Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Good Sermon Gone Bad

This past Sunday, I royally messed up what had been a good service. At least, I ruined the service for my daughter. I was introducing a new family to the congregation. One of their children was having fun going up and down the stairs of the stage. People in the congregation were giggling. I attempted to set everyone at ease with some comments about how much we love children and about how one of my own children had done something funny our first Sunday at the church. I'll leave out the details of that story here because as I soon realized, in sharing the story in full there I had mortified my eight-year-old daughter. She was two at the time of the story, but that did not matter to her. She buried her head beneath my jacket after church, and her tears communicated the hurt I had inflicted on her. 

I felt awful. Not only had I embarrassed her but I had broken my agreement with her. For several years, we've had a deal that I will only mention my children in my sermon with their permission. Most of the time my children consent to a story being used, but when they don't, I find another illustration. Since I prepare early and write a manuscript, this is usually an easy agreement to keep. What got me in trouble this past Sunday was the fact that these were off the cuff remarks meant to put another at ease. That didn't matter to my daughter, of course. I apologized, took her to her favorite restaurant, and eventually was granted a pardon.

Later that day, I decided to amend our agreement. I told them that very often when a writer or a speaker uses someone else's work as a part of his own work, he has to pay that person a royalty or a fee. I told them that not only would I still get their permission before using a story of them in the sermon, now I would agree to pay them a fee for the use of that story. We settled on $5. My six-year-old son immediately said I did not have to ask him. For $5 I could tell any story I wanted! My daughter still wants me to ask permission, but she liked the idea immensely - more I think for the respect it shows her than the money she'll make.

I got the idea from a friend who is the editor of a large Baptist newspaper who would sometimes mention his children in an column. I think he got the idea from another newspaper friend. I like it because it helps me honor my children as actual people and not as simply material for my sermons.  

I wonder, what are your thoughts in including your own children as sermon illustrations?


  1. Great thoughts on a pretty touchy subject. I've said on many occasions that nothing has taught me more about my relationship with God than becoming a parent myself. They provide too much great material to not use them at all, but I love your comments on being thoughtful, and getting permission. Not sure I'm ready to start paying my 1 and 3 year old royalties yet, but maybe one day. Thanks for this post!

  2. Anyone who talks as much as you do is bound to put their foot in their mouth from time to time. She learned how to forgive, and you are certainly wiser.