Develop This Character Trait if You Want to Endure in Ministry

If you want to stay around the ministry long, learn to laugh. (Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash)

My favorite art store often brings in master teachers for classes on various kinds of art.

Once I noticed they had a gifted watercolor artist doing a conference lasting several days and costing $500. On the website the artist listed materials registrants would be needing. It will not surprise you to learn the materials were specific, numerous and somewhat expensive. The last item students would be needing was: 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 ...

Bring Humor

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What if churches added that little note as a scroll across the bottom of their websites. "Coming to worship with us? Great. Bring a good sense of humor."

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

It would signal that these people do not take themselves too seriously. Yes, they take the things of God with the greatest of seriousness. But not themselves.

Going into the ministry? Bring along a Bible; a theological education; a willingness to work, serve and love—all of these. But don't leave home without a good sense of humor. You'll be needing it.

A good sense of humor is essential in all things, particularly in a church. Churches are composed of people at every level of maturity and immaturity, spirituality and carnality, requiring the leaders (the pastor and teachers) to package their teachings in words and images understandable to everyone. A good sense of humor can make a world of a difference.

Funny things are going to happen at your church, whether you like it or not, whether you plan for it or not. So, leaders should stand ready to roll with the punches and let your funnybone have its moment. Doing so will ease many a rough spot in church relations.

I'm thinking of a 9-year-old who spoke a word of praise in a worship service that brought the house down. The previous Friday night, the local football team had made a trip 350 miles up the highway to take on the No. 1 ranked high school team in the country and had beaten them decisively. So, that Sunday morning, toward the end of a lackluster service through which much of the congregation had dozed, the leader was asking for prayer requests. He paused and said, "Does anyone have a praise report? Something you're thankful for?" At this point, the kid woke up. He said in a voice that carried into the next block, "We kicked Hoover's butt!"

The place erupted in laughter.

It was a wonderful moment. As a guest who had sat through the uninspired service, I found myself wishing the kid had said that at the start of the service.

Tense moments, hilarious sayings, tech breakdowns, embarrassing incidents and awkward happenings—hereafter referred to as SGOIC, "stuff going on in church"—are going to come up. It's just the nature of things. After all, your congregation of a mixture of humanity is going to be doing some things not everyone will like, approve of or understand.

The leadership is going to be pushing some program or event that some will not appreciate but which is a necessary part of kingdom work. The sound system will go out, the baptistery will leak, the power will go off and the organ will blast your ear drums into the next county. The kid being baptized will cannon-ball into the water, a member of the choir will stumble and take out the row of tenors entering behind him, and a dog will wander into the building.

When that happens, a healthy sense of humor allows leaders to keep it in perspective, not to be overwhelmed by it, to keep their cool, and hopefully to keep their jobs and fall sleep on schedule that night.

Laughter is the only appropriate response to much of the SGOIC.

An old deacon came to see a pastor friend of mine. "We need to make some changes around here," he informed his shepherd. "From now on, we're going to run a tighter ship. To begin with, you cannot make personal calls from the church office. If you need to talk with your wife ..." (this was before cellphones) "you'll have to get in the car and drive home.

"And another thing, preacher. The copy machine is costing a lot of money. So, from now on, you must keep a record of every copy you make, what it is and who it's for."

Now, the pastor told the man this was unacceptable and he would not abide by those rules. That was the right response, I imagine. Sometime later, though, he ended up resigning as a result of a lot of similar things, of which this incident was typical. But if ever there was a place for a response of pure laughter, this was it.

I wonder how it would have been had the pastor broken into a belly laugh and said, "Oh, that's a good one, deacon. I love it." And when the old gent protested that this is for real, the pastor would keep laughing, and say, "OK, let's think of some more bizarre rules. No using the men's room except during the lunch break. How's that? Oh, and the preacher must always be in the office from 8 to 5 and at the same time visit every hospital and all the shut-ins. How's that?" And continue laughing.

The old guy would have stormed out, no doubt. And the outcome—the pastor leaving—may well have been the same. But something about the laughing response seems called for.

Laughter is the right response to some bizarre behavior. God said so Himself. "The kings of the earth set themselves against 'God and His Christ.' They say, 'Let's rebel against Him and throw off these chains!' He who sits in the heavens will laugh. The Lord scoffs at them." And then the Lord gets mad. "He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury." That's a slice of Psalm 2, my paraphrase.

Proverbs 26:4 advises "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like unto him." When the crotchety old church-boss decreed that the pastor not use the church phone for anything but official business and record every single copy he made, to respond with reason and argument dignifies the fellow's ideas and puts the preacher on the same level as he. The Proverbs passage gives us a better way of responding.

"Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes" (Prov. 26:5, NKJV). That is, you answer just as foolishly as the other guy did.

The old geezer deserved an answer of pure, unadulterated belly laughing. "Oh, what a comic you are, Deacon Smattering! Thank you for making my morning. That's the silliest thing I ever heard of! I love it."

And then the pastor continues: "Say, how about you and your wife come over to my house tomorrow night after prayer meeting for dessert. Let me call my wife on the phone right now and make sure that works for her. OK?"

If it does, run off a copy of directions to your house.

My friend Shellyn says, "Jesus had a great sense of humor. We see it in His response to being informed that He owed some taxes. What did He do but have someone bring up a fish with money in its mouth." (See Matt. 17:27) She adds, "Boy, think of how that coin smelled!"

A healthy sense of humor for people in the ministry will allow you to:

– Sleep at night when part of you wants to get angry.

– Help your spouse when he/she is chafing at the SGOIC.

– Keep your health and not let the SGOIC give you a heart attack, drive your blood pressure into stratospheric regions, or inflame your ulcers.

– Roll with the punches when the guy who hates your guts for no apparent reason attacks you verbally in church. (It will happen.)

– Shrug it off when the church leadership rejects your plan for a building expansion, renovation, relocation or whatever. Pick up your stuff, thank them, smile real big, and go home and take a nap.

A good sense of humor will do one huge thing more. It will help you not to take yourself too seriously. And that is a gift we'd like to see a lot of the Lord's children receiving.

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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