I remember well a special meeting we had in seminary when our wives were invited to join us for a discussion of marriage. One of the speakers was Walt Kaiser, one of my favorite profs at Trinity. Dr. Kaiser is among the most winsome people I’ve ever met. His lectures and preaching were always filled with humorous asides and stories that drew us in and often drove home serious points from the biblical text. I will never forget him speaking at that marriage event and saying that one of the greatest evidences of grace in a person’s life is when that person has the ability to laugh at himself.
I’ve been dipping into Paul F. M. Zahl’s book, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, and have been feeling especially nourished by what he says about grace in the church and pastoral ministry. I thought we might discuss one small section that deals with the minister’s use of humor in preaching.
I’d love to hear how you respond to Zahl’s words and what your own experiences have been with the use of humor from the pulpit.
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Another indispensable aspect of grace as applied to the pulpit is humor. Humor is a vital part of the theology of the cross, which is the blood of Christ de-mystified and connected to real things. Humor is an embodiment of humility, because it demystifies human importance and transfers this importance to God. Humor in the pulpit says that the preacher takes his or her own role with a grain of salt. It also lowers the walls of denial that people bring to any form of public address and builds up what we today call the “comfort level.”
. . . Humor plays two roles in the pulpit. First, humor deconstructs the preacher. He or she is just a fool and martinet and narcissist like everybody else. The preacher needs humor for the sake of humility. This is a requirement for speaking the gospel. Second, humor takes down the defenses of the listener. When you laugh, you are then ready to cry. Your emotions are working. Humor is part of the “heavy lifting of worship.”
– p. 234f