Leaders, your words matter. More than you think.

No matter how many or how few followers you have as a leader, your words matter. A lot.

Like many of you, I was horrified watching the historic and ugly assault on the US Capitol yesterday. 

After watching Congress return to the floor and waking up again this morning (January 7th), I was left reflecting on so many things and felt so many emotions.

Yesterday’s events, and the long run up to it, have left me thinking about the power of words and leadership.

You and I have watched people get angrier and angrier over the last five years. I, and many others, have written about the damaging impact of tribalization, polarization and the hate that passes for so much of social media, public discourse and even the comments on social media and on sites like this.

It’s deeply alarming to me. It’s been devastating to see us devolve to this level as a culture.

It horrifies me even more that the church has descended into a lot of the hatred, vitriol and division that has come to plague our culture.

Especially in a season like this, the culture needs an alternative to itself, not an echo of itself.

In the hours after the assault on the Capitol, I was talking to a much younger friend. He’s 22.

I sensed that he saw the events of January 6th as less shocking than I did. As almost resigned to them. Or, that they were somehow normal…like some video game that just happened to play out in real life.

And then I remembered that this is how much public and private discourse has been over his lifetime. It saddened me greatly.

I assured him, being three decades older than he was, that this was not the way humans always interact. And it shouldn’t be how we interact moving forward.

Which brings me to words. My words. Your words. And the power of words we wield as leaders, even for the vast majority of us who are private citizens.

Words Create Worlds

Leaders, your words create worlds.

I promise you that some of the most damaging moments in your life happened when someone said something to you.

They didn’t do anything to you in that moment (hit you or assault you physically). They just said something that pierced your heart and has stuck with you for years, decades.

The fact that it may not be true (i.e. You’re stupid/fat/will never amount to anything) is irrelevant. It crushed you. And, it still does.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me is a lie.

I’ve seen people whose lives have changed direction because someone told them they didn’t have what it takes, so they stopped acting like they did.

For better or worse, words shape things that come into being.

This has probably been one of the hardest lessons for me as an adult, let alone as a leader.

I like to think of myself as just one voice among many, but as soon as I occupied a position of leadership, that changed. Suddenly, your words weigh 800 pounds, even if you don’t want them to.

They weigh 800 pounds in your organization or church, and every time you post on social. It’s so easy to forget that people are watching, listening and taking cues.

People look to you not just for direction but for tone and influence.

Your tone shapes theirs.

The way you speak and think as a leader is the way your followers learn to speak and think. That’s a very big weight.

This is true personally, too. Words I’ve spoken helped tear down my marriage, until I decided to use words to help heal it.

Words can destroy a relationship. Apologies can restore them.

None of this should shock us.

The Christian scriptures tell us the universe began with a word. God spoke, and it came into being.

Biblically, blessing and cursing are shown to have power. Just ask Isaac, Esau and Jacob whether words once spoken change futures.

You and I have the power to bless, to curse and to shape the lives of the people we lead.

The question becomes then, leaders, what kind of world are you creating with the words you’re speaking?

Neutral Words Really aren’t a Thing

The longer I lead, the more I realize there are no neutral words in leadership.

Everything shapes something.

It’s easy to think you’re being neutral. You’re not neutral.

You’re either

speaking life or speaking death

healing or harming

helping or getting in the way

I’ve had to learn this the hard way.

I can be careless with my words. Cruel sometimes. I’m an Enneagram 8 and trained as a lawyer too, so using words as a weapon comes easily and naturally to me.

I can use my words as weapons, and I can do it well.

Or, I can use them to build up…to give life, not to destroy or harm.

One of the great traps in leadership is to say the phrase, “Well, I just…” in front of anything that justifies your words.

Well, I was just…

telling the truth. 

saying what everyone needed to hear.

explaining what I did. 

Having played this game for too long, I finally realized I wasn’t just….

I was either making things better or making them worse.

And, pretty much every time I start to justify myself, I’m making things worse.

Check your social media feed…there’s a lot of justification.

3 Practical Things You Can Do About Your Words

So, what do you do with all this?

My team and I are trying to make this space one of the good places on the internet, where people who don’t always agree can come together without being disagreeable.

For the most part, the comments and dialogue on this site reflect that, and when they don’t, we’ll delete a comment here or there to make sure the 95% of people who appreciate meaningful dialogue can speak and be heard.

I continue to try to make the rest of my life about bringing words that heal and bring hope.

When it comes to the churches and organizations you lead and the online space you occupy, here are a few things to remember that have helped me.

1. Ask What Your Words Will Do Before You Speak Them

Two quick things…one that happened a millennia ago and another in the last decade.

According to the biblical account, when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they actually received knowledge. Their eyes were opened.

Here’s the problem though. Having the knowledge of God without the wisdom of God is a trap. You suddenly know things you don’t have the power to properly address or solve. It explains so much of human history.

Fast forward to the last decade, when all of a sudden billions of us have access to information and knowledge at a level never known to humanity, and yet lack the wisdom to know what to do with it.

The algorithms used by social media outlets and search engines further inflame your echo chamber to align you with voices who agree with you and are more extreme than you, and actively work against your ability to think freely and independently.

All of a sudden you have all this information you don’t exactly know what to do with and a keyboard sitting right in front of you.

How do you find wisdom in the midst of the insanity that is public dialogue today?

Before you speak, ask how it helps.

Ask how it heals.

Ask what it will help accomplish.

If it doesn’t help, doesn’t heal, and doesn’t do good, don’t speak or post. Especially if you’re a Christian.

2. Vent Privately, Not Publicly (Write a Hot Letter)

So, what if you’re still mad?

Try this: Vent privately, not publicly.

If you vent privately, you won’t need to vent publicly.

Abraham Lincoln and King David give us great examples of this.

Lincoln, known for his calm temper and extraordinary ability to forge unity in a highly divided culture, was subject to angry emotions, too.

As his biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin notes, Lincoln would often write ‘hot letters’—angry diatribes against his opponents. He would then put the letter aside until he cooled down and could address the situation more rationally.

When his papers were opened decades later, historians found a raft of Lincoln’s hot letters with Lincoln’s notation at the bottom of each, “Never signed. Never sent.”

He told his cabinet ministers to do the same thing—write hot letters when they were angry and never send them.

When his Secretary of War was furious with a general, Lincoln told him to write it all down, after which, Lincoln told him to throw the letter in the waste paper basket.

“But it took me two days to write,” Stanton told Lincoln.

“Yes, yes, and it did you ever so much good,” Lincoln replied. “You feel better now. That is all that is necessary. Just throw it in the basket.” (Thanks to Kearns Goodwin for this account.)

King David did a similar thing.

I was always amazed at how David decided he would never lift his hand against Saul, an exceptionally irrational and troubled king.

Then, one day I read his diary where he vented against his enemies. We call it Psalm 109.

This is what David wrote about his enemy.

May no one extend kindness to him
    or take pity on his fatherless children.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
    may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.

Slamming his enemy’s kids and dragging his mother into this? And, this is in the Bible? Trust me, David goes on and on and on.

But because he went on and on privately, he never acted publicly. That venting stayed between him and God and never leaked into his public leadership.

Here’s what I learned from reading Psalm 109: Turn to God with your frustrations about people, because if you don’t turn to God, you’ll turn on them.

Vent privately, and you won’t need to vent publicly.

(Note: In addition to prayer, very close friends can be helpful for this.)

3. Remember That Word Issues are Heart Issues

Finally, as I’ve wrestled down my words, tone and the impact of my leadership, I’ve realized that word issues are really heart issues.

As Jesus so clearly said, out of the overflow of the heart your mouth speaks.

Word issues are heart issues. The only way to really fix your words is to fix your heart.

Years of counseling, prayer, confession, reflection and feedback from the people around me are helping me reshape my words. That continues to be a work in progress.

Your heart and mind are also deeply connected, which means a lot of this also goes back to how you think. Again, the algorithm isn’t helping us right now. It escalates and inflames your divisive thinking.

Which is why renewing your mind is so important.

My friend Craig Groeschel has a very powerful book (out soon) that I’ve had a chance to read. If you struggle with negative thoughts, anxiety or even anger, I’d suggest you grab a copy of Winning the War in Your Mind.  Craig and I also have a great conversation about his journey and learnings in this area that will release on my leadership podcast in February 2021.

Changing your mind changes your words and ultimately, your life.

A few more thoughts: 

If you want to read deeper into the issues I’ve talked about here, I’ve written a few other posts that I’d recommend you read today:

Why Do We Hate Each Other So Much? (5 Reasons Anger Is the New Epidemic)

The Death of News, Re-Tribalization and The Future Church

Why Every Good Leader Should Escape the Algorithm (Before You Can’t…or Won’t)

What’s Helping You?

Leaders, it’s going to take all of us to help heal a very deep wound we’ve inflicted in ourselves in this moment.

No matter how many followers you have or don’t have, your words as a leader matter more than you think.

What’s helped you speak and write words that heal?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

Why Your Words as a Leader Matter (Far More Than You Think)

110 Comments

  1. Adolf on January 30, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    Carey,
    Words do carry meaning. Your words…
    “Yes, it is 100% free. No strings attached.”

    BUT…
    in order to get the “pivot ready cheat sheet” I must attach to the strings before I can Download the free item…

    Not sure I would trust the words of someone who uses words they either don’t mean OR use them without regard for truth. If you want my email say so!
    Don’t mislead. No, I am not quibbling over words. Bait and switch is what it’ called.

  2. Lynn Cerullo on January 9, 2021 at 3:20 pm

    Depending upon our personality and our own issues, we may be quick to speak or—we may suppress sharing our thoughts and shut down. (Adrenaline responses vary.)

    Key is that we tend to consistently respond the same because difficulties in life trigger our unresolved pain and the things we feel we cannot control or change. It’s easy to frame our tendency as the right way: “Someone has to stand up!” “I just say it like it is!” or “No one listens to me anyway, so why bother?” “It’s foolish to get into it.”

    Neither end of the spectrum is always true. So the real question is do I have enough self-control to reign in my knee-jerk responses? Can I ponder a situation and postpone expressing my thoughts until I’m clear headed and can formulate in a way that is life giving?

    What am I *truly* angry about in my life and just using this whipping post to help me vent the emotion I’m carrying? (Perhaps I feel unheard, disrespected or resentful.) Or, what am I truly afraid of or anxious about…and this moment is actually exposing it?

    Different situations and circumstances demand a variety of responses. We need to broaden our box of communication tools, so we can address a situation differently, “according to the need of the moment.”

    Sleeping on it helps us get to the root of our own emotions. Allowing the flight, flight or fright reaction to ebb so we can weep off the chaotic mob psych debris. Addressing our own biases that will utterly hijack our ability to respond with kindness, understanding and wisdom. Giving ourself space to back up and see the big picture, to ponder what is actually happening, what are the concrete facts and what is supposition.

    Pause allows us to return and address a situation, a text, an email, a headline…in the opposite spirit—than the situation which we hope to address. To be a fragrance of His heart to a hurting world.

    As you so beautifully described, Carey, the Body of Christ and its leaders must consider the seeds we’re sowing and the much larger crop that will eventually spring up.

    Just a thought.😉

  3. MS on January 8, 2021 at 11:59 pm

    I highly recommend Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
    https://www.christianbook.com/caring-for-words-culture-of-lies/marilyn-mcentyre/9780802848642/pd/848642

  4. Lita on January 8, 2021 at 2:34 pm

    Thank you, Carey, for this very timely and great post!
    I have seen and lived this kind of hatred with autocratic leadership where I came from.
    It saddened me to see, that continued, perpetuated lies brought this kind of violence and played out for all the world to witness.
    I always remember the saying: “Bite your tongue before you speak” or “hold on to your horses”… before they take you to ruin.
    Proverbs 12:18 – “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” As Children of God, our tongues have a lot of power. Proverbs 18:21 confirms this by saying, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2021 at 7:55 am

      Some great verses there Lita.

      • Louis Karman on January 10, 2021 at 1:44 pm

        Proverbs 18:13
        People interupt me often before I’m done expressing my thoughts. They respond in way that has nothing to do with the idea I was hoping to express. Very FRUSTRATING🤣🤣

  5. Mark on January 8, 2021 at 9:43 am

    If you are a leader, please represent everyone and not just a faction. Please also do not encourage your die-hard followers to turn on people who don’t agree with you 100%. Also, do not brand everyone in a city, an age group, etc. as awful, terrible, or worthless. Even church leaders sometimes represent only factions and only talk to certain groups. The rest of us who might not agree with you 100% are still not terrible people.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2021 at 7:55 am

      Mark thanks for this. In my view, the church should like like the city or regions it’s in—that diverse, racially, economically, politically and more.

  6. Cathy on January 8, 2021 at 4:21 am

    Thanks Carey, as an Elected Member of Local Govt here in Australia and a dedicated Christian I was so grieved at the events yesterday I nearly wept. I have a great respect for democracy and appreciation. I would have never have my position in Govt without the democratic process. I consider it an honour to serve my local community. For those who share my beliefs and those who DO NOT. What an extraordinary privilege to meet and explore relationships with others who think differently to me.

    Your blog has given me some dialogue and Godly balance to this humiliating day. To see Jesus banners flown with KKK and such violence and hate! I admit I struggled as a Local Govt leader and Christian. I can only pray for the great nation of America and that mutual respect and love that Jesus displayed would pervade the next month.

    In Australia we have a Christian PM who is wise and balanced, not afraid to worship publicly but respectful to all of his constituents no matter what their faith. I will follow his example. Grateful for our democratic system but also very aware that democracy is a fragile ideal that can be eroded and undermined. We need to treasure it to facilitate this as one of the only measures of peace this side of heaven (faulty it may be)

    Blessings Cathy

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2021 at 7:56 am

      Thanks for serving Cathy. Praying for our government leaders.

  7. Heather Dawn on January 7, 2021 at 10:01 pm

    After hearing so much today about the extremist violence exhibited yesterday in Washington, it was wonderful to read this article. It reminded me that although many will choose to use their voice and platform to promote hatred and violence, there are many more also using it as agents of peace and goodness and truth. We all have that choice everyday…

    Thank you sincerely for using your words here to share hope. I needed that.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2021 at 7:56 am

      Heather thanks for the encouragement.

  8. David on January 7, 2021 at 8:29 pm

    Grateful for this post. I’m wondering if our silence carries as much weight as our words as leaders. Especially after yesterday’s events, or any of the other hotly debated events of the last several months, what does our silence say? Whether we’re processing, reflecting, unsure what to say, or choosing to say nothing, I imagine any number of intended or unintended messages could be inferred. Is there a way we can be intentional about our silence to make it say what we want it to say?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2021 at 7:58 am

      There are definitely different kinds of silence. Some of it is healthy (waiting until we have something constructive to say) and some of it is not (ignoring important matters that have to be addressed). Great nuance there. I run things I say (or don’t say) through a ‘helpful’ filter. Are my words (or silence) helping or hurting?

  9. Kamar Bevil on January 7, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    Having something positive to do in service to other people helps me process and gives me something good to talk about. When I woke up this morning and ingested my daily dose of discouraging news it helped to remember that I was on my way to host a blood drive at our church in our community and donate as well. It felt like a gift to have something positive to post today on my socials and to talk about with people. It gave me room to say honestly that while things are frustrating at the moment, there is still hope. There are still good things happening. What we focus on grows so having good things to focus my words on has been helpful to me.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:04 pm

      Kamar such a great, simple and profound point. Thank you.

  10. John Moore on January 7, 2021 at 5:32 pm

    It wasn’t the letters Abraham Lincoln wrote and never sent that won the Civil War. It was the letters he wrote and sent that created action (even if it meant, thousands of men died) for the cause he believed in, that eventually won the war.

    The protest and riot that happened on Capitol Hill would never had happened if the United States had a Federal voting system, that had safeguards that would not allow the opportunity for postal vote and machine vote fraud. To me the present system can only be described as chaotic, wide open to fraud and manipulation and worthy of a banana republic.

    It appears to me, that 50% of the population believe they have been robbed of their vote. Because the wealthy, Facebook, Twitter, MSM and the left of politics, were so intent to bring Trump down, they did whatever it took legal or illegal, and shut down any protests. Particularly they did not want any investigation of any voting irregularities.

    One thing that resonates throughout the Bible is justice. In the old Testament it was the Commandment ‘you shall not steal’. Jesus was very much against the Pharisees and their ‘stealing’ from the poor, the widows and orphans.

    Rather than berate the protestors, listen to their pleas. Demand that the voting system be overhauled, with a Federal standard, that cannot be rigged or manipulated.

    As Christians we must stand for the highest of honesty and integrity at all levels of government. Then people will trust their governments and won’t feel the frustration that creates enmity and disorder in the community.

    John from Australia

    • James on January 7, 2021 at 7:43 pm

      I wrote a long response to this post but never sent it.

      • Karyn on January 7, 2021 at 8:31 pm

        Winner.

      • Calum Lindsay on January 8, 2021 at 10:50 am

        This made me laugh out loud! Best comment 🙂

    • Richard Fowler on January 7, 2021 at 7:52 pm

      John, I appreciate your understanding of the voting system in the U. S. I was very comfortable and trusting of the voting that took place in November. The early voting and the process of mailing in my ballot made it convenient and safe from a health and secure perspective. In addition, I saw many safeguards that were in place to make sure my vote was not only counted but omly counted once. The issues that many were told via conspiracies and theories were tested by multiply recounts. Nothing was found. Over 60 court suits were rejected that wanted not to show evidence but just to discard votes that were suspicious without any evidence. The continuous effort of our current president to foment hatred (with words) and to instigate distrust in our systems only for his personal benefit (again with words) has done a great deal to destroy our nation. Sure enough, words over these last 5 years have hurt much potential for moving to the level of Christ-likeness we propose striving for.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:06 pm

        Richard and James, thanks the replies. I have nothing more to add.

      • Mark on January 8, 2021 at 9:48 am

        At any time, there are many laws that need fixing and updating. What happened to working peacefully with elected officials to update those? Sure, laws do become out of date as technology proceeds quickly. Security threats change every day. Let’s be reasonable and fix these even if elections are under state Control.

    • Kathe Wood on January 8, 2021 at 12:30 pm

      Yes! Thank you So well said

  11. Christopher White on January 7, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    Words indeed have power, “In the beginning was the Word” launches the gospel of John, attesting to that. There are two types of power that comes from words: the words spoken and the words left unspoken. Dr King said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
    After yesterday the church cannot remain silent. To do so is like refusing to acknowledge race after the death of George Floyd. To be silent this Sunday, to choose not to speak on this is as damaging and destructive as any words that could be spoken on the events of this week.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:12 pm

      Praying for you and many other Christopher.

      • CHRISTOPHER WHITE on January 7, 2021 at 11:55 pm

        Thank you Carey and also praying for you and the church.

  12. Mavis Miller on January 7, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    Thank you for helping us as church leaders to grapple with the awful situation that occurred yesterday as well as the general decline of our society, Carey. It is so disappointing and even shameful for our country that we find ourselves in this mess; and it’s terribly hard to see our children and grandchildren “learning” (from the media coverage) that this is what to do when we disagree. I appreciate learning how Lincoln handled his frustrations and being reminded of King David’s laments which always ended with a determination to praise God. Your experience and wisdom are insightful and invaluable assets to many!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:07 pm

      Thank you Mavis. I’m learning a lot from Lincoln and David.

    • Charlie Glover on January 9, 2021 at 7:35 am

      Mavis, I agree; what happened to respect and integrity? Our political system is broken, and seems to be based on self-centered agendas, more than the needs of its citizens.
      And, what is this doing to our children? Adults, who lie, cheat, and seem to do anything to get their way, are poisoning their minds, and ours also! The Bible warns us that love of others would grow cold, but the answer is to love like Jesus; love your enemies, those opposed to Christian values.
      I can be a hothead like Peter, able to remove an ear with my words; no sword needed. I am mentoring men, young and older, and I teach them to remove themselves from a situation rather than fight and argue; even if they think/ know they are right. Many have come back to say this changed their life. A colleague of mine said, “once words, said in anger, are spoken, you cannot take them back”. He is not a Christian, but has learned self-control. I am a work in progress, as we all are… sanctification, a lifelong process of becoming more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit power to bite my tongue, to walk away, to vent to a trusted friend, rather than lash out with words/actions. Hurting others makes one feel good for a few fleeting moments, but respect for you is lost, sometimes forever hurting someone. Apologize, ask forgiveness, but there is no guarantee of reconciliation. Jesus forgives my confession and I learn from mistakes and grow.
      When my children were in middle school, they each had situations where they were wronged; “that’s not fair!” They exclaimed. I agreed, and acknowledged their pain, and then explained that life is not fair; Jesus teaches us this. We must teach others to hold their tongues, to love well, to walk away or as Carey shared, write ‘hot letters’ we don’t send. My wife is my sounding board, where most of my frustration and discouragement is shared. And then we pray to Jesus, our perfect leader. May the Lord help us to be compassionate leaders, and give us all wisdom. Amen.

  13. Lizzie Febres on January 7, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    Praise the Lord! Finally, something worth sharing on my social! A mentor shared one of your post a while back & as I read more I’m learning more about the important responsibility in leadership! I am a younger leader but, I absolutely refuse to conform to the ways of our current culture. Looking forward to God using us all to reform an alternative culture! That above mentioned quote is a quote I will echo!
    Blessing ,

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:08 pm

      Lizzie great to meet you. Stay encouraged. Be encouraged. Thanks for being a positive voice and force.

  14. Negative Nancy on January 7, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    If you keep underestimating the 20somthings ability to think for themselves, they will simply stop going to your churches…. Oh wait….

    • Duane Coller on January 7, 2021 at 3:33 pm

      I can only guess where that is intended to take our thinking…..they have already stopped. ?? The 20-somethings do have some challenges to their thinking that a generation or two before them did not have. What about considering the reason they have stopped going to church is that they have been raised in a culture that has nearly deified their youth and their ability to think for themselves. They would be greatly helped as would the world they will be shaping if they were to recognize the wisdom that comes from experience and the knowledge of accurate history. It’s no wonder that those whose agenda is to destroy our culture and construct a brave new world have made historic and religious revisionism one of their primary weapons to make young people pawns in their schemes. Granted, not all people in any age category have drunk the kool-aid, but we have all been exposed to it and had some of it given to us intravenously as it were through manipulative news media and entertainment mediums. Far from being passe’, the ancient book of Proverbs is perhaps a more needed antidote to much contemporary thinking than at any time in history. The old and young have always needed each other, and either alienating other would be is a big mistake.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:08 pm

      Ha ha…There’s truth in that.

  15. Kathe Wood on January 7, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    What is very upsetting to me is that there is no longer healthy dialogue. Half of the people in this country feel that they have not been heard, and it is only getting worse. 95% of media is liberal and to hold a conservative viewpoint or to share a conservative viewpoint is no longer respected or valid. Conservatives are not even allowed on college campuses and are shut down in any social media venue., so there is no way now to have discourse. I have talked with so many young college students who are so discouraged at this election and the legitimate claims of voter fraud …. who are strong Christians and who feel so defeated by how very few of their peers hold their same values. They are very disheartened and discouraged. There are very few leaders who are speaking to this group, and my heart is to somehow encourage them.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:10 pm

      Kathe I would encourage you to rethink that and look a little more deeply. There is meaningful dialogue from a variety of perspectives. Also, Christian values do not equal political leanings. I hear your heart from them…and I’m glad you want to stand with them.

    • Mark on January 8, 2021 at 9:56 am

      Dialog is almost forbidden. The opposition has been branded as the enemy. This Is tragic. Extremists have converted people to their position and the moderates are treated as pariahs who should be eliminated at all cost. Reasonable Conservatives and liberals that I know are both are appalled over Wednesday’s events. However, When I was in college, no elected leaders spoke to us. We had no opportunity to ask questions or express disagreement. I can’t say this led to today’s polarisation, but it likely helped it progress.

  16. Tim Sprankle on January 7, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    This was timely, helpful, and great. Thanks. When I read, “No neutral words,” it made me wonder about “Unspoken words.” This is not the same as a “Hot Letter” (great illustration), but how as a leader in the swell of social media, I feel compelled to have an opinion or add my spin on everything, so, in the very least, my congregation knows I think about these things, but more importantly, that I offer biblically informed convictions. The problem is, often cannot come up with a well-crafted, nuanced thought before the NEXT racial, political, gender event creates a stir. In my inability to keep up, I don’t always speak up. This is certainly a challenge in our age. I know you appreciate nuance, so I thought I would share.

    • Mike on January 7, 2021 at 2:02 pm

      As a leader in a Church, I TOTALLY relate to this. People are upset when you speak out, and upset when you don’t speak. The trouble is, I have no idea what to say. There are no magic words. I mostly preach expository through sections of the Bible, and this is the only true Word I can speak with authority because it is His authority. I am not an authority on these other issues, so it is so hard to know what to say. To process through something only leads to more that needs to be said, and then the next big thing happens… I’m thankful for Carey and this article. It seems to be speaking or at least pointing towards speaking in a way that is actually helpful.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 8:11 pm

        Tim and Mike…thanks for these comments and I’ll echo that. I don’t speak up on every issue and every topic. It’s not helpful.. When I have something I think can help move things forward, I will. That’s why I tackled yesterday not by dealing with yesterday, but what I perceive as some of the issues underneath it. That can often work.

  17. Moses mbuga ssemanda on January 7, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing the truth that words shape the world we live in.
    I am leader, I am responsible for every word. This has impacted mylife more than any message I have ever heard in my life time.
    I can not thank you enough for helping us.
    May the almighty God give you more insight in taking us deeper in the power of words.
    Much prayers for wisdom and revelation knowledge.
    Moses

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:05 pm

      Moses. Thank you for these wonderful words.

  18. Viki Stumbers on January 7, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. Sharing with my leadership team.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:51 pm

      Hope it helps.

  19. Leonard Edloe on January 7, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    I pray that you will read the book, How to Fight Racism, Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice. Christianity has played a major role in racism in the United States and the hate and violence you saw yesterday is a result of the browning of this nation that has many feeling that they have lost power. Consider after reading interviewing Jemar Tisby who wrote this book and the Color of Compromise. Time for those like yourself who influence so many to call for change.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:53 pm

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I agree that Christianity has been a major culprit in racism. I can understand you haven’t listened to or read all my content, but I assure you it’s a cause I’m committed to and am doing work in the cause and toward the cause.

  20. Tim on January 7, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for posting! Our pastor has been sharing your blog posts for the better part of 2020 now, and there have been many great insights. Today’s was particularly timely and necessary.

    I shared this on Facebook today and included this little blurb: “Let’s remember to watch our words, and to keep our hearts right, since ‘..out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45). If we find ourselves constantly struggling with our words, it’s a sign that our hearts need some work.”

    Quick typo alert: In the 3rd section (3. Remember That Word Issues are Heart Issues), the actual text is right, but the “click to tweet” section says, “Word issues are heart issues. The only WANT to really fix your words is to fix your heart.” Just fyi..

    And thanks again!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:55 pm

      Tim thanks for sharing and thanks for catching that typo. We all missed it. Fixed.

  21. CHIP ORBEN on January 7, 2021 at 12:16 pm

    Your recent article on impact of words was shared with me. Many thanks, an excellent resource and cause for reflection and action.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:55 pm

      Thank you Chip.

  22. Karyn Custer-Jankowski on January 7, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    I am grateful to my co-worker for sending me this much needed blog post, Carey. I look forward to reading and being enlightened by more in the future – but this today… this was sorely needed! Thank you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:56 pm

      Thanks Karyn. I needed to remind myself too.

  23. Dean Draddy on January 7, 2021 at 12:10 pm

    I had never considered David’s writings in the most read book as being non-public, but you’re exactly right and that is a good perspective to bring. I’m reminded of one of your recent podcast guests when asked (paraphrasing) ‘how soon should I share about this experience’, their answer was ‘only after you’ve had time to mature and have gained helpful wisdom from it’.

    Regarding that leader’s have 800 lb words, as an Enneagram 9, I will be inclined to use that as an excuse to not say anything at all. ‘The team is struggling but my words are too heavy, so I will stay out of it.’ That is also not helpful, and not leading. You’re not saying don’t speak at all, rather consider your words before you speak. Thanks for your advice, it is helpful!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:56 pm

      Dean…grateful for your reply. Great point about Enneagram 9s. Never thought of that.

  24. Connor Guerzini on January 7, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    As a pastor and leader, I really loathe writing posts on things like what happened at the Capitol… and yet I spoke out against the people who were claiming a Jesus that is not found in the Gospels. I was surprised by how much the congregation I serve shared this so that other people can see it, to the point that I don’t even know the people that have been sharing it all across the country. Words really do matter, and they also matter when you don’t use them at all.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:57 pm

      Social media is such an interesting double-edged sword Connor. Thanks for using it for good.

  25. David M Johnson on January 7, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks, Carey. every time I’m tempted to vent about how Presidents (both parties!) or other leaders disappoint me, I remember, “I have a KING. He never disappoints.” It’s my “eternal perspective” thought. Peace, everyone. He’s still King!

  26. Martin Schminkey on January 7, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    Jesus said wide is the path to destruction could it be extreme left to extreme right…narrow is in the middle.
    Your words today are true, helpful, and very practical. My wife reminds me often ” not every opinion needs voiced ” sometimes I think I hear the Holy Spirit say to me just shut up. We for get how much our words matter thank you for this life giving reminder

  27. Kenneth R Woolf on January 7, 2021 at 11:54 am

    I can’t tell you, well maybe you know, how much I needed this today! Thank you Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:58 pm

      Thankful it helped Kenneth.

  28. Nate on January 7, 2021 at 11:49 am

    I cried at the office yesterday as I watched our capitol be attacked. I wasn’t shocked but I was upset and scared. What hurt the most is seeing these people who claimed to be Jesus followers destroying our very capitol and hanging a sign that said “Jesus 2020” while committing such an act. I have seen this coming for years based upon the rhetoric of those in leadership (both in gov and in the church). I have watched some church leaders support and praise the damaging rhetoric while others stayed silent in fear of offending and losing attenders. We as church leaders have to speak up in love, grace and forgiveness just like Jesus did. If we can’t do that as church leaders then we really aren’t truly emulating Jesus Christ. We must do better. WE MUST BE BETTER!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 12:59 pm

      Nate…I feel the sadness too. And yes, this has been predictable for years…a worst or near-worst case outcome, but I think doing better will result in us getting better. Thank you.

  29. Brenda Bowman on January 7, 2021 at 11:47 am

    I needed to hear these words today! So glad you were inspired to share them.
    One of the things that has kept me from saying very much publically about politics and even world events has to do with your statement: “Fast forward to the last decade, when all of a sudden billions of us have access to information and knowledge at a level never known to humanity, and yet lack the wisdom to know what to do with it.” Even with the enormous amount of info we do have access to, it is still only a thimble full. Some of the info is not correct or partially right or incomplete. Much of the info is not from first-hand knowledge, a wee bit more might come from trusted second-hand knowledge, but the majority comes from sources that may or may not have it right either. In many ways, the internet has given us a false sense of knowledge. I am humbled daily by how little I know, and grateful that I belong to the One who knows it ALL!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:00 pm

      Brenda I hear you. Reading widely and not just what the algorithm suggests you should read is a good starting point.

      I’ve also found that listening the recommendations of friends and mentors I respect to be a good source of suggested reading.

  30. Pauline Duncan-Thrasher on January 7, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Appreciating your message about the Power of Words , and the enormous impact we each have as leaders . Your wise advice will do a lot to help readers to pause and reflect on their words in this time of challenge. Thank-you for sharing. Positively, Pauline Duncan-Thrasher Unity of London Ontario , Canada

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:00 pm

      Thank you so much Pauline. Love London. 🙂

  31. Anna Fillgrove on January 7, 2021 at 11:37 am

    So many times I fail. So many times He forgives.
    And so I begin again to speak only life-giving encouragement, to let no corrupting talk come out of my mouth, to judge not, to put away anger and slander…and then to think about what is true and honorable and pure, so that what is in my heart comes out of my mouth with beauty instead of regret.
    As always, thank you for your helpful wisdom, perspective, and inspiration, Carey.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:00 pm

      It’s a journey. 🙂

  32. Levi Ketelsen on January 7, 2021 at 11:35 am

    Thank you Carey, for your insight and care for us… I appreciate your vulnerability and the way you measure your words. I learn something every time I read your words and listen to your words on your podcast. Your words have definitely shaped my world and the world I’m shaping for others to thrive in. Keep sharing what God gives you! Our broken world needs God’s words speaking through you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:01 pm

      Thank you Levi. Really appreciate your kind words and encouragement.

  33. Anne on January 7, 2021 at 11:27 am

    What struck me this morning is my own sin grieves the heart of God in the same way the actions of others grieved our nation yesterday. So before I judge others with my thoughts and words, I must look at my own heart, my own grievous sin. Also saw a post that encouraged us not to let satan be satisfied by our words of judgment and discension, but to use words to bring glory to the King even in chaos.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:02 pm

      That is so deeply true Anne. If we could all remember to confess our own sin.

  34. Rebecca on January 7, 2021 at 11:26 am

    This may be ‘an ostrich in the sand’ thought, but I find that staying away from commenting in social media of any kind while blocking those who make inflammatory posts helps to keep me more focused and trusting that God has it all under control. Our time here on earth is exceedingly short when compared to eternity, and so not indulging in wanting to know every little detail and trying to determine the truthfulness of every post has freed me to be committed to God’s eternal vantage point of both current events and my part in them. (Of course this comment is the exception to my ‘no commenting rule’!)

    May the Lord bless you, Carey, for your continued commitment to equip leaders full of equal measures of Biblical truth and practical applications.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:02 pm

      It’s not an ostrich in the sand approach to me. It’s wisdom. Curating your sources (diversely) is a wise practice.

  35. Lawana Maxwell on January 7, 2021 at 11:20 am

    This is a subject that is SO needed, and rarely addressed. Thank you for all the powerful truths here and for your transparency! These are things we should know, we do know, but we forget. The tongue, the heart, the mind – all connected. If there is a bright spot in all this, it’s that what an opportunity we have at this very moment to be a beacon in the midst of the storm. Thank you, Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you Lawana.

  36. Anne Wing on January 7, 2021 at 11:17 am

    Grateful for you!
    I have been subscribed to you for the last couple years, ever since I stepped into a leadership role at my parish.
    You have inspired me to be the best I can be with your knowledge and clear insight. I needed to hear today’s post LOUD AND CLEAR!
    Praying God continues to bless you with your many gifts.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:03 pm

      So glad it’s been a help Anne. Cheering for you.

  37. Mike on January 7, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Thank you for this Carey. As I struggle to put into words a statement on behalf of our ministry this is an extremely helpful reminder that I am not just making an obligatory response to the situation. Praying for just the right words to guide our church.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:03 pm

      That’s a great prayer Mike.

  38. Anton Lim on January 7, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Thank you Carey. Interesting, I gravitated to reading this through the lens of being a parent, which was way more personal and challenging. As I as a father to 3 young boys I am called and responsible to raise them and LEAD them. So thank you for challenging me to pause, reflect upon the impact and power of my words, and my tone.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:04 pm

      You know Anton…I had the same thought. This is as much about the world we’re creating for our kids as it is about our world. Thanks friend.

  39. Rev. Michael B. Coats on January 7, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Thank you, Carey. I am going through a difficult time with the churches I serve right now. The thing that most helps me is taking my time to respond to criticism. I find that if I respond quickly, I am more apt to say something regrettable. Thanks again for this post. Your wisdom is always a blessing. Thank you for being part of the solution. May God continue to bless you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 1:05 pm

      So many good things come out of pausing, praying and a good night’s sleep. Reply the next day, not today.

  40. Prince Altom on January 7, 2021 at 11:07 am

    I was waiting this morning for one of our mentor/leaders to comment appropriately on
    the horror of yesterday. Thanks for being here for us this morning with wisdom,
    insight, and transparency.

  41. Rachel on January 7, 2021 at 11:06 am

    Thanks, Carey. I was just sharing with a staff member about this exact thought. The weight of leader’s words carries further than we can imagine. We must guard our words until we can frame them well. Words to heal are needed. Thank you for putting into words my thoughts this morning also. God is still in control.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:07 am

      So glad it was helpful Rachel. Thanks for your leadership!

  42. Andrew on January 7, 2021 at 11:04 am

    Psalm 55 has been my ‘home base’ for much of the last year, and it seems particularly apropos here.

    For it is not an enemy who taunts me – then I could bear it;
    It is not an adversary who deals insolently with me – then I could hide from him.
    But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
    We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God’s house we walked in the throng.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:06 am

      Andrew…so many of the Psalms are laments. It’s the hot letter principle at work. Thanks for sharing this.

  43. Rebecca Hamilton on January 7, 2021 at 11:02 am

    I truly appreciate your understanding of the year passed and this new one. Words are a Blessing or a curse.
    Thank you very much for your insight.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:06 am

      Thank you Rebecca. The OT gets me every time on that issue.

  44. Nadia on January 7, 2021 at 10:58 am

    Thank you so much Carey! I was without words (which says a lot for a pastor) as I watched the live feed from the Capitol last night. My first thought was, “How am I going to speak into this crazy on Sunday?” I had to stop and really pray about what I posted on FB and even had my husband read it over and we discussed it before going forward. It was a call to prayer because that’s all I knew to say that couldn’t be taken as “Right/Left; us/them”.
    Silence first, prayer for wisdom second, action after guidance.
    Thank you!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:05 am

      Nadia…it is a little surreal, isn’t it? I think pausing is a huge key. And as you know as a pastor, sometimes it’s just hard to know what to say. In this post, I tried to speak to the issue by getting under to find a deeper issue. I find that often helps in preaching too. What’s really going on here? Ah…it might be this. That kind of thing.

  45. Jane Larsen on January 7, 2021 at 10:55 am

    Thank you. Thank you for gently, humbly sharing from your own experience. Thank you for pointing us to the Lord and to Scripture.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:03 am

      Thank you Jane. I hope and pray it helps.

  46. David on January 7, 2021 at 10:54 am

    Very good. I know I need to apologize for some knee jerk reactions (or built up feelings).

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 10:59 am

      Hey David…thanks for sharing that. I’ll bet that will help more than you think. I’ve done that so often…and ashamed I’ve had to do it.

  47. DDS on January 7, 2021 at 10:51 am

    “I’ve seen people whose lives have changed direction because someone told them they didn’t have what it takes, so they stopped acting like they did.”

    I wonder how many people took destructive action yesterday because someone told them they have what it takes to make a difference. And I can’t help but think of how much good that energy and commitment could have done instead, if it had been named and channeled well.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 10:59 am

      I hear you DDS. It works both ways. You can incite evil as well as discouraged good with your words.

  48. Heather Bell-Williams on January 7, 2021 at 10:51 am

    Oh my……8w7 here and I know I can “win” with my words! When I’m spirit-controlled, I keep my angry thoughts to myself – and then have to work hard at not being mad at others who are putting up with things that I perceive to be wrong …..it’s a vicious cycle that requires second to second submission to the Holy Spirit……

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:00 am

      Great insight Heather. As my much gentler wife reminds me, when “I” win, “we” lose. So true.

  49. Debbie G on January 7, 2021 at 10:51 am

    Thank you Carey for clearly articulating the wisdom we desperately need to hear in the middle of being pressed down and overwhelmed by extremist opinions all around. The Word of God, enlightened by His Spirit, must be proclaimed in our attitudes and actions.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:00 am

      Thanks Debbie. Hope and pray it helps.

  50. David M Johnson on January 7, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Great post, Carey! For me, one of the things I’ve been trying to do–and to encourage our church to do–is to remind ourselves that we are “aliens and strangers here” and are “longing for a better country–a heavenly one.” (Hebrews 11:13,16). We are citizens of heaven (by God’s grace) first; everything else second. If we can learn to live (and tweet, and post, and speak) that way, God will give us wisdom…BEFORE we speak.

  51. Pastor Rebecca Heber on January 7, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Timely and well said. Thank you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:03 am

      Thank you so much Rebecca.

  52. Gwen on January 7, 2021 at 10:49 am

    Thanks Carey. You are a wise voice, one backed by experience, and humbly shared. May God continue to give you all that you need to do what he has called you to do.

    Blessings.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 7, 2021 at 11:03 am

      That’s very kind Gwen. Thank you.

  53. Darrell Zimmerman on January 7, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Thanks, Carey. every time I’m tempted to vent about how Presidents (both parties!) or other leaders disappoint me, I remember, “I have a KING. He never disappoints.” It’s my “eternal perspective” thought. Peace, everyone. He’s still King!

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