I don’t consider myself to be naturally all that funny. It takes a lot of work for me and usually comes across as kind of awkward (my wife can verify this).
Usually I don’t come across well because I’m trying too hard. I want people to laugh, so I spend a lot time fretting over the delivery of a joke and wind up completely butchering it.
Preaching and teaching can be like that, too.
One of the big challenges any communicator faces is holding their audience’s attention. If you’re dry as toast, no one’s going to be able to follow you, no matter how interesting the subject might actually be.
Interesting content isn’t a problem for most preachers. No one who has actually read the Bible could honestly say it’s boring—especially the Old Testament narratives (I know of at least one pastor who made a genealogy riveting, for goodness’ sake!). If the “living and active Word of God” truly does pierce the heart (cf. Heb. 4:12), woe to any of us who present it as dull.
But again, this isn’t a problem for most of us.
The problem is maybe we’re trying too hard to be something we’re not.
Many of us—myself included—spend a massive amount of time crafting a message, making sure it’s just so. We want to carry people along with our thinking and see what God’s Word says.
But here’s where we get messed up: in trying to carry people along with the message, we often wind up trying too hard to be funny, as if humor equals engagement.
John Piper says preachers should to be Bible-oriented, rather than entertainment-oriented. This is a good warning, and one all of us need to keep in mind.
If entertainment is our goal, we can come across as flippant, even disrespectful of the duty we’ve been given (to say nothing of being disrespectful to the text of Scripture). This is how we wind up with hour-long sermons that have perhaps 20 minutes of actual content, by the way; more time is spent getting a laugh than making a point.
It’s not that humor is bad, but it should be natural and textual. If our teaching comes across more like a comedian’s patter than a preacher’s plea, we might be trying too hard.
“Be fit for your work, and you will never be out of it. Do not run about inviting yourselves to preach here and there; be more concerned about your ability than your opportunity and more earnest about your walk with God than about either,” Spurgeon told his students. “The sheep will know the God-sent shepherd; the porter of the fold will open to you, and the flock will know your voice” (Lectures to My Students, p. 32).
All of us who are less-experienced preachers would do well to heed Spurgeon’s warning. Let’s be concerned about our ability—that is, we need to grow in our understanding of the Word of God and how to apply it well. But be much more concerned with our own walk with God than how we deliver a message. Our hearers know the difference. We might not be as entertaining, but we’ll be far more compelling.