“Did you hear the one about…”
In a culture inundated with inappropriate humor, the church should be a place where people can come hear about real life and even get a good, hearty and appropriate laugh. Scripture says, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’.” (Psalm 126:2) Wow, to think that laughter could even point people to God and His goodness!
Why not: Laughter is a great gift from God and used appropriately, it can even help break the tension when bringing a heavy message. However, laughter from the pulpit can be a pretty tricky thing! After 29-plus years as a Youth Pastor, 4 years as a Lead Pastor and especially as a College Professor, I’ve learned that carelessly using even Christian humor when preaching or teaching can get you in a lot of hot water! While some of these tips may be a given for most folks, they are worth reminding ourselves:
Tip 1 – If you are going to make fun of someone, make fun of Thyself!
This is one of the first rules I learned in Youth Ministry and it still holds true for adults. No matter how close you think you might be to someone in your congregation, you never know all the circumstances of someone’s life. What might be a funny perspective to you might actually be a sore spot to the person you are poking fun at. I have always found that the congregation enjoys a good, clean laugh at the Pastor’s expense. By the way, don’t even use stories about your family or your kids to get a laugh. (It might be okay if you get their permission, but most PK’s resent being pulled into a message.)
While there is plenty of humor to be found in family, I have to point out my dumb mistakes, not my kids’. If it is about something you did that was less than brilliant, by all means, tell the story. Frankly, it is a good way to make your own family laugh again. Also, while it might be tempting to use humor against National figures, remember, there may be folks in your congregation that might adore that National figure. Our humor should never belittle another person created in the image of God. Make sure your Christian humor is just that. The point: Use humor graciously.
Tip 2 – If you are using a media source for laughter (or for any reason), make sure you preview every bit of it first before you play it in front of your congregation.
I once consulted a Christian resource from a very well-known and trusted source. The book recommended a variety of video clips to use for messages with youth. I thought to myself, “Hey, I can trust this guy. This is a very popular selling book so the video clip has got to be appropriate!” Boy, was I ever wrong! I started the video clip right where the book instructed and, while it wasn’t a humorous clip, it became even less humorous when a very inappropriate explicative came out of the video and into the ears of my middle and high school students! Not only was it inappropriate, it was WAY inappropriate! I thought I was going to have to pack up my office and find a new ministry position. The point: NEVER take any media for granted, whether it is a video or a song!
Tip 3 – Make sure you find a balance.
Don’t make the humor so funny that your congregation misses the point of your message. Have you ever watched a commercial where it was so funny you forgot what the commercial was actually advertising? It is the same way with Christian humor from the pulpit. Your humorous illustration could be so hilarious that your congregation may not even remember the point of your message. All they will do afterward is share the preacher’s humorous illustration without sharing the point. After all, we are to proclaim the Gospel, not simply entertain.
On the other hand, some of us really need to use some resources that can liven up our messages. I remember someone stating that they knew a Pastor who put lemon juice in the communion elements just to make sure people looked holy! Sorry, but lacking humor and looking like a prude should not be considered “holy.”
Christian Humor is a Gift from God
Humor and laughter are great gifts from God. There are many great resources out there to help you bring some Christian humor in the name of Jesus. While you don’t have to be a great comedian to use humor, using humor inappropriately in any form or fashion can not only ruin a great message, it could potentially turn people away from God. As I stated in the beginning of this article, humor – especially from the pulpit – should be used to point people to God, not away from Him. Well, I have to go now and write a sermon where I am sharing some of the most boneheaded mistakes I have ever made as a Youth Pastor.
Rich Griffith is a single dad to two awesome adopted sons (Aaron and Dylan), Contributor to the Teen Devotional Bible, has been in Youth Ministry for 32 years in a variety of capacities, is a Lead Pastor and the Professor of Youth Ministry at Toccoa Falls College. He is the Ministry and Leadership Departments Online Coordinator. He is completing his Doctorate in Youth, Family and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary.
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