Humor as a Leadership Tool for Pastors
What qualities do you think a good Church leader should have? You would probably expect them to be powerful, charismatic, and decisive. However, you might overlook the value of being funny. You may already think this blog is nonspiritual; read on. Jesus had many moments of humor that we quickly overlook while sermonizing. Look at Mark 6:48-49 when Jesus is walking on water: “He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost.” We quickly go past “He intended to go past them”.
Right about now, some are getting out their commentaries. See what I mean? We quickly come up with 4 or 5 different deep spiritual meanings. What if Jesus was having a little fun? Take it for what it says, and have a little fun with your congregation when you teach it.
Research shows that humor has many benefits.
Those benefits include bringing people closer, reducing stress, and increasing productivity. Does anyone want a closer church? A less stressful church? A more productive congregation? The truth is most church people need a little cheering up. While the average four-year-old laughs about 300 times a day, they're down to three chuckles by the time they turn 40. On the other hand, there are limits. You know you’ve gone too far if you make someone cry or choose Michael Scott as your role model.
Influential leaders know how to use humor to their advantage.
Join their ranks by studying these tips for remaining professional while you tap into your funny side. Jesus was great at this. We often overlook His hyperbole that was relevant in His culture. Look at this moment in Matthew 7: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” This was one of those moments where I could picture the disciples who were listening rolling on the ground. “Oh Jesus, you are so funny!” Don’t believe me? Illustrate it in one of your messages. I have. I used an 8-foot 2x4’ and held it up to my eye. The congregation couldn’t help but laugh at how absurd it looked and very clearly got Jesus’ point at how ridiculous we look when we do this in our judging of others.
And then…in the middle of the laughing, you hit them with the truth. I love to give my most challenging points and teach around moments of the greatest laughter. Look at Jesus’ following words after giving this hyperbolic statement: “Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5, NLT). If you call someone a hypocrite, it works best by setting it up with a bit of humor!
The Benefits of Leading with Humor:
- Enhance your leadership skills. Laughter can be profitable because it triggers brain chemicals that help you to concentrate and think creatively. A study by the University of Warwick found that introducing comedy into the workday increased productivity by 12%. Want to be more productive in ministry? Or how about helping your staff be more productive? Have fun!
- Boost your reputation as a leader.
Other research has found that leaders who use humor are viewed as more competent and credible and receive higher ratings from their subordinates. Lightening up could help you stand out. Your people love being with those who brighten up their world. After all, we are all about the “Good News”!
- Reduce stress. Heavy workloads are one of the significant reasons job stress has increased steadily in recent decades. Having opportunities to relax makes it easier to accomplish more. I find ministry to be fun. Yes, it is hard and heartbreaking, and painful at times. But I’m having fun being about the Father’s business. The good and the joy in it all keep the stress level low.
- Strengthen relationships. Humor is often a social activity. You learn things about your coworkers that may not be listed on their resumes, and you create happy memories that deepen your bonds. We need people in our lives so that we can have fun. As a Pastor or ministry leader, work on and focus on being one of those others look to for a good time. It will strengthen and build relationships.
- Protect your health. There are also many benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. For example, humor can help relieve pain, boost your immune system, and lessen depression and anxiety. It’s just a medical fact. It’s one of the reasons vacations and times of being unplugged are so important. Schedule times in each day like you schedule your vacations to have fun. Get with your staff and make them all tell a joke. Develop a culture where they can’t wait to tell you a funny story that happened to them. Lead the way.
Tips for Using Humor in Your Sermon:
- Stay safe. Many stand-up comedians try to be controversial, but you must watch out for your job security and reputation as a Pastor. Steer clear of sensitive topics that offend people. I often say I don’t mind offending people with the gospel if they find it offensive. I don’t need to offend with humor.
- Pace yourself. Surprise your congregation with a witty remark now and then. If you joke around throughout the entire message, it will be difficult for them to take you seriously when they need to. And make the most of a humorous moment. I often hit people with the hardest Biblical truths after a moment of laughter. That is when they are most open. So, yes, I work on planning that in my teaching.
- Consider your church culture. Every church and every congregation has its own culture. Please pay attention to how the congregation reacts to gauge whether you’re amusing or offending them. If people think you shouldn’t have fun at church, they probably won’t attend the church I pastor. It’s a part of our culture. As the leader, you are the one who leads the way in setting your church culture.
- Liven up meetings. The joke for church “board” meetings is often that they are “bored” meetings. Make your meetings more memorable by setting your presentations to music or throwing in a few pop culture references. We always laugh in our meetings, even when dealing with a series of decisions. We say, “While we take God and what we do very seriously, we never take ourselves seriously.” This helps us as a team have fun together.
- Share content. You can send your team entertaining video clips and news stories, even on busy days. Searching for content about penguins and cheese rolling takes a few minutes. Is it spiritual? It’s relational, and relational is spiritual. This is good to share on your social media for the church body. Let them get to know you by sharing what you consider funny. They will feel they are getting to know you better as a leader.
- Tell stories. Humor can be especially meaningful when you tie it into an appropriate narrative. Strengthen your connection by revealing something about your personal life. Find a case study that backs up your point. Especially in your sermons, tell stories. Jesus did: “Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry, he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them” (Mark 4:33–34, NLT).
- Play games. Make office tasks more like your favorite video game by awarding points and rewards for submitting your timesheets when they’re due. Keep a jigsaw puzzle in the break room for anyone to work on while passing through for a cup of coffee. You will keep good staff members longer when they have fun in ministry with you and the rest of the team. Your church needs to see that you and the staff have fun together.
- Stage events. Encourage friendly competition with your own office Olympics. Host a movie night with popcorn and retro candy. As you plan many other things in your ministry schedule, plan fun for the staff and leadership team. They will thank you for this.
As a leader, you can make your team and your church laugh without getting into trouble or offending people. Who knows, it could be a part of the secret sauce for attracting people to your church. After all, most people think you can’t have fun in church, let alone have fun when you are a Christian. Nothing could be further from the truth! Shouldn’t we, as Christians, have the most fun in this life? After all, we are free, we know we are forgiven, and we know where we go when we get to the end of life. We have a lot to celebrate and be joyful about!