Would you define "pastor" as someone who talks while someone else sleeps? Can you relate to the story about a couple that went to see the doctor because the wife complained about her husband snoring? The doctor asked if he kept her awake at night. "Me?" she exclaimed. "He keeps the whole church awake."
If no one is listening, it doesn't matter how great the sermon. Maybe it is time to add some humor to homiletics. One pastor told me that he had tried humor and it didn't work. I told him his delivery belonged on a truck. Before you tell the one about the guy who walked into church with a duck on his head, let me give you some hints.
First, humor begins with you. Charles Spurgeon was talking to some young preachers about facial expressions when they preach. He said, "When you preach on Heaven you ought to have a smile. Joy ought to radiate from your face." Then one of the young whippersnappers in the front said, "Well, Dr. Spurgeon, what is your face supposed to look like when you preach on Hell?" He said, "Just look normal, young man. Just look normal."
If your normal look is pallbearer pale, then loosen up. Your smile is a sign that it is okay to lighten up. Your "woe is me" look makes people nervous. They will not go from, "woe, woe, woe," to, "ho, ho, ho," very easily. Remember, when people lighten up it is easier for them to see the light.
Next, don't lose the element of surprise. If you say, "You have to hear this one …" it puts too much pressure on the joke. You're not a joke teller; you are a communicator. So weave your jokes into your message. Communicate the truth with the joke. Instead of lambasting the lottery, mention it in passing and use the line, "The lottery is for people who flunked math." Instead of three points and a poem about the evils of astrology, refer to it as horror scope where the margin of error is plus or minus 100 percent.
You can go on a tirade about sin city (Las Vegas) or you can mention that Las Vegas strip had three inches of snow — pause and say, "Hell did freeze over." You can even add that some of you said that you weren't going to tithe until Hell froze over so I expect the offerings to be much larger today. Now when is the last time you mentioned offering and tithing in the same sentence and people laughed?
Laughter is relaxing, and the body can only experience one emotion at a time. By using humor you're deciding that you would like your congregation to be happy as opposed to being scared or tense. Humor moistens the needle which allows you to penetrate because laughter lowers a person's resistance.
The biggest barrier to humor is for a communicator to try to impress his audience rather than to inspire them. Trying to appear smarter will only make it harder to communicate. Hollywood knows this. That is why they make movies called Dumb and Dumber rather than Smart and Smarter. There is something freeing and encouraging about a speaker who appears to have it all together by sharing one of his "idiot moments." That is why the best humor is personal humor.
What attracts people to humor is that it exposes our vulnerability. You talk about your vulnerability. "Here's what I don't get about life. Teenagers -you put them to bed normal and they wake up weird." It is vulnerability about a serious subject that makes the connection. People think, "I've thought that about my teenagers. He's like me." That's why self-deprecating humor is so powerful. It's not that you're putting yourself down so much as you're sharing your vulnerability with others. They connect because they think, "I've felt like that." They laugh and let down their defenses. Remember, connection always comes before conviction. They are now ready to go from, "ha, ha, ha," to, "aha."
I have discovered that the illustration is more powerful than the instruction. Through stories instruction becomes personal and with humor they become powerful.
A story is told about a chiropractor and orthopedic surgeon who were talking. The surgeon asked the chiropractor how he got people to come back visit after visit. His own patients didn't return after the first visit. The chiropractor said, "You have to understand that in my practice, I am the medicine."
We minister in a very sick society. For some strange reason God has given us the responsibility of delivering the medicine. Deliver it well and remember that humor is the sugar which makes the medicine go down. (By the way, that's not in Proverbs.)