Twice a year I leave home, head off to a conference centre, and spend five days with a group of fifteen or so preachers. The purpose of our gathering is to study – and that’s what we do. Seven hours or more round the conference table each day and personal assignments to be completed in the break times. We work through a book of Scripture, grappling with historical issues, exegetical problems, biblico-theological themes, questions of application.
We may write out paraphrases of each chapter as we go. We may draw up sermon outlines and present them to the group with the help of a projector. It’s demanding, intense, purposeful, exhausting, and deeply serious. We’re conscious that we are wrestling with God’s Word, and the goal is that we should be better equipped to preach it to God’s people. That’s a serious business.
We share news together from our churches. We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We discuss the dilemmas we’re facing. We pray earnestly for one another. Again, this is serious business.
And yet alongside the seriousness of what we’re doing, we have a lot of fun together. We enjoy these days together. Lots of laughter around the study table as well as at meal-times and over late night cocoa. There’s the usual north vs south teasing; there are the hilarious anecdotes of embarrassing personal disasters; there are the absurd flights of fancy; as the days go by, there are the practical jokes and the appropriate retributions.
‘Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy...’ (Psalm 126:2).
Humour is dangerous
The Bible warns us many times about the dangers of humour. Humour can become unseemly and crude: ‘Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving’ (Ephesians 5:4).