A few weeks ago, following an ultimate frisbee match between some of our youth and young adults, the idea was pitched to catch a movie on Netflix. Since Bird Box had recently released, garnering 45 million viewers, complete with wonderful social media memes like a picture of a KFC chicken box captioned: “The only bird box I care about,” it was only natural we’d all want to partake in the latest theatrical craze. We secured the time, location, and snacks. Movie night was a go.

Then my student pastor senses began to tingle, leading me to check the Parents Guide on IMDb (Internet Movie Database): nudity; severe violence; “frequent use” of the “f word” and other profanities. Also noted: “Misuse of Jesus’ name as an exclamation.” Needless to say, I opted to nix the movie for something more appropriate, unless we were all willing to wear earmuffs—and a blindfold.

Now, I am not naive. I know my momentary censorship hardly shields my students from the language they’re already accustomed to hearing and even sharing on social media. While not a new phenomenon: researchers argue that swearing has always been part of the personal lexicon; what has increased is its commonplace within media, particularly the “f word.” Everyone from professional athletes, Christian bands, and even as of late, congressional leaders, no longer shy from the public exclamation of the “f word,” leaving millennials to question should they.

What’s up with that? Why is the “f word” so prevalent and becoming the norm in cultural vernacular? How should we respond as influencers? As Christians? Does foul language foul our leadership?

Anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist, and theologist have all studied the cultural construct of profane language. During my objective research, I discovered that most researchers and theologians agree: swearing is an indicator of lower conscientiousness. [1] And given that conscientiousness is a top consideration for employers, and the personality trait that most often predicts success, leaders would be wise to assess what’s influencing their personality—mainly their words. [2]

While some may argue in favor for the cathartic release, shock value, or even as a means to “fit in,” profane language, principally the “f word,” is identified as a lack of discipline and maturity. It represents an absence of decorum, which in turn exhibits a lack of respect—think: table manners are not for our benefit.  

Paul, writing to the people living in Ephesus, instructs, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Jesus says it like this, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth [because] the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:11;18 NASB). So it’s not a behavioral issue, but a heart issue given our words are outward evidence of our inward character. [3]

That’s a bold claim. However, upon examination of the original text, we learn that what Paul refers to as “foul” or “abusive” is better represented as “corrupted” or “rotten.” And since our words possess the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21), our words should edify, beyond that of how an inspirational TED Talk or thought-provoking podcast moves its listener. It is a much grander and urgent argument. Our speech should reflect that of a redeemed life, one that points others to the Truth—the Truth that shapes ontology. 

You argue: didn’t Paul use culturally profane language to label what he once considered valuable as “dung” when compared against knowing Christ? While he did use terminology to jolt the reader, the actual Greek word, skubala, was not itself considered profane. [4]

However, let’s say Paul did say “sh*t.” Our worship pastor, Maggie Granlund addressed this while I was processing through my podcast notes. To paraphrase, to say “sh*t” doesn’t alter what it is. It’s still excrement or dung. However, take the “f word,” flippantly describing something beautiful, and set apart by God, lessening it to a worldly and sacrilegious act. The context here does change, and it confronts a holy God. I contend this is not the heart we as influencers or Christians should propagate.

In summation, our “speech [even euphemisms, as they are likely to reveal the heart behind the original word], should reflect the new nature God has created within us” [5], and acknowledge that foul language “is totally out of character with [our] new life in Christ”—and as influencers. [6] 

RELATED: 4 Ways Your Words Can Alter The Direction of Your Life

And while hip hop artist Andy Mineo contends Christianity isn’t so black and white—there are grey areas, he tweets—I do know God asks extra of those seeking positions of leadership: a life above reproach, one that exhibits self-control (1 Timothy 3:1-2 NLT).

Moreover, as Fred Rogers so aptly noticed, Jesus was most bothered by hypocrites. So, if we are going to lead well, we cannot allow foul language to foul our influence.

We must strive to align our words (our hearts) with our actions, positively representing a redeemed life—a life liberated from hypocrisy.

We can do this by:

  1. Involving God. Pray specifically that God would use your language for His purposes: encouragement and edification.
  2. Assessing your media. Engage your Reticular Activating System (RAS) allowing your brain to become acutely aware of the language you’re consuming. And then avoid those influences. (A good resource for movies and television is IMDb.com.)
  3. Identifying your triggers. Avoid the situations that set you off. And when you find yourself in those situations, let’s say traffic, force a different response (which creates new neural pathways—or a rewiring your brain—so that becomes your new default response).

In doing so, we will live a life that fulfills the command to love God and love people through words that point people beyond the immediate to the ultimate. One set apart from culture: mature, disciplined, and conscientious in a manner that is irresistible to a world blindfolded to the Truth that will set them free—for there is no higher calling.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1846). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.