It knows NO boundaries; takes MANY victims, and not a single church standing on earth is immune from it. In my research and experience, it’s the ONE thing that can effortlessly interconnect (and oftentimes fuel the flames of) every other issue within a local church, and it oftentimes “slips in” unbeknownst to the leadership of the church (and sometimes within it). Sadly, most churches don’t have policies in place to combat it, and many don’t know how to pro-actively protect themselves from it’s destructiveness.
This church-dividing, community-destroying “sickness” of the church is not a disease…it’s not a bacteria…it’s not a virus that must run it’s course. There are no special wipes you can get to disinfect the gathering place from it. It’s no doubt the product of a fallen world, and there is no easy way to eradicate it. Furthermore, newly formed church plants are as easily effected as deeply-rooted century-old churches, so don’t think for a moment that your church is immune.
The issue I’m talking about is “Gossip”…. (talking about something/someone without confirming facts with the individual(s) or responsible parties involved).
Sadly, many Christians – especially new christians – don’t look for the heart of God in this matter. They don’t look at what His Word says about gossiping, because culturally speaking, it doesn’t seem inappropriate to a fallen world. So if you’re reaching the lost and discipling newly converted christians, be prepared to deal with gossip on a regular basis.
We live in a society that is fueled by gossip, and one which runs off of it each day. News Networks are devoted to it, making assumptions where no facts are presented, and stock markets are often greatly effected by it. There are magazines built on the very premise of Gossip, and culture has generally accepted the practice as “Normal”.
But as Christians, we’re not to look toward culture for answers on how we approach, respond to, and act on various things. If our hearts are truly regenerate, we’re to look deeply into the heart of God for our answers to every situation and every action, studying His word to grasp how He ultimately desires for us to live. And then, we respond to His sovereign rule of our lives with joyful obedience.
So what does God’s Word say about Gossip?
In one passage, we see the Apostle Paul discussing the wrath of God for the unrighteous and defiant, and in it, he lumps “Gossips” in with ruthless murderers and those who hate God. His words are clear:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:29-32 (ESV)
So “Gossip” in it’s truest form is clearly recognized as Sin in the bible, and something that comes from a heart that cares little for God’s righteous decree. Thereby, the practitioner rightly deserves the wrath of God. Paul continues in Romans 2 to explain what happens to those who “obey unrighteousness” (including gossips):
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil… – Romans 2:6-9(ESV)
Yes, Gossip is something God despises…it’s sinful, hurtful, and in no way productive in any instance. There is no reason for it; there is no true joy found in it, and those who practice it (even in the lightest forms; even in ignorance of scripture) should be quickly called to repentance.
So….how can I protect my church?
Countering or combatting the spread of Gossip in the church is difficult, but with the grace and mercy of God, it can be effectively handled and be a redemptive and sanctifying process. General policies and teaching are essential, however it shouldn’t stop there. As a good friend of mine pointed out to me years ago, “The best way to combat Gossip in the church is to develop a culture where gossip will die….where is extremely uncomfortable to anyone who attempts to practice it.” You see, gossip feeds on itself. It’s sustained by distribution, and it only thrives when it’s shared. It will die if it doesn’t get passed around, so if we’re going to attack it at it’s weakest point, we have to destroy the distribution of it.
Developing such a culture is difficult and initially quite time consuming, but I would venture to say that it’s far less time consuming over the long haul than dealing with the effects and fallout that active gossip produces through the years. Furthermore, it is greatly needed in order to help the members continue to sanctify each other – helping each other to become more Christlike.
Such development involves one-one-one discussions with those who are seen as lay-leaders within the church (those in whom others look up to for spiritual guidance when pastors are not available) – recruiting them to be on “lookout” for such practices. It involves being stern and strict (in a loving and graceful manor) when others begin a conversation that falls into the category of gossip – calling them to repentance and instructing them on the teaching of God’s word. It involves lovingly asking those in whom you graciously correct to be “cultural changers” in the area of gossip in the church – since one who practices such actions usually do so because they are most often the recipient of such actions. Also, since most gossip is constructed on the grounds of disagreement or disappointment, instruct your members to take any and all disagreements or disappointments to the responsible party, and to discuss it with purely redemptive motives – in a spirit of “building each other up” (see Matthew 5).
Finally, don’t leave out the glorious Gospel in such efforts to eradicate gossip, as it’s through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross that the sin of gossiping has been atoned for. It’s important for us to know that forgiveness is freely given for those who have practiced such sin – just like every other sin – and we need a consistent reminder of that quite often.