While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
Acts 3:11-26 (ESV)
The sermons of the Bible didn’t need to use jokes as ice breakers.
In fact, they didn’t have any humour at all. Generally, they were brutally honest but given out of love. They didn’t condemn the people they were speaking to or continuously harp on one specific sin as some preachers today are known to do, but they didn’t ignore the parts of the Bible that call us to change our lives and follow Jesus.
Personally, I’m not against incorporating a bit of humour into a sermon. After all, the self-indulgent culture we live in needs some kind of immediate satisfaction in order to keep listening.
But any time a preacher spends more time telling jokes than talking about scripture, it makes me sick.
I’ve noticed this as an increasing trend lately. More and more preachers are moving away from giving you the scripture, providing historical and emotional context and shifting to apply it to us and replacing it with a more “modern” style of preaching the Word.
Basically, the pastor would open up with a humourous 10-minute tale of something that happened to him during the week that has nothing to do with what he’s talking about, but he has a live microphone, and he can get your attention that way. After that he’ll read a verse, maybe two if he’s feeling extra spiritual, and talk briefly about the verses around it if he actually cares about context.
After that, he’ll never mention the scripture again, except in passing for comparison. He’ll spend the last 15-30 minutes of the sermon making pop culture references, using props and wacky illustrations, telling more funny stories about his personal life, though those have some vague forced connection to the topic, and then they tell some made-up story that they either fabricated themselves or found on the Internet that’s supposed to be touching enough that you somehow see the point God made in scripture better than you would have if you’d just…. I don’t’ know…. talk about the scripture.
I especially don’t understand the last part, as the Bible tells plenty of stories that apply to every situation, all of which are just as touching if not more touching than the hot garbage these preachers tell us every Sunday morning.
A common one I hear is:
Two brothers went to church one Sunday. The pastor gave the altar call, telling the congregation to give their lives to Jesus now, because they may not have tomorrow. One of them accepted Jesus that day. The other one said he wasn’t ready yet. After they left, they got in the car and were killed in an accident. One went to Heaven, one didn’t. Choose Jesus now while you still can.
I’m sure lots of you have heard that story or some variation of it before. It’s always vague and dramatic.
If the message you want to preach is “choose Jesus now while you still can,” then check this story out:
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Powerful story right? That’s because Jesus Himself told it in Luke chapter 16.
Or how about a message on missions, tithing, or serving? Most people would use the fake story in Ray Boltz’ song “Thank You,” a song I despise above all others in the Christian music genre for completely twisting the Bible’s picture of Heaven in order to provoke an emotional response so you’ll give people money:
Then another man stood before you
And said, “Remember the time
A missionary came to your church
And his pictures made you cry.
You didn’t have much money,
But you gave it anyway.
Jesus took the gift you gave
And that’s why I’m here today.”
Keep in mind the song takes place in Heaven as people are walking up to someone and telling that someone they were a crucial part of getting them there, and no where in scripture does it say that anyone will be focused on anything except the glory of God.
Here’s biblical scripture that encourages service and giving without ignoring the rest of scripture.
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:1-11 (ESV)
Personal experience, outside stories or funny ice-breakers should NEVER be the focus of a sermon, should NEVER be the key argument in any point of your sermon, and should NEVER be placed in a more prominent position than scripture. The Word of God and some explanation of the Word of God is what the congregation needs to hear on Sunday morning.
Typically, comedy, outside sources, and attempts at emotional response are indicators of a pastor who wants to bring his numbers, his pay, and his status up. He cares more about hearing “That was a good sermon” than he does about changing lives.
The purpose of a pastor has always been to teach the Word of God to Christians. They’re not here to entertain, or emotionally charge, or even condemn. Show me what the Word of God says, and I will respond accordingly. Tell me a joke and a touching story, and I’ll laugh and I’ll cry, and nothing in my life will change. Just something to think about.