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Sermons Can Be Funny but Not in These Ways

Let me state outright that I believe humor is a wonderful tool in sermons—I try to sprinkle a little into about every message I give.

When is humor appropriate in sermons? Or, more specifically, when is it inappropriate?

Dry humor is part of my personality, so naturally it follows me into the pulpit.

But here are some times I need to reign myself back:

1. Joking about heaven and hell.

There really is no excuse for joking about Hell. I’ve heard a prominent preacher who often jokes on this subject, and I always leave feeling confused: “Does this guy really believe what he’s preaching? Then how can he possibly joke about it?”

Joking about eternal realities is a mixed message—let the world joke about hell. Preachers need to weep about it.

2. Joking at someone else’s expense. 

I realize Jesus had a few great one-liners for the religious leaders of his day, but then again, Jesus never joked at an individual’s expense. He never made fun of Peter, James or John, or “this person I was talking to the other day.”

He made jokes with generalizations, but never singled anyone out for humiliation, even in a “discrete” way.

3. Joking for attention.

Many times, I have to throw away lines I snicker at because they just don’t add to the sermon. When we joke for joking’s sake, there’s a real sense in which we reveal our lack of faith in God’s word.

Joking that doesn’t aid the sermon says, “I realize we’re all standing under God’s word at the moment, but I know you’re all really here to hear me be funny.”

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Nicholas McDonald is husband to lovely Brenna, father to Owen and Caleb, M.Div student at Gordon Conwell Theological seminary and youth/assistant teaching pastor at Carlisle Congregational Church. He graduated with his Bachelors in Communication from Olivet Nazarene University, studied literature and creative writing at Oxford University, and has spoken internationally at camps, youth retreats, graduations, etc. He blogs about writing, preaching and the arts at www.Scribblepreach.com, which has been featured on The Gospel Coalition, Knowlovelive.org and Challies.com. He currently resides in South Hamilton, MA.