Feb

12

2013

Justin Taylor|10:03 am CT

How to Stop Church-Killing Gossip

Kent Hughes:

Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face.

Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.

Here are some wise words from Dan Phillips for when you hear gossip from someone:

  1. Ask, “Why are you telling me this?” Often, that in itself is such a focusing question that it can bring an end to the whole unpleasant chapter. It has the added benefit that it can help a person whose intentions are as good as his/her judgment is bad.
  2. Ask, “What’s the difference between what you’re telling me and gossip?” See above; same effect, same potential benefits.
  3. Ask, “How is your telling me that thought, that complaint, that information going to help you and me love God and our brothers better, and knit us closer together as a church in Christ’s love?” Isn’t that the goal we should share, every one of us? Won’t it take the working of each individual member (Eph. 4:16)? Isn’t the watch-out for harmful influences an every-member ministry (Heb. 3:12-13; 10:24; 13:12-15)?
  4. Ask, “Now that you’ve told me about that, what are you going to do about it?” While the previous two are subjective, this is not. If neither of the previous two questions succeeded in identifying gossip/whispering/sowing-dissension for what they are, the answer to this question will do so. Tip: if the answer is “Pray,” a good response might be “Then why didn’t you do that and leave it there in the first place?”
  5. Say, “Now that you’ve told me about that, you’ve morally obligated me to make sure you talk to ____ about it. How long do you think you need, so I can know when this becomes a sin that I will need to confront in you?” The least that this will accomplish is that you’ll fall off the list of gossips’/whisperers’ favorite venting-spots. The most is that you may head off a church split, division, harmed souls, sidelined Gospel ministry, and waylaid discipleship. Isn’t that worth it?

You can read the whole thing here.

Ray Ortlund explains what gossip is and why it is sinfully enticing:

Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification.

Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments.

It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop.

It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of.

It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty.

Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

. . . Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.

Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube.

It erodes trust and destroys morale.

It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere.

It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation.

It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial.

It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against.

It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers.

It exhausts the energies we would otherwise devote to positive witness.

It robs our Lord of the Church he deserves.

It exposes the hostility in our hearts and discredits the gospel in the eyes of the world. Then we wonder why we don’t see more conversions, why “the ground is so hard.”

Read the whole thing, including his own counsel on what you should do when you start to hear gossip.

27 Comments

  1. I love the questions to ask when someone starts telling gossip. It is much easier to sit back and try to ignore it, but gossip is something that needs to be addressed.

    I appreciate the post! Thank you

  2. [...] article is really helpful in understanding the danger of gossip and the reasons we are prone to this sin. [...]

  3. Dan’s advice could work in a trusting relationship when one can be direct but probably wouldn’t work with an acquaintance, a sensitive friend or your mother-in-law. Most of the gossip laden situations I find myself in are the latter (though not necessarily with the mother-in-law, that was just an example :). I’d love some advice on how to handle gossip in a tactful, godly way for these situations.

    • I agree with the need for tact. Phew, these questions come off really self righteous to me. I am totally on board with the intent, but they would do some damage between women, that’s for sure. There’s a way to address gossip without getting in someone’s face. And even in a sweet tone these are rather jarring.

  4. “Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.”

    Really? More destructive than the sexual abuse of children and the subsequent cover up?

    • Thank you Leila. This needs to be said continually until TGC speaks up. Their silence is their own condemnation.

  5. These are great questions.

    They are a little bit in your face, but then gossip is a very damaging thing to engage in. And people really know better when they do it.

    Maybe if you want to be a little bit gentler you could say, “Let me stop you – I don’t think this is any of my business.” But it’s hard not to be harsh when you’re calling somebody out for this.

  6. Justin, good post and helfpul things to ponder.

    I think it would be good to further define what gossip is, and what it is not, from a biblical perspective. Something like that should precede a post like this one, so what you are saying is understood in proper context.

    A commentor on Ray Ortlund’s 2009 post you reference had some good insite along these lines:

    Ray Ortlund:
    “Thanks, Curious.

    A great place to begin on the tongue, both its duties and its sins, is the Westminster Larger Catechism on the ninth commandment. You’ll find it in questions 143-145. Its teaching is profound, detailed, brief.”

    Curious:
    “Thanks for the guidance to Q. 145. The hard part is to know when to apply this portion: “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, …concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others…”

    Since motivation is important, yet sometime difficult to discern in others, it would seem easier to label certain statements gossip than it is to show why, unless of course it easy to show it is false or has no redeeming purpose. I’ve seen a church split where leaders called it gossip and the thoughtful ‘discontents’ (including ordained leaders) called it a just cause. The truth was not in question, but the seriousness of the problems was.

    Baxter and others probably have some guidance that I’ve not been able to assess yet. Let me know if you have other thoughts on understanding this dilemma.”

  7. How does one define gossip? The charge of gossip can be, and has been, used to cover up systemic sin and also abuse of children and women.

  8. Sadly, I’ve seen the word “gossip” misused by pastors in an effort to control the talk of their congregations. The term “gossip” can be mis-defined by high-control pastors to silence those who want to challenge the abusive system they see. This creates a no-talk environment where members are afraid to question a pastor because that would be considered questioning authority. And who has the right to question authority God has placed put in place?

    Another example of mis-defined gossip example can occur when sexual abuse is exposed to church leaders. Sometimes those church leaders go in defense mode trying to squelch all conversation related to the incident. Talking about this sex abuse situation is considered “gossip”. The reality is that if there is a case of sex abuse, it needs to be discussed. People must be notified to discover the extent of the abuse, safeguards must be put in place, the environment must be an open one in which all feel free to discuss what happened and what can church/families do to protect children.

    Additionally, victim’s family sometimes are abandoned by their friends because people are afraid to provide support lest the support be labeled as “gossip.” I know of such a case in which an entire family was essentially shunned because of the “no-talk, gossip” rule. They were abandoned by church leaders and the church body eventually moving out of the area to escape this treatment. They are now afraid to try church again because of this horrific experience.

    And finally, I believe many high level and popular church leaders are redefining the word “gossip” in their mind to justify inaction on their part by calling out abuse that they know has been going on among their peers/colleagues. Shame on them.

  9. Here is a very thoughtfully explained Jewish perspective.

    I’ve read that before you engage in something that might be gossip, you should ask yourself three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? I think this would rule in talking about, for instance, child abuse, and rule out hypothesizing that somebody is cheating on their spouse.

  10. [...] Justin Taylor’s blog post Share this:FacebookTwitterMorePrintEmailDiggLinkedInRedditGoogle [...]

  11. [...] “How to Stop Church-Killing Gossip” – Justin Taylor quotes Ray Ortlund, Dan Phillips, and R. Kent Hughes on how to stop [...]

  12. Thank you for those very edifying insights! I talked (gossip, maybe) against gossiping (in French though:) right here… http://benguillot.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/le-commerage-est-contraire-a-la-grace-de-dieu/
    In Christ’s love!

  13. There are many wrongs in many churches. They should not be swept under the rug.

    But leaping to conclusions doesn’t help. Foundational to justice is the difference between an accusation and a fact. The moment we overlook that distinction, we risk unleashing our own injustices, no matter how wrong anyone else might later prove to be.

    May God be honored and his people holy.

  14. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes ‘leaping to a conclusion’ is the correct response. When someone hears about child sexual abuse coverup in a church, that is a subject as important as if someone heard about a real ticking time bomb in a sanctuary. Oh, don’t gossip to anyone about it, no one will worship in there anymore. Hopefully the bomb is a dud. We need to find out that fact first.

  15. Ray Ortland,
    Is that why you leaders are so silent? You are worried about ‘releasing your own injustices?’
    Maybe I am misunderstanding what you mean, I promise not to gossip about my assumptions of what I think you mean in case I am really jumping to conclusions before I understand.

    • Thanks, Patti. I will not enter into an extended discussion in a comment thread. I will just say this.

      Some years ago a friend came under intense accusation. The accusations were untrue. But he lost his ministry position.

      Later in the very day when he left that ministry, my friend’s mom found his dad on the floor of the hallway in their home. He had collapsed. He was moaning, “My son, my son.” Five months later, the man was dead.

      I wonder if my friend’s accusers thought through in advance what the full human impact of their pursuit would be.

      Well, that made me determine that, for the rest of my life, I will try to be cautious when I don’t know all the facts. People can be badly hurt by false accusations. They can also be hurt by injustices that are never confronted. Both are harmful. And isn’t that what we all want — to protect all innocent people from harm?

  16. [...] How to Stop Church-Killing Gossip. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  17. [...] Justin Taylor put together a few recent posts by others about the danger of gossip and how to respon…: Kent Hughes: Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face. Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back. [...]

  18. [...] Justin Taylor had two great blogs this week: 1) How to stop church-killing gossip; 2) How could God command genocide in the Old [...]

  19. [...] of a few quotes and arti­cles on how to stop gos­sip in the church. You can find them here. I par­tic­u­larly thought Dan’s arti­cle on the Pyromaniacs blog would be quite [...]

  20. [...] Justin Taylor points out some fantastic resources for dealing with gossip that infects our relationships, churches, and ministries. [...]

  21. [...]  That is saying a lot since Dee hates conspiracy theories. On the same day, Justin Taylor here and Frank Turk here (quite interesting bedfellows) republished the exact same article by [...]

  22. [...] How to Stop Church-Killing Gossip. Raise your hand if you think Justin Taylor is perhaps the most useful blogger alive. Here’s another very helpful abstract of thoughts from Kent Hughes, Dan Phillips, and Ray Ortlund. Good stuff to save friendships, heartache, churches, and reputations. [...]

  23. [...] Justin Taylor) FacebookGoogle +1TwitterEmailPrint This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

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