As a young man, I once overheard an older and very much-used man of God make a confession, by way of counsel, to a young preacher. He said, “I have always had a great sense of humor and a knack for story telling and making people laugh. When I was very young, I incorporated too much of this into my preaching. I will never forget the night that the Lord convicted me that I had been, on too many occasions, little more than the devil’s clown when I was in the pulpit."
There are not a few preachers today, both young and old, who apparently have yet to learn what my old friend had learned. Preaching the Word requires the preaching of the Word of God, not telling funny stories. John Henry Jowett, in his book, The Preacher, His Life and Work wrote, “We never reach the innermost room of any man’s soul by the expedience of the showman or the buffoon.” The responsibility of preachers is to let people know what God has to say, not what they have to say.
Preachers lose their credibility, and become a stumbling block to souls for whom Christ died when they resemble a stand up comedian more than they do a man of God with a message from God to deliver. The great 17th century Scottish preacher Robert Leighton said, “Divine things are never to be spoken of in a light, perfunctory way, but with a reverent, grave temper of spirit.” This is as true today as it was when Leighton said it over 400 years ago. We desperately need a revival of this kind of understanding among men in the ministry today.
It’s hard for people to take the Word of God seriously when it isn’t presented to them in a serious way. Churches, individuals Christians and the whole of American society has paid a terrible price, and the price is becoming heavier and heavier, because of the careless, cavalier approach that has been and continues to be taken towards the ministry of the word of God, and the carnival-like atmosphere, to one degree or another, that this approach creates relative to church-going and to worship.
The prophet Jeremiah had this to say during some of Israel's most spiritually dark days: “Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:32). There’s little room for doubt here as to how God feels about joke telling and story spinning in the pulpit, the value of it, or why some preachers take such liberties in the first place.
It is relatively rare, but there is such a thing as a consecrated use of humor by preachers that is sanctioned by the Holy Sprit and that is discernible to spiritually minded people. But God doesn’t like clowning around in the pulpit regardless of how cleverly or crudely it’s done. And neither should anyone else.