Some pastors today favor the “shock value of sermons…sometimes with an f-bomb or two thrown in for good measure,” reports Christianity Today. Other pastors prefer to preach widely-advertised sermons, with innuendo-laden titles. Often, the sermon itself fails to disappoint the tickling ears. One well-known pastor earned the moniker, “Cussing Pastor” for his colorful language in the pulpit. It brings up a question that we’ve got to consider. Should pastors use salty language?

So, what constitutes “salty language?” Notice how Ed Young starts off this two-minute video. It will give you an idea. No, Ed Young is not endorsing verbal salt-shaker pastors. In fact, he gives a strong statement against the proverbial sailor-like verbiage that some young, hip pastors use. Hear what he says:

So, I’m wondering “why?” What gives Young the right to wag his finger and say “fie on you, pastor” for busting out a “crap,” “damn,” or “frickin” now and then? Why shouldn’t we? After all, didn’t Jesus use some pretty powerful statements against hypocritical religious leaders? And Paul? Didn’t he use some punch-’em-in-the-face remarks, too? I’m a pastor. Why shouldn’t I? And, come on, we need to be real, right? A guy who hides his typical blue-streak-cussing demeanor just because he’s behind a wooden box called a pulpit is being hypocritical, is he not? What’s more, we need to speak the language of our generation. If my indie-rock loving congregation tunes me out when I use words like “expiation,” then I’m gonna use some words that they’ll really understand. Besides, sermons are supposed to be memorable, so I’m going to utilize an unforgettable vocabulary. Besides, I’ve seen some YouTube clips where “Driscoll did it!” or “Piper did it!” and I even read that “Luther did it!”

Are those good arguments?

I’d say we need some answers…real ones.

The Pastor is an Example, not a Reflection of the Culture

There tends to be a lot of chaffing over the whole concept of worldliness. It’s a pleasant feeling to minimize what’s “like the world,” so we can be as much like the world as we want to be. But let’s face it. Some of the baser aspects of this culture–viz., bad language–aren’t fit for Christians, let a lone pastors. Romans 12:2 remains true: “Do not be conformed to this world.” What’s more, pastors are meant to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3). It should go without saying that they should be good examples, not examples of how to incorporate off-color slang and scatological humor into a sermon.

The Pastor Is Commanded to be Kind and Tenderhearted

Pastors, like all Christians, are commanded to be kind and tenderhearted. In the verse where this command is found (Eph 4:32), Paul doesn’t provide any footnotes with examples of kind and tenderhearted words. If he did, they would be in Greek. More than likely, you don’t speak Koine Greek. So, it’s left up to the Christians in each culture to apply “kind and tenderhearted” to contemporary language. Speaking kindly and tenderheartedly means that there will be certain ways of speaking that we do not use with other believers. It is safe to say that salty language, harsh invective, and course words are off-limits when speaking “to one another,” even in the pulpit.

The Pastor Should Take His Cues from How the Bible Uses Strong Language

The Bible uses strong language. No doubt. So, for the pastor with a penchant for shock-tactic language should realize that the Bible is sparing, selective, and careful in its use of such powerful statements. The Bible infrequently uses strong language. Pastors should do the same. Sparing. Selective. Careful.

The Pastor Does Not Need to be Cool; He Needs to Be Like Christ

Some pastors just crave coolness. A few rips in the jeans, an Ed Hardy tee, and maybe a dog chain with a stylized cross, and wham the pastor is now relevant. Bogus. You can read more about true relevance here, and here, and here. Unfortunately, in the effort to be cool, some pastors careen over the edge into uncouth language. That’s not what a pastor is to do. Our example is Christ. Pastors are to called unto holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16 2:5), not coolness. Thus, there is no need to incorporate the argot of the “rated R for language” group.

The Pastor Should Proclaim God’s Words, Which are Powerful by Themselves

Using shocking or vulgar language is the recourse of a pastor who doesn’t believe that the Spirit is powerful enough or that God’s Word is clear enough on its own. The Word of God has inherent power through the Holy Spirit to pierce hearts and penetrate minds (Heb 4:12, Jeremiah 23:29). Keep in mind as well that words like “hell” and “damn” and their euphemistic derivatives are serious theological concepts, not adjectives to describe a rough day at work or bad traffic on the way home. God doesn’t need (or want) you to punch out His words with the refuse-laden terms from Family Guy. That kind of loose-cannon style denigrates God’s dignity and ruins your reputation. Rather, He wants you to be pure, faithful, and bold in the proclamation of His Word–which is  just fine by itself. True preaching is simply laying out what the text says.

The Pastor Must Not Offend Other Christians

The Bible makes it clear that it’s better to never eat meat again than to cause a brother or sister to stumble (1 Cor. 8:13). Obviously, pastors need not squirm with anxiety in an effort to pander to everyone’s qualms. There’s a difference between people-pleasing (which the Bible forbids) and conscience-wrecking (which the Bible also forbids). That being said, pastors must apply to their preaching the Bible’s prohibition on riding roughshod over other people’s consciences. Don’t offend believers, especially the sheep in your congregation, just because you have an area of so-called “liberty.” Paul’s case study in 1 Corinthians 8 is meat-eating, so let’s apply that:  “Therefore, if [cussing] makes my brother stumble, I will never [cuss], lest I make my brother stumble.”

The Pastor Is to be Characterized and Committed to “Sound Words”

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul has a few key lessons for Pastor Timothy. One of them is about “sound words” (1 Tim 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13). Paul stresses to Timothy the importance of speaking “sound words” that come from faith and love. “Sound words” refer first to the doctrinal quality of the preacher’s message. The manner of these sound words, however, must be “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” This is an umbrella-concept when it comes to preaching style, but it seems to preclude the use of off-color lingo. At the very least, it is important for a pastor to refrain from language that characterizes his ministry with the opprobrium of being foul-mouthed.

In Conclusion

One popular Christian blog (which, incidentally, has one of those “ahem?” words in its title) contains this statement from one of its writers: “I think we need to be careful when we start challenging other church leaders to do it the way we do it,” referring to his right to use salty language. I would say, I think we need to be careful when we start using salty language, because this isn’t about saying, “Hey, be like me and only say squeaky-clean words.” This is about “Well, what does the Bible say about my language, my ministry, and the way to do it right?”

We don’t need to start parsing our profanity, defining what is and what is not questionable. If its questionable, it’s questionable. Does the Bible use strong language? Thankfully, yes. Does it follow that pastors, too, have a right to use strong language? Thankfully, yes–but keep in mind that 1) the Bible is inspired; pastors are not. 2) the object of such biblical vitriol was always rank heresy, 3) the expressions used were not crude gutter-terms, and 4) the Bible also stipulates that filthiness, foolish talking, and crude joking are off limits (Eph 5:4). “Strong language” doesn’t necessarily mean that the pastor needs to use all the h-words, d-words, s-words, f-words, and other four-letter words that he can muster.

If you want to keep cussing – please take this in the respectful and reverent spirit in which it is given – ministry is not for you. Pastors are not shock jocks. They are men, called by God, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, and committed to the example of Christ. Cut out the bad language.

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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12 Responses

  1. Beth T

    I agree that preachers should carefully choose their words, yet found some of your essay less than compelling. “The Bible is inspired, pastors are not” ? I totally disagree. I pray regularly to be filled with the Lord’s wisdom, grace and the Holy Spirit’s creativity as I prepare and deliver a sermon. If preachers are not inspired, then what they are saying is their own and not The Word of the Lord. Just as Jesus, Paul and the Prophets sometimes needed strong words to get the attention of the crowd, there may be instances when an occasional salty word is used in order to fully illustrate the point. Offending brothers & sisters is sometimes exactly what the Word does. That said, I think the preacher should be more worried about guarding his/her words and thoughts in private life and personal conversations. Those are the moments that truly influence people in ministry.

    • DEBBIE

      yOU ARE NOT WELL VERSED ON THE WORD ‘INSPIRED’ AS IT APPLIES TO THE AUTHORS WRITING. I DO BELIEVE HE MEANS IT IN THE SENSE THAT THE BIBLE IS ‘GOD BREATHED’. IN OTHER WORDS, THE WORDS IN THE BIBLE ARE DIRECTLY FROM GOD FOR THE PASTOR TO USE IN HIS PREACHING AND TEACHING TO HIS FLOCK. IF YOU NEED TO BE INSPIRED BEFORE PREACHING A SERMON, THEN YOU ARE ASKING GOD TO INSPIRE YOU, OR GIVE YOU A REASON TO WANT TO PREACH.

  2. admin

    The “cussing pastor” referenced in the introduction is obviously Mark Driscoll. Thankfully, as Driscoll has matured, so has his language. In his Desiring God conference session he said, “I have sinned a lot and said things I totally regret. I got saved at 19. My dad was a union drywaller. Isaiah said, “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” I’m the son of a union drywaller. I have crossed the line, gone too far and been deeply convicted over the sin in my past. What I have said will live with me forever, and this message is particularly painful for me. But I don’t want to be that cowardly guy who gets up every Sunday and feeds the sheep, the wolves, the dogs, everybody.”

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/how-sharp-the-edge-christ-controversy-and-cutting-words

  3. Rod Richards

    I think this is a real case of WWJD , He was relevant /cool but told stories and parables and spoke to all levels and ages. Would He have used this kind of language ? NO! There must have been the equivalent ‘unclean’ words around at that time similar to that which was referred to in Isaiah.

    We need to set a Christ like example and to use modern ‘salty language’ is copying the world to be relevant and not in my view being Christ like. Perhaps we have forgotten what it is to be really Salt and Light in this world ?

  4. Rev. Leatha Blanks

    I believe what the Pastor of Fellowship Church said, we can bring the Word of God to life, and allow the Word to do what the Word has been commissioned to do. We don’t have to use the langauage of the world to get God’s point across. If we preach with conviction and not be weak and timid with the Word of God, God’s Word will be delivered just as powerful as using the words of the enemy. I know, I use to cuss like a sailor, and began to understand how can I begin to bless people with the Words of God with a filthy mouth. Jesus Christ used different methods for different situations, but I believe in my heart that Jesus would not want us to stoop to that level of speaking to His people just to draw them in. Yes I do believe that we should do things to gain their attention, but to get down and dirty like that is not doing what Romans 12 speaks of about presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice, Holy and acceptable unto God not Man, that’s where we make our mistake we are so worry about what Man thinks, what Man wants, how Man will be offended, just teach the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to do what He does best and that is to instruct, convict, encourage, minister, etc. Just be a vessel that is usable unto God not one that God will look at as vessel that is unfit for the Master use! AMEN!

  5. David McLendon

    Thank you for presenting issues that many are unwilling to approach.
    I am in total agreement with Ed Young.
    We need to understand that as Pastors, ALL of our speech should be above reproach and influential in peoples’ lives.
    “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my hear be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord.”

  6. Carol Nelson

    I agree with Ed Young. If a person can not express themselves with clean language then they are compared in the worlds eyes. Don’t we as CHRISTians want to be compared to christ. We can never reach the level Christ is at without his help, but shouldn’t that be our goal in everything we do, think and SAY? WWJD is the answer to all. Jeasus is pure, clean, and just! Enough said.

  7. Jerry Albright

    I agree: “Salty” language really has no place in the pulpit. I also agree that our words matter and we should have a better command of the language we rely on to share the gospel. However, we are all human and we are all inundated by thoughtless, hurtful language. It’s all around us even if it is not directed toward us. It is hard, but not impossible, to rise above the “vulgate” of our culture. And when I am with my closest colleagues and friends an occasional “salty” expetive escapes me in moments of high emotion or frustration. Do I think God condemns our words as “dirty” or “sinful?” Not unless they are used in hurtful or abuseive ways toward another human being. Having said this, your video leads me to examine my own casual use of slang and off-color language. It’s just plain laziness.

  8. Pastor Mike Millican

    When I got saved the first thing the Lord convicted me of was my language. If I ought not use bad language in my everyday conversation, what on earth would make me think it would be OK for preaching God’s Word?! With prayer and little imagination, there are plenty of provocative words to use without having to resort to vulgar words.

  9. NATHAN

    NO!NO!NO!NO!Pastors,should never use words like that!EVER!!!!!!!!!! Christian’s should never use words like that!!! although many of them do Its sad when even the Christians can’t or won’t pay attention to what they say. when you use word like that it show how ignorant you really are about speaking even in a casual conversation to a friend or someone that you work with or to someone in your family.

  10. Betty Moore

    I am not a pastor, however my husband is and I have been a speaker for various church and school events for over 23 years. I agree so wholeheartedly with other comments in regard to this new, ‘cool’ (I use the word sarcastically…because it isn’t cool) fad to use filthy language in the pulpit. See, that’s the word I would use to describe this kind of talk…filthy. I understand what is meant by the terms “salty” or “strong” but I feel that those descriptives are not sufficient to the reality of the language used. We need to call this kind of shock value, coarse language, what it is…filthy. Jesus’ words were often ‘strong’ but never crude, vulgar or filthy. God makes it very clear that, as His people we are to be like Him, holy and set apart from the world. As so many churches fall to the ever increasing rise of “worldly wisdom” to define what church should be, and how the gospel should be shared, they also stray farther and farther away from Biblical truth.
    We don’t need to shock people into paying attention to the Word of God; the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart of each individual as they hear the truth. They will only respond to His call, His quickening, not our ‘shock tactics’ or antics. People who believe that Jesus had to maneuver others into receiving His message apparently do not understand, or have forgotten, that He is GOD! He didn’t have to “figure out” how to reach people by somehow meeting “felt needs”…He created them, He knew their hearts and minds and He meets “real” need, salvation and redemption.
    And, likewise, we need to clearly see that Jesus did not employ filthy language ever…in fact God clearly tells us in Ephesians 4:29-32: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Jesus didn’t such machinations to seem relevant…He was, and He still is relevant…straight up, clear and clean, with no need to have a little bitty coating of worldliness to make Him more palatable to anyone!
    When Jesus used ‘strong’ words, they were true words and were most often addressed to the Pharisees, men who had perverted the truth. And yet, His words were not words of sexual innuendo and when He referred to hell or damnation He did so literally, so that people would understand how awful those realities are, not in the capacity of adjectives or expletives which diminish those truths.
    How dreadful to believe that the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, was and ever will be, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords…the very God who created communication…would need a little ‘worldliness” to “shock” anyone into receiving His blessed truth. He didn’t, wouldn’t use filth to disseminate His truth and neither should we.

  11. w w

    The Colorado church I go to has two campuses. The older one (1984) has a wide range of age groups and the newer one (2008) is focused to ‘seekers’, college age and young families. I am middle age and have been attending there for six years. The lead pastor and a team of three others take turns rotating between the two.
    A couple of weeks ago, I happened to be at the new campus. The lead pastor quoted an e-mail he received and made some dramatics about saying the word (excuse me) “crap”. And then followed it by saying that if we had a problem with that word, then we Are the problem.
    When I confronted him about it, he said he had asked his wife (who never uses such language) and she told him that it would be appropriate to reach the younger crowd. He said the quote was attributed to a Christian author and that it wasn’t a curse word.
    So yeah. I guess I have a problem with 1.) basing a sermon on anything other than the Bible; 2.) just because someone else writes it, does Not make it OK to say from the pulpit in front of children; and 3.) he is blaming others for his own poor judgement in using what he knows to be vulgarity.
    I’m trying to decide about continuing to support a church whose leadership has made an intentional decision to treat the two campuses differently. 70% can be held to moral standards but 30% don’t have to be? That doesn’t seem right.

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