As a marketer, I pay close attention to words. Headlines, slogans, and content all involve careful consideration. As a preacher I try to be careful with words when I speak, but even more so when I’m leading organizationally. I’ve learned (the hard way) the dangers of failing to do otherwise.
I recently had my first meeting with two small group leaders at church. Before we covered anything, I told them: I will not use language that creates expectations that can’t be met. Ministry is full of loaded words, many well-intentioned. However, using them improperly creates confusion.
One example is the word “family.” Six weeks ago, I didn’t even know these two. Now I’m their pastor and we’re working together in an integral ministry. It’s tempting to say, “Hey, we’re family…let’s get to work!” From a doctrinal standpoint, it’s true. From a leadership standpoint, it’s confusing.
“Family” is actually my ideal ministry praxis. I’m more a relational-type leader, and I want to work with people I know and love. However, using words that embody an ideal don’t automatically create that ideal. It’s possible to use the same word—with very different dictionaries. After a few more weeks of having me as pastor, these two may not even want to be involved! Let’s say they want out. Rather than being able to step down without any hard feelings, they are now abandoning “the family” (whatever that means) and BOOM—lots of weird feelings, assumptions, and pain because we tossed around loaded words.
Though it’s only been a few weeks I really love these leaders. They are faithful, capable, and fun. But relational growth is best when it’s natural. At our meeting, I used words like coaching, guiding, or (profoundly) hanging out. Being clear on these terms now actually gives us the chance to pursue the ideal later on.
A lot of trouble can be avoided by being careful with words we use when leading. The work we’ve done to define our core values can be crippled by prematurely or improperly using loaded language. It’s one mistake we’re not willing to make.
What are some loaded words you’ve heard used?