Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dealing with gossip

As a Baptist minister I have often said that gossip is one sin that Baptists obviously approve of since we seem to be so good at it.  I was once asked to deliver a sermon at a Baptist church that had gone through some major conflict and had lost several members.  I was told that I was one person who could get away with telling the congregation things they needed to hear.  The conflict was specifically addressed, and the first thing I told the congregation they needed to do to end the conflict was to go home and disconnect their telephones because they were burning up the lines with gossip about the situation.

Dave Ramsey defines gossip as speaking to anyone about a problem who does not have the ability to resolve the problem.  That is a great definition.  If someone has a problem with a decision the pastor makes, and that person talks to the church secretary and a Sunday school teacher about what was wrong with that decision it is gossip.  Neither of those people can do anything about a decision the pastor made.  If someone has a problem with that decision then the proper thing to do is to talk to the pastor about it.  If the pastor, or anyone with whom you disagree, will not hear you then you follow the order we find in Matthew 18: 15-17.  That is proper.  What is not proper is having little meetings in the parking lot complaining about things that no one in the discussion can resolve.

Ramsey's company has a simple rule about gossip in their workplace.  They will warn a person once if they find them gossiping, and the second time it happens they are fired.  They take it that seriously because they know that gossip is poison to an organization whether it is a business or a ministry.  Gossip undermines people's confidence and loyalty towards the organization as well as generates distrust towards the leaders.

What can a person do if someone begins to spread gossip in their presence?  One thing would be to tell the gossiper that you are not interested in hearing this and walk away.  Tell them that what they are doing is gossiping and that you consider that to be a sin that you do not wish to participate in.  A second thing you can do is to offer to go with the person to talk to the one who has offended them.  They will seldom agree to do that, but it will often shut them up.

I've actually done this on several occasions.  As a judicatory leader I sometimes receive calls from church members upset over something their pastor has done.  One caller asked that I meet with the leadership of the church and some "concerned" persons to talk about the pastor's shortcomings.  I said I would agree to meet with them as long as the pastor attended the meeting.  The caller was not pleased and was even less pleased when I told her that she had to invite the pastor to the meeting.  However, I explained that if the pastor was the problem then there was no point in having a meeting without the pastor being present so we could all discuss the situation like adults.  In that case the meeting was held, but often my requiring the pastor to be present ends the conversation the person wants to have with me.

Ramsey can fire an employee, but what can a church do with someone who continually gossips?  Such a person is creating disharmony in the church and that needs to be addressed by the church leadership.  What would the church do if a member was putting poison in the church's drinking water?  It would take whatever steps necessary to stop that person from doing that.  As I wrote earlier, gossip is poison to an organization, and the church should put an end to that as soon as it hears that this is happening.  The leadership of the church must confront the person guilty of spreading the gossip, let that person know that such behavior is not acceptable and further action will be taken if the person persists, and then follow up with such action if it occurs again.  Such strong action will probably create some conflict in the church, but it's better than gossip continually pecking away and undermining the church's ministry.  A church will never be any healthier than the behavior it accepts, and accepting gossip in the church is not a sign the church is healthy.

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