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

serve as the Director of Advancement and Global Impact Churches with the Baptist World Alliance 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. My latest published work is the video-based Bible study Pursuing Holiness: Applications from James. 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.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you Ed for sharing your insights into the Church Growth Movement. I have my reservations with Church Growth models because it has done more damage than good in the Body of Christ. Over the years, western churches are more focused on results, formulas and processes with little or no emphasis on membership and church discipline. Pastors and vocational leaders are burnt out because they're overworked. I do believe that the Church Growth model is a catalyst to two destructive groups: The New Apostolic Reformation and the Emerging Church. Both groups overlap and have a very loose definition. They're both focus on contemporary worship, expansion of church brand (franchising), and mobilizing volunteering members as 'leaders' to grow their ministry. Little focus on biblical study, apologetics and genuine missional work with no agenda besides preaching of the gospel.
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comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you for sharing such a good article. It is a great lesson I learned from this article. I am one of the leaders in Emmanuel united church of Ethiopia (A denomination with more-than 780 local churches through out the country). I am preparing a presentation on succession planning for local church leaders. It will help me for preparation If you send me more resources and recommend me books to read on the topic. I hope we may collaborate in advancing leadership capacity of our church. God Bless You and Your Ministry.
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