Used by Permission
A national ministry recently asked pastors on Facebook, “Is it okay to use humor in sermons?” Since I love to laugh, my immediate response was, “Of course!” As I read through a few comments, though, my heart sank. Social media has a way of polarizing ministry leaders. The question was framed for a “yes” or “no” answer, and there were plenty of each. Instead, what if we pondered, “How should humor be used in sermons?”
My passion for humor leads me to believe that Dr. Gary Chapman should add laughter as the sixth love language. While that may never happen, here are a few considerations for incorporating appropriate humor into your church and sermons.
- Don’t forsake your personality. I attended Dallas Seminary during Dr. Chuck Swindoll’s presidency. His sermons contain plenty of laughter, so it shocked me to learn that he almost didn’t go into ministry because of his sense of humor. In his book Laugh Again, Chuck shared his struggle with allowing God to use his personality in the pulpit. If you have a fun nature, don’t become someone you are not on Sunday mornings. God gave you your personality. Bring it into balance, but don’t suppress it.
- Use humor to deliver the truth. I recently received an e-mail from a senior woman in our church. She has served in the same international ministry for 60 years and has been a member of our church for 12 years. After a challenging sermon, she wrote me, “Your humor at the beginning allowed for what was to follow. I have noted often how you get us to laugh at your candid experiences, then point us to Scripture that shows all of us that sin is not funny. Your sharing allows us to identify and relate the points to ourselves and say, ‘Yeah, I’ve said that, done that, felt that way.’”
However, my glaring weakness is using too much humor, at inappropriate times. When I feel the congregation wrestling with a deep truth or conviction, my pastor’s heart wants to rescue them (and me). Laughter is my escape mechanism and I need to learn when not to use it. I have a trusted friend at our church who holds me accountable to this by providing feedback after services, helping me to learn where the line is. I don’t want humor to be a distraction.
- Allow humor to cultivate health. Fellowship is one of the purposes of the church. When you walk into a church building and hear laughter, you know immediately that believers are enjoying one another. I love when my own kids laugh together. I believe it pleases our Father when His children enjoy one another in fellowship.
Humor has a way of bringing down walls and bonding people from different backgrounds, cultures, and denominations. Victor Borge is attributed with saying, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Russian comedian and Branson, Missouri entertainer, Yakov Smirnoff once said, “Everybody laughs the same in every language because laughter is a universal connection.”
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Laughter heals us emotionally. According to Ecclesiastes 3:4, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Emotionally healthy congregations experience a wide range of emotions. Some seasons bring sorrow and mourning. Other seasons bring joy and laughter. Expressing these emotions through worship and sermons ministers to the well-being of the entire congregation.
Dr. Frank Lipman believes laughter helps us both emotionally and physically: “What’s the one prescription I am always happy to dispense? Take two belly laughs and call me in the morning. Safer than any big pharma pill-of-the-moment and free of harmful side effects, laughter is one of the easiest things you can do to promote healing and well-being. In fact, in my 20 years of medical experience, I’ve found that patients who have a sense of humor and laugh a lot, tend to heal better and faster than those who don’t. Therefore I say, if health and wellness is your goal, skip irony, bypass sarcasm, and make the conscious choice to add more joyous laughter into your day.” (www.drfranklipman.com/)
- Follow the example of respected preachers who used humor. Dennis Rainey is a ministry leader I deeply admire. He loves to laugh and reminds us that preachers who have gone before used plenty of humor in their sermons: “Luther once kidded, ‘If they don’t allow laughter in Heaven then I don’t want to go there.’ He went on to add, ‘If the earth is fit for laughter then surely Heaven is filled with it. Heaven is the birthplace of laughter.’ Spurgeon was once asked by the elders of his church to tone down his humor from the pulpit. The great English preacher replied, ‘Gentlemen, if you only knew how much I held back!’” (familylife.com)
My sermons often lack formal, homiletically correct introductions. You’ve heard it said, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Loving and relating to the congregation of Woodland Hills is of high value to me. If you have a serious sermon planned for this Sunday, consider taking time during the welcome, announcements, or introduction to connect with your people through humor.
You might be thinking, “I’m not funny.” You don’t need to be. Use a humorous anecdote or culturally relevant joke to bond with your congregation. I pray your church is blessed with a cheerful heart and the Good News of Jesus this Sunday!
[Dale Flynn and his wife, Liz, are Word of Life Local Church Ministries missionaries in Eastern MD. Dale is a Local Church Ministries curriculum editor and is the editor of this Ministering to the Minister E-Transfer national electronic Pastor’s newsletter. The Flynns make their home in Elkton, MD. Questions or comments about this article may be addressed to Dale at: DFlynn@wol.org. ]