When I write, I understand that words matter. Sometimes I struggle to find the perfect word to convey what I am feeling or thinking.
I come from the corporate world where words also matter. But it’s a little different there. No matter what company you work for, there will be a special vocabulary. Buzzwords and phrases. Taking things offline, one-off, piggybacking on something, push-back, if I’m hearing you correctly. The list is almost endless. Often, using these buzzwords show that you’re a good fit for your team. You’re seen as part of the “in” crowd. But use them too much and you may find yourself the target of a buzzword bingo sheet.
Another way words are used are for marketing purposes. Businesses pay ad agencies millions of dollars to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy. This strategy, above all else, must use words to portray the product so that people will want to run out and buy it. Think about it. We can recite advertising jingles from when we were kids. Well-crafted slogans stay with you. “You deserve a break today.” “I’m worth it.” “Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that…..”
I think if words are so important in the world of business, they’re that much more important in the world of ministry and why we should strive to use rich and accurate language with those in our congregations and in our communities.
My sensitivity to the meaning of words started after Paul died and I started writing down my feelings. I often struggled with the ability to capture my feelings with words that conveyed the depths of my despair. I desperately wanted people to understand exactly what I was going through because I didn’t ever want anyone to feel as ill-prepared as I was.
And then I took a preaching class. In some ways, trying to find the right words to convey God’s truth to people with differing beliefs was much more difficult. And in some ways, I found these words breathing more life into me than I had ever felt before. Writing these sermons made me fall in love with Scripture, quite possibly for the first time.
And now I’m in a pastoral care class. My professor has social work and community development backgrounds. During our first class, she said something that really got my attention.
She said that she’s really been evaluating the words she uses for things. She even admitted how difficult task it’s been. She gave us an example using the word “needy.” She said that if we view someone as needy, there is a power differential in place. And guess who is in the position of power.
Whoa. Let that sink in.
When we think of someone as needy, we automatically see ourselves as their savior. When we view ourselves as the powerful one, it becomes all about us and how great we are.
You might be wondering why any of this matters. Because words have power.
It’s the difference between single, divorced, and widowed. I’ve been all three and I have found that each of these words brings with them widely varied reactions from people. And these reactions are because we live in such a binary world, meaning everything is so blasted black and white!
In the church, the single are often pitied or given unsolicited advice on how to get a spouse. Also, the church sometimes doesn’t look too kindly on people who have had to endure a divorce. Often, they write you off because they have been taught that divorce is always a sin. But sometimes I wonder if being a widow isn’t the worst of the three. It’s like there’s this big elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about so they just look at you with pity.
Another example. Bossy vs. leader.
Let those words roll around in your noggin for a minute. Bossy. Leader.
If you don’t know it already, girls (with very few exceptions) are bossy and boys are leaders. Being bossy is negative and girls are often told to stop being bossy. But being a leader. Well, now. That’s something that a mom and dad can be proud about. He might even be president one day!
You see the difference?
As a church, what words do we need to banish? What words do we need to celebrate? How can we change our vocabulary so that we are properly honoring all of humanity as the image of God?