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Using Humor in Sermons and How Josh Howerton Got It Wrong

Using Humor in Sermons

The Delicate Balance of Humor in Preaching

Last week, an intriguing event unfolded on Twitter that caught my attention and prompted a deeper reflection on the use of humor within the realm of ministry.

Mega-church pastor Josh Howerton found himself at the center of a Twitter storm following a gender-based joke he made during a Sunday sermon.

The joke, which played on stereotypes about how women and men perceive wedding days and wedding nights, ignited a debate about the appropriateness of such humor in a sermon setting.

The Controversy Unpacked

Criticism of Josh’s joke spanned a broad spectrum, with some arguing that the joke was taken out of context or simply a light-hearted moment, while others viewed it as objectifying and unpleasant.

As someone who has been preaching since the 1980s and has navigated the changing tides of societal norms and expectations, this incident prompted me to question whether I would ever use similar humor in my sermons.

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Reflections from Decades of Ministry

In earlier years, gender-based humor was far more prevalent in both pulpit discourse and church gatherings.

However, even during those times, I found myself hesitant to employ such jokes during Sunday services.

The diverse makeup of a congregation, including newcomers who might hear you for the first time, calls for a careful consideration of the messages we choose to share.

It’s essential to remember that humor, while a powerful tool, carries with it a responsibility toward the audience’s perceptions and feelings.

Using Humor in Sermons

My reflections on humor in preaching are not just theoretical.

As someone who has always had a knack for finding the funny side of life, thanks to my dad’s influence,

I recognize the value humor can add to teaching and coaching. Especially when you are teaching on hot topics.

It can serve as a medium to make difficult truths more palatable or to simply bring a light-hearted moment to your listeners.

Yet, it is crucial to assess whether one’s natural inclination towards humor aligns with the context of their ministry and the context of their audience.

Using Humor in Sermons
Buy John’s book on preaching Preaching in a Whatever World

Seeking Guidance Before Going Live

Before sharing a joke or story that might tread close to controversy, it’s wise to seek the opinions of those you trust, such as your spouse or close friends.

Using humor in sermons sometimes requires the humility of a submissive heart as you seek out wisdom from others.

I remember a particular instance when drafting a blog post that carried the potential for misunderstanding.

By consulting with trusted advisors, I was able to adjust the tone to be more constructive.

This approach of seeking “feed-forward” rather than merely reacting to feedback allows us to refine our message and ensure it serves the intended purpose of guiding our congregation towards embodying the values and teachings of Jesus.

Confidantes can provide you with as much help as your most oft-used commentaries and preaching resources.

A Vivid Reminder

The debate surrounding Pastor Howton’s joke serves as a vivid reminder of the nuanced role humor plays in preaching.

While humor can be a powerful tool to engage and enlighten, it demands a level of sensitivity and awareness toward the audience’s diverse perspectives and experiences.

As pastors, our ultimate aim is to shepherd our congregations in a manner that reflects Jesus’s teachings, an objective that calls for thoughtful consideration of the content and delivery of our messages.

Using humor in sermons requires wisdom. We all need to be mindful of the impact it may have on our journey of faith together.

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John is a wellspring of information, experience and advice in all things church. His responses were often out of the box of what's been said before.
Ps Christie Blaikie
Oasis Church

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