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Using Surprise And Humor

Lesson Plans > Religious Training > Preaching

Using Surprise And Humor

When looking for ways to drive a point home in a message, surprise is an affective tool. But it can be potentially dangerous, so it should be used with great care.

Jesus used surprise in ways that we may not notice because we are far removed from the Jewish culture of His day. "The kingdom of God is like..." Jesus says in Luke 13:20-21. With an audience waiting expectantly for another gem of wisdom, Jesus finishes with a shocking statement: the kingdom of God is like leaven! Why is this surprising? Because leaven (yeast) was a symbol of sin! The kingdom of God is like sin? You can be sure his listeners didn’t quickly forget that parable!

Another example is a parable which is so familiar to us that we don’t realize the surprise in the ending. It is the story of a boy who takes his inheritance, runs away, spends his money in wild partying and sin, and then returns home. What is the surprise? Everyone listening would have known that the father would tell his son "Get lost, creep! You’re no son of mine!" But Jesus shocks them all by having the father run and embrace his smelly, pathetic son. No, the listeners would never forget that story. Of course, the parable of the prodigal son actually has two surprise endings. I’ll leave you to find the other one.

Why is surprise a technique to be used with caution? There are two reasons. The first is this: if the surprise is powerful enough, it may overshadow the point it is supposed to highlight. I once did a sermon in which I brought very old eggs in and smashed them into a mixing bowl. In the four or five years since then, I have had many people comment on that sermon. Yet I wonder; how many people remember the eggs, but don’t remember the lesson?

The other reason is that it may be taken incorrectly, and detract from the point. We once had a pastor arrange to have two teenagers stand up in the middle of his sermon and shout something. The scene was staged, and it had a purpose. But after the service a couple women in the church came to me and said, "someone has to do something about those teens; they are far too unruly and rude." They had completely missed the point, and not only that, their concern for these "unruly teenagers" undoubtedly distracted them from the rest of the message.

Humor is closely related to surprise, because humor often relies on an element of surprise to be effective. The same cautions that apply to surprise also apply to humor. Humor should be used tastefully, and for the purpose of driving a point home, not detracting from it.

In a recent sermon I shared that the three little pigs were not so sweet and innocent as we always thought, because they swore "by the hairs of their chinny-chin-chins", even though Jesus said not to swear by your heads, because you can’t turn your hairs black or white.

The "joke" was well received, helped to keep the congregation’s interest alive, and drove the message forward instead of detracting from it.

Lesson by Mr. Twitchell

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