Not-so Hidden Messages (Colleen Derr)

Remember invisible ink? As a kid you could send hidden messages to your friends that others couldn’t see by writing them with this special, hidden-message pen. In theory, the hidden message was not visible until you wrote over it with the “message-revealing pen”. Of course the quality of the child’s toy and the lack of skill employed in attempting to create a hidden message actually created more of a “not-so hidden” message.

I wonder if our gatherings for the purpose of discipleship, worship, and fellowship contain some “not-so hidden” messages? Could it be that amid the intentionally orchestrated moments for instruction and formation we are communicating through unspoken sayings something that has far greater impact than our carefully planned orations? Messages that we didn’t intend to be hidden, messages that were not part of the planning process and were not intentionally deployed, but unintentional messages that to our people, to our congregants, and to our guests were actually not-so hidden; messages that are perhaps clearer and louder than the intended message.

There is this wonderful little video clip of Tim Hawkins (a Christian comedian) called “Hand Sanitizer” that depicts Tim as a church greeter. What he is saying sounds very warm and welcoming, and if you just listen to the audio you would think his message is exactly the kind you would want the greeters in your ministry to project. However if you watch the video as you listen, you get a completely different message, because while Tim is verbalizing a wonderfully passionate welcome, his actions in the over-use of hand sanitizer are screaming a completely different message (check it out at:

That video compels us to ask: What did they just “hear” spoken far louder than his words of welcome? Likewise we must ask ourselves if we are communicating some not-so hidden messages that may have a far greater impact than the intended one?

When your people gather together for small groups, corporate celebrations, Bible studies, or special events what is the intended message and what is really being communicated? Are they the same thing or are they different?

Reflect on your last corporate gathering.
What was the intended outcome? What message did you want the people to hear and what did you do intentionally to communicate that message?
Make a list of all those elements that were a part of your intentional planning.

Now reflect again and ask yourself: What unintentional messages did we send?
• What did we “say” through our actions, attitudes, and non-verbals?
• What did we teach by who was up front, who did the talking, and how they spoke? What gender, race, and generation were represented or not represented and what did that communicate?
• What did we “say” through our furniture, displays, visuals, and projected imagery?
• What did we “say” by the atmosphere, the temperature, the lighting, and the smells of the room?

How did the not-so hidden messages impact the intended one?

Keith Drury (2012) reminded us that “The Church Cannot Not Teach” (p. 245) suggesting that everything the church does teaches something and sometimes the unintentional, not-so hidden messages teach a great deal louder!

What do you intend to teach? And what are your unintentional, not-so hidden messages teaching?

In your prayerful planning be intentional even with the unintentional or as Oswald Chambers suggested, be “determinedly disciplined”.

In his devotional My Utmost for His Highest, Chambers (1995) urged readers to be “determinedly disciplined” and suggested that much of our Christian work is “instigated by [our] own human nature” and is created through “impulse” rather than through spiritually determined disciplined (September 9 reading). How do we work so that the unintentional conveys a message of grace, love, forgiveness, freedom, and welcome to all? We must be “determinedly disciplined” in our planning and assessment of our ministries, understanding that our people learn through more means than just their ears; we must also work to capture what they see, feel, smell, sense, taste, and touch – the not-so hidden messages – for the sake of the message and ultimately for the sake of the Kingdom.

2 Corinthians 10:5 –


Chambers, O. (1995). My utmost for his highest. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery      House.
Drury, K. (2012). “A Church Cannot Not Teach” in J. H. Aukerman (Ed.) Discipleship that transforms (pp. 245-256). Anderson, IN: Francis Asbury Press.

  • Safiyah Fosua

    Dr. Derr, thank you so much for this reminder. As a person often considered on the margin, I can testify that we on the margins usually trust nonverbal language and cues much more than we trust what is said. In my experience, the language of gestures, distance, time, power, and positioning and other things classified as “paralanguage” are much more powerful than words. Thanks again!