Are You Sending Mixed Messages?

A year ago, I stood on the hillside known as the Mount of the Beatitudes where it is traditionally held that Jesus delivered his most famous sermon. There on the grounds was a small fountain, beside which stood a plaque proclaiming John 7:37:

Let anyone who thirst come to me and drink.

Between the plaque and the fountain was another small sign reading:

Water not for drink.

I had to snap a photo:

While hilarious (and also completely reasonable), this sign combo is sending some seriously mixed messages—not the least of which stems from the fact that John 7 is not part of the Sermon on the Mount.

It made me wonder if, or more likely how, we send mixed messages in the Church.

Come as you are!
But we won’t talk to you unless you look like us.

Bring your every need to Jesus.
But we won’t help if we think you’ll spend it on alcohol or drugs.

Salvation is by grace alone.
But here are 5 things you need to quit doing.

Singleness is a gift.
But next week we start our third marriage series of the year.

For God so loved the world…
Just not members of the other political party.

We love young people.
But we do what the major givers want us to do.

It won’t always be as easy to recognize as those two signs, and it certainly won’t be as funny. But to many people—especially those who are new to faith and/or church—it will stand out and may even cause confusion or concern.

Ask your staff, lay leadership, or outside observers to keep their eyes and ears open for them.

Ask people of different demographics since things like age, race, gender, and socioeconomic status affect how we hear and receive messages.

Look for them in all the ways your ministry communicates: institutional language, website/social media, sermons/topics, announcements, newsletters, meetings, etc.

And when you catch a mixed message, you not only have the opportunity to fix it, but you can explore why it happened in the first place. Was it just an error, or is it a sign of a lack of clarity within your theology or practice?

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