I have three kiddos—6, 5, and 3—and they are all pretty cute. But our 3-year old is still in that stage where he says things in a super adorable way, which sometimes elicits a chuckle from Eric or me, or even his big brother or sister. It seems harmless, right? But I started noticing several months ago how much this bothered him, and each time he would wail exasperated, “DON’T FUN ME!”
We weren’t trying to make fun of him, we just thought his antics were cute and funny! But it never hurts to be respectful, even to a 3-year old, so we stopped. And now he is perfectly happy! It turns out even little guys don’t like to feel they are being laughed at.
That brings me to the Church. I have noticed that there is a tendency these days to go one of two directions when it comes to humor. The first is the “old school” way, which says nothing is funny, don’t laugh, Jesus never smiled, so stop having fun.
This way isn’t awesome.
So my generation has swung to the other extreme: affirming “the spiritual gift of sarcasm.” I think I know what people are getting at with this—they are trying to bring value to laughter, to authenticity, and levity. And believe me, I get this. I love this! And I think Jesus would love a lot of this humor.
But there’s probably a lot that He wouldn’t love too.
Here are a few filters to put in place when thinking about humor, and how we use it in leadership:
Resist the temptation to use humor to make any point that actually should be made with a clear, direct statement instead.
Say there is something in one of your leaders that you know you need to address. So you just make it into a joke and hope they get the point: “Oh wow, that punt was about as lame as that youth leadership meeting you led today! Er, haha…” Come on. It’s not that the conversation shouldn’t take place, it’s that we owe people the respect of saying it directly and not hiding behind humor.
Never use flippant humor at the expense of others’ insecurities.
It’s just a joke, right? People need to lighten up, right? I have been in contexts so many times where humor started off fun, but quickly dissented into, well, meanness. I read in a parenting book once how to explain to a young child what bullying is: when one person is no longer having fun. That rule should apply here too. It’s fun to joke about some things, but even in humor we are to honor one another.
If someone is bothered by your humor, really consider that perspective.
The fact is, we all have different senses of humor. But as leaders ours—and the way we respond to others’—will set the tone for what is accepted and what is unacceptable. If someone is disturbed by your humor, have a real conversation about it. It’s possible Jesus would have been lol’ing and the offended party still would have stood with pursed lips…in that case you’re off the hook. It’s also possible that you really did go too far. The only way to know is to take any thoughts and opinions through these filters (and others, if you like), and always respond with humility.
In The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood that there are 4 different types of humor: joy, fun, the joke proper, and flippancy. The first two are worthless to the kingdom of darkness, but there is lots of potential for damage in the second two. Consider this quote:
“Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man’s damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a joke.”
So let’s spread joy, and yes, authenticity. Life is just too short not to laugh. Let’s just make sure it’s at the right things.