A preacher was visiting a congregation one Sunday — they as unknown to him as he was to them. “This is a bit uncomfortable for all of us, I suppose,” he said to open. “You’re out there wondering if I’m a good preacher. I’m up here wondering if you know what good preaching is.”
That is not a story from my future autobiography, I assure you. The story as it was told to me ends where I ended it. I presume there was a general chuckle, the ice was broken, and preacher and audience alike moved past the awkwardness to more important business.
But maybe not.
Jokes like that are a cost-benefit analysis with me. The potential benefit is marginal, and it can be accomplished in a number of other ways. The potential cost is huge. Not every preacher exits the pulpit in the same number of pieces he entered it with. Which brings to mind a story that actually will be in my future autobiography. Another time.
Most of the chuckles I go for in my sermons are at my own expense. People like that. It humanizes the preacher. Hardly any of them are at the expense of the audience. People hate that. It smacks of arrogance — especially when the preacher is not well acquainted with his audience.
Generally speaking, we do better in our evangelism efforts — both publicly and privately — when we speak with kindness. “Apples of gold in settings of silver,” to borrow from Proverbs 25:11. It might stroke our ego a bit to try it the other way. But then, stroking our ego is not exactly compatible with Jesus’ teachings, is it (Matthew 6:1)?