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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Estes

The Power of Words: Crafting Vision and Preventing Mission Drift in Churches

Funny enough, I was a solid "C" student in English class growing up. English was my least favorite class. Who would have thought that I'd end up helping churches and individuals craft the most important language needed to shape their lives and culture? Irony at its finest.


Mission Drift by Peter Greer and Chris Horst

Our staff at Nexus Church Planting and Leader Care has been going through Peter Greer and Chris Horst's book, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches. This week we read chapter 14 on why the language we use in our leadership and organizations matters. My friend and colleague, Will Mancini, introduced me to the idea that "Words create worlds." This profound statement underscores why the language we use to articulate our vision and mission is so crucial.



The Apparel of Thought

George Crane once said, “Language is the apparel in which your thoughts parade before the public.” As church leaders, every word we choose matters. Those seemingly minor decisions about language? They’re actually the building blocks that can either anchor us to our core values or send us drifting into uncharted waters. Greer and Horst note that,

"Language might seem trivial, but the words we use shape our organizations. Language is one of the last things we might think of as a quality of Mission True organizations, but we found it is."

Consistency is Key

In today’s hyper-connected world, mixed messages cause continual confusion, and consistency is the only way to go. People appreciate honesty. When we communicate one thing here and another thing there, trust starts to erode. Clear, consistent language not only reinforces our identity but also invites accountability. One exercise we do with a team during a visioning process is a leadership survey. One question we'll ask individuals on the church team is to share their church's mission statement. It's comical to see the wide array of answers that a single team thinks is their most important sense of direction. Be clear, concise, and consistent in the communication of your mission and vision.


Words Shape Beliefs

One part in chapter 14 of Mission Drift stood out to me as the authors shared how Language has a profound impact on perception. Social and cognitive scientists have proven this time and again. For example, when folks in a survey were asked about car accidents using different verbs, their perceptions varied significantly. Those who heard the word “smashed” thought the cars collided at a greater speed and more often (incorrectly) recalled shattered glass than those who heard “hit.” It’s amazing how even slight changes in language can frame our thoughts and beliefs.


Strengthening Identity Through Language

For church leaders, publicly proclaiming our mission strengthens our identity and invites accountability. Regularly discussing who we are and what we stand for empowers our congregation and community to help keep us on track. This openness not only fortifies our mission but also builds trust. And let's be real, who doesn’t need a little help staying on track sometimes?


Deploying Language Anchors

Mission True organizations, as discussed in Mission Drift, understand the power of words and the importance of language in maintaining their mission. They deploy “language anchors” by weaving Scripture and core mission language into their everyday conversations. These anchors constantly remind us of our foundational objectives, guiding decision-making and actions. Ultimately, vision transfers through people, not paper. So we have to drip vision in our daily conversations regularly. When we think of delivering the mission and vision to our churches and even to ourselves, we need to be more like the mailman than Santa Claus. Many leaders will get up once a year for their "State of the Church" address to share where they're going and where they've been. But then they rarely talk about it again. Vision needs to be an everyday thing, not a once-a-year thing.


Building Credibility

Credibility is built through consistency. We must be vigilant in ensuring our messages are clear and unwavering. This consistency in language helps our congregations and donors see the church as trustworthy. Being transparent and straightforward in our communication fosters a deeper connection and trust with our audience.


Conclusion

Language is a powerful tool for church leaders to lead a disciple-making culture. That's the power of words. It shapes perceptions, reinforces identity, and builds trust. So, here I am, the former "C" student in English class (pushing B+ status at this point, thanks to Grammarly), now helping churches prevent mission drift by choosing their words wisely. Remember, “words create worlds,” and the words we use can either anchor our church to its mission or lead it away from its foundational goals. Be intentional with your language, and let it be a guiding force in your ministry.

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