A pastor, a priest and a rabbi walked into a bar.
The bartender said, "What? Is this some kinda joke?"
At this point you in the reading audience have had some sort of response.
Maybe you laughed. Maybe you didn't laugh, wanted to laugh, wonder why you didn't get it, and want to be in on the joke. Maybe, if you were in a group and someone told the joke and folks started laughing, you might start laughing too. Even if you "didn't get it."
Perhaps you didn't find anything funny about a pastor, a priest and a rabbi walking into a bar.
Maybe you'd heard the joke before. Maybe you anticipated what was coming. Perhaps you were offended. Maybe you were angered, thinking, "There's nothing funny about clergy and bars!"
Whatever you're feeling about the above, your response reflects one of your God-given gifts: Your sense of humor.
One's sense of humor is as essential to survival as sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Understanding and employing the positive aspects of humor are not only essential in human development. Moreover, a church's Humor Quotient is as a critical barometer of church health and has unimagined potential for missional and discipleship growth.
It can be said that it's easier and quicker for a church to attract and engage people, because of its sense of humor than its style of musical worship.
Don't laugh. Not yet.
Whether you laughed or not, we started with a joke as do countless pastors each week purposely. Jokes evoke laughter which set a tone good or bad often to release tension. The upside of tears.
However, understand clearly: sense of humor is not reliant on joke-telling, or gauged by joke-getting. In fact, research contends jokes comprise only about 10 percent of the reasons people laugh.
There are several mistakes we make when speaking about humor. Some of these are, "I don't have one;" "I can't tell jokes," "I don't get it." In a church these ideas may come out as "The Bible says, Don't mock God!' " "Saving souls is serious." So serious, says comedian Michael Jr., a Christ-follower, "In my church growing up, laughing was illegal."
To successively utilize humor, we must expand its scope beyond our traditional concept of hit-or-miss punchlines. We must embrace how humor is manifests in everyday life, especially reaching others to follow and to serve Christ.
Humor: A State of Mind
Since the mid-1960s, there has been ongoing research in academic, medical and scientific realms about the physiological, psychological, pedological qualities of humor. Organizations such as the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH) and the World Laughter Tour (WLT) conduct conferences and workshops for leaders and lay people to learn techniques how to laugh and develop their senses of humor to be more productive and personable. Neither AATH or WLT is a religious organization, although each has many Christians and individuals of other faiths among their network. Across the board, though, there is agreement that humor research and the training quantify what Solomon wrote centuries before Christ, that "a merry heart doeth good like medicine (Proverbs 17:22)"
So, if humor isn't telling jokes, you may wonder, what is it?
Steve Wilson, founder of the WLT, defines sense of humor as: "Finding the nonserious element in a serious situation."
Other data suggests humor may include:
Humor: The non-serious observations
Improvisation: Working what happens in the moment ("roll with the punches")
Laughter: Physiological responses in the moment, sometimes audible
Joy: A companion of peace and contentment in the momentary circumstance
Comedy: Formulatic creations involving any of the above to evoke laughter or thoughts
I became acquainted with those studies as an improvisational actor and teaching artist. I've applied their findings to help educators work to improve student test scores and classroom management; corporate leaders to strive toward more productive work environments; and teens to grapple with interpersonal communication in an increasingly impersonal world. These are similar needs I've encountered among Christ-following students, teachers, parents and colleagues in my travels as a staff pastor and conference presenter but it's not data widely investigated.
Usually through a study of Proverbs, James, the red letters of Christ and the epistles, the researched, benefits of humor have taken a deeper meaning as I've recognized their roots in Scripture. Sort of a #HolySpiritDOH!
Humor is about healthy communication. Consequently, these questions came to mind: What in your life or ministry are you taking life and ministry too seriously? As in, you can't let it go, even at home or overnight? So seriously it's affecting your relationships or even your walk with God? How are you managing them?
Captain Bligh or Mr. Christian?
Often in the wake of headline-grabbing news, among my circles of not-yet-believing friends, I wind up engaged as the spokesman, the apologetic, to whom they ask, "How come Christians…?" at which point I'm queried about statements a highly visible Christian (read: televangelist or celebrity) made in the midst of the public crisis. The questions are generally earnest, not hostile, but my alter ego is internally taking my brethren to task shouting: "Could you use a little discernment here?" The same thing happens when I come across some Facebook threads during the week from people I sat near in church on Sunday. ("Did ya sleep through the compassion sermon?")
The exchanges bring to mind the words of Mahatma Ghandi, who embraced Christ's tenets of nonviolence when leading India's battle for independence from the British Empire: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Author Leslie Leyland Fields better articulated the dilemma in a recent "Christianity Today" story, "Why Can't Christians Laugh Anymore?" She recounts that the response to a satirical political blog she wrote: "became so heated and vitriolic that I had to take the post down the next day." The heat and vitriol, she said, came from mostly Christian readers.
"What's happening to us?" Fields asks. "We seem to have lost not only our sense of tolerance and civility, but worse, our sense of humor."
One answer: it's not that we have lost our sense of humor, it's that we do not understand humor. We confine it. Its love, grace and truth.
One of my mentors, Pastor Rod King, embodied those tenets when I was beginning in ministry work. Pastor Rod was in charge of pastoral care on our staff. In the middle of a dour encounter with some church brethren, I began complaining. Repeatedly. "I like ministry," said the septuagenarian simply, "Ministry wouldn't be bad" The veteran USO trouper paused for effect. "If it wasn't for the people." Rod got his laugh. The load was lightened. The meeting went on. I remained on staff13 more years, surviving because Pastor Rod employed one of the strongest benefits of humor: bridging conflict.