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The Medium is the Message

posted Mar 25, 2010, 7:04 AM by Dan Dunbar
I have a lot on my mind today that I could write about and I am not certain where writing this blog will take me, so be patient, dear reader, and come along with me as we discover where God directs my thoughts.

I had a lot of time to think while I was away in Hungary for two weeks. I was out of my familiar surroundings and away from the people I usually see, sleeping in hotel beds, eating different foods, observing different routines, and largely unconnected via phone or computer to my regular network of contacts. It was a time to read education books, listen to God as He spoke in the conference sessions, and make new connections with people that I either had not known before or had only a passing acquaintance with. I discovered that I am basically the same person no matter where I go, but time away with God showed me things about myself that I might never have realized if I had stayed home those two weeks.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was the power of modeling. No, not modeling in the Derek Zoolander/high fashion runway modeling sense of the word, but modeling in the role model sense - demonstrating through your own life what you hope to see in another's life. I re-read an old statistic about how people learn from us: only 5 - 10% of what people learn from us as people, whether we are pastors, teachers, parents, or simply friends, is from the meaning of the words we say; another 30 - 35% is learned from our tone of voice; and 60% is learned from our body language. How we say something, how we come across speaks more loudly than the actual words that we say. We like to tell people, "Do as I say, not as I do," but this flies in the face of reason. People learn more from what we do (what we model) than from what we say.

Jesus was the ultimate teacher because what he said and what he did were in perfect synchronization. He was the Word made flesh - the Living Word. He modeled all he said.

Our children, our students, our neighbors and friends and coworkers and relatives are watching our lives and learning something from us about what it means to be a parent, a learner, an adult, a Christian. I think that it is interesting that the King James version of the Bible uses the word "conversation" to mean lifestyle and "testimony" to mean more than the words a person says, but the witness of one's manner of life.

Educationally, this makes the person standing up in front of the classroom very important. If children learn by observing the conversation, the testimony, the deafening yet unspoken manner of life of the role model in the classroom, it is important that the teacher be a godly witness. Children notice everything. Within seconds of meeting me yesterday, one of Doug Janssen's daughters pointed out the Band Aid on the palm of my hand which I had forgotten was there. Children are curious about their teachers. When I speak in elementary chapel and allude to one of my own childhood misdeeds, the students clamor for me to tell them about bad thing I did. They hear all the things we teach them unintentionally, and forget much of what we teach them intentionally.

Marshall McLuhan famously said, "The medium IS the message," and this holds true all the more in the home, the church, and the classroom. A home where parents do not read sends the message, "Reading is unimportant or at least boring, because it has no place in everyday life in our home." A church where people do not love one another or honor the Word sends the message, "God is not a loving God and the Bible is not truth I need to live by." A classroom where a teacher arrives late, unprepared to teach, and without her papers corrected in a timely fashion sends the message, "If the teacher can be late, unprepared, and not have her homework done, why can't I?" 

We all need to be a little bit more like Jesus, don't we? He showed people the Way, the Truth, and the Life in all he said and did. "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."  It is what I want for my life - to be a model of what I hope to see in the lives of my teachers and students. Pray for me to that end and think about the messages you are sending, whether you do so consciously or not...