On entering the ministry, bring with you a good sense of humor

My favorite art store often brings in master teachers for classes on various kinds of art.  In two weeks, they have an amazing water color artist doing a conference lasting several days and costing nearly $500.  On the website the artist lists materials registrants should bring with them.  It will not surprise one to learn the materials are specific, numerous, and somewhat expensive.  But the last item in “things to bring with you” was this:

A good sense of humor.

That’s a dead giveaway that the artist will be fun and the class enjoyable.

But it started me thinking….

What if churches added that little note  as a scroll across the bottom of their websites.  “Bring a good sense of humor.”

Doing so would send a message about that church, wouldn’t it?

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The silly side of seniors remarrying

Did you hear about the senior couple who got married and spent their honeymoon getting out of the car?

It’s funny only if it doesn’t apply to you.

Since it appears we’re now doing a brief series on the subject of seniors remarrying, we thought there should be a place to record things that made us laugh, the silliness that has kept the fun in our relationship.

Oh, one more thing before we go on.  Keep in mind that lovers often laugh at things no one else would, that they have secret, little inside jokes based on something said early in the relationship, and so not everyone will find what follows as humorous as we did. And that’s perfectly fine.  We’re not going into the stand-up comic business.

One.

Bertha and I had not been seeing each other more than one week, but already knew the Lord was in this.  In one of our nightly (8 pm) phone calls, she said, “What would be a deal-breaker for you in this?”  One would think this would bring a serious response from me.  But my mind doesn’t work that way.

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How the preacher can sound really smart

“I speak as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:23).

Now, the solid born-again, God-called messenger of the Lord has no wish to sound particularly smart.  True, he does not want to come across as ignorant, but he is not insecure, has nothing to prove, and is not there to impress.  He is a messenger, delivering the word of God, then getting out of the way.*

However, a less than solid preacher just might want to impress his hearers.  An insecure, insincere preacher–one working for the paycheck and seeking the prestige some people bestow on a pastor–might want to bolster his image by dressing up his presentation in some way, and could use some assistance. That’s where we come in.  We can help.

Herewith then is our list of tricks which a poor preacher might want to employ.

Tongue in cheek, of course.

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The things we do for a great story!

“And without parables (great stories!) Jesus did not teach” (Mark 4:34).

I once sat through a long session of a convention of realtors just to hear a motivational speaker.  The story with which he opened quickly became a mainstay in my arsenal of great illustrations and sermon-helpers.

Time well spent.

I’ve read entire books and come away with one paragraph that became a staple in my preaching thereafter.  It was time well used and money well spent.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling “Eat, Pray, Love” (which I do not recommend, by the way), attended a party 20 years ago and heard something from a fellow whose name she has long forgotten.  “Sometimes I think this man came into my life for the sole purpose of telling me this story, which has delighted and inspired me ever since.”

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The most fun I ever had in the ministry (part 1)

A friend challenged me to write an article under this title. She saw where I posted a number of possible subjects to get the creative writing juices going for preachers, and the one titled “write about the most fun you ever had in the ministry” intrigued her.

I told her I’d give it a try.

With the call of God on one’s life, a place to serve, great friends alongside you, and laughter in your heart, it hardly gets any better than this!

Now, fun comes in many shapes and sizes and varieties in the ministry.  Mostly, for me, the “fun” was of two types:  a) everyone enjoying one another and b) great things happening in the church.

This article is of the first type; the next article gives the second type of fun.

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Grief and Humor — Part 2

(The first of this two-part piece was posted on June 30, 2015.  Access it by scrolling backward on our website.)

There are no comedians in Scripture and no jokes.  But there is a great deal of humor.

Elton Trueblood’s classic “The Humor of Christ” nowhere mentions the Lord as telling jokes or trying to be funny.

In times of grief–the subject before us today–it’s humor that eases the pain and lifts the spirits.  Not funny business, although there are notable exceptions.

I’m all for fun and laughter.  But mostly, we save that for another time.

At moments of grief, something a little gentler and sweeter is in order:  Something humorous.

Tom Brokaw’s new book “A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope” tells of his battle with cancer in recent years.  Multiple Myeloma is serious stuff, and it required his putting his life on hold to deal with it, and the involvement of Mayo Clinic as well as Sloan-Kettering.

Brokaw was speaking to an audience in Portsmouth, New Hampshire recently, and it was being telecast.  I happened upon it in the middle. Throughout his presentation, the audience was often laughing. Since I’ve been working on a paper dealing with “grief and humor,” I paid attention.

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Humor and grief in ministry…hand in hand

“There is….a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

The doctors at Houston’s M. D. Anderson Medical Center confirmed to Ted that the lung cancer had indeed metasticized to his brain.  “Perhaps six months, more or less,” said the doctor when Ted asked how long he had.  The worst news imaginable.

However, that night the doctor called his room.

“I’ve been studying the brain scans,” he said. “And I believe yours is Primary Lung Cancer which has moved to the brain.”  He went on to say that Primary Brain Cancer is not treatable, but a metasticized Primary Lung Cancer behaves differently in the brain and is often treatable.

There was hope, after all.

When he got off the phone, Ted explained this to his family. He was quiet a minute, then said, “Well, you know it’s your basic bad situation when you’re praying for lung cancer!”

And they laughed.

Can you weep and laugh at the same time?

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How to use humor in your sermon even if you’re not a comic

Watch this.  This is how it’s done.

Robert Mueller was giving a commencement address at the College of William and Mary.  This former director of the FBI in the first Bush administration is the epitome of dignity and class.  He is anything but a comic or comedian.  That day, speaking on “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity,” which he called the motto of the Bureau, he showed us a great way to use humor in a serious talk.

“In one of my first positions with the Department of Justice, more than thirty years ago, I found myself head of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.  I soon realized that lawyers would come into my office for one of two reasons: either to ‘see and be seen’ on the one hand, or to obtain a decision on some aspect of their work, on the other hand.  I quickly fell into the habit of asking one question whenever someone walked in the door, and that question was ‘What is the issue?’

“One evening I came home to my wife, who had had a long day teaching and then coping with our two young daughters.  She began to describe her day to me.  After just a few minutes, I interrupted, and rather peremptorily asked, ‘What is the issue?’

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How to stimulate the creative juices and possibly even write humorously

He who would write humorously should spend an hour at Walmart people-watching. She who would write creatively might wish to do the same thing, preferably with laptop or phone in hand for note-taking.

Anyone hoping to write creatively and freshly should take the advice of movie-maker Harold Ramis. “I tell students (on arriving at a party or similar type gathering) to identify the most talented person in the room. And if it isn’t you, go stand next to him.”

Absorb.  Listen.  Remember. (And above all, be quiet.  You’re there to observe.)

I’ve heard of a workshop for creative thinking among executives where the participants play paintball for an hour, then brainstorm on some topic.  They are given a stack of magazines of any and all kinds and given 30 minutes to find every creative slogan or motto, and to jot it down. At the conclusion, they are thrown into small groups and told to adapt the best of those mottos to their own industry.

Creativity can be manipulated. The juices can be made to flow.

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How not to write humor.

Don’t try too hard to be funny.

Don’t announce that you are now being funny.

Do not force it if this does not come naturally to you.

Find your own way of expressing the humor you feel in life.

Remembering that the best laugh comes from the surprise at the end of a good story, therefore, experiment with the best way to say that.

That’s also how to remember a good joke or story you’ve heard: Remember the punch line.  If you remember that exactly right, you can recall the rest of the story by working backward in it.  But the greatest single thing about telling a joke is getting the punch line right.

Again, though, surprise your hearers with it.

My granddaughter was six and we were at the swing in her front yard, doing what grandpas and little darlings do. We were singing and laughing and cutting up. At one point she said, “We’re being silly, aren’t we, grandpa.”  I said, “Yes, we are. Why do we like to be so silly?”

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