When speaking to an audience humor is a necessary resource to have in your arsenal. But humor is often over-used or under-utilized. Speakers can tend to lean into humor too much in an attempt to relate to their audience and to pull them in. Other times they barely use it or use it to little or no effect.
As ministers our job is to effectively and clearly communicate the Gospel to our people. But that communication doesn’t need to be dry or boring but alive, passionate, and engaging. When we share God’s Word it should draw people in and help them engage and apply the truths of Scripture to their lives. Humor is one way we can help our students understand, relate to the Bible and apply it to their lives. I believe we serve a God of joy and humor and that we see this throughout Scripture. Since we are created in His image we should be utilizing it in our own lives and in our teaching.
Tell personal stories.
Stories are a great way to communicate humor but I would assert the best types of stories are personal ones. Now that is not to say stories that aren’t personal should never be used. I’m simply saying personal stories resonate more with the people you’re speaking to because it makes you more relatable, authentic, and personal. So look to use funny stories and anecdotes from your own life and share those to help elevate the points you are making.
Be intentional with humor.
Often times speakers use humor just to use humor. But as communicators of the Gospel everything we say and do should be done to drive people to God and the truth of His Word. We shouldn’t just throw out a joke to get a laugh or to poke fun at someone or something. Instead, our humor should be utilized to point people to Jesus and to emphasize a point from Scripture. Being intentional with our humor keeps the focus on God and not on the speaker. It should be used to help your audience remember what is being shared not simply to tell a joke.
Utilize humor to emphasize a point.
One of my favorite ways to use humor is by telling a funny story that emphasizes the point I’m trying to get across. If I’m looking to make the point that “trust is necessary in following Jesus,” I may tell a funny story about when I didn’t trust someone, leading to not great results. But there is also the opportunity to use humor and move into a serious moment. Sometimes when I tell a story, I know there are humorous moments in it but that the end result is more serious in nature. This dramatic switch pulls people in and drills home your point. If I tell a funny story about not trusting someone when it comes to starting a camp fire, which includes lots of funny missteps but ends with me burning down the campsite, the dramatic effect will bring people in and highlight the consequences of not trusting someone else. Humor is a great resource when emphasizing a point but it must be done well.
Sarcasm isn’t your friend.
Sarcasm is defined as the use of irony to mock or convey contempt, and is often used to share hurtful truths thinly veiled in humor. I frequently hear students joke about how their spiritual gift is sarcasm, but this type of humor is often hurtful and mean. Because of these truths, I would highly recommend not using sarcasm even if you are “good at it.”
There are times where sarcasm may be useful in a message, like when you are being sarcastic about a negative attribute or habit while trying to point your students toward a positive point (i.e. no one ever tells a lie). But we must ask, “Is it worth it?” What we might not know is that our sarcasm may actually hurt or alienate a student because they could feel targeted or they could be wrestling with that issue. If our humor could be received as hurtful, is there really a reason to be using it? I would encourage you to not utilize sarcasm and instead look to utilize other forms of humor to help emphasize your point(s). That isn’t to say you can never use sarcasm, but you need to be mindful of how and when you do.
Never poke fun at students.
This point should be obvious, but I think sometimes we forget about it in the midst of our messages. Poking fun at students should never be part of your sermon. It could make the individual student feel targeted and make other students feel like your gathering isn’t a safe place because they may get called out or made fun of from the stage. Having fun at the expense of students should never be what we do because we never want to hinder someone from understanding or embracing the Gospel at the sake of a quick joke. Instead, I would encourage you to make fun of yourself, your stories, or things you have experienced. This will allow you to better connect with your audience because you are being authentic and real with them while highlighting the realities that everyone struggles with.
See the humor in Scripture.
Part of utilizing humor is seeing that God is a God of humor and seeing those moments in Scripture. Think about when Jesus asks the disciples if they caught any fish in John 14. Jesus is asking a bunch of fishermen if they had caught any fish. Now these are guys who have made their living catching fish and for Jesus to pose this question, it’s kind of like a subtle jab at the disciples asking if their previous career path has paid off instead of following the Messiah. Jesus then tells them to throw their nets on the other side. At this point there is clear humor here because of course they had tried all the different methods but nothing worked. Jesus is saying, “Don’t you understand who I am?! I am the Messiah and your old way of living isn’t working because I have come to change your lives!” But the humorous way He goes about doing this cannot be dismissed. When you see the humor in the Bible it allows you to naturally impart humor into your messages.
You don’t have to be naturally funny to use humor.
I’ve talked with many youth workers who have a desire to use humor but they believe they just aren’t funny or don’t know how to use humor. But the reality is that everyone can be funny in their own way and it doesn’t have to look the same with each person. Having different styles or senses of humor is a huge blessing because your style may reach people that my style or others may not.
If you find a story you’re sharing funny, stop and ask yourself why. When you can identify the humorous aspects of your story it gives you a point or angle to emphasize and in doing so, help others to see the humor you’re using. Don’t count yourself out because you aren’t a comedian. Instead, lean into the humor you see or experience and help communicate that with others as you share your stories.