To swear or not to swear

This morning I met with one of the more spiritually mature couples I have married within the last five years. As they have been seeking to find a church in their hometown, they have recently been attending a very vibrant and thriving church, with a distinct message of mission, authenticity, and relationship over religion. As they feel this church models all of the essential practices of a biblical community, they are currently unsure of the modeling behavior of the senior leader.

On occasion the senior pastor will swear while preaching (i.e. “I looked like an ass…,” etc.) or within some of their promotional videos (i.e. “we’re kicking ass,” etc.). This casualness towards swearing has challenged the couples’ thinking as to what a pastor should reflect with such a high position of authority.

When the couple addressed there concern with one of the church staff, the reply was that the pastor wants to dialogue (“preach”) on Sunday just as if each person was in his living room on Saturday night…to be authentic (therefore, he will occasionally swear, and at times drink a beer while “preaching”).

So, for some reason, they came to me for counsel while coming in town for a family visit. (Yes, I know, your thinking…the “tuck” guy?!)

Personally, I have taught on swearing before to a group of teenagers (an enclosed summary of my main teaching points can be found by clickin on Swearing-Smith as teens are always wanting to know what they can and can’t get away with). But this situation may be a little different…or is it?

In light of this ultimately being a “heart” matter, I believe they have to somehow get deeper into finding out the heart of the church…and in particular, the heart of the pastor…To find out the motive behind these behaviors (which in fact may be grey…but not sinful at their core).

If the motive is for these behaviors to be an underlined teaching tool of one of their main values (authenticity and “relationship over religion”) then I think the couple may want to reconsider leaving the church (though they still may not agree with such a tactic, and that is perfectly fine to disagree with). However, if it is merely a lack of control, or a chance to “get a rise out of people” for the pastor’s own personal pleasure and gain…then maybe these aren’t the best motives to drop the word “ass” or drink a beer while preaching.

So from here, a meeting between the couple and pastor will be scheduled to gain clarity, with hopes of unity and a future church community for this amazingly gifted couple to serve within.

The conversation lasted about an hour, so I am just giving you the summary, but would love further thoughts and opinions!


~ by Dave Smith on September 28, 2008.

4 Responses to “To swear or not to swear”

  1. It would be interesting to know what the pastor considers to be inappropriate words.

  2. Yea, that is question we had as well in our discussion. It may in fact not be a big deal to him…and that is where this subject is definitely grey…and should be at some level.

  3. Fortunately for us, Paul has pretty much settled this issue when he wrote to the Corinthians in the first century. He’s not talking about language bur rather food sacrificed to idols; however, I would argue the principal translates quite nicely.

    1 Cor. 8

    “9Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

    Is the pastor free to use the word “ass”? Absolutely. Especially in his living room among close friends and family. Is he free to have a beer? Absolutely. Especially in the company of responsible friends.

    Is he free to use the word “ass” if it causes other Christians to stumble? For me, the issue is not motive, as you suggest. The deciding issue is the upbuilding of the entire congregation – not authenticity (a word that is approaching cliche status /end tangent) – especially in the context of corporate worship.

    If (one of) the primary purpose(s) of worship is for Christians to gather together for worship and to be uplifted by the preaching of the Word, then this pastor is doing nothing more than offering an unnecessary stumbling block for his congregation.

    Is this issue entirely black and white? Yes and No. From one perspective: is this pastor (as an individual) committing sin when he uses the word ass? I don’t think so. I don’t have a problem with the word ass, depending on context and motive. I’ve used the phrase “let’s kick some ass” while playing basketball and trying to fire up my teammates in the middle of a heated game. In that context, I knew each person who could hear me and how they would respond to my words. In a worship service, however, I do not have that luxury. I do not know who is and is not present and what their personal opinions are on swearing. For that reason, I would do better to err on the side of caution and find a different word to use.

    From another perspective: from the perspective of the entire congregation in the context of corporate worship (whose primary purpose is worship, teaching, evangelism, etc.), then this pastor is making a mistake in my judgment. If he is causing another brother and sister to stumble by using the word ass, then he should never use the word ass again (rhetorical emphasis
    ASSumed to be obvious).

  4. Swearing from the pulpit? That’s bulls–t.

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