Dear Preachers: Top Twenty Things NOT to Share About Your Family Members in a Sermon

Posted by: aaron

One of my parents became a pastor when I was nine years-old, and church promptly stopped being a place where I could be my authentic self with God and my people.  It became instead an arena in which the mundane (and sometimes more dramatic) aspects of my family’s personal lives were shared and scrutinized in my father’s sermons– sometimes for a laugh, sometimes for a lesson.  Nothing damaged my relationship with God and the church more than this total erasure of boundaries in what used to be a sanctuary space.  Few things are freakier than sitting in church and not knowing what new part of one’s personal history and expression will be interpreted through the Gospel, by a third party who did not ask permission to share, for all the congregation to hear, judge, laugh at, or sigh about.  I am now partnered (and engaged) to a clergy person of a very different sort– we have an agreement about family life and preaching boundaries that looks a lot like this list.

That said, dear Preachers, please avoid the following topics when sermonizing about your family members…:

20.  Their eating habits–irrespective of their age, gender identity, size, perceived state of health, relationship to you, etc., etc., etc.

19.  Their perceived driving abilities and recent traffic tickets.

18.  Their history of drug/alcohol use.

17.  The fight you had with them earlier this week/month/year/lifetime.  No matter what it was about.  No matter how “topical” it might seem to you that Sunday.  No matter who started it– if you’re putting it up for public consumption, clearly YOU intend to start something.

16.  Your opinion on their latest haircut.

15.  What they said about your latest haircut.

14.  Your opinion on how they did at their soccer game, band concert, or on their report card last week.  Seriously?!  God is mad at you if you don’t have something better with which to hold the church’s attention.

13.  The ideas they gave you when they helped you out with this sermon… unless you plan on explicitly and verbally crediting them.

12.  Breaking news on their physical and/or sexual development as adolescents, and/or breaking news on their pregnancy, and/or any story that would make them ashamed of their own bodies (important note: YOU are not the judge of what may/may not be embarrassing… your family members are the only ones allowed to make those decisions for themselves).

11.  Your opinion on their latest tattoo/piercing.

10.  Your opinion on your kid’s latest girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/crowd of friends.

9.  What you think you know about what your kid is doing with that latest girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/crowd of friends, etc

8.  Whether or not they sing loudly in the car by themselves.

7.  Whether or not they sing in the shower.

6.  Whether or not #6 and #7 sound any good.

5.  Whether or not you like their cooking.  Unless you anticipate enjoying the taste of arsenic with those scrambled eggs after church.

4.  Personal information about their side of the family (in the case of a partner/spouse) that was not already given clearance by all of those family members.

3.  ANYTHING ABOUT THE SEX BETWEEN YOUR AND YOUR PARTNER/SPOUSE (see note below).  If you have even considered this in seriousness, you owe your partner/spouse SEVERAL intensive couples counseling sessions.  And a weekend at the spa.  Without you.

2.  Anything you did not get permission to share.

1.  Anything you pressured or wheedled or guilted or threatened your family into sharing.

*A note about item #2:  This is not about whether or not sex is an appropriate subject to bring up in church.  Sex IS an appropriate subject to bring up in church– it is a part of life’s joy and pain and fear and redemption, and thus a deeply theological topic.  This item is rather about being aware of (and accountable to) the extra scrutiny that clergy families are often under in congregations, and protecting the sanctity of your relationship by respecting boundaries.  There *may* be times/spaces where sharing this sensitive and volatile information IS appropriate in church–BUT ONLY WHEN YOUR PARTNER/SPOUSE IS EQUALLY ENTHUSIASTIC TO DO SUCH SHARING.  And my guess is that’s probably more in the realm of counseling, less in the realm of preaching to a captive audience on any given Sunday

For further inquiries on this subject, please refer to the following music video made by some heroines of mine.

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