They didn’t know it was coming. The buildup began like any other story illustrating a biblical text. But then came the punch line, and the pastor looked out over a laughing congregation.

But wait a minute!

Not everyone was laughing. In fact, one or two even had their heads bowed. Were they embarrassed, ashamed? What happened?

Not every preacher can tell a funny story; not every preacher should. And even those who have a “sense of humor” had better know what they are doing when they tell a joke or funny story, and be aware of whom their humor is going to affect.

Some people laugh because they are feeling good; they come to church ready for a blessing. They hang on the preacher’s words, and the humor he uses has its expected effect—it drives home a point in a way that the hearer will remember for a long time. A joke or a funny story is a hook, a means of pulling along the minds of the hearers. It even gives a little mental vacation in the midst of concentration.

Humor is enjoyable; often it is even therapeutic. “A cheerful heart is a good medicine,” states Proverbs 17:22. Recent studies on humor support that. It has been found that hospital patients who are given something to laugh about sleep better. Many experience a reduction in pain, and in one experiment reported by Science Digest (Nov. 1977) a young polio victim in an iron lung was able to breathe for up to forty minutes on his own because he had been laughing.

But even though laughter is good for people, and smiling is known to help create a happier frame of mind, some people in church aren’t laughing, and aren’t ready to be made to laugh. A pastor can’t assume that his humor will always help people.

What about the person who comes to church with a longing for answers to some ...

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