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.

Read more from Philip here.

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Philip Nation

Philip Nation

I serve as the pastor at First Baptist Church of Bradenton, Florida 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 was 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. In 2016, I published Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out with Moody Publishers. I’ve coauthored two other books: Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. I was also the general editor of The Mission of God Study Bible. Along the way, I have written the small-group studies Storm Shelter: Psalms of God’s Embrace, 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.

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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.

Recent Comments
I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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