Using Jokes In Your Sermon
Most people, at some level, want to be thought of as humorous. Not silly or tasteless, but the kind of lighthearted person who brings a smile to another’s face and can do it on cue as needed. Humor is a powerful tool in relationships. The right funny words at the right moment can diffuse a difficult situation, or repair a mistake, or bring attention to a subject in a disarming way. That’s why occasional humor and jokes within a sermon can be so effective. Here are a few tips for using jokes in your sermon.
Know your flavor. First, know what your sense of humor consists of. Some people are great at remembering short jokes or funny sayings. Others are more conversationally humorous, finding the humor in everyday life. Still others are more storytellers, sharing life in a humorous way. Humor cannot be forced and trying to will come off awkward. Probably the best way to tell your flavor in terms of humor is to ask your close advisors (spouse and close friends) what makes you funny. With humor it’s absolutely best to stay in your comfort zone.
At the start. A joke is a great way to start a sermon. It’s lighthearted and often uplifting. Keep in mind it has to fit within the context of the service. Don’t crack a joke upon entering the pulpit if the worship team has just set you up with a “holy moment”. If you’re going to start with a joke, let the other team members know so that the stage will be set properly. As you move into the meat of the message, humor may be less appropriate, so if you have something funny that fits, consider sticking it at the top of the message.
For difficult moments. Humor can have a disarming quality. If you’re in a difficult subject, think about how levity can help the congregation digest the teaching. Often humor that points back at your own life or family or a personal situation is most appropriate in these situations. Putting yourself into the punch line helps others identify themselves with a difficult topic more easily.
Err on the tasteful side. Always try out any jokes in your message with other people, especially those of the opposite sex. I’ve seen so many pastors make the mistake of trying to be funny and instead coming off as tasteless. It’s never funny to make fun of other people, to draw attention to embarrassing situations or to touch on issues of race, sex or addiction. Often the offended parties aren’t going to tell you directly that you were tasteless, so you need to pre-screen your humor if it has even the slightest hint of being misinterpreted. A bad joke will haunt you for weeks or months. “Did you remember that time that pastor actually said…” Yes, they will remember.
Time is precious. Don’t take too long to get to the punch line. I love talking and writing, and my greatest temptation is to add so much detail that by the time I get to the point, the impact is lost because my audience is asleep. Jokes should be brief. Even story-form jokes should build and get to the point quickly.
You’re not doing standup. Remember, the joke is not the point of your sermon. God’s Word is the central character, and humor plays only a minor supporting role. I’ve heard several sermons over the years that were just a string of funny stories along a theme. People leave the service smiling, even laughing, but by the time they get to their cars, there’s no substance there to remember. At the beginning of the article I stated most people wanted to be known as lighthearted. That’s true. However, as a pastor you don’t want to be known as the standup comedian in the pulpit. It’s a balance, and one in which you should be weighted toward the substance side versus the humor side.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.