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Leadership with Humor

I was getting on an airplane with Loren and Floyd McClung. Loren went through the door way first. He stepped inside and said to the hostess, “Hi, I’m medium.” Then he let Floyd (6’6) in and said to the hostess, “and this is large.” And then he let me in and said, “and this is small.” The poor hostess had a fit as well as all those around her. This was Loren.

Loren’s humor was contagious and this spread among all of our leaders. Our meetings were always marked by lots of laughter. Mind you, there were also the many times when we were on our faces in tears and repentance. There were meetings of correction, times of listening to the voice of the Lord and times of serious discussion but humor was always present to spray like a light scent to lighten the air. 

So much of who we are as YWAM has been genetically passed on to us by way of the Cunningham family. Their pioneer spirit and their humor. Loren’s parents were two of the most humorous people you could meet. Not to mention Darlene’s parents. I remember being in Jamaica with them back in 1966 when a local man came to the house very upset that a truck being used by a YWAM team was in an accident. He was demanding payment, Pastor Scratch (Darlene’s father), calmed the man down, telling him that when Mr. Cunningham returned, he would fix his truck, pay for the goods and send the man to Hawaii for a vacation. What a thing to do to your new son-in-law. And what a way to use humor to diffuse a difficult situation.

Over the years we have been blessed in YWAM to have a number of leaders gifted with humor. That has helped smooth out some difficult times and helped to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. Jannie Cunningham Rogers, Loren’s sister, and one of the funniest people I know has carried this gifting for us all as a mission. For years she put out an e-mail every Friday that kept us in stiches, often helping us laugh at ourselves. She continues that on Facebook these days and she is gift to YWAM. By day she puts out books that spread the good news and by nigh she sends out jokes and funny stories. That is a good recipe for a healthy well-being and happiness.

Jannie tells the story of Loren’s earliest practical jokes. A photographer was taking a picture of Loren’s class in grade school. This of course was just after cameras were invented. To take a picture of the whole class required the photographer to scan the group very slowly. Loren ducked down and snuck to the other side of the class behind the last row and reappeared at the end of the row producing two Loren’s in the class. He used this picture to show people that he was a twin. 

When he was a student in Bible College traveling with a quartet, they stopped to eat and sent one of the guys into the restaurant to tell the waitress that they were bringing a guy with severe mental problems. Just pretend to listen to him but by no means give him what he asks for. He can only eat cooked vegetables they told her.  The waitress obliged and listened to his order politely but brought him cooked vegetables. He got angry with her and they calmed him down until he realized the prank and then really became mental. The joke totally came back on his friends.

There are so many stories to tell about Loren’s jokes. His practical jokes were the best, like what he did with Joy Dawson, who although very stern in her teaching had a funny streak as well. While waking quickly though an airport, Joy was lost in her thoughts as she was telling Loren something, Loren turned toward a men’s room and held the door open for Joy, she walked in and just kept talking, suddenly it dawned on her where she was and she quickly bolted for the door, all to Loren’s amusement. 

Loren was always easy to listen to and that was a blessing because often he spoke for lengthy times. His messages were spiced with humor and I think that was his secret and a secret that is held by many good speakers and leaders. 

Humor is a spice added to your speaking and Loren knew how to use it well. It helps bring the leader down to the level of the group he is speaking to. A good joke or story relaxes the audience and clears the way for the introduction of new thoughts or teaching.

Humor diffuses difficult or uncomfortable situations, like a spice in a recipe it is important to know how much and when to add it. Also, to know the difference between humor and sarcasm. Humor in the wrong place and the wrong time can be hurtful.

Just like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, so does humor help in tense and difficult situations. Loren taught us that by example and often broke tense times by telling stories or jokes. 

One of the famous stories of Loren dealing with a somewhat difficult situation in a very creative way was on an early outreach with one of the very first schools in YWAM. The school was camping in tents and Loren woke up with an uneasy feeling sensing it was the Lord waking him. He slipped out of his sleeping bag and found that one of the students had snuck out and was out visiting with his girlfriend. Loren quietly climbed into the students sleeping bag. When the poor fellow returned to his tent and tried to get into his bag, he saw Loren, who quietly got out of the bag and went back to his tent not saying a word.

That story became a classic teaching story. I was visiting Loren’s parents when Aunt Jewell as we called Loren’s mom, exclaimed to the whole room where we were gathered, “Al, I love the story about Loren catching you and your gal spooning in the woods and climbing into your sleeping bag.” I shouted, “that wasn’t me!” “Oh no,” she said. “I’m sorry, I have told that story all over the world.” 

Humor is a wonderful gift and can be as anointed as any word coming from our lips. Humor can heal, it can also wound. Humor can dispel anger or bring peace to a tense situation. Humor can bring a leader down to the level of the people he is leading or speaking to, it is a great ally to humility. Humor is not listed as one of our values, perhaps it should be…

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