Discipline Q & A: Foul Language

[Q]: We have a child in our ministry who uses foul language. We’re wondering if we should tell her she can’t come to church if she continues. Help!

[A]: No child should be allowed to ruin church for others. There’s a time when you must finally invite a child not to return. This, however, should be the extremely rare exception. (We’ve had to do this only two or three times in more than 20 years of ministry to children.) Ensure that you’ve exhausted all other possibilities before excluding the child.

Try talking with the child first. We can’t assume that children know how to behave according to our standards. Explain how our words can sometimes offend others and God. Tell her specifically which words she isn’t to use. Some children hear their own parents use foul language and have no other way of knowing that these words are objectionable.

If the child agrees to avoid the foul language, remember to be patient as she tries to learn new behavior patterns and unlearn old habits. Be ready to forgive and teach her to ask God for forgiveness.

Encourage every effort honestly made.

If she doesn’t respond, it may be time to consult with her parents. In a personal meeting, explain to the parents that you need help in suggesting to her that she not use the foul language. Ask the parents for suggestions to handle the situation.

Pray for this child regularly. Foul language is a sure sign that something’s wrong in the child’s life. It could be a small problem or a huge one, but either way the child needs God’s intercession in her life.  

Gordon and Becki West are co-authors of The Discipline Guide for Children’s Ministry (Group Publishing) and founders of KidZ at Heart, International (www.kidzatheart.org).
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Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including churchleaders.com and SermonCentral.com.