I've been struggling with a question for years and I still don't have a satisfying answer. I ask it of every preacher I run into...
"Do you use your kids in sermon illustrations? If so, do you have any rules or guidelines?" The responses I have received vary...
Response #1 : "I never speak about my children from the pulpit" (this was very popular among some of my preaching profs at Princeton)
Response #2: "I only speak about my son if I make him the hero of the story" (by far the most popular response)
Response #3: "I only talk about my kids if I have their permission" (also a popular response)
Response #4: "Every time I talk about my kids I pay them" (I just heard this one the other
Response #5: "Yes, I talk about my kids, but not when they're around. I normally ask the congregation not to say anything to them."
Response #6: "Huh?" (This was uttered by a famous preacher who regularly uses his kids as illustrations...I explained the question to him again. He responded, "I don't get it. It's not a big deal." And no, I'm not going to tell you who said it.)
I used to favor the "I-only-use-my-kid-if-they're-the-hero-of-the-story" argument, but I'm not so sure anymore. I don't know that I like the potential dynamics that can arise between the kid and all of his buddies who attend the church...Doesn't this just feed into the "pastor's kids are perfect" myth?
And I imagine a child who is continually hearing hero stories told about herself would get a big head. "Ah yes, I am the hero of all stories!"
Maybe it is better to avoid personal stories about one's children...But then again, they can be just so good! I still remember the classic story of my sister Christy who has a five-year-old had the following argument with my dad. Christy was absolutely refusing to do whatever it was my dad was asking of her, and so, through clenched teeth my father said: "Christy, I want you to obey!" To which she responded through clenched teeth, "I don't want to obey, I want to be happy."
In the circles I run in, there was a time when talking about one's kids was going out of vogue. People were reading more psychology and paying attention to family systems, etc. However, with the emergence of the emerging church, I'm seeing an influx of "my son" stories in an effort to be authentic and genuine. And they're not just showing up in a sermon or two, but in actual videos! I can't help but wonder how the kid on Nooma:Lump is going to feel as a teenager.
I don't know. I'd love some feedback on this issue. I'm a bit muddled. What I do know for sure is that I do not want to share stories about my children without their permission. And I actually really like the idea of paying my kid for every story I tell about her (though I imagine if I was actually handing out money, my broke child would be constantly uttering the phrase, "You know Mom, that's a lot like God").
What do you think?