10 Ways Buzzwords Are Undermining Your Leadership

On several occasions when teaching, I’ve noted the difference between buzzwords and leadership. In fact, I think that a key facet of leadership is knowing the difference between a strategy and a collection of buzzwords. In the corporate world, there are a multitude of buzzwords (and phrases) that need to fall out of existence. And, yes, I’m an offending party on several of these.

  • Learnings
  • Synergistic
  • Guru
  • Bandwidth
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Let’s talk offline
  • Deep dive
  • Granular
  • Come-to-Jesus moment

The list could go on and on. For those who lead in the church, we have a completely other set of buzzwords. The sad thing is that many of the words have an important meaning. Nevertheless, they have become junk-drawer terms that are applied to everything and often come to mean nothing. A short list would be:

  • Postmodern
  • Missional
  • Relevant
  • Contemporary
  • Gifting
  • Resonate
  • Gospel

A few of these terms are important to me. They might be important to you. And, yes, I just put “Gospel” on the list. The reason is not that the biblical term has lost its meaning but that it has been so widely applied that others have lost a sense of its meaning. The three questions I have are simple: “When you use that term, what do you mean?” and “Do the people listening to you understand what you are saying?” and “Do they now understand enough to follow where you are leading?” It is a lesson that was driven home for me when I recently traveled to teach at the Kiev Theological Seminary. When leading, we must know these facts.

  • Just because you speak does not mean that they heard you.
  • Just because they nodded their heads in affirmation does not mean they understand.
  • Just because they said they understand does not mean that they agree.
  • Just because they agree does not mean that they will do it.

So, as I consider the power and the bane of buzzwords, I would offer these 10 thoughts.

  1. Buzzwords begin as a rallying cry and end as words too broadly applied. Leadership constantly looks for fresh ways to keep the movement alive.
  2. Buzzwords are a poor substitute for the real content. Leadership offers a vocabulary of meaningful dialogue.
  3. Buzzwords give a false sense of momentum when stagnation is the reality. Leadership identifies stagnation and tackles it.
  4. Buzzwords are an easy way to say nothing when those who follow you need to hear something. Leadership shows the willingness to have the difficult conversations.
  5. Buzzwords kill the meaning of a movement. Leadership continues to give life to a movement.
  6. Buzzwords are the escape hatch for the speaker who is unprepared. Leadership finds a way to be the most prepared person in the movement.
  7. Buzzwords provide a facade of being knowledgeable. Leadership actually learns.
  8. Buzzwords give false hope of a possible future. Leadership tells a beautiful and detailed story of what can be.
  9. Buzzwords are big ideas boiled down to the lowest common denominator of thought. Leadership offers everyone a way to access the big ideas and bring understanding to them.
  10. Buzzwords make important words eventually seem disposable. Leadership redeems the important meaning of words and phrases.

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Philip Nation

Philip Nation

I serve as the Director of Adult Ministry Publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources and frequently speak at churches and conferences. I earned a master of divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a doctor of ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2010-2012, I served as the national spokesperson for the Back to Church Sunday campaign from Outreach. Over the years, I’ve served as a pastor, minister of education, and a church planter. Currently, I am a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship. We are a multisite church in Nashville determined to make an impact on our city and world. I’ve coauthored two books: Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. I am also the general editor of The Mission of God Study Bible. Along the way, I have also written the small-group studies Compelled by Love: The Journey to Missional Living and Live in the Word, plus contributed to The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Lifetime. My wife, Angie, and I live in Tennessee, with our two sons, Andrew and Chris.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

Jan — 05/11/15 11:22 pm

When we carefully "unpack" this difficult passage... Now, "to unpack" that... I've heard that verb a lot lately. He "unpacked" that in a way that I could understand. After a lot of "UNPACKING," I came to the conclusion... that it's a buzzword!

Josh — 11/19/13 10:05 pm

It is pretty easy to fall into buzzwords - I have to admit I also hear words esp. Missional etc and wonder what they actually mean

Ed Underwood — 11/18/13 4:03 pm

Oh yes. When everyone's missional, no one is. When saying, "We live the Gospel" is enough, it's not enough. So, so, true. thanks. I'm retweeting this.

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I just discovered this today and am looking forward to exploring the content on here. It looks like it could be very helpful. Just an FYI - in your paragraph on not putting out B+ material you have a typo. A little ironic. :-) The third sentence begins with "You time" not "Your time."
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I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!

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