Fans of “The Andy Griffith Show" will know that Sheriff Taylor once said that his preacher was “as dry as dust.” I’m not a great preacher, but I do know certain principles that can help hearers make it through 40 minutes without feeling as though they’re tasting eternity.
Our chicken coop gets as dry as dust. I know that because my wife and I clean it out once a week, and if we sweep, it creates a cloud of dust. We deal with the problem with a quick spray of a hose into the coop just before cleaning time.
The way to dampen the dust in any sermon is to spray it with three things: Humor, anecdotes, and sermon-points.
A light sprinkling of humor
Perhaps you don’t think of yourself as being a funny person. That’s not a problem. You simply say something slightly funny at the beginning of your sermon. It may be a dad joke. The way to kill it is to say that you heard a very funny joke. That sets the bar too high. It is wiser to say that you heard a really bad dad joke. That way, a mere groan is a success. Humor has the ability to relax your audience. It will show them that you are someone who enjoys laughter.
Jesus used humor. He told the Pharisees that they strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel. If you can picture that, you may crack a smile. He also used humor when He spoke of those who turned down an invitation to sup with the king. Some gave feeble excuses about buying oxen or land. But the story climaxed with a man saying that he’d married a wife and therefore could not come (Luke 14:20). No excuse was given or needed. If you’re married, that may make you cautiously smile.
If you’re not sure where to find good humor, you may appreciate our gospel tract “101 of the World’s Funniest One Liners.” Just sharing one of these before a sermon will do its job — even if you deliver it in a monotone voice. In fact, a monotone may be funny. Examples: “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try skydiving.”
The liberal use of anecdotes
Anecdotes are very powerful because they take your audience into another dimension. They are no longer just hearing your words. They are seeing what you are saying through the amazing, God-given mind’s eye.
I had to go somewhere once and didn’t have a vehicle, so a woman who worked for me kindly suggested that I take her Volkswagen Beetle. I followed her directions to the third floor of a parking building, found the beetle, and kept my appointment. An hour later, I gave the keys back to her and casually mentioned my surprise that she had a secular radio station decal on her car’s back window. She replied that she didn’t have a secular radio decal on her back window. I had taken the wrong car. For some reason, her keys got into and started the car.
That anecdote had a touch of self-effacing humor and just a little cringe. Such a story endears you to your audience. They feel your pain. They identify with it because most of us do dumb things now and then. They will also appreciate the fact that it lifted them out of the dryness. Their ability to see through the mind’s eye took them on an intriguing journey as the story unfolded.
Jesus used anecdotes in the form of parables (The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, etc.). He also used many metaphors and similes (they usually contain the word “like”) to give His audience pictures on which to hang biblical truth: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matthew 13:24, emphasis added). He also said it was like a mustard seed (v. 31), like leaven (v. 33), like treasure (v. 44), like a merchant (v. 45), and like a dragnet (v. 47).
We can use comparisons by saying that an unsaved person is like a blind man. They cannot see. That’s why we must be gentle with them. Or the world’s moral decline is like a frog in water that is being slowly boiled, etc.
The point of a three-point sermon
If you’ve ever heard a drone up close, you will know that it has an irritating sound. The dictionary gives an example of the use of the word when it comes to speakers:
A monotonous speech: “Only 20 minutes of the hour-long drone had passed.”
The way to ease the infliction of droning is to break your sermon into three or four points. After all, a sliced pizza is easier to eat. This way, your hearers know there’s light at the end of the tunnel. When you say, “And that brings me to my third and final point,” they know the end is nigh.
It is more than important to keep the attention of our hearers. This is because we are not only speaking of the most exciting and wonderful of subjects but also wrestling against demonic forces that seek to hinder the Word of God. It is one thing to get guests to the table, but it’s another thing to get them to eat.
Most of us wouldn’t be worthy to wash the socks of the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon. See what he said about the use of humor in a sermon: “I would rather hear people laugh than I would see them asleep in the house of God” (Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon).
By the way, if my pastor (Bruce Garner) sees this article: Sir, you are the master of the anecdote and self-effacing humor.
Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters and the bestselling author of more than 80 books, including God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, How to Know God Exists, and The Evidence Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program "Way of the Master," seen in almost 200 countries, and is the Executive Producer of "180," "Evolution vs. God," "Audacity," and other films. He is married to Sue and has three grown children, and hasn't left the house without gospel tracts for decades. You can learn more about his ministry at LivingWaters.com.