Gossip in the Church
The following is a bit of sermon that I cut out of a sermon that I’m not actually going to give, so I thought I’d share it here. It’s a bit of an expanded version of what I wrote a couple weeks ago.
Some of the most surprising things I have learned about myself have come from gossip. I have been very surprised to be told from people who don’t really know me, what I am for and what I am against. Unfortunately, I’ve also learned a lot about other people through gossip as well. However, all that I’ve learned through gossip has been wrong. Not only is gossip wrong but it is massively damaging to THE church and her witness.
In one community where I did ministry, I moved into town and was happily invited to a meal with another Christian in town. I thought this was great, because this fella told me that he wanted to bring me up to speed on some of the dynamics in the community which I thought was a fantastic thing. He proceeded to tell me who gets along and who doesn’t, he told me the history of the churches and the history of the divisions and spats that have happened in the community. I took this information and thought that I had been done a huge favour, this information, which would take me years to gather on my own, was just given to me in a moment. Being a bit younger, less experienced, and naive, I took that information and based a good part of the way I did ministry in the community on what this person had told me. After about a year, however, I slowly realized that this information was different to what I had been experiencing. I realized that the information that he had given me was not helpful, in fact, while his intentions were good, that information, which I come now to define as Gossip, was damaging to the relationships I would be able to form while in that community.
Even after realizing that what I had heard was not lining up with what I was experiencing, I found it hard to shake his words from my mind. Whenever I would come across some of the people he told me about. The words we spoke about other people became a permanent scratch on the lens by which I viewed those people, until my own experiences eventually formed the correct view. That is what Gossip does. It taints the way we view others and the experiences we have with others in a way that becomes very difficult to change.
This has huge implications on the Church. Proverbs 18 says that the “words of a whisperer are like a delicious morsel they go down to the deepest parts of the body”. Our sinful nature causes us to have a natural attraction to delicious morsels of misinformation. It is often our pride that is at play the most. Because when we hear about someone else’s failures it makes our own seem less significant. In fact, if we look at popular media including news media, most of what we hear, read, or see is just simple gossip. Shows like married at first sight give us the feeling that we know something about the people on the screen that the other people on the screen don’t know, and it gives us this limited sense of power. Crime dramas always separate us from the bad guy and make us relate to the good guy. It’s all about finding entertainment in the fall of others.
Gossip is a natural occurrence when we live out an incorrect view of the body of Christ and our purpose in the world. When we view the church as bunches of holy huddles, groups of individuals who gather in closed circles in the back of the Church unified by tastes, experiences, and appearances, who view themselves happily separate from the body, then the discussion will inevitably come about why some are in the circle and why some are not.
This is the extreme case, but there are times when this happens with good intentions. There is a movement in the Church calling people to form intentional communities, and these communities are invitation only groups of Christians who form very tight bonds, they do life together, go on holidays together, have play dates together, and the group is formed often around shared beliefs about lifestyle or age. Once, again, however, if the group is intentional about who is IN the group, then it will be intentional about who is OUT of the group. This conversation cannot happen without gossip.
This can even happen with entire Churches. When churches become competitive or insular they become a holy huddle in their own right. When they take the view that they are the only Church or the “best” Church this becomes a huge issue and is contrary to Biblical unity. Again, inevitably the conversation will happen about why attend this Church and not the other churches. Now when the issue is theological or when it pertains to issues of various styles or practices that is a Biblical reason to choose where to worship. The problem becomes when in order to learn about those things you rely on hear say only, or when the issues become personal. When the conversation sounds like “Hey, have you heard about that other Church, my friend used to go there and he say that those people are so….” you know what you are about to hear is Gossip.
What do we do about it?
1: Before we speak or before we listen to Gossip we ask “In light of Grace is what I am going to say or what I am hearing necessary? - We are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ. So the question to ask, is what you are saying or what you are listening to reflecting the light of Jesus who, while we were still sinners died for us.
2: Are we condemning ourselves by speaking or entertaining Gossip. Paul tells us in Galatians that if we condemn someone based on their disobeying the law, then we condemn ourselves based on that same law. Remembering what Paul said and the psalmist said, that “no one is righteous no not one” including you.
3: Are we building one another up in love. 1 Corinthians 11 says that each one of us, believers, are given a spiritual gift and put into the body of Christ for a reason. That reason is to build one another up into Christ. Are the words we are speaking and listening to building each other up, or tearing down. There are times when it is important to expose sin and call out false teaching, but in this case we call out the teaching and the mistaken theology, this is different from a personal attack on someone’s character.
4: Have you gone through the Biblical process? Jesus lays out a process, that we confront that person, then bring someone else, then bring the elders. If someone wrongs us, do they know that they have wronged us, have we spoken to them about it. The reality is that most gossip goes unheard by the person who may need to hear it. If you have a problem with someone and they’ve hurt you, the best person to talk to about it is that person, otherwise the issues never get resolved.
5: Is it just hear say? Do you consider listening when someone says “so and so told me about so and so and he/she is really….”. that should be a clue that what you are about to hear is “hear say” and “Gossip”. This is the point we walk away.
6: Are we glorifying God? One of the places that gossip in the Church happens most often is before and after worship. The little parking meetings and Holy Huddles. The question to ask, “what did you come to do?”. Did you come to worship God, or did you come to gripe about someone or something. If it is the later it would have been best, you not come at all. Why? Think about what your gripe has done to the person you have gripped to. They came to worship God, but you have taken their minds off God and put them onto your gripe.
7: Consider the Church for what it is. Unfortunately, a good deal of the gossip in the Church happens between places of worship against other places of worship. Remember that the Church is the entire body of Christ, all true believers no matter where they attend Church on a Sunday Morning. Remember that you are not in competition. What are you or people around you saying about the people of another Church? Is it true? Is it Helpful? It is also important to remember that those who leave another Church do so with hurts, while often these hurts are real, they may taint the way they look at that other group of people for many years to come. It’s up to you to try to look past the hurt to find the truth in love.
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