Humor Can Make A Hard Truth Hit Home

Humor Can Make A Hard Truth Hit Home

We are looking at humor in sermons in this series of posts.  Today we are going to see that humor can make a hard truth hit home for your listeners.

A Hard Truth Hits Home

In his book, Preaching Nuts and BoltsBrandon Hilgemann describes a pastor who, he says, does this very effectively.   Here’s what he says on page 154:

I know a pastor who is a master at this.  He will have the audience rolling on the floor right before he hits them between the eyes with brutal honesty. 

For example, he once told a hilarious story about a nagging wife and a man who wished he wasn’t married to her.  But then he changed his tone and said, “As funny as that is, many of our marriages in this room are on the brink of disaster.  And men, you need to stop flirting with thoughts of another woman. 

How Humor Makes a Hard Truth Hit Home

Humor can make a hard truth hit home to your readers.  It does that by disarming them and setting them up for the point you want to make.   This unnamed preacher could have just blurted out the point that he wanted to make, but instead, he set people up to hear a hard truth.  If he had started with a scolding, attacking attitude, quoting statistics about how many Christian people access pornography every week, the men in the room would likely have become defensive and shut his message out. His approach, using humor, set up the audience to hear the truth that he wanted to get into their hearts.  The humorous story disarmed them, and brought down the defenses.

Humor and the Skeptic

Humor can also be used when speaking to skeptics, or those that have reservations about you or what you are going to say.  John Stott, eminent British theologian, put it this way in his book, The Challenge of Preaching (Kindle location 1467):

We must never joke about serious topics.  But humor may be used to break tension, so that people can relax before concentrating again.  It may be used to break down people’s defenses–to move them from stubbornness and rebellion to responsiveness.”


Charles Colson

I once heard Charles Colson speak about ethics in business to the Harvard University School of business.  After his speech, he welcomed questions.  Harvard is not known to be a place that is oriented toward a Christian ethic, and so the students were on the attack quite quickly, challenging his statement that there has to be some kind of overarching ethic, or people will get in trouble.  They attacked him, saying that he was just trying to proselytize for his own Christian faith.

He responded by telling a tragic story about his own life of living beyond reproach, and then going to jail.  But he did it with humor, so that the people were laughing. He told the story of his growing up with a parent taught commitment to doing things right.   Poverty defined his childhood, but he got an education, was a marine for several years, and in preparing to serve in the White House, made sure that he had no conflict of interest that could come back to bite him.

He then told about his conversion.  Then he slipped in then that when the book describing his conversion (Born Again) came out in Germany, they translated the phrase, “The White House Hatchet Man” as the “White House Executioner”.  That little part of the story disarmed many of the skeptics in the room.

He then proceeded to list graduates of Harvard Business School who were in jail for breaking the law.  The point was made: people in business need an ethic.  Humor can make a hard truth hit home for your audience.

When you are going to speak to skeptics, make sure you include disarming humor.

In the next post we’ll look more at what makes humor and how to use it.