Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vocabulary

Whenever my oldest daughter says Jesus I get really excited. For her the name is not much more than that. A name from a song lyric. A name from a picture Bible. A name tied to church (which is 'Where daddy works') and prayer (which is what we say before dinner). The name Jesus is just another piece in her ever-increasing vocabulary, but one that delights her parents.

Words are transferable, but changing. They cross generations and pick up accents, inflections, and connotations as they move from father to son, mother to daughter, elder to infant, pedagogue to apprentice. We don't always know what we're saying/hearing, even if we agree on the terms. Conflict originated with one person redefining the meaning of 'Don't Eat!'

And though we're bound to be misunderstood, one of the essentials of leadership--at home, church, school, or Little League--is building a common vocabulary with people. While this requires talking, the first requirement is listening. What words do people utter as values? What notions are implied in their terms?

Once a leader finds the group's vocabulary range, he is able to communicate in the lingua franca. Then he can expand certain terms. To rush this process is to stall progress. When I speak, do I use familiar terms? Where do I come across as unclear, compromising, or mean? Where can I redirect?

Thus, the task of the leader is to break down deficient meanings of a word and rebuild the definition together. Jesus listened and avoided the term 'Son of God.' Moreover, He only agreed to the title Messiah after it was stuttered by Peter. Moments later, he rebuilt the deficient meaning of Messiah-as-Conquerer to Messiah-as-Suffering Servant.

Leaders break down so they can rebuild. They greet death, so they can experience life. They smile while their children sing about Jesus, but they make sure the Name is not simply a high note.

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