A few weeks back, we explored how not to use humor. In this article, we will consider how to use humor in the sermon. No doubt, you have developed your own ways of employing homiletic humor, but here are a few ideas to supplement your methods.
-Find humor in the biblical text. There are some funny people, stories, sayings, and ironies in Scripture. Identify them in the biblical text you’re preaching and try to make your humorous appeal through them. If the humor you locate in the biblical text is not too Americanized, it may have the added benefit of being cross-cultural.
-Self-deprecating humor can be an effective device. Congregations I served always seemed to enjoy when I made fun of my inability to fix things or my tendency to mistake the gender of infants. They sadistically seemed to savor stories about me goofing up, making a mess, or looking foolish. Preachers who can laugh at themselves are usually funny. Self-deprecating humor can be taken too far. It should be used sparingly or listeners may perceive it as a sign of the preacher’s insecurity and may not take the preacher seriously at all.
-Humor can tear down walls of defensiveness. As a general rule, when a sermon topic might elicit a knee-jerk response of defensiveness in listeners, use humor. If you are preaching on the topic of finances, sexual purity, or marital health, use humor that draws people into the hard truth you are compelled to proclaim.
-Connect humor to the focus of the sermon. For example, if you are preaching a sermon focused primarily on teaching people how to pray you could tell them about the little girl who prayed for her tyrannical older brother to be given up for adoption. People will laugh and then you could talk about how Jesus invites us to pray for our enemies, but not quite like the little girl prayed for her brother! When a humorous anecdote is connected in obvious ways to the main emphasis of the sermon, people not only remember the humorous story they also tend to remember the focus of the sermon.
-Observe and identify humor in the monotony of life. Find the humor in the repetitive, seemingly mundane circumstances of life, such as brushing your teeth, getting dressed, driving to work, shopping for groceries, pumping gas, or reading mail. Find a coffee shop and observe people. Watch how people interact, sip their coffee, and talk on their cell phones. But don’t stare too long or they will think you’re creepy. Consider the humor in marriage and family, dating and friendship, church and career, hobbies and academia. Our use of humor, to be effective, must be located in the contexts where most of our people “live and move and have their being.”
Dr. Lenny Luchetti presently serves as Assistant Professor of Proclamation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary of Indiana Wesleyan University. He began his 15 years of pastoral ministry when he was 23 years old. During that time he has served as the Pastor of a small rural church, the Assistant Pastor of a large church, and as the Lead Pastor of a congregation that grew from a small to a large missional and multi-ethnic church during his tenure. Lenny has taught preaching courses for ministers since 2003. He has preached at churches, camps, and colleges in the United States and around the world. His passion these days is to invest in those who are investing in local churches.
Dr. Luchetti blogs at lennyluchetti.blogspot.com