Saturday, June 09, 2012

Using Your Children as Sermon Illustrations: How PKs are Becoming Less and Less Unique

A few years ago I wrote a post on ways in which preachers do (and don’t) use their children in sermon illustrations (the comments left at that post are worth a read at the very least). I still think this is an important topic, and I will address it further below, but recently I’ve been struck with how pastor’s kids are not as unique as they once were.

With blogs, self-publishing, Facebook, and Twitter it’s quite simple to share the stories of your offspring’s cutest sayings/pictures/habits. So while the pastor might stand up and tell a story about her daughter on Sunday morning, she has good reason to suspect other parents have been publicly sharing stories of their children throughout the week. There is, of course, a major difference: a pulpit is a completely different kind of medium than a computer screen, and with it comes all kinds of implications concerning spiritual power.

Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that more stories of more children are told in public more often.

After years of wrestling with knowing what to share from the pulpit concerning my own children, I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot abide by any specific rule. That most likely I will follow certain guidelines that will change depending on my children’s stages of life. My hunch is that the stories I tell about Sam when he is four will be quite different from the stories I tell when he is fourteen. With that said, I still try to be sensitive his fourteen-year-old self, meaning there are certain topics I don’t speak about publicly because fourteen-year-old Sam would be mortified if he came across these early stories (and yes, it kills me to sit on these PG-13 stories).

To recap my earlier post, here are some ways in which pastors have dealt with knowing when and how to speak of their children in sermons:

Response #1: "I never speak about my children from the pulpit." (This was very popular among some of my preaching profs and friends from 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."

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 nationally known 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 find myself most drawn to Responses 1, 3, and 4 and imagine I will bounce back and forth between these responses over the years (most likely leaning towards 1 during the teenage years).

While I understand the rationale behind the response of #2 (“I only speak about my son if I make him the hero of the story,”) I’m ultimately not a fan—not because I think children should be the villains, but because of the implications these hero stories can have for the child and his/her peers in the congregation. The hero can be set up as the goody-two-shoes. Making friends in middle school is tough enough without your peers learning that you spent Saturday evening reading a Psalm out loud to your great-aunt and watching, “The Lawrence Welk Show” on your own volition. Furthermore, the “hero” loses any kind of private satisfaction in doing something good and may in fact, feel the need for public recognition in order for good things to “count” in the future.

Of course, a similar post could be written about the way pastors use their spouses for illustrations (is anyone else tired of pastors declaring themselves “idiots” and their wives “saints”?).

Do you have boundaries for what you do or do not say from the pupil? How about in other avenues of social media?

What other responses are out there that I’ve missed?