Why I Don’t Seek to be Entertaining When I Preach…

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I don’t seek to be entertaining when I preach because the real thing, the Word of God, is more valuable than entertainment.  I thought this video was funny:

Even though this video is funny, it’s main truth is hidden behind humor: ghosts aren’t real.  Whenever pastors or teachers try to get their hearers to enjoy the Word of God by adding entertainment to it, they produce a video like the one above.  The main truth may be hidden behind their humor.  The value of the Word of God is bound up in its Author: God Himself.  We cannot encourage people to love the Word of God by giving them something else to love instead of the Word.  When we add entertainment to the Word in a feeble attempt to get dead men, women, and children to love the living God, we communicate that God’s Word is as valuable as the truth that is hidden in the background of the video above.  In other words, we appeal to idolatry to get sinners to repent from their idolatry.  We tell them that God is valuable enough to forsake all things for, to live for, and to worship, but we use things besides God to encourage them to come to Him.  We cannot expect to make disciples by prolonging our hearers’ idolatrous thirst for entertainment.  If sinners are to truly repent, then they must desire God more than entertainment; they must admit that entertainment is not the gospel.  As pastors and teachers, I fear that we make the gospel harder to believe when we seek to entertain our hearers.  God is more valuable than entertainment…

What are your thoughts?

*For the record, I’m not saying humor is useless or impossible or even avoidable at times. I’m merely arguing that in a culture where we entertain ourselves to death, we must be careful not to give our hearers one more reason to reject Christ.  If we are not very careful, our hearers will accept our humor, but not our Jesus.

This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Comments

  1. says

    Excellent (and humorous!).

    My church back home in Virginia is entertainment driven. Our pastor is very engaging, but when he needs to get serious and dig deep in the text, many times he loses people. Frequently he will say, “If you’re awake, say Amen!” Response: “Amen!” (Oy!)

    I’m not entertaining when I speak, but I would consider myself engaging and passionate (and have been told so by others — even others who may not always wholeheartedly agree with some specifics of what I’m teaching).

    I don’t make the effort to always find cute or humorous illustrations, or find appropriate jokes to tell at particular points in the sermon, because I trust the Holy Spirit to work through the plain message of His Text.

    I’m in complete agreement here: When we add entertainment to the Word in a feeble attempt to get dead men, women, and children to love the living God, we communicate that God’s Word is as valuable as the truth that is hidden in the background of the video above. Excellent.

  2. says

    Of course, our purpose is not to entertain people with the Word, but why focus on humor? Why not alliterated outlines? Why not wearing designer clothes? It seems you are focusing on one thing.

    When God inspired scriptures, he did not bypass the personality and style of the person through whom the scriptures were written. John’s writing has one style and personality, Paul’s another.

    So, what’s wrong with being myself in the pulpit? Frankly, I was the class clown when I was in third grade and that hasn’t changed much.

    Of course, there is the chance that i could use humor in inappropriate ways. But someone could use solemnity in just as fleshly a way. When I stand up to proclaim God’s Word, I don’t stop being Dave Miller. I shouldn’t have to.

    You don’t have to put any humor in your sermons, if you wish. That’s your choice. But when you try to make your reticence to use humor a universal principle, you err.

    • says

      “When I stand up to proclaim God’s Word, I don’t stop being Dave Miller”.

      I think that is really the key. You are saying that you confidently believe that God can speak through donkey’s so He can powerfully speak through you–all of you. If you started saying, “I’m a wonderful entertainer, I’m going to use my entertainment skills to draw people to Jesus”–then I think you’d be guilty of what Jared is saying in this article. But as you point out you can be just as fleshly by saying, “I’m a wonderfully dry preacher that does not use humor or emotion–I just faithfully and quite intellectually exposit the text faithful”.

      Humor and even entertainment can be used to make a point. Even using the video above I get the point that believing in ghosts and those ghost-hunter shows are ridiculous. I’m thinking I wouldn’t have nearly as effectively gotten the point if it was some guy un-emotively saying, “here are 10 reasons why ghost hunters are absurd”.

      The key question for me is–am I using this illustration (whether humorous or whatever) to shine a spotlight on the magnificence of Jesus or am I using this for some other reason. Any other reason will be distracting because it won’t be preaching the text–which is fundamentally to shine a spotlight on Christ.

    • says

      I think you are right. When you know your people and they know you, they understand you when you get in the pulpit. You communicate according to their expectations of you.

      There is a place for setting ourselves aside, however. We’re not perfect. I’m a bit introverted and often very cautious about speaking my mind in social situations. But I set that aside when I get into the pulpit or up in front of a class. When I speak up passionately about something people know that it must be important.

      As far as humor is concerned, some people can be inappropriately humorous. That’s just “who they are”. It can actually emphasize the seriousness of the message when they can set that aside at the right times when they preach.

  3. Bruce H says

    When I was asked to start a Sunday School class I purposed to be upbeat, positive and encouraging in the very beginning. I do have a tendency of seeing the funny side of things. There is someone who is very close to me that is extremely animated and it tires me out. When the gospel that has both eternal life and eternal damnation mixed into it you have to lean more toward a serious presentation than humor. Of course, no humor would be like eating grits with nothing on them. Most great preaching I have ever heard had only a moment of humor that was connected with the theme of the message.

    We were entertained at Youth Camp and what we thought was a spiritual high fizzled out within about 2 weeks. Most of our young people are entertained now days. There are no real challenges for our youth and the percentage of those who return after collage are in single digits. Maybe entertainment doesn’t work. If it was a business with the same results you would have to file bankruptcy.

  4. says

    Thanks, Dave, for pointing out that the effective use of humor in preaching is not an enemy of the gospel. Obviously humor is not a substitute for sound exposition, but to lump humor and “entertainment” together as detrimental to good preaching is to posit a false dichotomy. Some of the most memorable sermons I’ve heard were from preachers who engaged the congregation early on in the message with appropriate humor and then followed that up with timely illustrations and stories that shed light on the biblical truths they were proclaiming from the text in question. I don’t think that we ought to automatically settle for and award brownie points to boring preaching because we’re fearful of the use of creativity.

  5. Matt Svoboda says

    I believe humor can be used as a great tool. Only by people who are actually funny though.

    • Christiane says

      Yes, but some ministers are funny without trying to be:

      I give you Canon Spooner, an Anglican minister who taught at Oxford, and was (depending on your definition) either cursed or blessed by a most unusual speech pattern . . . never seen before in the pulpit.

      Some samples:
      “Mardon me padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?” (Pardon me, madam, this pew is occupied. Can I show you to another seat?)

      and
      “The Lord is a shoving leopard”, or “Come into the arms of the shoving leopard” (Loving shepherd)
      “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride” (…customary to kiss the bride)

      What Canon Spooner did to the loyal toast ” Let us raise our glasses to the dear old Queen” is so mangled that I do not dare tell you directly, so sort it out for yourselves:
      ‘Let us glaze our rasses to the qu_ _ r old Dean.”

      Some say he was embarrassed by his ‘slips’ of tongue . . . but at his death, the Times reported that “He was not afraid of conversation.”

      How lovely to have a speech anomaly named after you!
      It is known that Canon Spooner, a beloved professor and minister, will never fee boregotten.

  6. Steve says

    Still remember a class taught by Dr Gray Allison at MABTS when he told us, “Don’t try to be funny – if you are not. Don’t try to be dramatic – if you are not.” His point, much like Dave’s was to be who God made you. I remember an evangelism conference in Oklahoma while I was a college student. Three speakers – Adrian Rogers, Nelson Price, Manly Beasely, jr. One never left the pulpit, preached form a three ring binder, one never stood behind the pulpit. All three excellent because their delivery matched their God-given personality.
    Steve in Montana

  7. Lydia says

    Jared,

    I totally agree with your overall principle. In fact, in my mega training days I can tell you that 3pt sermons were designed to get at least 3 big laughs from the audience. It was thought that laughing brought oxygen to the head and helped people be alert. What happens is that people come “expecting” to laugh at some points during the sermons. And that means it is really about entertainment since very little scripture was used during each topical sermon, anyway. But much drama, video, jokes, illustrations. None of these things are bad in and of themselves but too often they are relied upon. When I saw the process for creating sermons and series in many mega’s it completely turned me off and showed me how shallow it has all become. Where are the calloused knees seeking the Holy Spirit?

    Here is where you lose me:

    “When we add entertainment to the Word in a feeble attempt to get dead men, women, and children to love the living God, we communicate that God’s Word is as valuable as the truth that is hidden in the background of the video above”

    Do you assume that everyone in your church is “dead”? Are there no Born Again people in your congregation?

  8. cb scott says

    OK. Let’s all use this post as a backstory.

    We all go to hear Jared Moore preach. He gets up and sternly moves forward and without expression approaches the podium. He looks out across the audience. He sees us all looking at him. We know he is trying not to smile or laugh because he knows we know he does not believe he should use any humor.

    As soon as he opens his mouth, which of us is not going to laugh just a little? Maybe a lot? Go ahead and say you would not. Go ahead. Then tell me you didn’t cry when Old Yellow died.

    You can’t put those restrictions on yourself when you preach to human beings. There are times when humor is the most appropriate vehicle to convey the message of the gospel. There are times when tears are the most appropriate vehicle to convey the message of the gospel. Jesus used both.

    We cannot out do the Master. Preach within your own personality. Be real. The gospel is the most “real story” in human experience. Be real when you preach it–a dying man to dying men. As such, every emotion will surface at one time or another.

    • says

      CB, I didn’t mean to imply that I never use humor or never show any emotion. I use humor occasionally, but I don’t SEEK to be entertaining. My goal is to explain the Word of God, not to “bring the Word of God to life.” My goal is basically not to mess it up.

      • cb scott says

        Jared Moore,

        Know the Text. Preach the Text. Preach the Text from your own personality, in the power of the Holy Spirit. You will not mess up………very often :-)

        • says

          CB, I sure hope not. I’m a goof ball most of the time. The above article was written by me because I can be that guy. I can be the preacher who tells jokes from beginning to end, goofing off the entire sermon. Granted, I may err on the other side of the spectrum now. I believe the Word of God is valuable based on its Author, and I don’t want to hinder our Sunday School teachers or the pastor who comes after me, just because I was funnier or more entertaining. If the normal unimpressive preaching of the Word of God doesn’t feed Christians, then we have a sin problem. I want to be just another normal preacher of the Word of God.

        • Lydia says

          “Then tell me you didn’t cry when Old Yellow died.

          CB,

          You, of all people, should know it is “Old Yeller”. Sheesh!

          And I agree with Jared (shock!) that the purpose is not to be entertaining. Believe me, being entertaining is THE purpose in many mega’s.

          If you guys would allow me, I would be a most stern preacher. :o)

          • cb scott says

            Lydia,

            I made that same mistake in a paper I wrote. I need to remember, if it is a dog, it is “Yeller.” :-)

  9. K Gray says

    I like it when a pastor can tell a good story on himself, or a funny true story or a great illustration.

    But often pulpit humor is at someone elses expense. Half the congregation laughs appreciatively while another portion — say, wives, or mothers-in-law, or a fellow minister, or people who like a certain celebrity or political figure — is just stung, for no good purpose.

    You really can tell if jokes, quips, one-liners and clever humor is spoken in love or comes from a more base emotion. When in doubt, leave it out!

      • cb scott says

        Vol,

        When I preach, I never, ever, under any circumstance tell SEC football jokes. I never mention football. In my culture, to mention football from the pulpit would be offensive to every person in the church.

        • Greg Buchanan says

          Football is offensive???

          Is that because you are a missionary in England and every time you mention “football” they all think Manchester United when you really mean any team in the South England Conference?

          • cb scott says

            Greg Buchanan,

            :-) We both know I was lying. In my culture, if I did not mention football from time-to-time, every person in the church would be offended.

            ROLL TIDE ROLL!!

          • Greg Buchanan says

            Well, being of no offense, well not more than deserved :) I’ll be rooting for Texas A&M next year. Especially since Baylor won’t be playing them any time soon.

            Cheers, mate!

  10. says

    Martyn Lloyd-Jones, arguably one of, if not the best, preacher of the 20th century said in Preaching and Preachers (a fantastic volume on the subjects):

    “I would not dare to say there is no place for humor in preaching; but I do suggest that it is not a very big place because of the nature of the work, and because of the character of the Truth with which it is dealing…. The most one can say for the place of humor is that it is only allowable if it is natural. The man who tries to be humorous is an abomination and should never be allowed to enter a pulpit.”

    Amen to that. And that is what I generally hear from all of you.

  11. Frank says

    Several have said, “I don’t seek to entertain.” This seems to be stated as a “badge of honor” or sign of purity. In reality it is probably just false piety.

    To “entertain” means to “bring into, or hold” (from Latin, tenere).

    Jesus perhaps used humor more, not less, than many modern preachers. Think, beam in the eye, camel through the eye of a needle, etc. These are all very “entertaining” word pictures. Did He do “stand-up comedy?” Before you answer no, read John 20:30. He might have had a “night job.”

    Jesus was very entertaining. How many times do you see him “drawing a crowd.” All of those in the crowd were not there because they were captivated by deep theological discussions.

    I understand how a “ghost” video could be “over the top.” Yet, we are not given the context of the entire sermon. We do not know what the preacher said. In fact, the outcome of the video along with the sermon could have been very effective in dispelling any notion that ghosts exist.

    Count me out of the crowd that believes the “worse we present the gospel” the more pure the preaching. I understand there are godly limits to everything — I’m just not sure we always draw the line in the right spot.

    • says

      Frank, the video wasn’t used by any preachers that I know of. It was just a humorous video that I liked. I thought it was a good example of what we may do if we seek to entertain.

      I don’t think your examples of Jesus being humorous are very compelling. Sure, he spoke the language of the people, but several preachers use more humor in one sermon than Christ used in all of the words He spoke while on earth (that we have recorded in Scripture).

      Also, by entertainment I mean “to amuse.” I don’t seek to amuse, and I don’t think Jesus sought to amuse either.

      Furthermore, Jesus drew a crowd, in many cases, due to His miracles and His controversial opposition to the religious leaders at the time. There moments when he started teaching and the crowds left him due to His lack of miracles. Maybe Jesus needed a homiletics class? (sarcasm)

      • Frank says

        In that case, Jared, your post was a bit misleading. Tying that video to preaching was what I took away. Sorry, for the misunderstanding.

        I only partially disagree with your point. I do wonder how you can categorically say Jesus never “amused” anyone. And, Jesus did not always draw His crowds with “miracles and controversy.” So, He did something else.

        But, I get your point and I think it is well taken. I promise to stop laughing at your posts now that I know you think “amusement” is ungodly :)

      • cb scott says

        Jared Moore,

        It seems that Jesus did intentionally use humor in the context of His day, within the culture in which He personally proclaimed His Good Story.

        Give consideration to Matthew 7, especially 1-6, and other similar Texts within the Gospels.

          • bapticus hereticus says

            Humorous. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, he surely seemed to be enacting humor, albeit critique, poking at the powers working to marginalize people. Yet said powers with eyes and ears to see and hear neither saw or heard what was being done and said. “The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them;
            but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming.”

  12. Christiane says

    If the goal of preaching is to ‘hold the attention’ (entertain), the early Fathers did have someone among them who was well-spoken . . .
    this is a part of John Chrysostom’s Easter Sermon:

    ” “O death, where is thy sting?
    O Hades, where is thy victory?
    Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
    Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
    Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
    Christ is risen, and life reigns!
    Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

    For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.
    To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.

    Amen.”

    Chrysostom had the holy ‘fire’ in him and in his words,
    so he didn’t need any gimicks . . . Billy Graham had it before he retired, and when he spoke at his wife, Ruth’s, funeral, the old fire was still there, more serene in his humble grief, but still present:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGbvddUyJlQ

  13. cb scott says

    Jared Moore,

    Scholar? Depends on the subject matter I guess.

    I could once hang upside down, blind-folded and take a 1911 apart and put it back together. Even today, I can take one apart and put it back together blind-folded. I don’t think I could hang upside down anymore, at least not for long. I am fairly scholarly with edged weapons of various sorts, most firearms (defined as small arms), and the open hand in a couple of disciplines, although not as scholarly with such as when younger, but you will still be pretty safe if you travel with me in the event Vandals and Visigoths attack us. I am pretty good at training bulldogs to eat home intruders and car-jackers and yet, be gentle with children in the home.

    Due to the fact that I was born in Alabama, I am, as are all Alabamians, a scholar in the sport of football. I have received some academic awards for scholarly excellence, but I think that was mostly due to convention and institutional politics. I was the teaching/grading assistant for three different professors in two different schools of theology.

    I have taught Christian Ed., Church Admin., and Pastoral Ministries. I have read just about everything a layman can read about Multiple Sclerosis and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I am considered to be fairly knowledgeable about foster care, associational missions, church administration, making men out of boys, house painting, building maintenance, the SBC, loving my wife and children, and finally, I also believe I can get whites as white as any washer-woman or Chinese launderer who ever lived on planet earth.

    From childhood, I have always read very fast and with fairly accurate comprehension and my memory is extremely good (although not as good as in the past) if the tests I have taken are accurate. Therefore, I have read many, many books on various subjects during my lifetime. I can kill, skin, clean, and butcher most anything with hide on it, and I am not bad at survival and living off the land if necessary and I have rarely been lost in a forest or a jungle, although I did get lost once in Nigeria and once when I was 11 months old in the woods of Alabama a couple of days and would have died from hypothermia had not a Blue-tick hound laid on top of me all night and into the next day, prior to rescuers finding me caught in saw-briers. There are other things, but I think that will suffice for now, don’t you?

    So Jared Moore, to answer your question; I think everyone is a scholar in some area.

    I also fear that Southern Baptists have become a little too romantic toward and captivated with the use of the word “scholar” to the exclusion listening to everyday, wise, Christian, Spirit-filled people or the use common sense. In other words, it seems to me that the more education some Baptist preachers and seminary professors get the more detached from reality they become. Or in common terms, the more some seek to become scholars, the more stupid they become.

    Finally, many good commentaries speak to the humor of Jesus in the Gospels. I am sure you have some in your possession. For one specific resource, try Elton Trueblood’s, The Humor of Jesus. There are several others and if you are interested you can find them, I am sure.

    • volfan007 says

      Those blue tick hounds are great animals. Blue Tick Hound dogs are probably the greatest animal on the planet.

      David “Smokey” Worley

      • cb scott says

        You may be right Vol.

        I am partial to them myself and I should know. For two days, mine was a “dog’s” life. :-)

      • Bill Mac says

        I’ve always been partial to beagles, until I got my last one. Oversized to the point of being able to get things off the counter and table. He lives to eat and nothing else. He is one of 6 dogs that I have.

        • cb scott says

          Bill Mac,

          Dogs know a good man when they see one. You have six witnesses with you at all times. :-)

    • says

      CB, I’ve got to get you and my father-in-law together. He carries a 1911 with him everywhere.

      Back to the article, I know there are other times in Scripture where prophets or others used humor. The emphasis of the article was not SEEKING to amuse. In other words, is the goal to preach the Word or to amuse our hearers? If the goal is to preach the Word, then humor must reinforce and point to this goal. Unfortunately, I’ve heard many Southern Baptist sermons where the goal was indistinguishable or was clearly to entertain (it’s an epidemic in youth ministry). The best “funny” preacher that I know who preaches the Word is Alistair Begg.

      When people leave our sermons, they shouldn’t be thinking “What a funny preacher.” Hopefully, they’re thinking highly of God and of Christ and His Spirit. If not, they shouldn’t be able to lay this at our feet.

      On another note, I do agree with Dave that it’s possible to overemphasize any emotion, technique, etc. The goal is to explain the Word as the original authors and the Holy Spirit intended it to be explained; therefore, everything from the beginning of the sermon to the end should reinforce this goal.

      • cb scott says

        Jared Moore,

        I think this is a worthy observation:

        “When people leave our sermons, they shouldn’t be thinking “What a funny preacher.” Hopefully, they’re thinking highly of God and of Christ and His Spirit. If not, they shouldn’t be able to lay this at our feet.”

        That is well stated. BTW, your Father-in-law is an astute man and I am sure you are always very good to his daughter. :-)

        • says

          CB, the truth is that I don’t deserve his daughter. He would probably agree. I had to ask him 3 times for her hand :) before they finally relented. She was just 18.

    • volfan007 says

      Jack,

      I’m not sure why I’m even answering this…but….an 11 year old boy can lay down on the ground, and a blue tick hound dog can lay on top of him…thus, keeping him warm enough to survive the cold night.

      David

      • says

        Hey volfan007 – You missed my point entirely which was humorous – cb scott is a little more ” pudgy” than any eleven year old . Now fathom this – How ’bout those U.S Navy Seals who parachuted at least one dog with them when they went after Bin Ladin – and they haven’t yet told us how good they are / were then or in Somalia rescuing two white Citizens one of whom is a graduate of a Christian college in Pennsylvania . I’ve got dogs also one of which is curled up on my bed . I’m so proud of this Country I gave him an extra Milk-Bone biscuit . He’s good , but, I’ll let him tell you !

    • cb scott says

      Jack Wolford,

      If you read my comment, you would have read:

      “From childhood, I have always read very fast and with fairly accurate comprehension and my memory is extremely good (although not as good as in the past) if the tests I have taken are accurate.”
      I am sorry that you do not have the same testimony as is evidenced by many of your comments.

      The Blue-tick hound saved my life when I was “11 months old.”
      It is a true story as is the rest of the comment.

        • cb scott says

          Jack Wolford,

          If you read the comment with very much discernment, you will realize that “pudgy” would not describe me in my younger days. I am sort of a chunky ole boy now, but it would still not be wise for the unskilled to try to take my lunch money by any means, if you know what I mean.

          • volfan007 says

            CB,

            I must not be reading too good, either. I though you said you were 11 yrs old….lol. BTW, it would’ve taken Smokey and more than a few of his buddies to cover me up.

            David

          • cb scott says

            Vol,

            The story on that dog is kinda strange. No one knew where the dog came from. He was unknown to any one in the area. He was a well-bred Bluetick hound, but no one ever claimed the dog. My grandfather kept the dog after that event until he died. They buried him above the barn. They called him “Slim” for slim chance that boy would have lived if that dog had not come along. Strange ain’t it?

  14. Bill Lonas says

    When the thing remembered most from a sermon is the funny and stylish way it was presented then there is a problem.

  15. dlg says

    QUESTION that has nothing to do with this post: Where can a Christian of today, find the Church of Philadelphia or Smyrna?

    What was it that Christ was pleased with the He was not with the other 5 churches?

    I am searching for one of these churches and I don’t think they can be found in the SBC, but I hope you can prove me wrong.