Humor Can Make A Sermon Memorable

Humor Can Make A Sermon Memorable

We’ve been reflecting on how to make a sermon memorable in the past several posts.  Humor can make a sermon memorable for your congregation.  But that brings up a question.  What do you think about laughter in church?  I remember the first time I saw this picture of a laughing Jesus.  It shocked me.  Every picture of Jesus I had seen before showed a very serious, and almost melancholy man.  I just never pictured him throwing his head back and laughing, and yet, the Bible tells us that Jesus was fully human.  As a human being, he had to have laughed.  In fact, many of the things he said had a humorous edge to them.  Donald Sweeting reflected on the humorous Jesus in his blog for the National Association for Evangelicals.  Here’s a quote from that post:

Examples of Humor

There are many kinds of humor. There is humorous hyperbole, irony, the humor of baffled disbelief. There’s the humor that snickers with stinging one liners. There’s painful humor, malicious humor, playful humor, and the humor of wit.  

A careful reading of the Scriptures shows that Jesus employed some of these in his ministry, even though we sometimes miss his humor in our overfamiliarity with the text. There is ironic humor when Jesus gives impetuous Peter the name “rock.” What about the painful comedy of Jesus’ story of the rich fool and his barns? When he learned he was about to die, we encounter probing humor in the question, “Then who will get all your stuff?”  

Then there are his zingers about people who strain out gnats and swallow camels. He said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. He said some people are more concerned over the speck in their brother’s eye than the plank in their own. These incongruities prompt a kind of laughter.

The Benefits of Humor

There are those who believe that a sermon is the wrong place to use humor because it trivializes the solemn time of worship.  I don’t agree with that, obviously.  In fact, I have found several positive effects of humor in a sermon.

  • It grabs attention.  We’ve looked previously in a series of posts on the challenge of holding peoples’ attention.  Peoples’ minds tend to wander, and a well-placed humorous statement, or a cartoon on the screen (if you have that capability) will immediately grab attention.  John Stott, eminent British theologian put it well, as quoted by Brandon Hilgemann.  “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. (John Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, Kindle ed. (Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2013), Location 1467).
  • Humor can set the stage for a deeper truth.  There are times when a well-placed funny story can set people up to hear a deeper truth.    Here’s an example.  Charles’ Schultz was a master at mixing his faith into his cartoons.  Here’s one about theology.

An Example

Recently I led a discussion with a group of men who were discussing a series of films that they found helpful in their understanding of Scripture.  Then someone read a review that pointed out some theological issues that someone found in one of the videos.  The result was that some were ready to abandon all the good for the sake of the one or two that showed some questionable interpretation of the Bible’s message.  Showing this cartoon to begin a discussion would disarm a group like that, and make them ready to receive a message of tolerance and appreciation, and would hopefully lead to an encouragement to study the Word to evaluate truth.

In the next post, we’ll look at some guidelines for using humor in your sermons.  Remember, humor can make a sermon memorable for your hearers.   In the meantime, consider this teaching from the creator of on how to use story and humor in your messages.