Signs That Your Jokes Have Gone Too Far

Excuse me if I struggle with this post my back is sore from being thrown under a bus.  At a meeting last night it was revealed that I was solely responsible for the choice of t-shirt color the last two years of our middle school camp.  Let’s just say the colors were ugly.
Being the butt of the joke wasn’t a big deal, everyone had a good laugh.  Unfortunately, there have been times when I’ve been a part of a joke that’s gone too far.  It’s even more unfortunate when we as youth ministers take it too far with our students or even ministers.  But sometimes we don’t know until it’s too late, so what are the warning signs that your jokes are heading in the wrong direction?

  • When No One Laughs – It’s kind of obvious that the joke isn’t funny if no one is laughing, but you’ll know the severity if people cringe.
  • When The Comeback is Cold – When you hit a nerve you’ll get a reaction.  I know some people can be overactive but that should be sign not to mess with them.  It’s not like you would go up to a lion and punch in the face.
  • When People Stop Trusting You – If your jokes are cruel and offensive people will find it hard to trust you because they think you lack compassion.  People will still talk to you but they just won’t go deep because last thing a vulnerable person wants is to be hurt.

I have nothing against joking around and pranking but I just know it stinks when we go too far.  I struggle with the tension myself, it’s something I’m trying to take one step at a time.  When it comes to having fun make sure you work on a valid and authentic relationship first.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to joking around?

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  • CJ says:

    I think jokes and pranks usually end up hurting people we don’t have strong relationships with. When we don’t really know each other, “picking” becomes hard to understand, much like sarcasm. It’s a difficult line to draw, not doubt about it. I just know that being intentionally hurtful to others is a sin.

  • Jeremiahi says:

    I find that I really have to cut back on the sarcasm when joking. Especially with students. I tend to come back at people with a statement dripping in sarcasm really, REALLY easily. (Some say it’s a gift) But sarcasm is really one of the most cutting and hurtful forms of humor. I feel I’ve got a good handle on it, but it’s something I need to remind myself of quite often!

    Thanks for the thoughts!



  • Thanks for the thoughts guys. I know it’s especially hard because youth ministry has a humorous tone to it. I know a battle for me was realizing that students don’t always want fun or funny, they want depth. Great insights.

  • Chris:

    Great observations. A wise college ministry when I was in college gave me a great lesson in this: on a mission trip after we had spent four hours together with him driving and me in the passenger seat, we got out and said, “Benjer, if you’re going to be this sarcastic the rest of the trip, I don’t think I can talk to you.” I kind of laughed, and he said, “No, really.” and walked away. I’m thankful for that lesson at the age of 22, because I’m sure it saved me from even more painful lessons later on.

    My wife helped shape the culture of my first YM position…she started having people affirm (say something nice) about oneself if a person put him or herself down. It evolved into doing the same thing if a joke was made about someone else, even if it wasn’t malicious. Because a great joke isn’t worth it (another painful lesson for me). Some students really don’t like the rule and think we’re a little over-the-top with it, but implementing the rule has made a huge difference in every YM I’ve been a part of since. And it brings a huge smile to my face when I hear a student across the room exhort another student by saying, “Hey! Affirm her!”

  • Benjer,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and I love the idea of setting the culture early. One thing we have to be careful of is where we set the bar in our ministry. If I’m overly sarcastic it gives permission to my volunteers to do the same. How we act corporately vs. one on one makes a huge difference too. We should never humiliate anyone publicly.