Are The Words You Use Having A Negative Impact On Your Leadership Pipeline? 

Every industry has insider language. It plays a number of roles, but the benefits don’t always out weigh the negatives. The same is very true of the church, probably even more so. 

I’m not talking about “Christian-eeze” though, I’m talking about language we use as “church professionals”. Specifically the leadership terms and processes we use to describe the work we are trying to do. 

Word Cloud image credit: Beth Kanter © 2011

Word Cloud image credit: Beth Kanter © 2011

There are times these terms feel like they serve a purpose. For example, we use this industry language to “feel out” other professionals, gauging their level of understanding. We might begin discussing a concept in theology to gauge another pastor’s level of education or a methodology to assess a job applicants understanding of our organizations current tactics. One could argue that these serve some purpose. 

We do have to work hard though, to keep this in check. If we don’t, the negative impact will completely outweigh the value. 

We alienate potential leaders.

There aren’t many churches around that aren’t in need of new leaders. When volunteers don’t understand what’s really being said, they can’t really get involved. We’ve unknowingly set up a barrier to entry into leadership. If a leader doesn’t understand what we mean by “apprenticeship” in a ministry context how can they go about implementing that strategy? 

We assume everyone knows what we mean. 

When we use “industry language” we are most commonly using a single word to represent a concept. That single word very often means different things to different people. Think of the word “discipleship”. For one, this word only means something in the church world. Second, it means something different from one church to the next. One person may feel like we are referring to the study of scripture and the next feel like we are describing a mentorship relationship. 

We slow down the on-ramp.

As new leaders join our teams, the majority of their effort is naturally spent on figuring out how they fit in the team. Where do they fit in the “pecking order”? How does this team/organization actually make decisions? How do the talk? They don’t really hit their stride until they feel like they fit in. We waste their time when they feel like the first six months are just spent trying to figure out what we are actually talking about. 

Keeping “industry language” in check is a hard thing to do. It means we have to pay close attention to the new people to our team. What questions do they have? What are they confused about? It’s most likely we are the ones causing that confusion. Give them the permission to ask questions. Give your team the permission to throw a flag when you get to deep into industry language weeds. 

Church leadership terminology does more damage then good.

In fact, at your next team meeting have a little fun. Make a list of the “industry terms” your team and church use on a regular basis. Then, decide as a team if they are worth keeping. Leave an open chair in the room and ask “are these terms a new member on our team should be required to learn?” (Hint: the answer is no)

Question of the day: What “industry language” have you found to be most troublesome?