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How to discern if a church member is guilty of gossip

Getty Images/Chris Carroll
Getty Images/Chris Carroll

Gossip is a destructive force in the Church. Once the rumors of gossip spread, it’s hard to correct if they are false. Even if partially true, gossip is always wrong because what is shared is inappropriate and hurtful.

  • Gossip fosters an environment of distrust and suspicion.
  • Instead of focusing on productive work or conversations, individuals involved in gossip discuss improper matters about others.
  • Gossip is often based on hearsay or speculation, which can lead to a distorted understanding of events or individuals.
  • When someone becomes the target of gossip, it can severely impact health, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.
  • Gossip can create unnecessary conflict and tension between people. Misunderstandings and false rumors can cause rifts in relationships and can escalate to create a hostile environment.

People talk. They talk behind your back. They talk about you. They talk about your leadership decisions. It’s normative. Expect it. Are these conversations gossiping? Most of the time, they are not. Dialogue is not gossip. In fact, discussions are usually good signs. It means you’re doing something that causes people to talk.

How can you discern between gossip (clearly a sin) and conversation (not sinful)?

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First, realize people need to talk to process. The Church is a living organism. It’s more than an organization. Though leaders should have a communication strategy, not every conversation in the church is strategic. For people to process your vision and decisions, they need to talk about it. Some could even say negative things. Just because some might disagree with you and vocalize their concerns does not make them gossips. Let people process by talking for a season before you start making accusations.

Second, gossip is defined more by intent than content. Gossip requires a selfish motive. Most everyone needs information to think through an event. So, people ask questions. They call their friends. They talk to other leaders. If they want to gain this information for malicious motives, then it’s gossip. If they’re chatting to know how to help, then it’s not gossip. Before you leap to a conclusion about gossip, consider someone’s motives.

Third, it’s the leader’s responsibility to provide clarity. Something happens. Perhaps it hit the fan. A dust cloud forms. Think of this dust cloud as everyone’s dialogue. Confusion brings more confusion. People talk about their confusion. The cloud grows. It’s dark. No one can see what’s ahead. At this stage, most people are not gossiping. They are simply trying to find their way by talking to others. It’s your responsibility as a leader to provide clarity so the dust cloud settles. Grousing about chatter makes you the problem. Leaders who complain about conversations as if they are gossip create a clouded environment in which gossip forms. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Gossip is always destructive, but conversations are not gossip. Let people process by talking, even if it’s not with you. Before accusing the talkers of gossip, understand their intent. And it’s on you as a leader to provide clarity when the chatter stirs up dust.

Originally published at Church Answers. 

Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida. 

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