Humor in Teaching
This post adapted from Best of ProMaker I. By Frank Hamrick.
Properly used, humor can offer a helpful tool in teaching and preaching. Charles Spurgeon used humor effectively in many of his lectures to students. He skillfully wielded it to show unsaved people the absurdity of their excuses and the folly of their efforts to earn God’s favor.
In the Bible, we find that God’s servants used humor and irony to make their point. Elijah sarcastically questions the prophets of Baal to emphasize the futility of their efforts (1 Kings 18:25-27). Isaiah points out the folly of people who make expect their own created idols to do for them what they can’t even do themselves (Isa. 44:9-17). Christ used humor in His teaching, as well. He pictures the Pharisees meticulously straining their drinking water—lest a tiny gnat should find its way in—but swallowing a whole camel with ease (Matt. 23:24).
The Limits of Humor
Like any teaching tool, humor can be used the wrong way. When preaching and teaching, avoid using humor in the following four ways.
Don’t use humor to belittle sin. Sin is never funny. It’s possible to point out the folly of sinful choices without making those choices seem funny or insignificant. We should never present sin as anything other than an affront to God.
Don’t use humor that makes light of God or spiritual matters. Jokes about God chip away at people’s reverence for Him.
Never use humor solely for entertainment. The purpose of teaching is to teach truth, not to simply entertain. It’s easy to fall into the temptation to cater to our audience. We feel good when our audience responds to us favorably, so it’s tempting to follow up on the joke we made by telling more. But when we do, we’ve lost our original purpose and slipped into entertainment mode.
Don’t use humor to demean people. Avoid stereotyping or making sweeping generalizations that categorize people in a thoughtless and unkind way.
Consider timing in your use of humor. Humor near the close of a lesson or service can disrupt a person’s response to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.
The Best Humor
The best humor gives people insight into their own nature thereby allowing them to laugh at themselves. Make humor relatable to your audience. Good humor can melt an icy atmosphere, perk up a sleepy audience, and disarm the curmudgeons.
Teachers can also use humor to illustrate the truth they want to get across. When speaking to young people, a teacher can dramatize everyday situations to illustrate his or her points and engage the students’ attention. But be careful with ready-made jokes. They usually spread so rapidly that they quickly lose their appeal. Some jokes are ageless, while others wear out after a few tellings. And most young people—especially teens—can detect a corny joke miles away.
As with any tool, humor can be a help or a hindrance, depending on how we use it. Consider how to integrate humor to enhance, not distract from, your lesson.