Laughing – A Users Manual

Disclaimer: I am not the world’s funniest man. I am not the world’s most creative preacher. However, I do value humor and am committed to it as a tool for God’s purposes in the lives of people. Disclaimer #2: I am NOT advocating the church turning into a comedy club.

However…

Tuesday’s post seemed to strike a chord, and some people may have read it and thought, “But I’m not a funny person. Furthermore, no one at our church laughs. In fact, none of us even know anyone that laughs.”

Come on! Everyone laughs. In their own way, everyone is funny.

Nevertheless, churches must create cultures where laughter is at home. You do so gradually, with great care and intentionality. Also, before such a culture can be created, church leaders need to make it a part of their life.

Here are some ways I’ve tried to do this over the years:

1. Go to Bed Laughing. For most of my adult life, I’ve tried to end the day laughing. Don’t watch the news or something depressing before you go to bed. I usually watch the monologue and first sketch of one of the late night comedians (I’ve been a Leno and Conan guy). Conan is more of a physical and random comedian. Jay is more straight joking. I simply DVR each episode, and watch the episodes the next night at a sane bedtime. Or, I’ll log on to certain web-sites (YouTube, etc.) and watch YouTube-style videos by searching “Funniest ____.” I have a weak spot for news anchor blunders 🙂 I will also admit to watching Saturday Night Live, The Office, Community, and other comedies. It’s amazing how much simply watching these shows helps me recognize 1) what others find funny, and 2) how to see the funny in the world.

2. Listen to Humorous Preachers. Four of the funniest preachers I know are Jeff Walling, Stephen Furtick, Patrick Mead, and Wayne Smith. They are funny in person, in the pulpit, and on social media. On my Mt. Rushmore of humorous preachers, Jeff Walling is the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. God just flat-out gifted Jeff with the ability to double everyone over with laughter while inserting the double-edged sword of the Word simultaneously. Patrick Mead’s tweets are hilarious. He is the Christian Bad Banana. Wayne Smith has 60 years of George Burns-like humor that endears him to everyone who hears him. Listen to them or others that feed your soul.

3. Be Willing to Take Risks–just not the wrong risks. Telling a funny story in the pulpit or showing a funny video has it’s risks. In my experience, it usually pays off IF, IF, IF, you are discriminating with timing and content. Don’t feel like you need to do it every week. Have a sense of propriety about it. Keep the bar high for what gets admitted, and make sure it has a point.

Here’s a video we made but didn’t use as an opener for a series on prayer. It was quite funny–classic movie scenes of prayer. But, it was too long, was just off the message mark, and at the end of the day–a hair over the line. You may disagree, but, it’s hear for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy “Great Moments in Prayer,” at your leisure.

4. Ask, “What’s Funny About This?” Jeff Walling once taught me to ask that among other questions about biblical text. That has really stuck with me over the years. Here’s how it might work: If you are preaching on the story of two houses built on two different foundations from Matthew 7, take the building imagery Scripture provides you and ask yourself, “What’s funny about this text?” On the one hand, not much. On the other hand, it’s a story about two men given the same instructions who choose to build two different ways. There are some things to work with in the illustration department.

I have a particular story about building a play set for our kids with my father I love to tell. We built it in such a way that when we were finished half of the nuts and bolts were left…and what happened to that play set was classic. It’s true, it’s humorous, and it’s on target with the message of the text–the one who hears what Jesus says and does it . Where did it come from? Life + asking the question, “What’s funny about this?”

5. Understand Humor is the Means and Not the End. I covered this in the previous post, but I want to reiterate: humor enriches your church and helps the message stick. Heck, it’s just fun, too. But, it isn’t the end. The Gospel is the end. Use it as a tool…nothing more, understanding it is one of the most valuable tools you have.

One of the best places to break out humor is for announcements. Here are a couple of examples of where we’ve pushed the envelope…and it paid off huge. Admittedly, I nearly nixed both of these. But, I was bullied into letting them through–and they were both huge hits with the congregation (I’ve deliberately chosen lower-tech videos hoping you’ll believe any church really can do this). They won’t win any Oscars, but they are funny…especially given when they were shown (at the peak of the popularity of their respective spoofs). Warning: these are pushes of the envelope. They are not typical. Having said that… 🙂

One is an announcement for the ladies retreat–a spoof on the well-known Old Spice commercials featuring a well-known, single man in the church. The second is a simple announcement for a men’s breakfast.  The man in the video is an elder and a minister to Spanish-Speakers of 25 years in the church. Everyone knows and loves him. Incidentally, one of the best ways to help your church embrace humor is to see well-respected members of the church starring in stuff. Incidentally, both of these debuted on Wednesday nights during my time at North County. Enjoy these.

If you attended New Vintage Church on any given Sunday, my hope would be that you would come out having learned something substantial, felt something powerful, decided to change something, resolved to live differently, and yes…laughed a bit.

Again, these are only suggestions. Tell me what your church has done to cultivate a culture that welcomes humor.

Note: Give the guy in the picture above a break. He’s 125 years old (literally).

Humor Test: Do you find the video below funny or sad? Possible use for something on running the race?

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Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.