Minister of Comedy: Pastor Speaks of His Ministry

Dec 31, 1969 07:00 PM EST

Dennis Swanberg, star of "the Swan" testifies the life of brining joy to those around him. He encourages Christians to 'lighten up,' and to be happy about salvation.

"As God's people, we ought be some of the happiest people out there," Swanberg, said. "We're saved, we're going to heaven, we're joint heirs with the King."

Swanberg grew up in Austin, Texas, and after graduating from Baylor University in Waco, he earned both the master of divinity and the doctor of ministry degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. After 23 years as a pastor, he stepped into what he calls the fulltime ministry of encouragement in 1995.

"Of course," he remembers with a chuckle, "you think when God calls that he wants you to preach or lead music or go into the mission field. What I've come to realize now is that the Lord can allow you to be a minister in many different ways."

Rivaling anyone involved in the comedy scene, Swanberg is noted for his impersonations of famous personnel including Don Knotts, Pat Butram, Walter Brennan, Howard Cosell, Muhammed Ali, Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Forrest Gump, Slim Pickins, John Wayne, Ross Perot, and Jimmy Stewart.

His talents began since his childhood, when he could imitate Don Knotts as Barney Fife. Throughout school, he was the class clown, and in highschool, he led events as master of ceremonies at the talent shows.

One of his greatest impressions is that of Billy Graham who Swanberg imitated "since [he[ was a kid."

"I'd see him on television, and at the end of the crusade in front of that camera on TV, he'd say, 'And some of you are watching by way of television. Maybe you're at your own home or sitting in a bar, but I want you to write me: Billy Graham, Minneapolis, Minn.,'" Swanberg said, imitating Graham's voice. "So I've always loved Billy Graham."

After many performances for Christian and non-Christian communities alike, the Billy Graha m Evangelistic Association asked him to appear as an entertainer for their staff and their families.

"My dream had come true. I met Billy Graham, and I did my Billy impression for him," Swanberg said. "When I was finished, he leaned over and said, 'Now you can take over.'"

Swansberg's ministry in entertainment began with the end of his pastorate. When he decided to take leave from being pastor, the FamilyNet, a television network funded by the North American Mission Board, booked him for 75 episodes of a weekly variety show called "Swans' Place." The Trinity Broadcast Network also signed with him for the "Dennis Swanberg show.

Swanberg has worked with Focus on the Family for 15 years as a motivational speaker and comedian. He has spoken at Southern Baptist Conventions and pastor's conferences and has written two books, "Is Your Love Tank Full?" and "Swan's Soup and Salad." He noted that a project with the International Mission Board is being planned, in which he'll join Bible study authors Henry Blackaby and Avery Willis in promoting international missions.

"As a humorous impressionist, humor doesn't authenticate the gospel. The gospel helps authenticate our use of humor," Swanberg said. "When you're a Christian humorist, there's a method to the madness: to lead people to Christ."

Swanberg noted Jesus' humor as noted in the scripture.

"Jesus knew how to penetrate people," Swanberg continued. "He used satire and irony. Sometimes it would seem like a story was a little bit embellished, all to make a point and get people to see the twinkle in his eye."

Swanberg mentioned as an example Jesus and the woman who came to him with a demon-possessed daughter in Matthew 15. As she cried out to Jesus for help, he did not speak to her. The disciples wanted Jesus to send the woman away because her crying bothered them. Jesus then said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." When she pleaded with him again, he said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs."

Then the woman said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Jesus answered, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And the daughter was healed.

"When you first read Jesus' answer about the dogs, you think, 'How rude,'" Swanberg said. "But she must have seen the twinkle in his eye, his smile. He was saying something that had been heard [in the culture], and she caught it, and she responded. Jesus looked at her and said, 'You know what, honey? You've got it together. You know more than all these other folks know. You're way ahead of the game."

That's how Jesus handled a difficult situation, Swanberg said. But the important thing with humor is that the person must get it; he or she must understand.

Swanberg, America's Minister of Encouragement, resides in West Monroe, La., with his wife, Lauree, and his two sons, Chad and Dusty. The Dennis Swanberg Show airs Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. Central on Trinity Broadcast Network.

By Pauline C.