eBookPreaching Punchlines eBook • $8.99
Waiting in the wings is an untapped power that can transform the craft of preaching. It isn’t studied or taught because it has been mistaken as trivial or simply the means to get a laugh. What is this ignored superpower? The art of stand-up comedy.
In Preaching Punchlines: The Ten Commandments of Comedy, Susan Sparks brings two decades of experience as a preacher and a professional stand-up to mine the strategies comedians have employed for years. Lessons include framing messages that people will listen to, remember, and share; finding your creative voice; building bridges and community; and bringing full authenticity in the pulpit. The art of stand-up comedy is not just about jokes; it’s about developing intimacy, honesty, and trust—three dynamics that must be present before any sermon is truly heard.
How many preachers ever think, “My congregation deserves joy”? But that’s the key question that Susan Sparks puts to us in this lively, practical, and searching book, which will make seasoned (i.e., jaded) preachers think again and look at what is demanded of them in what ought to be the joyful role of communicating the divine comedy of healing and transfiguration.
—Rowan (not Atkinson, alas) Williams
Former Archbishop of Canterbury
It should be obvious that the Rev. Susan Sparks has a great sense of humor when she is asking me, a Jew, to write a few words about her new book where she tries to teach preachers how to infuse their sermons with comedy. In lovely, sweet, and humorous lessons, she has done a wonderful job that is simple, direct, and to the point. She has given a road map to helping find one’s sense of humor and how to use it. From preachers to public speakers, it’s a book you’re going to want to read and refer to. With what I’ve learned, I just may show up preaching at a church near you.
A preacher with a motorcycle, cowboy boots, a wicked sense of humor, and a heart that warms you like a huge Southern-style breakfast. That’s my pastor!
Broadcast journalist and television host
Often we pick up a book, examine the cover, and wonder “will this book speak to me?” If you are reading this blurb the “Spirit” is calling you to read this book! Susan Sparks is a spiritual musician and sacred chef capable of composing whimsical, ironic, and powerful spiritual truths with pen, paper, and observant wit. I have witnessed her gift—in person and upon the pages of the book you now hold—crack open the hardened parts of the human soul and offer grace, a culinary delicacy we all desire but many are afraid to taste. Do yourself a favor and “taste and see” what this literary chef has prepared for your hungry soul.
—Otis Moss III
Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ Chicago, Illinois
I think Jerry Seinfeld should invite Susan Sparks to be a guest on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, so they can talk about what preachers and comedians have in common while riding a Harley down the Long Island Expressway. But this book is the next best thing. It’s hilarious, it’s astute, it’s profound, and it has practical tools that really work. It will also give you an irresistible new lens for looking at the world, and your preaching.
—Anna Carter Florence
Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching Columbia Theological Seminary
Susan Sparks is a beloved preacher and nationally known speaker thanks to her skill wrapping wisdom in humor. In her newest book, Preaching Punchlines, Susan—well—preaches what she practices!
—Rabbi Bob Alper
Comedian and author
Susan Sparks is a refreshing voice of hope in a time of doubt and of humor in a time of angst. While not denying the shadowy sides of life, her bright and bold perspective consistently helps us locate the Light. A don’t-miss read for preachers . . . and everybody else who needs a faith lift!
—Dr. Michael B. Brown
Speaker, minister, author, professor Former senior minister, Marble Collegiate Church, New York City
Reading Preaching Punchlines is like sitting down with Susan Sparks over a tall glass of sweet tea and having a good laugh. You leave refreshed and a bit tired from the laughter but, nonetheless, inspired. Describing humor as one of the most powerful rhetorical tools available, Sparks shows how a preacher (or any communicator) can use humor to communicate the life-giving messages of God because “humor is nothing but a learned skill.” Preaching Punchlines is filled with practical statistics (“studies show that an audience will form a judgment of a speaker or performer in approximately ten seconds”), tips (“if you find yourself conjugating more than seven Hebrew verbs in a sermon, you’ve lost your audience”) and facts (“medical studies prove the connection between humor and memory”). The book is peppered with QR codes that take you off across many disciplines to prove points and offer suggestions. This trial lawyer turned comedian and Baptist preacher is doing her part to ensure more inspiring sermons in pulpits everywhere.
—Linda Post Bushkofsky
Executive Director, Women of the ELCA
Preaching Punchlines: The Ten Commandments of Comedy is Susan Sparks at her best in blending grace-filled faith and laughter. She reminds us that worship should be and can be a joyful experience. Preaching Punchlines is packed full of practical advice and words of wisdom about using humor to connect with congregations, embracing creativity in preaching, and framing sermons so that people will listen, remember, and share.
Executive director, Baptist Women in Ministry Atlanta, Georgia
Too often as preachers we are overwhelmed by the cacophony of bad news and sad stories in the world. We seem to have forgotten the joy inherent in the “good news”—the hope inherent in God’s laughter. Susan Sparks draws on her amazing gifts as a preacher, stand-up comic, and trial lawyer not only to guide us back into the flow of the divine comedy but also to use its power to heal and inspire our congregations and our world.
—Rev. Dr. J. Peter Holmes
Minister of the Congregation Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Toronto, Canada
In Preaching Punchlines, the Reverend Susan Sparks reminds us that while the Gospel story should be taken seriously, we Christians might do well not to take ourselves too seriously trying to live it. In this fine volume, she helps us find our way to laughter and to grace.
—Bill J. Leonard
Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History Emeritus Wake Forest University
Susan Sparks is deeply funny. Her book is an invaluable guide to pastors who want to bring joy and laughter along with spirituality to their congregations.
Director, American Comedy Institute
Religion is too important to leave in the hands of the joyless. In Preaching Punchlines, pastor and stand-up comedian Susan Sparks teaches us to use laughter to shatter our defenses and open our hearts. This is a book for any- one who knows that laughter and love work best when they work together.
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro
Author of Holy Rascals Co-author of the Mount and Mountain series and Beginnings: A Reverend and a Rabbi Talk about the Stories of Genesis
Effectively using humor as she speaks truth to power in an effort to change people and shake them from their stagnation, the wit, wisdom, and intelligence of Rev. Susan Sparks shines through wherever she goes, whatever the venue. Preaching Punchlines is for anyone who appreciates the deft use of humor with just the right words delivered in just the right ways . . . not only from the pulpit, but on stage, in corporate board rooms, or in a variety of other public speaking situations. By any standard, Preaching Punchlines is an outstanding humor handbook for all of us.
—Edward J. Trayes
Professor of Journalism, Temple University
The amazing Susan Sparks has come down from the mountaintop carrying two stone tablets with ten comedy commandments just for preachers (there were 15, but unfortunately she dropped a tablet). Susan has beautifully distilled exactly how to bring more humor, warmth, joy, and impact to our sermons. Bonus: This is the most fun book on preaching you’ll ever read!
—The Rev. Peter M. Wallace
Producer & host, “Day1,” and author of The Passionate Jesus and Heart and Soul
It’s no secret that a cross-section of American society regards stand-up comedians as the prophets of our day. A comedian’s capacity to speak truth to power, hold up a mirror of self-criticism, and make us laugh at the absurd is their true gift. As both comedian and preacher, Susan Sparks is neither ready to cede the centrality of the Gospel nor accept the conventional, dull Sunday morning pulpit sedative. Preaching Punchlines provides playful and practical exercises to enliven our sermons and thus finally awaken those in the pews.
—Jonathan L. Walton
Plummer Professor of Christian Morals (FAS) Pusey Minister to the Memorial Church Professor of Religion and Society (Harvard Divinity School)