November 30, 2020

Preachers as Comedians: An Open Thread Discussion.

NOTE: I’ve had comment moderation off for most of the last 24 hours. Good job everyone. It’s now back on. Perhaps, by taking it on and off randomly, I can get the desired quality of posts without as much time investment on my part.

I just received yet another clip of someone’s pastor basically preaching as a comedian. Major points are made with comedy. Application, introduction….all full of comedy. Delivery….the whole package looks pretty much like Jeff Foxworthy or Brian Regan.

Desired audience reaction? Exactly. People love it.

So what do you think: Has the influence of stand up comedy on contemporary preaching been good, bad or mixed?

Does the viewpoint of the comedian have something preaching has needed all along, like Shakespeare’s use of “The Fool” to make deadly serious points, or is this evidence that Macarthur and company are right- preaching today is a joke? Literally.

It’s Open Mic Night here at IM. Support your answer with some kind of intelligible reasoning.


  1. Richard Campeau says

    I have many reservations, Michael, but one in particular has to do not with the audience but the preacher. Can he keep it up? I mean can he keep it up long term, past a few months and a few years? Into 10 years or more? Preaching is hard hard enough work without adding the pressure of having to perform and make people laugh week after week. If one starts down that path, make no mistake, he will be under pressure to better himself every week. To be more funny next Sunday and funnier still the next. It’s homelitical suicide.

  2. I think that humor can be most useful in sermonizing if it is legitimately funny, makes a point, and does not distract from the text or the Lord of the text. So perhaps reading Trueblood’s book on Jesus’ humor would be helpful to young pulpiteers.

  3. I have been personally convicted about this lately. Do people respond to my preaching because I can be really funny? Do they respond only when I’m funny? Or are they responding to the message itself, the Scripture, and the Holy Spirit?

    By hanging out with Eugene Peterson, Frederich Buechner, William Willimon, and Barbara Brown Taylor I have been challenged about the power of words and how they communicate. (I hope no one in my church just read that.) It is strange to me that most evangelicals would write these folks off as “mainline” at best, “liberal” at worst, or just dry and boring. But they seem to handle the Scripture with a reverence that I rarely encounter in evangelicalism. And they seem committed to the task of genuinely choosing their words with the skill and care of a craftsman.

    Now I know that a guy like MacArthur takes the task of preaching very seriously and has a high view of Scripture. But when I hear him speak I think he has gone to the opposite extreme of the pulpiteering comedians. His speech is academic, stoic, and staid. There is no “aesthic” quality to it.

    I guess this is why I am gravitating to the preachers above. They have a wonderful combination of skill, reverence, craftmanship, and artistic prose that stirs my heart in ways that neither the MacArthurs of this world or the comedian preachers can.

  4. Mixed. Some pastors are obviously trying too hard and missing the mark. Other pastors are just naturally funny.

    But comedy has to be a means to an end: If your joke got your point into the congregations’ heads, and they’re actually repeating your points and the scriptures on the way home (and for the week thereafter) and laughing about how true that is, then well done. I might even call that a Spirit-inspired joke.

    If, however, all people remember is that you were funny, God is not glorified and you are drawing attention away from Him and towards yourself. Bad pastor. No Krispy Kreme for you.

  5. Genuine wit that grows organically out of the preacher’s personality and is natural and appropriate is a blessing. God’s people need to laugh as well as cry and think and learn and pray. The best examples of humor that I have heard come from true pastors who have a strong relational connection to their congregations, and they laugh together as a family about common experiences and things they love about one another and their shared life.

  6. You could ask this question about any number of techniques, from yelling, to rhetorical questions. The answer is always the same: it depends. It depends on the ability of the individual preacher, it depends on how its used, it depends on how quickly returns diminish.

  7. I think part of what Piper has pointed out to Driscoll in his public mentoring conversations has been the observation that Driscoll’s natural ability to be very funny may not serve the craft of preaching in the short or the long run.

    I want to be clear that I like comedy. I use comedy in my speaking. I think there is plenty of comedic material in life and in the Bible.

    But I have a sense that the craft of preaching isn’t well served when it is controlled by wit. Shakespeare had a lot of critical things to say about wit, much as Paul did about rhetoric. These are powerful ways of speaking that run somewhat counter to the direction of preaching.

    Preaching isn’t wit. It’s direct proclamation and relevant application. The door is open for humor, but preaching should be preaching. Wit and skill in comedy should serve the sermon, and serve it humbly. If it takes over- and if you are gifted it easily can, and be quite seductive since the audience likes it so much- you are probably not preaching.

    Chris Rock has great communication skills, but in preaching the MESSAGE controls the MAN and the means are SPIRITUAL, not rhetorical.

  8. During my freshman year of college, a friend of mine was dating a girl who went to the local Ultra Super Megachurch. He was raised in a decidedly, ah, “part-time Catholic” family, and has few religious convictions of his own, but has always been a keen observer of human behavior.

    She invited him to attend Sunday services.

    The next day at school, we were sitting in the student center between classes, cutting up like usual. The girl dropped by, and the subject of religion came up. She looked at my friend and said, “How did you like my church, anyhow?”

    “Well, uh, the Mass [yes, he said this] was kind of strange, but I really liked the comedian.”

    She looked terrified, “That comedian was our preacher!”

    Now was my friend’s turn to look shocked.

    I work with people who attend that church now. All talk about the “solid preaching”, real “bringing of the word”. Maybe to them. But for all my friend knew, he was seeing Mark Lowry.

  9. I’m fairly sensitive to the fact that “preaching” is a “bad” word in our culture, because it’s my job to make it serious and effective. I don’t expect non-believers to applaud it, though many of my non-Christian hearers do compliment my preaching at times.

    I really don’t like the idea that we go “anti-preaching” in the pulpit to the extent that the Biblical use of the word- and it is the Bible’s inspired term- becomes a negative.

  10. i think the problem lies with the format itself, rather than the issue of comedy or not. because of the changes in how people engage with information, humor has become a necessary element to preaching. it’s not just stand-up comedy, but the internet and all other media that is so much more engaging than sitting still for an hour while a guy goes through his three points +.

    not just comedy, but sermons with good stories and solid illustration are far more affective at reaching people–it will be what they remember. but they rarely will remember why that story was important, and even if they do it won’t be for very long normally.

    the problem is the lack of interaction. media is highly interactive now–take this blog with comments. there’s no room for that in a sermon. regardless of the question of whether or not we should rely on one person to give us all our teaching every week, we simply don’t engage with it. we engage when we ask our own questions and wrestle with the answers ourselves, not when they are told to us as point 2cii. we don’t need more teaching, we need less speaking titillation.

  11. Luke- I appreciate your comment.

    Two things:

    1) I think an hour of boring three point lecture is bad preaching. Preaching should respect all the normal factors in good listening. IOWs, its not a virtue to be long, dull, badly organized, irrelevant, etc.

    2) Where in scripture do you get any specific examples of interactive preaching? (I believe there is plenty of room for interactivity of various kinds, but the Bible is full of preaching, and none of it is interactive per se.)



  12. To say that the means of preaching are spiritual is not to exclude the use of either rhetoric or comedy. If one looks at Early Church Fathers, such as St. John Chrysostom, there is little dout that they used Greek rhetorical skills to present the faith in a way that it could be received. People such as St. Justin the Martyr used their Greek philosophical skills to defend the faith, even to the Emperor himself.

    That is, the Christian ministry (like the Christian life) is incarnational. It is both human and divine. It uses both divine methods for the destruction of fortresses and human methods for the communication of the Gospel. Nevertheless, responsibility and respect for the worship of God are considerations. “Clown masses” are clearly over the edge If a preacher were to launch a full comedy show type of sermon, I suspect that such would be inappropriate. But substantial humor, properly handled to make a point, would be simply another technique,such as what St. John Chrysostom and St. Justin the Martyr used.

  13. Re: interaction. I visited a Mennonite church two Sundays ago, and at the end of the service, they had an open response time. Some people shared prayer requests, etc., but the pastor invited the congregation also to add any insights they might have gained as they listened to the Scripture and the sermon. The responses were rich and added to the experience of hearing God’s Word together. This was a small congregation that knew each other well, and I’m sure that had a lot to do with the quality of the response. There were knowing smiles and moments of laughter during this time also, because the people had a strong relational context.

  14. Michael,

    You asked Luke “Where in scripture do you get any specific examples of interactive preaching?”

    Aside from possibly the OT prophets, where can you point to examples of preaching in the sense of there being one person speakinging and a mass of people only listening?

    From my limited understanding of ancient Jewish and Greek culture, debate, critisim, questions, ect. were both welcomed and encouraged even though there may have been a main speaker.

    It seems that Luke is on the right track and is saying essentially that the humor is the modern day preacher’s only way to get an immediate response and therefore know if anyone is listening. It might be different in some black churches, but that’s really it.

    It seems that Jesus was often interrupted and Paul commands that we publicly interact with what is proclaimed.

    If we read some of the so called “sermons” in scripture as if the are plays or transcripts that state what happened verbatim and in it’s entirety, then we could find plenty of what you are calling preaching, but I don’t think the “sermons” in scripture are to be read like transcripts and I think it is mostly our cultural assumptions that lead us to believe that that is what is going on.

    Isn’t the word preaching, as used in scripture, just a synonym for proclaim?

  15. yes you’re right, 3 point preaching is bad preaching and my hyperbole was a bit overdone. i have heard plenty of good preaching and it has impacted my life–but never to the extent that classroom or other discussion has. every now and then a sermon will hit right on the question someone has been wrestling with for some time, and that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. I believe the Spirit has been good and gracious in guiding a lot of messages that way–but still that’s only a handful out of a large congregation. why don’t we ask people their questions and what they are wrestling with and not rely on a finely polished exposition to catch a few directly and the rest indirectly at best?

    on the second point i have the same thoughts as george c–that is my understanding as well. if “preaching” is a synonym for “proclaim,” then there is no mandate about in what way we should go about that proclamation. and i think our culture is ready to move into completely new methods–not everyone of course, but especially the younger generation of which i am a part. let us engage and speak out of character more than preparation.

  16. Humor is a huge word. What is funny to one person may be offensive to another. Just as beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, humor may be in the ear of the hearer. I might say something with a perfectly serious intent, but my “audience”, for whatever reason, ends up laughing hysterically.
    My pastor makes a point as often as possible to poke fun at himself, his own failings, his own sin. He is usually (at least to me) extremely funny when he does this. Preaching should be like life. On any given day, we may run the gamut in terms of emotions, experiences and conversations. The Bible is full of everything–life, death, irony, celebration, etc., etc. A good sermon, for me, will bring with it understanding, history, challenge, laughter, perhaps even tears–of joy, of release, of forgiveness. Tears and humor have much in common. Five letter words, very small, normal words, but loaded with a myriad of meanings . . . .

  17. Scripture is full of humor. Remember Elijah and the priests of baal: where’s your god…taking a dump? (Ooh, bathroom humor. How immature).

    A pastor shouldn’t be prohibited from using a natural gift of humor, but be yourself, not someone else. Just remember it is the Holy Spirit who delivers the punch line which counts. Keep the focus on God and His Word; don’t become a distraction away from the gospel. The office of pastor should not be reduced to a cult of personalities.

    But humor is not joy. Humor is so often just an endorphin release to escape from pain. Joy has nothing to do with escapism. The cross will always be a joke to this world; for us, it is no joke.

  18. piratemonk says

    J. Vernon McGhee said it best. 1. Never talk about yourself, weaker Christians might confuse you for Jesus, and mature believers don’t care. 2. never talk longer than 20 minutes. that’s when his wife said she used to tune him out. Sound advice. What this comes down to is avoiding the temtation to be a rock star and avoid developing the cult of personalty at all costs. if humor can be used to make a point – great. just feed me the gospel, please.

  19. Kudos for the Brian Regan mention.

    I have seen pastors try so hard for the humor that it does distract from the message (as some previous comments have discussed). It becomes more about the entertainment, and then drags out the overall service.

    On the other hand, those pastors who are naturally funny, and yet able to keep the serious message forefront, are able to use their humor as a valuable tool. They know how and when it is appropriate to use it. Andy Stanley comes to mind as someone who is able to do that.

  20. Michael, in the synagogue people would have been interacting with the rabbi all the time. You see negative interactions with Jesus and Paul in the New Testament – but interaction would have been the norm, rather than the exception.

  21. Patti Wall says

    I personally do no like it when I have listened to women speakers at women’s conferences who try to make much of their content funny, poking fun at husbands, children, etc. When I do go to conference (which is rarely) or listen to a podcast of a speaker/talk to women, I really would rather listen to a woman who is challenging me to seek the Lord with all my heart, to make Him and my relationship with Him a priority, to challenge me to live a godly and holy life. I get so aggrevated with all the silly fluff stories intermingled throughout the talk to where I lose track of their original intent. I don’t mind using stories and even humor here and there (brief humor) but I just cannot even listen anymore without being discouraged and even critical of the speaker as she attempts (feebly in my opinion) to entertain me and those listening to her. I’m not trying to sound like a spiritual snob…my time is a valuable commodity and when I “spend” it on something I want to make sure it’s invested well….

  22. Luke,

    Thanks for your nice contributions to this conversation. I want to push back a bit though.

    You asked, “why don’t we ask people their questions and what they are wrestling with and not rely on a finely polished exposition to catch a few directly and the rest indirectly at best?”

    I hear what you are saying and application is absolutely essential. But, is the point of the preaching to deal with the questions and struggles of each and every member of the congregation? Is this even possible?

    It seems to me that preaching is about explaining the text, applying it to your life, and presenting Christ and the gospel to increase your faith. God, who we see in Jesus, is your hope. This is the best thing the preacher can give you, isn’t it?

    I just wonder if we are expecting the wrong things from preaching both as preachers and those who hear.

  23. I’m not sure we’re asking the right question here. I think stand-up is impacting preaching because it’s the last form of “intimate” public speaking that exists in our culture. Good stand-up comics develop a rapport with their audience and the best are transparent while up on stage so that people can say, “Yes, I’ve been there too!”

    What other form of public speaking manages to do that nowadays? Political speeches are canned, preserved, and regurgitated (while the talking heads talk about how “brilliant” the speech was). Press conferences are a game of cat and mouse which is designed to give the illusion of transparency while not actually giving out any information. Worse, the formats (like last night’s debacle) given for public speaking insure that nothing deep can be said (we can’t let people say something unscripted, after all!).

    Stand-up comedy is the last place in public speaking where content, empathy, and delivery need to be bound together. I think a lot of younger preachers, in particularly, are instinctively picking up on that and are reacting accordingly.

    Can most preachers keep this up for years? I doubt it, but then again, I doubt that most preachers can keep up the preaching schedule their congregations shove on them using any model of public speaking. So the comedy angle to that question seems to be a bit of a red herring.

    Now, can most preachers do what a skilled stand-up comedian does in their blending of empathy, content, and delivery? That’s a GOOD question, and the answer is, “No way.” I don’t think there’s enough preachers out there who want to refine their practice enough to put the work in that would be required to do so. So, you end up with cheap copies – but then, we have a lot of cheap copies of Piper out there as well.

    I think we’d be asking a better question if we asked ourselves, “Why aren’t Christians, to whom public communication is supposedly important, challenging the poor fodder we call “public speaking” as well as the stand-up comics are?”

  24. I don’t know why, but this subject is really sticking with me. Maybe it is because I’m a preacher.

    But are we putting too much of the burden on the preacher here? Doesn’t the congregation have a responsibility too? And it seems to me that many congregations do not take their part of the preaching event/process seriously. They sit there saying in effect, “I dare you to move me, bless me, or interest me today.”

    Barbara Brown Taylor has some wise words on this:

    “No other modern public speaker does what the preacher tries to do. The trial attorney has glossy photographs and bagged evidence to hand around; the teacher has blackboards and overhead projectors; the politician has brass bands and media consultants. All the preacher has is words. Climbing into the pulpit without props or sound effects, the preacher speaks – for ten or twenty or thirty minutes – to people who are used to being communitated with in very different ways. Most of the messages in our culture are sent and received in thirty seconds or less and no image on a television screen lasts more than twenty, yet a sermon requires sustained and focused attention. If the topic is not appealing, there are no other channels to be tried. If a phrase is missed, there is no replay button to be pressed. The sermon counts on listeners who will stay tuned to a message that takes time to introduce, develop, and bring to a conclusion. Listeners, for their part, count on a sermon that will not waste the time they give to it.

    “This is only one of many ways in which the sermon proves to be a communal act, not the creation of one person but the creation of a body of people for whom and to whom one of them speaks. A congregation can make or break a sermon by the quality of their response to it. An inspiried sermon can wind up skewered somewhere near the second pew by a congregation of people who sit with their arms crossed and their eyes narrowed, coughing and scuffing their feet as the preacher struggles to be heard. Similarly, a weak sermon can grow strong in the presence of people who attend carefully to it, leaning forward in their pews and opening their faces to a preacher from whom they clearly expect to receive good news.” [from “The Preaching Life,” 76-77]

    I’m sorry this is long, Michael. Please forgive me. But maybe some preachers have resorted to “stand up comedy” because they do not have a congregation that understands their role in the preaching process. And maybe they do not understand their role because we do not understand what the church is. Could this be the end result of our obsessive seeker orientation?

    I’ve said too much. Now I need to go work on my sermon.

  25. I have to think that preacher as comedian is just a bit over the top. Entertaining? Yes (assuming they can do it well). But does turning the gospel into one big joke week after week accomplish what we want to accomplish as pastors/preachers? I highly doubt that.

    Nonetheless, story and humor are certainly powerful components of effective communication – something every preacher/speaker wants to achieve. Certainly in this day of click-and-surf Internet and remote-controlled cable we need to be diligent not to put listeners to sleep. Right or wrong, we live and minister in a culture saturated with instant entertainment. The days of long, boring, irrelevant, theology lectures disguised as sermons are gone forever.

    Appropriate humor and story? Absolutely. Pastor as comedian? I just can’t embrace that – nor do I think most people (churched or unchurched) could.

  26. “All the preacher has is words.”

    It didn’t used to be that way.

  27. Scott,

    Thank you for your thoughts–this has kind of stuck with me too. You give a good push back. Listeners are too passive and self-focused approaching a sermon. And no it certainly isn’t possible to reach everyone’s questions and that is expecting too much of a sermon. But is it expecting too much of a church?

    Preaching, teaching, and/or sermons have become the focal point of what we today call “church.” We might not want to admit that, but when the average person thinks of “church” what do they think of? And I wonder why exactly we let that be the case? I’ve heard smarter people say that in the years to come the church in America will become increasing polarized between mega-churches and house churches, those with the best “services” where the others can’t compete and those who at least try to reject the “service” nature of the way we do church.

    But that’s a whole different conversation. Sorry Michael for running off like this.

  28. John The Baptist – Mat 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

    Jesus – Mat 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

    The Apostle Paul – Gal 3:1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed {as} crucified?

    Man I tell you what those guys were a riot! I mean they just put me in stitches talking about repentance and hypocracy and crucifying my flesh. I don’t think there is ever a biblical example of a comedic performance being considred preaching. Sure they were clever like Paul preaching to the “unknown God” on mars hill, and even a little saterical “did I die for your sins? Did Apollos?” maybe even a joke every now and then but I wouldn’t really consider any of them humorous. And if we are not using scripture as our guide to preaching, then what are we supposed to use?

  29. I certainly believe that humor has a place in preaching. To me the resurrection is the biggest joke of all times. Sin and death seemed to have won with Jesus’ death on the cross, but God raised Jesus from the dead getting the last word and thus pulling off the joke. If we can’t laugh because of that, then we have big problems. That doesn’t mean that we always resort to stand-up type preaching, but some humor and levity, especially pointing fun at our own foibles can go a long way in communicating the good news.

  30. I attended a conference held by 2 SBC seminary guys on preaching, and their basic take on telling jokes was don’t do it: you can’t tell them right and you’re not that funny. Well, I actually am funny, and tell lots of jokes even when I’m not preaching. I like to use a joke or perhaps a funny true story in my introduction to warm up an audience, but I think there is something very serious that should be going on when people hear the gospel preached. But if someone gets saved after hearing a really funny guy deliver a sermon, do you think the proof is in the pudding? I don’t do a lot of yelling and spitting when I preach either, but there are plenty of people that wouldn’t listen to a preacher that doesn’t. If people respond to the gospel in any form it’s presented, then I think that’s the goal. I usually cut the funny after reading the scripture and making my first point; but is there only one right answer?

  31. Humor has its place, even in sermons. It makes for easy listening and sometimes helps a point hit home. But the message I most need to hear is that God loves me and forgives me. That’s not a humorous message. Just as I wouldn’t want to receive a marriage proposal as part of a comedy routine, I don’t want to hear only jokes from God (or from his spokesmen).

  32. Luke:

    Emerging/Viola brethren are welcome here. It gives us a chance to straighten you out 🙂

    Seriously, what the emerging/house church model has supplied as a replacement for the Word preached has been pretty unimpressive and the results, at least in many emerging quarters, dangerous.

    Even Rob Bell preaches. As I said, we can have lots of ways to interact, but the expounding of a message from scripture (within the bounds of good communication) is a proven essential for a healthy church. the replacements that have been offered amount to the kinds of conversations that make me want to enter a silent order. “Well, what this means to me is….” Argh.



  33. I have grown very uncomfortable with the growing “comedy” in sermons. The evangelical pastors I grew up under (and still run into) seem to think people won’t listen to a serious sermon unless it starts with a funny joke at the beginning.

    The one context I have seen work well was when watching a comedian at a marriage conference when one of his points was that we need to be able to laugh at one another’s quirks, etc if we are going to make marriage work over the long haul.

    Mostly though, I think pastors are too uncomfortable delivering “heavy” or “cutting” points and feel that they must “soften” what they are saying or make them lighter with humor. In those cases, I think pastors and preachers are doing their congregations a disservice by always making light of rather serious issues.

    Outside of the church, I have only seen Chris Rock use comedy to make very valid observations or points in his sets. Other than that I do not know of another context in which I have been convinced of something serious by the use of comedy. I would expect that preaching in a corporate worship service should be a time that I am expected to come to n expectation that I should be challenged and asked to rethink things of faith and life.

  34. I say just keep it real. If part of the persons personality is to be funny sometimes then its fine to add that to your preaching. If its not you then please don’t try to be funny because usually that doesn’t work. Just be who God made you to be and there will be people who can’t handle it, well then they will find another place to learn the word. Also there are times in our lives that we have to be serious and paying attention to things that just will not make us laugh and we as the pew sitters need to grow up and stop needing milk and jokes to get the word into us! Are we sitting there reading the Bible for ourselves looking for jokes as we read, No!

  35. Eric Rodgers says

    Humor is neither good nor bad. It just is. That people are trying to use humor to make the Law palatable and “relevant” (a vastly overused and misunderstood term) to the people in the pews. But humor never kills its target audience, either (at least, not in the sense that the Law kills) because the Law that is made “relevant” to the Old Adam is the Law that leaves him alone. Its use in the homiletic approach of pastors is more sad and telling about our culture’s emphasis on entertainment, rather than on substance. It also represents the cowardice of modern preachers. They would rather market their church as social clubs and amusement (thank you, Neil Postman) than Baptize people into it.

    I love Bill Cosby’s retelling of the Noah story, but just like politics, that kind of presentation belongs on stage, not in the pulpit.

    Pax Christi, y’all!!

  36. hmm being called “emerging” i hope doesn’t write my thoughts off to a lot of people, as i all that is loaded with. i don’t know that emerging/missional/house church should all be lumped together. indeed, i’ve been refreshed by your thoughts and all that somewhat surprise me from a southern baptist. we are much more than our labels right?

    i also hope i’m not coming across as “anti-preaching.” i don’t want groups sitting around saying “this means to me…” either. but just as we don’t judge preaching by bad preaching we can’t judge house churches by bad house churches/small groups. but does the bible as taught/preached really only belong in the hands of our professional clergy? have protestants ever really gone with luther in the implications of a priesthood of all believers?

    the statement that intrigues me most is “expounding of a message from scripture (within the bounds of good communication) is a proven essential for a healthy church.” i’d be interested to hear more about what exactly are the characteristics of a healthy church. there are plenty of formulas out there, but maybe “they shall know you by your fruit” is the best.

    are our “healthy” churches transforming culture? preaching probably does bear some fruit in lots of people’s lives over time. i know it has in mine. but i also grew up in the church. if we are resorting to humor etc. to hold people’s attention–along with lots of other reasons, could it be that there is greater fruit to be born with other seed? have we settled for “healthy churches” that marginally affect lives but maybe don’t create the best disciples or reach the lost? Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, but much more we see him living with his disciples and leading and doing–not preaching to mass crowds.

    sorry to write so much, but i am thankful for a place like this to process my thoughts and hear good response and feedback. thanks.

  37. A pastor can be humorous and anectodal, as long as that is not the sum of his message. Eric Roger’s comment above about wrapping law in comedy is profound. I have seen particularly the word-faith folks make those who doubt them the butt of their mockery, which is perversion of the law (fall in line or I’ll make fun of you, and everyone will laugh at you).

    Turning the sermon into a comedy act…you mean, like Mike Warnke? It worked for him: while everyone was laughing their heads off, look at what he shoved down their throats. Comedy can be a form of psychological manipulation, which doesn’t saves souls, even if you can coerce a response. Ok, now I am sounding like MacAurther.

    If a sermon ends with, “You’ve been a lovely audience. Be sure to tip your waitresses”…oh, forget it. The obsurd has too much resemblence to reality.

  38. Luke:

    The times in the history of the church when there was the greatest evangelism, missions, discipleship, etc were all times when preaching was at a high point. Opening a text. Explaining it. Applying it. Hearing the invitation of God in it.

    We can change lots about the church and we need to, but the church’s life and health are tied to the proclamation of the Word of God in preaching.

    Those who talk about “cultural influence” today are often those who want the church to give away its most distinctive and powerful tool of influence: Its resounding voice to its own and to the world.

    The culture is influenced by believers living missionally. Those believers are built up by many things, but the preaching of the word is critical.

  39. Eric Rodgers says


    I wish I could claim credit for it, but all of that came from a Lutheran (ELCA) systematics professor named Gerhard Forde. His book _Justification by Faith: a Matter of Death and Life_ from Sigler Press is probably one of the most profound I’ve ever read on the role of the preacher. I recommend it to anybody. It’s short but dense.

    Pax Christi!!

  40. A couple of years ago I listened to some interviews from It’s a comedy website, but they have conducted interviews with different comedians about the process of comedy. I listened to the interviews they had done with Johnny Carson and Jerry Seinfeld – two very influential comedians. I was very surprised at how insightful both of these men were about the process of communication with an audience. They actually had a lot of interesting things to say that apply to any form of communication, including preaching. A while back I also listened to Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up” on CD, and he had some interesting observations about interacting with an audience in the process of doing comedy.

    There are some helpful things to learn from successful comedians. The obvious difference, though, is that comedy doesn’t usually have any goal other than to entertain, while preaching and/or teaching has the goal of life change. But still, we can gain some insights into human nature and the communication process from people like this who have obviously been successful at connecting with people.

  41. How ’bout directing us to one or three such clips so we can see what you’re talking about? I, for one, would be interested…

  42. To set someone apart as a stand-up comic preacher is a little bizarre. It starts to become a little like the Christian music scene where the music can become quite contrived sounding. It’s not to say that a preacher can’t use comedy just as much as he (or she) uses other innate strengths. I have to admit that a preacher who always uses the same shtick to relay his message can get rather tiresome as it would seem that it becomes more of a perfomance and less of a sharing or a teaching time.

    Frederick Buechner does a good job of describing good story telling or writing. Essentially, he says that a good story takes on a life of its own as it develops rather than being forced to fit into a pre-conceived framework in order to prove or teach or moralize. I suspect that comedy preaching would tend to lean towards the pre-conceived framework and lose some credibility.

    So, I guess if a preacher is funny, he should go ahead and be funny. But to use it as a tool to draw people in is where it starts to get a little suspect for me.

  43. “Chris Rock has great communication skills, but in preaching the MESSAGE controls the MAN and the means are SPIRITUAL, not rhetorical.”

    IM, just reading through the comments. This says is well and succinctly. Coulda saved myself some typing if I’d read a little further….