I made a decision some time ago that when I am preaching, I want to give the audience less of me and more of Jesus. I certainly have not arrived yet, of course. I know that, far too often, there is still a lot of Shawn and little of Jesus.
I am not against using humor in a sermon. I still think there is a place for a little wittiness, a little irony. But I know that in my preaching - especially when speaking to young people - the temptation is to turn the sermon into a stand-up comedy routine. And, though I am not trying to say I am in the funniest guy in the world, I certainly have the capability of running with the best of them when it comes to being humorous in a sermon.
When this happens, though, the focus turns away from Christ and onto me.
We come up with a number of reasons as to why we use so much humor in sermons - you know, breaking the ice with our audience, relating to them, meeting them where they are . . . But I think when humor is a prominent part of our preaching, it stems more from insecurities on a couple levels.
For one, it is because of personal insecurity. As a preacher, we want people to like us, we want people to think we're funny and interesting. We want to be invited to preach far and wide - and humor can go a long way in securing those invitations.
Similarly, when we look into the audience and see blank faces, we worry that we are inadequate as a preacher.
So we reach for the humor.
Ironically, many times when I have seen blank faces in the audience, I have found out later that those precise people are very much engaged and making decisions that have eternal consequences. Indeed, body language doesn't always tell the truth about a person's engagement in the listening process.
Secondly, when we rely upon humor in our preaching it betrays our insecurity when it comes to the very gospel message itself. We are not truly convinced that the power is in the gospel. So we try to make up for a weak gospel by using other gimmicks - with humor being one of them. Sadly, we have a hard time saying with Paul, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).
The power in one's preaching is in the gospel that is proclaimed not the funny anecdotes that are related. Proclaiming Christ should be that which draws people to sit at our feet, not our personalities.
Of course, I am not trying to speak for other preachers. We are all at different places in our journey and I would never condemn anyone else for where they are in their preaching. I just know that, far too often, I try to justify a funny story or a clever anecdote by stretching the point, even though it truly has little relevance to the larger point I am trying to make. Rather, the story is about me.
But we want our preaching to be about God and His gospel.
So, if we ever hear someone say, in response to our preaching, "Oh, I love listening to him; he's so funny," or if someone were to sit through ten minutes of our sermon and not be able to tell if it's a sermon or a comedy routine, I think we would want to re-evaluate who the sermon is really about.
Let's make it all about Jesus.