There Are Two Things You Should Never Joke About—#1: Prayer

“The last one with your thumb up says grace.”


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Those of us who deal in words are at great risk of misusing words
and even sinning with words due to the sheer volume of them.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can literally feel—
deep in my bones—that if I do not shut my mouth for a while
I will get myself in trouble, because my words will be
completely disconnected from the reality of God in my life.[1]

Ruth Haley Barton



Olan Hendrix, the founding president of ECFA, served in his fair share of ministry boardrooms across the country and around the world. Untold numbers of leaders, like John Maxwell, point to wisdom gleaned from Olan Hendrix for those critical fork-in-the-road decisions in their leadership journeys.[2]

We especially appreciate Olan’s insights on an unusual topic: “Two Things You Should Never Joke About: Prayer and Fundraising.” Both insights, if lived out in the boardroom, will enhance your board’s understanding that wherever board members gather is holy ground. Discern together, as a board, how this wisdom from Olan adds another layer to the distinctiveness of Christ-centered governance.

During an informal session with emerging young leaders in 1999, Olan cautioned that there are some things you should never joke about. When one young leader asked for examples, he explained why prayer and fundraising should never be the subject of jokes. Later he wrote about it.

Olan Hendrix on Why You Should Never Joke About Prayer:

I couldn’t believe my ears! My client, who had retained me to search for an individual to fill a key position in his organization, told me he was rejecting the candidate I had recommended. I was convinced the man met all the job qualifications. He had an impressive track record, and seemed ideal for the position. His life was in order, and he fit the doctrinal mold exactly.

Nevertheless, he was rejected—because it turned out he had made light of prayer. When my client learned this person had made a tasteless joke on the subject, he was disturbed enough to remove him from further consideration.

Naturally, I accepted his decision, but was astonished that one single negative factor would outweigh the many positive ones.

That was many years ago and I no longer remember the joke, but I’ve never been able to forget the incident. My client was absolutely right.

While I’ve never considered prayer to be a joking matter, he helped me to begin to understand something of the solemnity of the believer communing with God.

Humor is not only a useful tool, it’s also a valuable relief valve. Our spirits can be lifted in a moment of sadness by a funny story. A tense meeting can be spared a disruption by a bit of humor. We need humor in our lives, but only humor that lifts the heart. Making light of the sacred, no matter what our intentions, can only be harmful.[3]

Bob Kelly also observed in an issue of CMA Management Monthly, “It’s not uncommon to be part of a group at mealtime and have one thoughtless companion joke, ‘Last one with your thumb up says grace.’”[4]

Kelly then asked readers to contrast that flippant kind of disrespect for God, the Provider of all things, with this from Charles H. Spurgeon:

God does not hear us because of the length of our prayer, but because of the sincerity of it. Prayer is not to be measured by the yard, nor weighed by the pound. It is the might and force of it—the truth and reality of it—the energy and the intensity of it.[5]




There are two things you should never joke about— and the first one is prayer.
Is there a deep sense during your board meetings (and when two or more
board members gather together) that you are on holy ground?
Do board members pray with solemnity—valuing the immense privilege
of communing with our Holy God?

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Pray: From the beginning to the end of your board meetings—and spontaneously as issues arise—create a praying culture that demonstrates to all that your boardroom is on holy ground.

  2. Intercede: Identify board members who have the spiritual gift of intercessory prayer—and invite them to leverage that gift in the boardroom.

  3. Model: Rather than a “last thumb up” approach that trivializes prayer, use mealtimes with your board as an opportunity to model intentionality about prayer and gratitude.



Lord, teach us to pray. Amen.



[1] Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, exp. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 124.

[2] John Pearson, “The Meeting Before the Meeting,” Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations (blog), March 8, 2013,

[3] Olan Hendrix, “Two Things Boards Should Never Joke About.” Reprinted with permission from CMA Management Monthly, published by Christian Management Association, now Christian Leadership Alliance (May 1999).

[4] Ibid.

[5] C. H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons on Prayer (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 96.


From More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants!, 2019,

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.