Mixed Up Messages

Posted on May 26, 2013

I think a lot these days about how things get messed up. You know, messed up. Things that seem to start out so clear and wonderful, and for some reason or reasons can end up so distorted and confused. And by “things” I mean anything as simple as a discussion between a husband and a wife, all the way through something as important and global as the transmission of Jesus’ mission and message throughout the generations.

Amazingly, I believe two simple distinctions could make all the difference in the world, in keeping the clear and wonderful, clear.  And Wonderful.

The first distinction would be to become aware of, and operate clearly in the difference between content and process. Another way to describe this distinction is the difference between what is said, and the way things are said. Oh that every spouse and preacher could get this difference clearly in mind.

This is so important because when the “way” and the “what” are not congruent, the “way” always becomes the message. Let me illustrate.

Regardless of the words spoken (the content), when the tone, posture, and facial expressions, all convey anger, “anger” becomes the message. What you say, matters less than the way you say it. If you say in a dispassionate or disconnected way, how passionate and connected you are, the “way”, the method, becomes the message.

Let me repeat, any time the method and the message are incongruent, the method becomes the message.

The second distinction is just as important.

Once we recognize the difference between content and process, we must also recognize that a process intended for one thing cannot necessarily achieve some other process oriented outcome.

A process intended to educate the mind, is not likely to transform the heart. When we confuse the purpose of a given process, we may use the wrong process for a given intent, and then wonder why it did not work out the way we expected.

I fear this is most clearly illustrated in the generational process of our faith.

Jesus handed the human race a process to know God. We hand one another processes to know about God. These two different processes have muddied more than one stream.  We wonder why our processes over the years have not produced disciples. But if we examine closely, we may discover that the processes we employ are specifically designed to produce students, and therefore the likelihood of producing disciples is slim.

If we could step back and make two simple distinctions in all of our communication and relationships, I believe a number of clear and wonderful things could remain and even grow in their clarity and wonderful-ness. If we could recognize that the way we say something matters more than what we say, our communication would take huge leaps in effectiveness.

Just as important, if we could recognize that a process designed to achieve any one thing cannot be generalized to other outcomes, we would find that our relationships and the transmission of our faith and values would become far more effective. Intentionality about our process will make us much more effective in truly producing that which is in our hearts to produce. It is important to examine whether or not the process you have committed to will actually achieve the end you have in mind.

Something about the way Jesus conducted Himself with people opened the door to every “what” that He had to say. And Jesus understood that the same process for confronting the sin of the Pharisees would be completely ineffective in confronting the sin of a prostitute.  Learn not just the power of your words, but also learn the power of the Way.


  • Priscilla

    You say “Jesus handed the human race a process to know God. We hand one another processes to know about God. These two different processes have muddied more than one stream. We wonder why our processes over the years have not produced disciples. But if we examine closely, we may discover that the processes we employ are specifically designed to produce students, and therefore the likelihood of producing disciples is slim.” Lots to think about here. So I’m really a beginner at this, at least I feel like I am, so how do we approach this issue for the outcome we want, that is, “producing disciples”? I’m better at producing students.:(

  • Robert Paul Scott

    Wow, Bob! Reading this at 5 AM really made my brain and my heart wake up.

  • William Mulgrew Sr

    As the psalmist writes:

    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

  • Basil

    That was the part that caught my attention most too, Priscilla. I’d be interested to know Bob’s response. When I read it, I thought of the “doing” aspect of Christianity — that being a follower of the Way changes how I chose to get up in the morning, the decisions I make during the day, what I do before I go to bed. How I order my life.

    I’m especially focused on”generational transmission,” because I’m a new mom. I’m looking for ways to get my daughter involved in serving someday, in doing things that matter, in trusting God and learning to hear his voice, so that Christianity becomes an experience and not a philosophy. (She’s eight months old right now, so we’re mostly working on sitting upright unaided.)

    My Bible study just finished Tim Kimmel’s “Grace Based Parenting,” and he centers on the idea that we are all born with the need for security, significance and strength; or put another way, love, purpose and hope. I think Christian homes sometimes trade purpose and significance for a sort of sheltered, overprotective security. Going back to what Bob wrote, a student is sure “safer” than an explorer, an adventurer, a kid learning to trust Aslan — “Safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe! But he’s good.”