I’ve heard arguments for yes and no in answer to this question.
Some view humor in a sermon as being blasphemous, out of place, and irreverent. I understand the point and think it has merit. We are dealing with Big Serious Issues.
Others say humor is fine; it’s part of effective communication and keeps people listening. I get this too. Big Serious Issues can get Big and Boring. What good is it if everyone is asleep while you’re seriously discussing Big Serious Issues?
Ignoring all church tradition and sanctimony, my answer to the question is this: It depends. I’d need to ask some questions to understand the context better to give a correct answer.
1. Is the pastor funny?
If you are not naturally funny, then don’t use humor. We are often not the best judges of our own humor. The best test is if anyone thinks you’re funny when you try to be funny. If you are not funny; do not force humor into your sermons. It will sound stilted and won’t work. Don’t be the guy who reads jokes you found on the internet because you know you need laughs, but then read them all wrong with terrible timing and voice so everyone just cringes. Don’t be that guy. If you are naturally funny, I do think it is fine to be funny.
2. What is the topic?
There are many sermons where a joke would be entirely out of place. Sermons do not require humor. I am a terribly funny guy. No seriously, I am. Ask my wife. But I have preached many a sermon with no jokes. There’s a time and a place. Jokes are not right in every sermon.
3. Who is the audience?
If your church tradition or environment is not agreeable to humor, perhaps you shouldn’t shove it on them. Then again, maybe they’re the ones who need it most. Know your audience and pray for them and your delivery. While preaching about divorce to a congregation where half the people are divorced, you might want to double check your humor there. Will they think it’s funny?
4. Is the humor edifying?
This is the final cut for determining anything that’s in your sermon. If the joke is helpful, it aids the point, carries the thought, keeps people engaged, then go for it. If the humor is just you showing off, telling stories for the sake of being funny, then stop it. If the joke detracts from the Scriptural point; then by all means, cut the jokes immediately.
The point of a sermon is to preach the Word of God in an effective and helpful manner. People should be learning what the Scripture passage means and how to apply it for growth in Christ. Sermons are not stand-up routines. Church is not the Laugh Factory.
But a good joke can really help a sermon along; this is especially true if you’re actually funny.
Like me, for instance, I’m hilarious. One time I was preaching on Judges 3 where Ehud stabs the fat King Eglon. After Ehud stabs the fat king and escapes, the guards stand outside the door wondering what Eglon is doing in there for so long. Our Bible tells us that they thought he was relieving himself, but nope, he was dead.
So when the guards enter the room and discover their king is dead, I couldn’t help but have one guard say to the other, “Whew! Who died in here?”
Was this edifying? Not terribly, no. Was it hilarious? Absolutely. And sometimes these sorts of jokes just come out. People remember Ehud and Eglon now though.
The choice is up to you. Avoid putting on a show. The point of a sermon is not entertainment, it’s edification. Make sure people are being edified. If humor helps that, then go for it, especially if this is a normal way you talk. I think sermons should sound like how the pastor naturally talks. Your personality should show so people know your point is personal, something that’s part of you.
If humor works for you, then go for it, but make sure you don’t get carried away. If you do not use humor, no worries, continue not being funny, it’s what the people expect. There’s nothing more painful than listening to a non-funny person try to be funny.
Be natural. Feel your sermons. Incorporate all kinds of feelings. Communicate the truth. Edify.
The rest is just details after that.