A Laughable Gospel?

[I was called upon at the last minute to write an article for PRAC magazine about the use of humour in mission. I dashed out to the half-bakery for some ideas. I thought ‘It’s hard to be funny under pressure,’ and decided to use that as the first line. PRAC mag by Crossover is (otherwise) good – keep an eye out for it!]

It’s hard to be funny under pressure. Hey, it’s hard enough for some of us to be funny at all. So here’s a helpful little column to tell you that you absolutely must be funny if you are to reach Australians at all. Must. Or there’s no hope for you. You’ll need to minister in some other country – like Switzerland or Canberra.

So no pressure.

Humour in reaching Australians is important for three reasons, four of which I’ll outline here:

It’s disarming. And that’s pretty important to connect with Aussies at all, most of whom are increasingly guarded against Christianity. They expect us to be Pharisees, though they use other terms. So I heard of one church that put on its sign “Smithfield Baptist Church: Surprisingly Uncreepy”. Now there’s a motto that beats “Because You’re Going To Die One Day” hands down. Wish we’d thought of it before all that printing.

When you make someone laugh, you’re a friend, not an enemy. Unless they’re laughing at you.

It’s interesting. So many Australians live lives of desperate boredom. Tuning out from the millions of banal messages they are bombarded with daily, they search and scan even the pages of PRAC magazine looking for a half-decent column. (That bit was just to see if it gets past the editor.) When the medium is the message, we cannot afford to dress up the gospel in the form of a university lecture any longer. She’s worthy of something more eye-catching.

We intuitively do this in children’s ministry – make it fun! But little do we realize that adults’ attention span is just as short – they’re just better at pretending to look interested! On the inside they are climbing the walls. This is why I engineered a never-ending packet of Tim Tams, and have concealed accomplices under stages, in air-conditioning ducts, and baptisteries to make surprise entries. It’s also a fun way of torturing my claustrophobic friends. Don’t accuse me of stunts; I get others to do the dangerous bits.

It’s absurd. When you’re filling the bathtub with custard, it’s hard to keep the camels from escaping. Just think about that.

It brings perspective. This is actually how humour works. All good jokes (so I’m told) start off as serious stories, and have a surprising ending that suddenly puts the rest of the story in a new perspective. This is precisely what the gospel does. Particularly in a post-Christian culture, we are working right at the base level of paradigm, of perspective. We are saying “Ha! What you’ve thought was so important is not important at all, and what you dismissed is actually crucial!”

Even in these increasingly dark and worrying times, Christians should have a glint in their eye – a twinkle that says, like the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride, “I know something you don’t know.” There is a different ending to what people expect. The gospel brings the laughter of people who have found riches only when they struck rock bottom, and people who won a prize only when they finally stopped striving for it.

Humour in hard times can be like rain in a desert. It’s for times like that that Eric Love and I wrote this song, promoting what we call “The Christian Swear Word” (‘Maranatha’ means ‘Come Lord Jesus’)


When your hammer slips and lands on the wrong nail
When you try to catch the final bus and fail
When your washing is exported by a gale
When you do your best, but all to no avail

When it all seems too much and you just want to weep
And you don’t know whether you’re Arthur or Martha
Don’t say ‘crikey’ or ‘blimey’ or ‘bother’ or [BEEP]
There’s a better word for it- say ‘Maranatha’

In the nightly news a litany of woe
And there’s nowhere in the world that’s safe to go
When disaster lands the poor a further blow
And relief is far too distant and too slow

When it all seems too much and you just want to weep
And you don’t know whether you’re Arthur or Martha
Don’t say ‘crikey’ or ‘blimey’ or ‘bother’ or [BEEP]
There’s a better word for it- say ‘Maranatha’

When the Lord says He’s preparing us a place
And a day when we will see Him face to face
And reward for those who persevere with grace
Be assured, it’s not just talk, but it’s the case

When it all seems too much and you just want to weep
And you don’t know whether you’re Arthur or Martha
Don’t say ‘crikey’ or ‘blimey’ or ‘bother’ or [BEEP]
There’s a better word for it- say ‘Maranatha’


But as I say, it’s hard to be funny under pressure, week by week. It can’t be cranked out. It’s the fruit borne naturally from deep roots of peace and joy in our wonderful, outrageous, hilarious God, who loves Aussies and whom Aussies will love.

Posted on August 9, 2011, in Culture, Evangelism. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Here’s what that song looks and sounds like:

    [audio src="http://home.exetel.com.au/eric5014/music/mara3.mp3" /]

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