In Reformed churches there is great care and attention given to the idea that the worship service is a time of joy but it is also supposed to marked by solemnity. After all, we are meeting with the triune God. When we think of Isaiah, who fell upon his face in the presence of our thrice holy God, or Peter, who upon recognizing his own sinfulness, fled the face of Christ out of shame, we do not want to approach our merciful covenant Lord with a flippant attitude. Jesus is our Lord, husband, brother, and as the old hymn states it, our friend. But just because Jesus is our friend, and we have boldness to enter into his presence through prayer and the means of grace in corporate worship doesn’t give us license to turn the worship service into an informal thing.
When I would preach, I was, and still am, very mindful about the amount of humor that I will intentionally inject into a sermon. I believe the use of humor is appropriate in preaching, so long as it seasons the sermon and does not overtake it. Pastors are supposed to be preachers, not comedians. If the congregation gets too used to laughing during the worship service because of the pastor’s funny jokes, then they can come to expect to laugh at church rather than seriously weigh the gravity of the law and marvel at the wondrous grace of the gospel of Christ.
That being said, sometimes life happens in the church. What do I mean? Well, there are some circumstances that are simply beyond the control of the pastor, elders, and congregation. I can think of the frequent and sometimes laughter-inducing incidents involving children over the years. I would often smile, and still do, when I would hear a child try to keep up with the rest of the congregation as we said the Lord’s Prayer or when we were singing a hymn or psalm. Sometimes I would be the source of laughter as I would misstate something in my sermon. I don’t recall saying anything terribly awful, though I’ve seen a few YouTube videos of pastors making some serious verbal gaffes in the pulpit that sent ripples of uproarious laughter throughout the sanctuary. On one occasion, I was baptizing a child, and as I held him in my arms his bottom happened to positioned directly in front of my lapel microphone. Well, you can guess what happened—the tiny infant child let loose with one of the loudest bursts of gas I have ever heard. I suppose the sound system made it sound a lot worse than it actually was. Let’s just say that I hoped with all my heart that he was wearing a very sturdy diaper! The child’s mother’s face turned four shades of red—she was horrified. The child’s father was slightly less chagrined, though I think his face didn’t change colors.
What is the pastor to do in such circumstances? Pretend it didn’t happen? Rebuke the child? Scowl at the congregation? Perhaps I did the wrong thing, but I laughed. I also told the parents in front of the congregation, “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.” I think the congregation laughed a bit over that one. We all gained our composure and then proceeded with the baptism.
As important as it is to maintain the solemnity of our worship services, we should remember that life happens, and sometimes, by God’s sovereign ordination of “whatsoever comes to pass,” (no double entendre intended, seriously, I promise!), life is funny, and it’s ok to laugh in worship. We should rejoice that God has created us with the capacity to laugh and be filled with joy and that we can even experience that joy in worship.