I preached at a church recently that is without a pastor. Another guest preacher had spoken the week before. When I asked someone in the congregation how she liked the guest preacher from the week before, she said, “He was so funny!” I quickly checked to see if I had anything funny in my sermon and I didn’t. So I was faced with a common dilemma of preaching — is it appropriate to include jokes in our preaching or not? Do we need to be “funny” when we preach the gospel?

To have humor in our sermon does not necessarily mean to tell a joke. We can paint a humorous picture with our words or we can inject a humorous note into the message with a quip or a witty remark or with a clever turn of a phrase. Jesus often exhibited this kind of humor.

But what about telling jokes? Let’s consider a couple of questions.

First, WHY DO WE INCLUDE JOKES IN OUR SERMONS? Some feel that a joke at the beginning of a sermon will capture the attention of the congregation. Or maybe injecting a joke in the middle of the message can reconnect the people whose attention may have drifted. The laughter of the rest of the congregation will alert them to the fact that they missed something and will prompt them to start listening again. Using a joke can also lighten things up when dealing with a sensitive subject.

That raises a second question: WHAT ARE THE DANGERS WHEN WE TELL JOKES? To begin with, some people just cannot tell jokes. If this is the case with you, then it is probably better not to use them. In addition, we can tell a joke that we think is funny but nobody else does. Nothing kills the flow of the message like a joke that bombs. But what if the joke does go over well? What if the joke is a real killer that stimulates everyone’s laughter? It is possible that in this case, the joke may be the only thing about the sermon that the members of the congregation remember. Another danger is that a joke can be inappropriate. Of course, we are not going to use bad language when we tell a joke in the pulpit. But we may inadvertently put someone down without even knowing it.

Some avoid including jokes in their sermons for a deeper reason. They feel that when preachers tell jokes, this unconsciously conveys to the congregation that the gospel is all very well but in the last analysis is not to be taken too seriously.

So what should we do? Every person must decide for himself, but here are some guidelines I try to follow.

  • I do not use a joke at the beginning of the message that is unrelated to the message, just to get a laugh or capture the attention of the people. If the members of the congregation remember the joke, I want the joke to convey something about the message.
  • I try out a joke with some small groups before using it in a sermon. I want to know if someone besides me thinks it is funny.
  • If I have any question at all about the joke’s appropriateness, I will not use it.