Can a Preacher Use Humor from the Pulpit? A Few Guidelines

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This post is available in Spanish at The Gospel Coalition.


Like answering any question not explicitly answered in Scripture, answering “Should a preacher have a sense of humor?” needs a clear understanding of what Scripture does say related to the topic of preaching along with a few guiding principles.

Let’s start by looking at a preacher’s task.

What is the role of a preacher?
A preacher is someone tasked with proclaiming God’s Word in order to help the listener encounter the Living Christ. He will seek to explain God’s Word clearly (2 Timothy 4:1-2; Colossians 4:4) and apply it directly to his listeners. Preachers are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-2), servants of God who seek to please Him (Galatians 1:10), and people who will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).

While Scripture’s job description of a preacher does not mention humor, I’m convinced that it is acceptable and sometimes beneficial for preachers to use humor, assuming he has the right motivations and exercises discernment.

Bad motivations to use humor from the pulpit
Desiring to entertain is a bad motivation to use humor in preaching. Woe to the preacher who doesn’t see himself as a servant, ambassador, or steward, but rather an entertainer! Preachers cannot afford to undercut God’s message in the hearts of their hearers by taking it too lightly—souls hang in the balance.

Some preachers use humor from the pulpit because of pride: they value praise from man instead of praise from God. Humor that exalts the preacher disrespects God and His Word. Preacher, if you struggle with this, consider the judgment you will face and then humble yourself before God.

Good motivations to use humor from the pulpit
Recently, a friend of opened a sermon on Hebrews 12 by describing a race he attended where one runner had a huge lead over the rest of the pack for most of the race. The crowd roared as this runner rounded the final curve and crossed the finish line, collapsing to the ground from exhaustion and elation after the dominant victory. Everything seemed great until his coach ran frantically across the field toward him screaming “ONE MORE LAP! ONE MORE LAP! ONE MORE LAP!”

My friend’s story made the audience laugh and think deeply about their Christian lives. He warned that we can do the very same thing if we don’t run “with endurance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). This is a textbook example of using humor to draw listeners’ attention and imagination to the Scriptures.

Another use for humor might be to keep listeners engaged. Humor can connect a preacher with his audience on a personal level and build trust; making the audience more receptive. Appropriate humor can counter today’s shorter attention spans by bringing people who had zoned out back into the message.

All in all, I believe God created us to enjoy humor and it is a powerful tool in a preacher’s arsenal when used responsibly.

A few suggested guidelines for preachers:

Humor should support Scripture’s message. If your use of humor doesn’t help you explain, illustrate, or apply what Scripture is saying, then it might be a random add-on that will hurt the sermon’s overall focus, clarity, and power.

Humor should not distract or overpower. Some jokes, even if they tie to Scripture, could completely derail the message for your listeners. Know your people and what would help their understanding of God’s truth and what would lead their thoughts astray. Don’t be afraid to “kill your darling” by scrapping a great joke.

Be careful of jokes when preaching off-the-cuff. If you don’t preach from a full manuscript, beware that unplanned jokes have a greater potential to backfire either by offending a congregant or accidentally being inappropriate. You want your people to remember powerful truths of Scripture and not your slip-ups.

Let the tone of the passage set the tone of the preaching. You probably don’t want to use humor when preaching about judgment, the need to repent, or a psalm of lament. Simply put: preach the tone of the text.

Humor should usually be brief. Although I don’t think the Bible is devoid of humor, but it is never the main thing being communicated. The longer jokes go, the more you draw attention away from God’s Word.

Take care not to embarrass others. Preachers’ wives and children are weary of having their idiosyncrasies proclaimed from the pulpit. If using stories involving other members of the congregation, seek their permission and blessing to share about them. Self-deprecating humor is often better than humor that disparages or embarrasses another, but also needs to be utilized wisely.

If used, humor is more appropriate at the beginning of a sermon. Preaching God’s eternal Word is an important and weighty matter. If a preacher uses humor, it should be toward the beginning of a message so the weightiness of truth can build as a sermon progresses. The Reformers said that sermons should lead to the Lord’s Supper by causing us to feel our need for Christ, see God’s provision in Christ, and commune with the risen Redeemer who grants grace and mercy at the communion table. We don’t want humor to kill a moment the Holy Spirit is using to minister life.

While you’re here:

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The White Rabbit Syndrome (The Distracted Worshipper #6)

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Part Six of Series: The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pew


The White Rabbit chant began about halfway through the concert. At first, Gracie Slick ignored it. Her band, Jefferson Airplane, was recording the concert for their next LP. Our pleas continued, but to no avail. Their soon-to-be released album, “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland”, wasn’t looking backwards—it would feature their best new material. The concert-goers didn’t care…we wanted to hear the classic song that put Jefferson Airplane on the charts. We would not leave satisfied until the dormouse told us to “feed your head. Feed your head.”

Eventually, an aggravated Gracie Slick started arguing with one of the fans. “We’re not going to perform White Rabbit tonight. We’ve done it a thousand times. We’re sick of it. How would you like to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day of your life?”

Like Grace Slick, do today’s worship leaders grow weary of those tried and true songs and hymns? Does the familiar bore them and leave them unchallenged? Do their artistic sensibilities instead drive them to constantly create and innovate?

The distracted worshipper longs for the familiar…for the singable, comfortable tune…for the words that we know and love…for the memories and emotions that the familiar song evokes. The classic hymns and the enduring praise songs are pregnant with history…with our personal history. For the distracted worshipper, one song is connected with a particularly sweet encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, while another with a poignant pain that God has soothed.

The distracted worshipper doesn’t mind learning new songs, but please, not too many and not too often. We hate standing awkwardly, mouthing strange words tethered to foreign tunes. It’s the familiar that fuels worship and causes our soul to soar God-ward.

Some questions to ponder…

  • How do we navigate the gifts and desires and needs of our worship leaders with the desires and needs of our congregation?
  • How do we prevent the familiar from becoming rote and routine?
  • How might we introduce and teach the new more effectively?

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12 Books of the Bible For One-to-One Reading

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One of the most transformational (and overlooked) discipleship techniques is reading the Bible one-to-one—simply sitting down with another person and walking through the text of Scripture with them.

While all of Scripture is God-breathed and relevant for every person, some books of the Bible may be especially useful for certain people or situations. What follows below is a dozen books of the Bible recommended for non-believers, new believers, and more mature believers.1

Books to Read with Non-Believers

1.Mark – Mark is a great book to introduce people to Jesus. It’s short and punchy and forces readers to answer the questions “Who is Jesus?” and “What does it mean to follow Him?”2

2. Ecclesiastes – This poignant and relevant book amazes some non-Christians because of how well it describes human existence.

3. John – This gospel’s very purpose is that readers may believe Jesus is the Christ and have life in His name (John 20:31) and is a favorite place to start for many.

4. Genesis 1-12 – The Bible’s first chapters explain creation and God’s purpose, why the world is the way it is, and the promise of blessing fulfilled in Christ.

Books to Read with New Believers

5. Luke – Luke’s detailed and orderly account of Christ features some of Scripture’s most-known stories/parables and focuses on Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament. Luke clearly presents the human condition and magnifies the work of Jesus.

6. Colossians – How easy it is to forget the gospel in lieu of more ‘advanced’ techniques and religious ways that promise a still deeper relationship with God? Colossians reminds Christians that they are complete in Christ but still called to grow in maturity.

7. 1 Peter – This short and practical book explains the implications of salvation, the new identity of a Christian, and encourages perseverance during suffering.

Bonus: Genesis – Genesis helps develop a Christian worldview and could answer questions that still nag at a new believer relating to creation, human nature, the essence of faith, election, etc.

Books to Read with Mature Believers

8. Romans / Ephesians– These two doctrinal epistles unpack the gospel in detail and share practical implications of believing in Christ.

9. Deuteronomy – Deuteronomy provides a helpful summary of the first five books of the Old Testament. Introduce people to the riches of the Old Testament with this book that urges readers to choose life or death.

10. Psalms – The Psalms lead God’s people to God’s praise by walking through the various emotions and experiences of a believer’s life in dramatic poetry.

11. Isaiah – Isaiah, one of the harder books to read on this list, is one of most quoted Old Testament books quoted in the New Testament and will give readers a deep look into Christ’s identity as the Suffering Servant and the Bible’s grand story of salvation.

12. Micah – This minor prophet warns of judgment for sin and preaches the Shepherd-King’s salvation to those who repent.

Additional Resources for One-to-One Bible Reading


1 After jotting down a few books of my own, I asked Marty Sweeney of Matthias Media, and two from the LRI team (Scott Polender who contributed to One-to-One Bible Reading and Sean Martin) for some suggestions.

2 John Piper recommended two paths to take after reading Mark: Acts or Romans. Acts serves as the continuation of the story of Mark while Romans unpacks the theology behind Mark and systematically defines the gospel.


Listen to an audio interview on one-to-one Bible reading or read the transcript:

Two Reasons Why I Avoid Topical Preaching

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Part Five of Series: The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pews


I’m not a big fan of topical preaching, but not for the reasons you might think. I avoid it because…1) I’m lazy and, 2) I don’t trust myself.

1. I’m Lazy

Let’s pick a topic – how about prayer? Where do I begin? The Lord’s prayer? Paul’s prayers? Daniel’s prayers? The upper room discourse? The prayers of the saints in Revelation? And that’s just scratching the surface! There’s so much that can be said, and from so many different places. If we’re going to be faithful to the topic, we are going to have a ton of texts to peruse.

But it even worse than that, because if we’re going to be faithful to the different texts, then we really need to study the context of each. Wait a minute! That’s starting to sound like several truckloads of work. Isn’t there an easier way?

2. I Don’t Trust Myself

So I need to pick and choose several specific texts. But which ones? I’ll probably pick my favorite ones. Or, the ones that I understand the best. Or, the ones that best explain my view of things.

This is getting uncomfortable – I’m not sure that I’m the best starting point. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not the teacher, but the preacher, yes it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer!”

The Safe & Easy Way

I’m going to pick just one text and preach it. Much easier because I’ll just need to study the context of that one passage. It’s also easier for the distracted worshipper – less bouncing about the Bible.

Of course, to stick with one text, I really ought to study the entire book so that I preach the text in light of the overall message and flow of the book. Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I ought to simply preach through the entire book. That way, I’ll be more confident that I really do understand the context.

Preaching a book does something else for me – it allows God’s Word to dictate the conversation. If I’m picking the topics, I guarantee I’ll avoid certain ones out of sheer self-protection. I’ll steer clear of my hidden sins, and even some of the not-so-hidden ones. If I’m picking, especially tough or confusing topics probably won’t make it onto my preaching schedule. And I’ll probably take a pass on any passages that seem irrelevant to today’s cultural issues and ethos.      

I’d rather preach a book of Bible any old day. Like I said, I’m lazy and I don’t trust myself. 

Questions to ponder…

  • How do you decide what to preach?
  • What vulnerabilities does that approach bring?
  • How do you know you’re being faithful to the particular text?
  • And faithful to the whole counsel of God?

Proclaiming God’s Word on Ecuadorian TV

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Patricio Paredes being interviewed with Pastor Carlos

Relationships drive the ministry of Leadership Resources… they connect us with the right pastors, with the right donors, and with the right staff to spread the Word of God worldwide.

Earlier this summer in the tropical city of Portoviejo, Ecuador, we saw a relationship bear fruit in a way that we never expected.

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Juan Torres sharing his message from Philemon

Two of our students in the Training National Trainers program, Oscar Paul and Alexander, assembled a group of local pastors and church leaders to train them in the book of Ruth. Among the group of twenty-five church leaders was a random assortment of ministry roles: pastors, pastors’ wives, church leaders, a president of a pastors association, and a friend of Oscar Paul named Pastor Carlos Rodriguez, who hosts a daily 90-minute TV Christian program on Televisión Manabita (Manabi is the province of Portoviejo).

Even though he could only attend the first night of training, Pastor Carlos liked what he saw so much that he invited Patricio Paredes (LRI’s Latin America Director), Juan Torres (a trainer with LRI), and Oscar Paul (our trainee in Portoviejo) to share about the LRI ministry and preach a sermon on air!

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Oscar Paul and the TV host

During our 90-minute slot, Patricio shared the importance of preaching the Word and Juan preached a powerful message from Philemon that left a great impression on many who listened, including Pastor Carlos.*

We praise God for this special opportunity to preach His Word across the airwaves!

This is just one snapshot into one of many fruitful relationships working together for the spread of God’s Word in Ecuador and around the world.

We also thank God for our relationship with you and the fruitful partnership God allows us to share. It may seem trite to say this, but it doesn’t make it any less true: we cannot do this work without the faithful support of partners like you.

To God be the glory!

craigCraig Parro
President

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PS: Today our Ecuador fund is actually in the red. We haven’t had as much support come in for Ecuador as we thought, even though it’s such a great work. Would you please consider a special gift this month for our work in Ecuador to continue the spread of the Word through gifted (and connected!) men like Oscar Paul and Alexander?

*I realize most of you don’t speak Spanish, but we’ve uploaded highlights from the broadcast to our YouTube Channel! Here is one highlight.

For Spanish speakers, here’s a portion of our time on the program.

Don’t Leave God’s Word Upstaged on Sunday Morning (The Distracted Worshipper #4)

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Part Four of Series: The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pews


I was a college theater major for a while. I remember learning in a costume & set design class: if they leave the theater talking about your exquisite costumes and the realistic scenery, then your play has failed. Not only that, but your costumes and sets have failed as well, because they upstaged the actors and the story.

So what do people talk about when they leave your church?

Here are some things I’ve heard…

  • The worship was awesome.
  • Pastor’s opening illustration was hilarious.
  • How does that tiny keyboard produce such an incredible range of sounds?
  • That message moved me to tears.
  • Where do I sign up for the men’s conference?
  • I wonder how they roll video behind the words of the songs.
  • I can’t believe that those actors were able to remember all of those lines!

Here are the things that I long to hear…

  • It’s amazing what God is doing in Nepal.
  • Pastor helped me appreciate Christ’s cross from a whole new angle.
  • I can’t believe how much I’ve been deceived by the American Dream.
  • I feel like I really connected with the Lord during the worship time.
  • I can’t wait to get home and make things right with my daughter.
  • When the elder prayed, it was as if he was reading my mind.
  • What a privilege to be a part of the Body of Christ.
  • Hallelujah! What a Savior!
  • I’m amazed that God would choose someone like me.
  • I feel like I was in His presence.
  • I need to go for a walk and get right with God.
  • I’m so grateful that the Lord gave you to me.
  • I feel as if I’ve just feasted on God’s Word.
  • The Lord is good and his steadfast love endures forever.

Some questions to think/talk through…

  • In what ways are we in danger of upstaging our Lord Jesus Christ?
  • How might our worship services be more God-centered?
  • Do we consistently give our people personal applications that are text-driven?

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2 Questions for Keeping Christ the Focus of Your Preaching

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The call of every Christian preacher and evangelist is to preach Christ—to let a lost and dying world know the judgment due to us and the hope the Savior offers. But how can one best do that?

In Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, Colin Smith shares two helpful questions in his essay “Keeping Christ Central in Preaching”:

If Christ is the theme of all the Scriptures, then those who are called to preach and teach the Bible must work hard to make sure that Christ is the focus of their teaching and preaching.

There are two questions that I have found helpful in pursuing this goal:

(1) What does this tell me about the human condition? and

(2) What does this tell me about God and his provision for the human condition in Jesus Christ?

The first question will show the need of the cross; the second will show the relevance of the cross. The first will humble me before God; the second will give me hope in God.

I came to these questions by reflecting on the opening sentence of Calvin’s Institutes: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves” (1.1.1). If this is true, then in any part of the Scripture we should find these things.

These are two questions worthy of writing on a post-it note for the inside cover of your Bible.

Christ is the focus of the Scriptures; and as we contemplate our own great need for Him and see what God has done through Christ by the Spirit, we will be better able to communicate Him and His life-changing message to a postmodern world.

Related: A Simple Guide for Seeing How the Old Testament Points to Jesus Christ

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