Words and Phrases I Noticed While Rummaging Through My Jargon File

Here are a few words and phrases I noticed recently while rummaging through my children’s ministry leadership jargon file (e.g., my brain). They have value, but they also can easily be misunderstood if not used in the appropriate context or for the appropriate audience. Given that I wish to communicate with clarity, I am challenging myself to identify jargon, or to put it more charitably, specialized words or phrases I frequently use, so that I may discern more effectively their suitability for specific writing projects or speaking engagements. Sometimes, it simply is a matter of defining a term in advance so that the audience appreciates fully the intended nuance of the word or phrase. I often tell my closest friends who ask me to define a term to “look it up.” Usually I say it tongue-in-cheek, but also with a bit of seriousness. However, there is something to be said for taking care to refine my writing and speaking so that my readers and listeners can focus more on content, than on trying to define unfamiliar verbiage. So with that, here is a partial list of specialized terms I occasionally use in my vocabularly.

-age appropriate
-partnering with parents
-vision casting
-wow factor
-exegeting the culture
-paradigm shifts
-emergent
-postmodern
-praxis
-orthopraxy
-missional
-spiritual formation
-coaching
-mentoring
-active listening
-accountability
-scope and sequence
-taking ownership
-sharing faith
-lesson elements
-lesson path
-sacrament
-song set

Again, these are just a few examples. I think you get the idea. Some are sophisticated terms. Some are everyday words used in a specialized way for the church environment. In your writing and ministry, what phrases or words do you need to define or even rethink so that your message is made more clear to your intended audience, especially to the unchurched culture?

I was motivated to write this post when I came across a mailing from a major manufacturer of a product which my company sells. In the letter the VP of the manufacturer was explaining price increases for his company’s product line. In particular, he described the drastic measures they have been taking to reduce operating expenses in an effort to minimize passing along cost increases through the distribution chain (e.g., everybody who buys from them or their wholesale and retail dealer base. Jargon is hard to escape!). There is one specific phrase he used which caught my attention. He said, among other things, that they had engaged in “headcount reductions.” Two simple, easily understandable words had been combined to produce a head scratching, apparently politically correct phrase for laying people off from their jobs. The use of jargon, in this case, produced in me the feeling that the plight of real people was reduced to an impersonal phrase in order to save face for a corporation. I laughed. I shook my head. And then I began to examine my own tendency to do the very same kind of thing, albeit on a much smaller scale, and certainly not with the intent of masking, minimizing or causing pain to others.

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