22 April 2009

Preaching Is Not an After Dinner Routine

When did it become normal for preachers to be funny, to tell jokes, and to solicit laughter and guffaws from the congregation? I have witnessed this several times over the past year or so, and I hear tell of it from others, too. It does not make me laugh, but saddens me deeply.

I know that we live in the joy of the Gospel, but our joy is precisely in the Gospel, not in some preacher's attempt at humor. I'm not sure whether it's worse if he's good at it or not. What a waste of time, in any case; and what a terrible distraction from the better things at hand in Christ Jesus.

Turning the pulpit into comedy central is offensive to the office of preaching, which is not the preacher's personal property but the holy office of Christ our Lord, the Word of God the Father.

If a preacher senses in himself an avocation for stand-up comedy or after-dinner speaking, perhaps he should present himself to the appropriate schools and apply for the appropriate jobs. When he ascends the Lord's pulpit, however, God grant that he would know nothing among us except Jesus Christ the Crucified; and that the preacher would be entirely bent upon the task of preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' Name, unto faith and life in Him. Now that would bring a smile to my face.

15 comments:

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Amen! Great post Pastor Stuckwisch. This is so true. Now, I will say that I think there is a place for the ironic in sermons, and sometimes in order to show the absurdity of something, the use of hyperbole might not be out of order. But in general, I agree with you that the pulpit is not the place for comedy.

Rebekah said...

I don't really understand. I get how the Pastor should not joke during church, but do you mean that they can't make jokes at a church dinner, and that they can't socialize with the congregation and make jokes then either?

Mike Keith said...

It seems to me that comedy may be used in preaching if it is used to illustrate a point. Comedy is sometimes an excellent way to present a truth. In some ways comedy can point most clearly to a truth and we laugh precisely because we know it to be true.

However, if comedy is used in a sermon just to get a few "yucks" or to get the crowd "warmed up" then this is a problem.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I'm speaking specifically of preaching; not of the pastor's interactions with people in other circumstances.

I would agree that there may be times when a rhetorical use of humor is appropriate, for the sake of advancing the proclamation of the Gospel. Such cases, in my opinion, should be exercised carefully, gently, and rarely. The sort of humor to which I refer is nothing other than entertaining the crowd and burning up time that ought to be spent on real preaching.

Telling jokes and humorous anecdotes may be nonthreatening, and it may be a way for the pastor to endear people to himself (though most Christians will weary of such nonsense from the pulpit, and will yearn for the Gospel). When I hear such things, or of such things, I cannot help but wonder if the preacher simply doesn't know what to say. Sad.

The Celebrated Author said...

Setting aside being younger and perhaps (haha) not paying as much attention as I do now, I've always thought that excessive joke-telling in sermons is a bit immature. I've noticed it a lot more at HT and other places where teenagers make up most of the congregation and it kind of annoys me. We're not children. We don't need clowns and primary colors to keep our attention occupied. But I can certainly see why they do it. I mean, it's easier to remember a silly joke than a serious message.

Uncle Ick said...

I agree with Author at the Higher Things conference last year which happened to be my first I noticed that almost all of the pastor's tried to get at least one joke in each of their sermons a few ended up doing three or four per sermon. I wondered why they felt they had to get jokes in their sermons when at Higher Things at least they have presentations all day where jokes are perfectly fine.

Cheryl said...

I'll have to think about this. I'm not sure I agree. Certainly a sermon shouldn't be a comedy routine, but I don't see the harm in the occasional laugh line, especially if it is not by design but is simply a natural outgrowth of who the pastor is. I know my pastor is standing in for Christ when he is leading worship, but he is also still a man, and I don't expect him to turn himself completely off when he is preaching. In fact, I appreciate when he shares a bit of himself. It helps me to appreciate him more. And it may help people in the pew who are not as assimilated feel more connected to their pastor and perhaps as a result more likely to approach him for pastoral care.

Again, though, there's a difference between an ironic or humorous observation and a stand-up routine. I don't want the latter!

I'm wondering, Pastor S., if you would apply the same standards you outline here to the teaching of a Bible class? Just curious. One of the best Bible classes I ever attended was taught by Pastor Wilken when he was visiting our congregation, and it was very funny!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I don't think humor is out of place in a Bible class; so long as it isn't consuming the time and distracting from the point at hand.

I agree that humor can be used to aid communication; it can be an effective rhetorical device. But the use of humor ought to be relatively rare in preaching.

It is true, of course, that a pastor remains a human being, with the particular personality and other qualities that the Lord has given to him. All of that should be used and put into the service of the preaching of the Gospel. But the preaching should be and remain of the Gospel (the Law and the Gospel, rightly divided, centered in Christ, the Gospel predominating).

But, specifically, the sort of thing I am describing, as I have heard and others have described, are "sermons" that give every impression of being aimed at amusement and entertainment; and, in the process, do not get around to saying much about Christ Jesus.

It was not my intention to lay down any blanket judgments against every use of humor. There is a seriousness about the task of preaching, however, which ought to set the tone for the way a preacher approaches his sacred task. The aim and purpose of preaching is repentance for the forgiveness of sins; not laughs.

I am very grateful that when I am privileged to hear the preaching of the Word of God from my colleague at Emmaus, I actually hear the preaching of the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, rather than cute stories, dumb jokes, and meaningless anecdotes. I wish I could say that the same were true on other occasions, elsewhere, when I have heard far more of the latter and much less of the former.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I should say, in response to my young friends who have commented, that the sermons I have heard at Higher Things have generally been great examples of good preaching. In my own experience, at least, there's been very little of the sort of nonsense I have described in this post. Only once or twice have I heard anything that seemed questionably "humorous" in a HT sermon. Even then, the humor was a passing matter, rather than the bulk of the sermon. By contrast, I have heard "sermons" that were nothing but a string of lame jokes and pointless anecdotes. I cannot believe that any faithful Christian would really want to listen to such nonsense in place of the Gospel.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I agree with Pr. Stuckwisch--I have heard some outstanding homilies at Higher Things. They have really made me think.

Uncle Ick said...

the sermons weren't all jokes and several of them didn't have a joke in them but a couple at least in PA did have several jokes that were obviously intended to make everyone there laugh in the middle of the sermon. Most of the sermons though were very good. I am really looking forward to this years conference in MI

The Celebrated Author said...

I suppose I over exaggerated. A very good majority of the sermons at HT are very good, and even the few that are a little more puerile than I'd like send the right message. And it's true that I appreciate a certain number of jokes during one of the sessions. It just seems like a sermon is the wrong time.

Rebekah said...

I think I understand now. It is not right to make pointless jokes in sermons because They are sermons, but humor is fine if it HAS and helps explain a point?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I think that would make a good and simple summary of my point, Rebekah. Thanks for your question and comments.

Cheryl said...

I, too, appreciate both Rebekah's clarifying questions and your clarifying comments, Pastor. I think I initially took your post to be a blanket disapproval of all humor whatsoever, and as I understand it now that is not what you intended to communicate. So I think we're on the same page! :-)