the baby and the bathwater

The Message
April 23, 2009, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

We Christians are the worst at assuming that people will hear what we think we have communicated. We just can’t get our heads around the fact that ‘the message’ is what is heard, not what is spoken. What people perceive to have been spoken is just as important as the truth of what actually was spoken, maybe more so.

Can you remember the Edwina Curry affair? Not the John Major thing, but the egg thing. What she communicated (‘most egg production is contaminated with Salmonella’) was factual and it was actually something not to be worried about. But what was heard was very different. What was heard was that people were about to get ill or die because they ate eggs. The message heard was very different to the message spoken. It was a disaster. Perception was more powerful than the truth.

We Christians may believe we have the truth (which of course we do). But that is not enough. To communicate that truth effectively we also need to understand what people perceive about us.

When a church produces a cheap photocopied magazine full of clip art, it may contain the truth, it may have been prepared with integrity and honesty, it may even be very real to those who produced it. But, whilst all those things are important, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: ‘when people look at it, what is the message they are getting?’ And in my mind, the message they will be getting will probably be something like: out of touch; uncreative; old-fashioned; detached from reality; irrelevant.

When a church pastor stands up to speak and uses the King James version of the bible, preaches for an hour in a monotone voice, and uses language that Wesley would have used, whilst the people listening sit on pews that would make even the most ample bottom start to ache, he may be preaching awesome truths, life changing realities, with utmost diligence and theological soundness. But the question that he or she needs to ask is not so much what is being said, but what is being heard. And in my mind, the message being heard may well be: become a Christian and you too could become a boring old windbag with a sore rear end. OK, once again I’m being harsh. But only to prove a point.

No-one is suggesting that the truth isn’t important. Of course it is. We just need to be people that make that truth accessible. And that means we need to understand not only the truth that is spoken, but the perception of those who listen.


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