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Please Tell Me This is Not the Church

I was at my son Tyler’s soccer game on Saturday when the referee walked to the center of the field to do the normal pre-game check with my team.  I lined them up at center field facing him and he checked all 13 of them for their equipment.  He checked to make sure they had shoes on, their shirts tucked in, and their shin-guards on.  He told 2 of my boys they could not play with the “drug free week” red plastic bracelet from that week at school, claiming they once broke another player’s finger when caught in them.  So we cut them off,

All of this was normal until he said this:  “You all know how to play this game.  So have a good time and play well.  I just have one rule that you need to know about.  There is no vulgar language on this field.  If you can’t say it in church, you can’t say it here.  You got it?  If you do, I’ll kick you off the field.”
Really?  I’m sure his intentions are pure enough and I’m guessing he must go to church somewhere.  But really?  
This has bugged me for 3 days.  Here’s why. 
IT IS NOT THE CHURCH I KNOW: At least 75% of these 10 and 11 year-old boys on my team do not go to church and neither do their families.  They have no awareness of what church is, and now their myths have been reinforced.  I’m trying desperately as a pastor to love and encourage these kids and their families and do a job that honors God.  I would love for them to come to our church, though I don’t push it on them.  In 30 seconds, this guy told my players that you better clean up your mouth first before you come to church, or like the soccer field, we’ll kick you out.  They were told that what God really wants from them is to not cuss.  This is not true of my youth ministry.  I’d rather you came with your junk as you are than hid it in the car and faked it as you walk in the door.  
IT’S AN EXERCISE IN MISSING THE POINT: Many, if not most of my players haven’t thought at all about following God this week and probably are not thinking about it on this day either.  I’m guessing they’re just trying to figure out how to get the most door-to-door candy.  But if they did, they would know that God cares about their mouth and behavior modification… and it the process, they completely miss the point. 
Jesus said this:  “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  (Luke 6:45)
God doesn’t want these boys mouths, he wants to inhabit their hearts.  If that happens, then they’re mouths would follow.  Getting the order wrong, however subtle, is to miss the point.  
IT’S ALSO PROFOUNDLY NEGATIVE.  One myth about God and the Bible, it’s that it is mostly concerned with telling you what NOT to do.  Albeit subtly, this referee perpetuated that myth with his statement. He said that God doesn’t want you cussing.  He didn’t say, “Hey team, let’s have a great game and let’s make this an encouraging place.  I’m trying to follow Jesus and as a referee I have a passion to avoid vulgar language in my life.  I won’t cuss at you.  Please don’t cuss at me or your teammates either. Let’s make this field a place of soccer and positive words.  Can we do that?”  That would have been profoundly different and rooted in the encouragement he’s trying to promote instead of the negative consequences he threatened to gain compliance with. 
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Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.