Sermon Humor:

Beware the Clown in the Pulpit

By Robin Schumacher

The Danish Christian theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard told the story of a festival big top that was filled with people prepared to see a circus. A fire broke out behind the scenes and began to spread quickly. A clown was told to run out to the main arena and tell the audience about the fire and instruct everyone to leave. The clown quickly raced out from backstage and began frantically telling the crowd about the fire. But instead of believing the clown, the people just began to laugh at him. The more the clown screamed at them to leave before it was too late, the more the crowd laughed at him. In the end, most of the people died in the fire because they didn't take the clown seriously.

But can you really blame them? Who takes a clown seriously?

Sermon Humor: Laughter and Weeping

At my previous church, the senior pastor (as well as the other teaching pastor) worked hard at making the congregation laugh in their messages. It was not at all uncommon for a sermon to be injected with humor — punctuated throughout with jokes, funny videos, and more in an attempt to keep attendees smiling and giggling.

Now, don't get me wrong — I like to laugh as much as the next person. And humor injected at certain points in a Sunday message can serve the speaker's purpose very well when intelligently used. But pastors need to be careful about using the pulpit as the place for a comedy routine.

The fact is, there is likely no more significant and vital job than that of the teaching pastor and no greater address given than the one in which God's Word is proclaimed. It's said that before a sermon, John Knox used to lock himself in a room and weep for days because he feared the seriousness of his preaching duty. I wonder how many contemporary teaching pastors feel that same sense of obligation?

Sermon Humor: What is The Effect?

Today's pastors want to be liked, thought of as winsome and hip, and they think of "sermon humor" as one way to bring about the end result they desire. That's too bad because that's not what they're called to do. As John MacArthur says, "The preacher who brings the message people most need to hear will often be the preacher they least like to hear." A. W. Tozer used to remark how he had preached himself out of every conference and guest pulpit in the country. Read his books, though, and you'll find a depth and convicting bite that comes only from God's Holy Spirit. No humor, just God's truth.

The pastor who relies on comedy consistently in his messages will quickly come to resemble Kierkegaard's clown in the minds of his congregation. Entertaining? Yes. But let him try and talk earnestly about sin, its consequences, Hell, eternal separation from God and see what happens. No one (who needs to) will be moved to act. They'll just sit there and die in the fire they can't see and don't take seriously.

But can you really blame them? No one takes a clown seriously.

Image Credit: Chris Darling; "Michael Lane Trautman portrait"; Creative Commons

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Published 10-26-11