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By Jack Wellman

Gossip does more to destroy a church than just about anything else that I can think of.  What five ways can you use to help stop gossip in its track in your church?

1. Define what Gossip is

The first thing pastors should do is to remind people and define for people just what gossip is.  From the world’s standpoint, gossip is just as normal as surfing the Internet, having a cup of coffee in the morning, or sitting down to watch TV.  It happens in the break room, in the restaurant, and just about anywhere that there are people and this includes church.  The world sees no problem with gossip but God does.  Most people might think it’s “normal” but it is one of the worst things that can come out of a believer’s mouth.  To those who don’t know Christ they see nothing really wrong with it.  It’s just idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others and they believe it’s just what everybody does, however listen to this serious and very frightening warning given by Jesus about idle words in Matthew 12:36-37 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

Notice that Jesus wasn’t speaking only to believers in the passage above, but He insinuated that all “people will give an account” and it is not just those who aren’t Christian…he means Christians too!  That includes me and you.  It is every single word, carefully or carelessly spoken that we will be judged by or justified by.  No one is off the hook on this one.  The world might think it’s just idle talk but that is certainly not what God thinks about it.

What are some other ways that you can stop gossip before it starts or it its already been happening, how do you eliminate it?  Here are four other ideas on how to stop gossip, hopefully, dead in its tracks.

2. Speak about the Damage of Gossip in a Newsletter

I remember hearing some gossip in high school locker room about a girl that was “easy.”  I was not promiscuous like the other boys of my age so when I heard this gossip about a girl that I liked, I was angry and disappointed.  I don’t know if I was angrier at the guys or at the girl that I liked (if indeed it was true).  I later found out that she heard about this rumor and she ended up quitting school and I never heard from her again. I always wondered what happened to her.  Gossip hurt her deeply and it changed her entire future.  I also remember hearing about someone who committed suicide over something that started as gossip.  I don’t remember if it was true or not but the point is gossip can destroy people’s reputations, it can destroy people’s self-image, it can separate the best of friends, and it can destroy lives.  If your church publishes a weekly or monthly newsletter, I would certainly include something about gossip at least once in a while and how it wrecks people’s lives and how God feels about it.  James spoke about the tongue when he wrote that the “the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).  It takes only a tiny spark to burn an entire forest.  Maybe that’s what James was saying when he wrote that it can set “on fire the entire course of life” which it did to the girl I wrote about earlier.  It takes only one little word to create an enormous forest fire and it “is set ablaze by such a small fire!”

3. Preach the Destructiveness of Gossip

The pastor may be the last one to hear about gossip so I believe it is his job to preach a sermon about just how deadly gossip can be. If you don’t think gossip is serious, just see how Paul includes it in a group of detestable sins in 2 Corinthians 12:20 “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.”  Even in the Old Testament there were warnings from God to “not go around as a slanderer among your people” (Lev 19:16).  Did you catch that? Gossip is nothing less than slander and people are sued every day for that!  It is serious enough to be convicted of a crime in the courts of the world.  How much more serious then is it in the church? Does it really matter if it’s true or not when it hurts or destroys someone’s reputation (or worse, their life)?  If someone finds out you gossiped about them then they won’t trust you ever again and maybe the one you gossip too has even gossiped about you!  Proverbs 20:19 says “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets” will not be held guiltless by God.  The only reason gossip is gossip is because there is someone that listens to it.  Gossip needs at least one person for it to survive, so stop it in its tracks when you hear it. Put your hand up and say, “Hey, this sounds like it’s none of my business.  I don’t think I want to hear this.” That truly pleases God.  The proverb says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Prov 26:20).  That is, if there’s no one to throw any more wood on it, it goes out.  The analogy of fire is used once more because gossip, like fire, can destroy.  Stop feeding it and “it will eventually go out.”

4. Confirm the Source

Before I came into the ministry, I heard of a great way to stop gossip in its tracks.  Someone had heard something about someone and this is how the conversation went:

The Gossiper: “Hey, did you hear about so and so.  They did this and that….”

The Recipient:  “No, I had not heard that.  Say, let’s go over right now and talk to them about that.  Maybe we can help them.  Tell them what you heard and let’s see if we can talk to them about it to see if we can help.”

The Gossiper:  “No, no, I don’t think I’d like to do that at all.  I don’t want to embarrass them. It might not even be true.”

The Recipient: “Well, that’s a good point. Who did you hear this from?  If it’s not true we need to talk to your source.  Let’s go talk to them and see if all three of us can go together to the one who’s having the problem.  Who was it that told you that?  Can you tell me their name?  Then all three of us can go together and talk to them about this because it sound’s serious.”

The Gossiper:  “Well, I can’t remember who it was that told me that now” (convenient amnesia?).

The Recipient:   “Really!  You can’t remember who told you but you can remember everything else?  Then we should go to the pastor (or elder or a deacon) and talk to them about this.  This sounds like this person is spreading gossip about someone who they believe is doing some pretty bad things and I think they need to know about it.”

The Gossiper:  “No, maybe it’s not true anyway and I think it’s none of our business anyway” (exactly!).

The Recipient:  “Well, if I hear any more about this, I’ll come to you and maybe you can remember by then exactly who it was that told you and we can all get together and talk about this to the church leaders/pastors/deacon/elder.

Gulp!  By now, I think the gossiper is sweating profusely.  It’s amazing how this stopped the gossip right at the source.

5. Make Prayer Requests “Unspoken Needs”

Our church elder suggested once that we finally start making more of our prayer requests as “unspoken needs” if they were more of a personal nature.  We had a prayer chain once and it was amazing that by the time the prayer request went to the last person on the chain, it was more like gossip and the problem that they sought prayer for had worsened exponentially.  I like how we do it at our church.  Right after announcements, we have a “Praise and Prayers” for those who want to praise God for answered prayer and also we take prayer requests so that the whole congregation can pray for whomever is requesting the prayer and what they are requesting it for.  This lets everyone know about it all at once.  There is no worry that it will get blown out of proportion.  I encourage them to just say it as an “unspoken need” if they are concerned that it will be misconstrued by others and might increase the risk for it becoming gossip.

Conclusion

If gossip is a problem in your church, address it.  Every believer should “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up” (Eph 4:29). One of the six things that are an abomination to God is “a false witness who breathes out lies” (Prov 6:19) and it is breaking the Ninth Commandment.  God promises that “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy” (Psalm 101:5) but the listener is not guiltless either as God declares that “An evildoer listens to wicked lips” (Prov 17:4).  Gossip is not gossip without someone to listen to it so the person who listens to it is just as guilty as the one who is doing the gossip.   Stopping gossip is not easy but it is necessary to preserve the peace, unity, and holiness of the flock that you shepherd.

Here are some more tips from Jack: Great Sermon Illustrations on Grace

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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