A Fragmentary Thought on Humor in the Pulpit
In general, a sense of humor in the pulpit is not a bad thing. Sometimes humor by itself helps to release tension. And a funny story often helps us see a truth in a new way. We've all heard sermons where the preacher made us laugh and then came the "zinger" that flew in under the radar, sort of "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." It is said that Spurgeon had a well-developed sense of humor that often came out in his preaching. Once when a woman told him he used too much humor in his sermons, he supposedly replied, "If you knew how much I held back, you would compliment me instead." Using humor in the pulpit is like adding spice to the soup. A little spice improves the taste. Adding too much ruins it.
There are preachers who excel at using humor in a positive way. By that I mean they are gifted in this area so that telling humorous stories comes naturally to them, and the result sounds natural, not forced, and it makes the sermon more enjoyable. But what about those who are not gifted in this area? Don't try to be humorous when it isn't natural to your own style. And don't feel like you need to begin every sermon with a funny story if that doesn't fit who you are. Years ago I read a column in Christianity Today called "Things They Didn't Tell You at Seminary Graduation." It was funny, of course, but also filled with nuggets of truth. And the first one was, "If you can't tell a joke, don't."
I suppose the real lesson is, know yourself. Be who you are, not someone else. Use humor where it fits or where it comes naturally. A merry heart does good like medicine--and a happy preacher is certainly better than a grouchy one. But don’t ever "try to be funny." People will know what you are doing, it won't work, and it won't be funny either.