Damn it’s early! Really, a little jet lag right now – clock says 5 AM, my body clock says it’s high noon and time for lunch. Went to bed at 9:30 PM (or 4:30 AM). You get the idea. I fell asleep last night reading the latest issue of Christianity Today. The cover story is interesting and hits a matter that I’ve been a big fan of for years – “The Case for Early Marriage: Settling down sooner than later has never made more sense. Here’s why.” You can find that online if you are interested. (Oops. I just typed “if you are interesting” instead of “interested”. Funny.) However, the story most in my head from this latest issue has to do with cussing pastors.

For those who are not aware, for a few months pastors have been talking about the subject of cussing in the pulpit. As I’ll detail below, Pastor Mark Driscoll, a popular Seattle mega-church pastor, has a famously foul mouth. In response to Driscoll and his large following of Church of Potty Mouth wannabees, Pastor Ed Young threw this clip up on youtube…

Recently I asked another pastor if he’d seen Ed’s clip on the Cussing Pastor and he said yes and I figured we’d talk for a few moments about how right on it was – instead, I got a whole deal on how it’s okay to use the words of the culture to communicate the gospel. A bit untypically of me, I just listened and nodded – he probably thinks I was in agreement with him and my nods may have even encouraged him to say more.

I don’t know why I didn’t say more, I guess I was shocked. I just can’t believe we’ve reached the point where we think we have to swear to reach people. Jesus certainly didn’t need to stoop to swearing to reach people. Maybe we ought to emulate him and not the longshoreman out on the dock or the attention-addicted sarcasts on the comedy channel. And what about this verse in James 3:10… Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Case closed, right? Hello??

In the Christianity Today issue I was reading last night is a report on how Pastor Mark Driscoll divided the South Baptist Convention in two at their annual meeting. Mark isn’t a Southern Baptist, but they invited him to speak because, according to the math, the SBC will lose half it’s present members by 2050. Some in leadership see the decline trend and want the SBC pastors to move beyond choirs, robes, Sunday School, Sunday night services, VBS and other things like suit-wearing, tea-totaling and gospel quartets.  They notice the world has changed and the SBC hasn’t kept up in a relevant way.

So, at their annual meeting, the Southern Baptists invited Mark Driscoll to address the constituency. (Many of their younger ministers and church planters follow him closely despite the fact that Mark has a history of using risqué language, drinking alcohol and talking about sex.) After he spoke there were five motions made including one that SBC pastors cannot have any contact with Mark Driscoll or his Acts 29 Church Planting Network. Another motion was made to ban any future speaker at an SBC meeting who drinks and swears.

In January the NY Times reported that even GodTube.com can’t carry Driscoll’s sermon video clips… “with titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” his clips do not stand a chance against the site’s content filters.” The NY Times says; “he has the coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen” and that his “Mars Hill Church is the furthest thing from a Puritan meetinghouse.” Driscoll thinks it’s funny and says he even kicks himself when he realizes at the end of a sermon that he didn’t swear and that people come to his church because they want to hear him swear. He remarks that some have left disappointed wondering if he got saved since last Sunday.

In May, my father’s former boss, Dick Bott of the Bott Radio Network (40 million listeners) pulled the plug of a broadcast in mid-air because Pastor Mark Driscoll was using explicit language to talk about the Song of Solomon. Bott followed up with a notice to his stations that Driscoll was not allowed on his stations anymore.

I don’t swear in the pulpit or in public (though, honestly, I do swear in my head on occasion). If this is confession time, I’ll admit I have to fight swearing in private – I’ve learned it’s, for me, the first first symptom that surfaces revealing I’ve been neglecting to be with Jesus. The Bible says, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” My lame excuse is that I grew up around it. My drill sergeant dad spoke fluent profanity. He could call into question your gender identity, your IQ, your mother’s fidelity, your purpose on planet earth, your value as a person and your potential-in-life all in a rapid-fire ten second seamless string of obscenities. Growing up around that, even today, I’m sorry to say I often don’t even notice swearing in a movie. (Parents have asked me if a movie is okay, I say “it was great” and they come back later mad because I didn’t warn them about the profanity. Me saying, “oops, I didn’t notice” doesn’t cut it, though it’s true.

A cussing pastor is not the same as the guy, brand new to the faith, who rattles his small group because he prays out loud… “God, I’ve really -eff’d up- my life…”. Leaders are those who’ve gone out ahead of the rest and who influence others to come to where they are. In my Momentum book I list carnality, worldliness and character flaws in the leader all in the momentum stopper category. Before you point out the obvious that none of this seems to have cost Driscoll anything in the ministry momentum area (his church has 7,500 attending), just know that drawing a crowd doesn’t equal Kingdom Momentum. As I say in the book, “without holiness, no one will see God rise in their midst in any lasting way.” Craig Groeshel at Life Church says he could draw an unprecedented crowd for next weekend just by advertising free beer but that is not the growth God is looking for, nor is it what we are called to give away.

Perhaps one of the reasons pastors stoop to swearing is because most HATE IT when they are around the unchurched and the unchurched guy suddenly cleans up his speech – “oh, sorry pastor.” So they are the first to swear to sort of break the ice hoping the guy will be taken aback and view him as cool and different than most holy men. (In other words, they cease to be holy so as to not be numbered among the holy men. Holy means set apart, or pure, as in not diluted or tainted by mixture with something foreign.) God help us. Often I don’t mention to the person cutting my hair that I’m a pastor because a noticeable wave of guilt or embarrassment washes over those who are sitting in the seats on each side of me because they suddenly realize they just expounded on the raunchy stuff they did last weekend.

I write in my Sermon on the Mount book that being salt and light means your presence ought to change the environment around you. The trick however is to emulate God in such a way that you emanate God and not some air of self-righteous piety. The key verse in the entire Sermon on the Mount is in Matthew 6:8. Jesus says “do not be like them.” That means we ought not even talk like those who don’t know God.

Here’s a few verses related to this— if you struggle with swearing, write these on a card, memorize them and let the Holy Spirit do his work on your tongue. Enlist others to hold you accountable. (My cousin’s husband recently told me he has a deal worked out with his son… every time he curses, his son gets ten more Wii minutes a day. Whatever works!)

Ephesians 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Colossians 3:8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

For a couple weeks I’ve been doing the background work for a series in James I’m starting next month. I’ve thought to do a mini-series in the middle on chapter 3 – taming the tongue – because I’m convinced life or death is in the power of the tongue. Comments, please!!