Permission Granted ... or Else

Mention your family one too many times in a sermon and your wallet could suffer.

Pastors love to tell stories. They love to illustrate the truths of God's Word with stories of real people. And often those real people swim in the same fishbowl. Whether they realize it or not, PKs are particularly vulnerable to having the most personal parts of their lives become sermon fodder.

In my preaching ministry, there was a time when I would often expound upon the many experiences of my marriage and family. Our first child, Amy, arrived within three months of my first pastorate. Talk about great timing. Just when I needed a fresh batch of sermon illustrations, glory! The Lord gave me a baby girl!

Yet, I soon learned that even though the care and feeding of a congregational flock is important, it will never rank higher than the care I give my family. Wise is the pastor and discerning the man who seeks to guard his family in the small but meaningful ways. While I couldn't always prevent the peering eyes of my parishioners, I found a way to keep my wife and kids out of the spotlight with "the royalty rule" — either I receive permission to use a story, or I pay a royalty fee.

Permission or Forgiveness

We've all heard the axiom, "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission." However, when it comes to my wife and kids, the royalty rule begins with permission. If I get the bright idea to use my lovely bride or one of my offspring as the subject of a fascinating illustration, she or he must grant me the permission first. I can choose to bypass this first important step and proceed directly to the pulpit and share their story. But if I use their story or talk about them without prior permission, then the royalty rule kicks in.

Seriously, consider this: If you want to make your kids famous due to your well-honed pulpit pontification, then at least have the decency to reimburse them for the free publicity you give them. Call it the price of embarrassment.

The actual amount of the royalty may vary. Some years ago when my wife was expecting our second child, I said from the pulpit, "Members of the monastic order take three vows, poverty, chastity and obedience — well, two out of three ain't bad." It got a great laugh, but, needless to say, I'm still paying the royalty on that untimely comment.

For a toddler or preschooler, the royalty may be a kiddie meal from their favorite fast-food restaurant. Teenagers, on the other hand, want cash, preferably ten- or twenty-dollar bills. Consider yourself warned. Repeated violations of the royalty rule can be expensive. And therein lies the genius of the royalty rule: It keeps me accountable to my family.

Payoff in the parsonage

While on the surface the royalty rule may appear unnecessarily expensive and sermonically stifling, the blessings outweigh the liabilities. First and foremost, the royalty rule has kept me honest with my family. And it forces me to develop illustrations that do not depend on exposing my family's privacy. I stay focused on finding fresh stories for sermons. For a pastor to parade his family through the pulpit in a never-ending series of personal anecdotes is really illustrative laziness!

The third benefit: I am consciously on the lookout for my family's welfare. The message I then send is that I care more about them than I do the Sunday crowd. This underscores an important point. No matter how big or great or healthy a church the Lord uses pastors to build, our most important ministry is to minister to our families.

I want my kids to trust me when I tell them that Jesus is worthy of being followed. Yet how can they trust me and learn from my example if I'm willing to betray their privacy in a desperate attempt to breathe life into an otherwise boring sermon? That's a price I'm just not willing to pay.

Not too long ago, Amy called from college to say, "Thanks, Dad, for not talking about me from the pulpit." She attends a large Christian college awash with PKs, many of whom had their privacy showcased more than once from the pulpit. When I heard the gratitude in my daughter's voice, I realized then that the royalty rule was a blessing to all of us. Sure, the quest for a great story has often tempted me but then the royalty rule keeps me honest — and a few more bills stay in my wallet.

Article copyright © 2003, Mark R. Jordon.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Mark R. Jordan and his wife, Pal,
are the parents of three in Chester, Va.
He pastors Ironbridge Baptist Church where the royalty rule was born.