfish. So if you are living for Christ, you should be, to some degree, miserable. I used to think that if you gave your life to Christ, he would make you sell everything and move to Africa. But if the first thing God does for you when you give your life to him is the worst thing you can imagine—we must have the worst God imaginable. What a miserable deity! He's just waiting for us to surrender so he can punish us. "Oh, you're a writer? Guess what? I'm going to make you teach calculus."
Second, we over-stimulate our dreams. We say, "I'm doing it. I'm just going to step out on faith." A friend of mine told me, "It's like we are on a plane that God is piloting, and we skydive out—it's ‘Red Bull' Christianity. God looks over his shoulder and says, ‘I was going to land this plane in three months. It was going to be really smooth. Who told you to jump?'"
If the opportunity doesn't work, we throw God under the bus and say, "It wasn't God's will." And God says, "I didn't have anything to do with that. I told you to volunteer or work at Starbucks before you mortgaged your house and started a coffee shop of your own. Don't associate me with that horrible idea. Don't put faith flavor on that."
I think the way you navigate that is by looking at Scripture and the people God used. Dreaming is getting closer to who you were created to be. I don't believe you can be anything you want. I believe something better: you can be the very best "you" God created you to be.