A few weeks ago, I was watching a Christian teaching DVD at a church singles group meeting. The preacher on this DVD had a real gift for comedy; I tell you, his sermon was a hilarious, mile-a-minute jokefest! The preacher was a gifted comedian, and he constantly kept his audience in stitches.
After the DVD ended though, we didn’t know what to say. Our group wanted to discuss its content, but instead, we were forced to ask, "What the heck was that about?" The pastor was so intent on cracking jokes that even the most attentive listeners could scarcely pick out his message.
This, I think, is a serious concern in many churches. In their desire to attract large crowds, many pastors turn the pulpit into a stand-up comedy revue. They say to themselves, "If we can get people laughing hard enough, then they'll want to attend this church and they can hear God's Word. After all, if they’re sitting in church, then surely that’s a good thing, right?" Their intentions may be laudable, but I strongly disagree with this choice of tactics. There's nothing wrong with using humor in the pulpit, mind you; indeed, there are times when a well-placed joke can help people remember a vital point. Nevertheless, when humor begins tot ake center stage, then God's Word is overshadowed—or even ignored.
Humor has its place when used appropriately; however, one's preaching should convey the seriousness and sobriety that God's Word deserves. Mind you, I do understand the situations that they face. I've spoken from the pulpit on many an occasion, and the roar of laughter from the audience can be most seductive. Once you get the crowd laughing, there's a strong temptation to keep pouring on the jokes and soak up the applause. The laugher and accolades can be most seductive indeed. . . and yet, that should never be what the preacher seeks. Preachers should be motivated by a desire to proclaim truth, rather than to entertain and seek applause.
Sadly, I know that many churchgoers just love to hear a comedyfest come from the pulpit. When I raise this issue, many respond by saying, "Do you think that it's wrong to crack jokes? Should the pastor be nothing but a sourpuss?" Not at all; as I said, humor is not intrinsically evil. The problem occurs when humor is pursued as a goal—when it becomes the main course, rather than a delightful bit of seasoning.
Still others respond by asking, "Are you saying that the pastor shouldn't use his talents? Why shouldn’t he try to demonstrate his gifts?" Of course, this is a specious response. People should certainly use their gifts, but they must be used appropriately—in moderation, when necessary. Moreover, it doesn't necessarily follow that one should use these gifts in the pulpit. Some pastors are great at fixing automobiles; should they attempt to replace a crankcase during a church service? I know pastors who are gifted at home repair; does this mean that they should use the pulpit to demonstrate how to fix a bookcase?
Still others would say "Well, if it draws the crowds in, what's wrong with that? Are you saying that they shouldn't try to increase attendance?" No, I'm not saying that at all. There’s nothing wrong with trying to draw people into church; rather, it’s the choice of tactics that’s in question. We should never attempt to draw crowds by turning the sermons into irreverent jokefests. This may increase attendance, but it can only hinder the preaching, rather than reinforce it. You may have numerical growht, but spiritual growth is bound to suffer. I am fully aware that some would disagree with this viewpoint; nevertheless, I stand by my point. When preaching, the focus should be on the Word, rather than any desire to tickle people's fancy.
About the author:
V. Berba Velasco Jr. , Ph. D. is a senior electrical and software engineer at Cellular Technology Ltd, a biotech company that provides ELISPOT analyzers , PBMCs and serum-free media .