Words Matter

images-1The currency of leadership is communication. Therefore, words have impact and words matter.

For some time now I have been bothered by the current state of communication among spiritual leaders. But I would actually expand that concern to the leadership climate in general-because every leader is responsible for what he or she says.

In particular, I am concerned with the use of vulgarities and profanities in Christian communication. On a daily basis I can find blog posts that throw obscene language around like its no big deal. I regularly hear Christian speakers use off color language to spice up their messages. I am even surprised by the careless words used in casual conversation. Often I hear the refrain that this is for the sake of relevancy. I hear its generational and I shouldn’t let it bother me. Or I hear its cultural and these words just don’t carry the same sense of offense they once did–it’s natural to communicate this way.

I’m not buying any of it.

It has nothing to do with being relevant, nor generational, nor cultural. My sense is that it has everything to do with the communicator and their perceived need to provoke, appear hip, or demonstrate power and authority over someone. I have never encountered someone inside the faith or outside the faith who could not endure my lack of foul language. Ever.

Words reflect the heart. A biblical understanding of heart goes beyond emotions. Our heart is our governing center. It is that part of us that chooses every day. It is core to who we are and how we relate to the world. It is the seat of worship. That which we worship shall be revealed by what readily flows from our lips.

The writer of Proverbs extolls virtue by personifying God’s wisdom.  In chapter 4:20-24, the writer highlights the value we are to place on words.

My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ears to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.

Paul, in the epistle to the Ephesians, amplifies how a true Christ follower is to live. When it comes to our speech he is clear.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph. 4:29)

Paul also warns us against false speech, angry words, and slander. They are damaging inside the body and outside the body. They have no place within the Christian context. I think some of our language issues arise from a low view of the Word of God. When THE WORD no longer matters or stands over us, then our puny words become trite, tawdry, and offensive. The written and spoken word should be carefully considered and weighed. We must remain attractively different from culture. We will gain our hearing through our compassion, which needs no help from profanity or vulgarity.

Leadership is influence. The currency of leadership is our communication. Therefore, words have impact and words matter. Let us escape our idolatry and bring grace to all who will listen.

What are your thoughts?

23 replies
  1. diana brown
    diana brown says:

    Gary, my observation is that individuals that choose to express themselves with profanity or display general lack of respect, clearly exibit a limitation of the speaker. They know of no other way to express themselves than the way they speak. This is a combination of a limited educational experience and a lack of desire to address the deficiency. I choose not to take offence. I suggest we all consider the solution to be that of offering ourselves, in the way we comunicate, as example. Finally, I would hope this effort would not be limited to those of christian pursuasion or be limited to spoken word. There is much we can all contribute by way of an example in all we do.

  2. Rich Dixon
    Rich Dixon says:

    Absolutely right. Communicators who can’t be relevant or hip without choosing inappropriate language are simply poor or lazy communicators. Skilled writers/speakers choose words not so they can be understood, but rather so they cannot be misunderstood. This certainly includes selecting words appropriate for the setting and audience.

  3. Kerri
    Kerri says:

    I read this post immediately after reading a blogger’s response to a tweet from a prominent pastor who has cultivated and seems to take pride in a reputation for vulgarity. In this case, the vulgarity most definitely does not come from a place of ignorance. Rather, I suspect it reveals much about the condition of his heart. For me, I know my own use of language (though seldom profane) is always a reflection of my current connection with the Lord. I need to pay closer attention.

  4. Bob Bergstrom
    Bob Bergstrom says:

    We are all ambassadors of Christ and with that comes great responsibility. Each conversation, each task we do whether big or small should reflect Christ through us, to glorify God. Let us all take light and try to better represent He who we are an ambassador for.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Bob for your comments. I really resonate and appreciate your added perspective on being an ambassador-as the ambassador never speaks on his own behalf, but only on behalf of the one who sent him. Great thoughts.

  5. Arvind Rajan
    Arvind Rajan says:

    Thanks Gary; you have initiated a very powerful caption” The currency of leadership is our communication” I fully agree and yes word does matter in all parts of our life; whether it is our colleague; boss; friend or family.

    Communication always has to be two sides; and art of listening is equally important.

    Thanks for providing this – chapter 4:20-24, the writer highlights the value we are to place on words.

    My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ears to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.

    I would like to share my experience of Power of communication & Art of Listening:
    The power of Communication & Understanding:

    We can narrate the art of understanding and communication through an organic source ie birds and animals: In such a busy environment people notice many such things which are not paid attention to or rather goes unobserved.

    Have you ever seen a Crow having a safari ride on a cow or a buffalo; yes we all have but have not paid attention or have not observed the nature message of communication and the art of understanding the language they speak or rather we speak.

    Two different species; habitats; or the category of species – with one flying and covering distance within no time and the other pulling its own weight with difficulty and because of size; with one being herbivorous and the other being carnivorous.

    But yet they survive together; see the power of nature and language sharing; the Crow knows that it can have a safari ride at free of cost and the Buffalo will generously allow the Crow; the reason is the Buffalo knows that it will get rid of germs and insects and the Crow knows that it can feed upon.

    If these two species can speak a language that is not known to each other but yet understand and live together; we the humans speak many languages in different culture and boundaries that we have set and that are taught to us right from nursery and yet cannot understand each other. What a shame?

    It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as many people’s are, then there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do!

    I agree that word matters; and we need to communicate each and every word keeping in mind the receiver in our shoes; and to ensure that our communication does not leave any scar behind.

    Thanks Gary for these powerful message.
    With regards

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Arvind for your very insightful comments. I really appreciate your emphasis on listening well. Thanks too for your lessons from creation that highlight the nature of mutual relationships. You have added much to the conversation.

  6. Tony Zampella
    Tony Zampella says:

    Thanks, Gary, for initiating this dialogue. There’s a lot of ways we can go wit this. From my perspective Genesis is all about the Word. It is not enough to keep our word, we must honor our word and that implies an understanding that our word is our world. This entails much of what you detailed and much more. Gossip is a way we communicate that tears at the human soul. Additionally, we tend to embrace a violent syntax that includes bullying, manipulating, intimidating and belittling in order to secure an idea or achieve a goal. In meetings we ram-rod notions, cut-off concerns, and denigrate feedback. Using terms like “push-back” merely illustrates the force it takes to share an another viewpoint, and we tend to label different views as opposition. This syntax is heralded in leadership as bold and necessary to “get results.” I say this is harsh, and leave us with only a result and no dignity.

    You are so correct, Gary, that communications is the currency of leadership. In that way, though, I am much more concerned about listening than I am speaking. What we can hear, allows us to say something. We often cannot listen to our higher-selves, to another’s suffering, or to how we impact others in a way that can make a difference or create something new. Genesis is about a new realm of possibility. Communication is how we as humans and as leaders achieve this. Thanks for the opportunity to share in this dialogue.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Tony for your thoughtful comments. I really appreciate how you expanded on my notions to better consider what good leadership communication should look like. I agree with you strongly about the idea of listening. Thanks for adding so much to the dialogue-I hope others read what you have posted.

  7. Anne Johnson
    Anne Johnson says:

    Gary, good morning. I have just literally “stumbled” onto your blog and will now sign up. I highly admire and respect what you say here in this post. I am a child of an Episcopal priest, grew up in “the church” and have gone on to my own life, family, career, etc. I used to work in Surgery and part of that culture was to use a great deal of vulgar language. I have since come to understand that this is not acceptable or appropriate for anyone, let alone someone who professes to be a Christian. I now work for a faith based organization and have become keenly aware that this was not acceptable in any way. I am not perfect, words still do slip out occasionally but I am much more tuned in to the impact of my words.

    One thought came to mind as I was reading this. Could we send this to all of our elected officials? I was listening to a news program this morning getting dressed and could not believe Speaker of the House Boehner and a word he used to refer to having the Senate get up off of there “rear ends” and take action…….although this was not the word he used. I was surprised and saddened. As a leader, I expect more from those who are leading our country. Thank you for reminding me that everything starts with me, my words and my behavior. I am delighted to have “found” you. Take care.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Anne so much for your kind comments. So glad you “stumbled” upon my blog. Thanks too for sharing some of your journey about “words matter.” I agree with you too about our elected officials-I saw the quote you were referring to from John Boehner. I too was disappointed. Thanks for adding to the discussion-I hope you will do so again.

  8. Brian Metzer
    Brian Metzer says:

    Hi Gary, at the risk of being the defender-of-profanity guy, I’m not convinced that a no exceptions rule on this is the way to go. But I agree wholeheartedly there’s too much casualness in general, and not nearly enough circumspection. There have been a few occasions when I have intentionally chosen what I’ll term “real” language in talks. For instance, when communicating the visceral emotion of a wasted life, painful and truthful experiences, nothing quite communicates the ethos than what was actually spoken in those times – sometimes vulgar. In these cases, I’ve quoted myself. At it’s best, it’s not merely provocative, but intended to communicate, “I know you… I know what you’re going through… my ‘churched’ life is acquainted with your sinfulness. I’ve been there.” If I were quoting myself in a book, I guess I could astericks several of the letters, but the reader would insert them. These circumstances are limited, but they’re rooted in love for God and love for others. Of course we can endlessly justify; that’s not my intent. Generalities about relevance won’t suffice to justify. And I suppose there are more artful ways to communicate the same thing, but sometimes when a sinner cries out in pain or anger, what comes out of his mouth is less than artful. Again these circumstances are rare and should be chosen very cautiously.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Brian for your comments. I understand where you are coming from and you carefully stated why, in some rare instances, it might help to communicate in the vernacular of the audience. Thanks for adding to the conversation-that is helpful.

  9. Shawn McGrath
    Shawn McGrath says:

    Hey Gary, I found this today and was encouraged. I appreciate both the value of words here and the attention to the heart. It is amazing how the words from our mouths can be a gauge for what’s happening in the heart. Just so true.


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  1. […] 18 months ago I wrote a post entitled  Words Matter. Essentially I argued that spiritual leaders need to watch their words. In particular I wrote that […]

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