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Ministering With Humor

By Stephanie Nance

Dr. Stephanie Nance serves on staff with the Network for Women in Ministry and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and speaks at churches and conferences. She holds a Master of Divinity in expository preaching and a Doctor of Ministry degree. An ordained minister with the Alaska Ministry Network, she is passionate about narrative preaching, spiritual formation, and ministering hope to the broken. Stephanie currently lives in Missouri where she is learning to trust God with the mystery of "not knowing." Connect with Stephanie at www.stephanienance.com

Though there is a great seriousness to the message we preach, we must also acknowledge that the use of humor to communicate the gospel can be just as powerful as the pulpit pounding moments.

I was 6 years old when I preached my first sermon to a childhood friend who refused to attend church with me. Instead of walking away, I proceeded to preach him a sermon on why he would be consumed by the fires of hell. Though I entered church that night unaccompanied by my friend, I held my head high knowing that the bloody, swollen lip he gave me was all for Jesus.

My years of preaching since that day have not only taught me tactfulness, but they have taught me that a good dose of humor will go a long way to engage people in the message of Jesus. Though there is a great seriousness to the message we preach, we must also acknowledge that the use of humor to communicate the gospel can be just as powerful as the pulpit pounding moments.

With today’s high-pressured and fast-paced lifestyle, people often arrive at church overstressed and exhausted, adorned with expressionless faces that intimidate even the most seasoned of preachers. Humor is a powerful way to break through this somber exterior and open people up to the life-changing Word of God.

The challenge is to find ways to include the joy and benefits of humor in sermons without the desperate appearance of someone who is just trying to get a laugh. Here are a few tips that might be of assistance with such a challenge.

  • Grab the Camera. A funny image can easily say what we often struggle to say humorously. Always keep a digital camera or camera phone nearby because funny moments can happen anywhere. A humorous picture can be an excellent visual for a sermon introduction; it grabs the congregation’s attention, relaxes them, and immediately connects them to the message. Images are also great for illustrations and applications. If you see something funny, take a picture and file it away. You never know when it will work for a sermon. Make sure to use an image purposefully. It needs to connect to the message of the sermon.
  • Utilize a Camcorder. Who can deny the power of videos and movies in our culture? Get assistance from a youth group to make a funny video for a sermon illustration. Also, consider recording humorous parts of a sermon in advance at different locations and then weave them into your delivery. Do not be concerned with obtaining expensive equipment. Use the best that can be afforded or borrowed, but make sure that the video is done with a spirit of excellence. Funny video illustrations on different topics can also be purchased for use on various Christian resource websites. (See our Resource List for examples.)
  • Hangout with Children. Keep eyes and ears open around children. Children view life through a very different lens than adults, and they often communicate it in a funny way. The things they say make great illustrations.
  • Preach the Narratives.There is a lot of humor to be found in the narratives of the Bible. Study how to preach from the narrative genre and dig into them to develop the characters and scenes. People have always said and done funny things, so bring out the funny moments that are there; this will allow the listeners to relate to the stories. If technology is not available to use pictures and videos, then make it a priority to learn how to create images in the minds of the listeners by mastering narrative preaching and storytelling.

We are ministers who desire to see lives changed by the Word of God; humor is a tool to accomplish that goal.

  • Glean from Culture. Sometimes we are too busy criticizing culture in our sermons that we miss the opportunity to utilize the humor that is in it. Culture provides us with endless amounts of funny sermon applications. When people can laugh at their culture, it allows them to think about how they need to live out their faith in the world. To effectively and accurately communicate this way, keep up-to-date with the culture. Misrepresentation will lead to a loss of trust.
  • Acknowledge the Obvious. If you accidentally do or say something funny, stop and acknowledge it. In other words: Don’t take yourself so seriously! When the congregation can laugh at your humanity with you, they will not only develop a trust in you, but also in the message that you preach.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when adding humor to a sermon:

  • Remember the Purpose. We are not called to be comedians; getting laughs should not be the main purpose. We are ministers who desire to see lives changed by the Word of God; humor is a tool to accomplish that goal.
  • Know the Audience. What works well with a youth group may not work with an older congregation. Different age groups and regions of the world respond to different types of humor, so be selective with what is used. If in doubt, it is probably best not to say or do it.
  • Keep it Real. People know if someone is trying too hard. Today’s generation seeks authenticity in the church, so just be yourself.

Humor is a wonderful gift that God has given us to communicate with each other. It is time that we get creative about how to use it to communicate God’s Word and to see lives changed.