by Ted Cunningham
I grew up in an independent, fundamental, premillennial, KJV-only, Baptist church. Guest preachers and evangelists were a regular part of our preaching calendar. Every year we had revivals, a missions conference, and evangelists on special Sundays. A joke to start the sermon was customary. Jokes were often repeated. I remember looking at my parents and thinking, “He told that one last year.”
Humor helps pastors, preachers, and teachers connect with a congregation, bond the congregation, and open the door for the preaching to follow. When a congregation laughs together, it helps them learn together.
Pastors have told me, “Laughter is easy for you because comedy comes naturally for you. I’m just not that funny.” The Hebrew term for that is “Hogwash” or “Bologna” in the Greek. Like learning to observe a text or outline a sermon, humor is something you can get better at. Here are 7 types of comedy that pastors can learn and add to their sermons:
- Singing – This works best when you don’t know the lyrics and you sing off-key. Make up the words and belt it out with passion and conviction. When is the last time you sang a modern song to your congregation? I promise you they will appreciate and maybe even applaud your attempt. Sing a love song to your wife from the front and watch what happens. A verse or chorus will do. If you really want to step it up, invite the congregation to join you.
- Joke Telling – This is a surefire and easy way to get laughs for those afraid of rejection. Pick a joke that you know works. Even better, pick one that you laugh at no matter how many times you’ve heard it. (For example: Politics: “Poli” a Latin word meaning “many” and “tics” meaning “bloodsucking creatures.”)
- Physical Humor – Comedians like Jerry Lewis and Steve Martin are the best examples of this kind of comedy. Since body language and facial expressions make up 55% of our communication, it makes sense that you should throw your entire body into the story or joke. Don’t just tell your congregation a story, show them. For example, if your illustration is of a child pitching a fit in a store, throw yourself on the ground and demonstrate the scene.
- The Callback – Foxworthy has “You might be a redneck.” Bill Engvall has “Here’s your sign.” If you tell a story or joke at the beginning of your message, find 2-3 more places in your sermon for the punchline to resurface. I often share how I love those Andies candy mints they serve at the end of an Olive Garden meal. My wife once bought a bag and kept them in her purse so she could give me one or two when I did something good. The punchline is, “She gave me a treat.” After I share that illustration, I look for opportunities to throw a few pieces of Andies candies to the congregation while telling the guys, “Good boy.” It always gets a laugh (and it keeps the men engaged in the sermon).
- Deadpan – Jim Gaffigan is the best example of this type of comedy. He tells jokes with little to no change in facial expressions, tone, or emotions. Tell a fun and exciting story in a dead serious tone.
- Observational – This involves poking fun at ordinary or trivial moments in life and accepting it as normal. Jim Gaffigan does this with food. Pick a topic like bacon, cake, taxis, pillows, or trampolines. List as many observations as possible. Write an affirmative, negative, and interesting statement for each observation. Observational jokes will soon surface.
- Impersonations – Just like singing, the worse you are at this one, the more laughs you will probably get. Ask your children to impersonate you. Trust me, they are the best at your voice and tone. It’s a guaranteed laugh in our home. Try impersonating your children impersonating you. Ask them to help you work on it.