How to Use Humor in Your Sermon Even if You’re Not a Comic

It’s a great device, if you have a good story and can make it fit.

One day last week, I had a comeuppance in the waiting room at the Toyota dealership. It was crowded with customers and I was trying to read my paper. At one point, unable to find the rest of my newspaper, I noticed the lady to my immediate left deeply engrossed in hers. “Is that my paper?” I wondered. “Did that woman take my New Orleans Advocate?”

Now, there are 586 acceptable ways to politely inquire whether she had my paper. I considered none of them. “Ma’am,” I said, “Are you reading my paper?”

She looked startled at first, then assured me she was not, that this was her newspaper.  “You’re probably sitting on yours,” she said.

I was confident I’d already checked, but as I felt behind my back, sure enough, there was my newspaper wedged up against the chair.

I said, “I’m sorry,” and read my paper.

Ten minutes later, as my car was called and I stood to leave, I turned to her. “Please forgive me. I’m so sorry.” She forced a smile and said, “Next time, use a softer voice.”

I posted this on Facebook, prefacing it with, “I made a fool of myself in the car dealership waiting room today.”

The comments flew in. Practically every one said things like, “I’ve done that,” “You’re human” and “She’s probably a school teacher.”

Get that? Even though what I did was somewhat rude and thoughtless, by telling it myself and owning up to what I had done, the “team” rallied to my support.

Pastors and other public speakers, this should be written in stone somewhere:

—Humor is almost always acceptable in a sermon or public address;

—A well-placed humorous story is a treasure;

—But the most effective use of humor will tell how the speaker/preacher goofed and was put in his place by his wife, a child, some elderly grandma in the store or some other unlikely individual. People love hearing how the little person brought the high and the mighty down to earth.

Finally, a couple of notes of explanation.

–By “humor,” we do not necessarily mean something hilarious or side-splitting. Humor is a broad category and includes the type of stories we’ve told here. In a sermon or commencement address, gentle humor works far better than hilarity.

—After telling the story of one’s comedown, it’s important that the speaker/preacher not dwell on it. This is not about you, but about the point you were trying to get across. (I’m thinking of a preacher who told such a story, then proceeded to destroy its effect by bursting out, “Oh God! I’m making myself look so bad!” I was in the audience and will not soon forget the lesson that preacher demonstrated that day: Tell your story, then get on with the message. No groveling allowed.)

Preach Jesus, friend.  

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Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever has been a believer over 60 years, has been preaching the Gospel over 50 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian Publications over 40 years. He lives in New Orleans.