This is the final post in a series drawn from Matt Mitchell’s book entitled Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue. Today, I summarize the Bonus Chapter written to church leaders, which gives counsel as to how to cultivate a gossip-resistant church. Matt recommends 10 ways leaders may protect their church from the devastating consequences of out-of-control tongues.
- Pray Hard. The church is God’s, not ours, so we need to take its needs to Him. Pray against gossip. Pray the flock you help lead will resist the temptations of ungodly speech and pursue up-building speech instead. Lead the people of the church in prayer against gossip.
- Set a Godly Example. Leaders are to be thermostats, not thermometers. We do not just measure the spiritual temperature of our congregations; we help to set it by our examples. If you do not already do this, improve your screening process for leaders by incorporating an evaluation of a candidate’s character, including his or her habits of speech.
- Teach Against the Sin of Gossip. Plan a sermon series or a special class on this subject. Have your small groups read Resisting Gossip (a participant’s guide and Bible study is now available). Don’t assume your people know what is right and what is wrong. Teach them.
- Encourage Loving Small Talk. While teaching against the sin of gossip, we also need to encourage the right kind of small talk. Remember, not all small talk is sinful. Loving conversations over the back of the pew about life in general are very important for the life of a congregation.
- Agree to Bear with, Not Bite, One Another. We are not only fallen but filled with natural differences. Therefore, church life requires forbearance. We need to agree in advance to bear with each other and not to bite one another. Some churches are including a “no gossip” commitment in their church-membership covenants.
- Be Extra Careful with Reputations. Criticism is inevitable within the church, but we can decide in advance to be careful with each other when we make our criticisms. This is especially true for leadership. The congregation should not listen to someone (especially an anonymous someone) who wants to share bad news behind a church leader’s back instead of bringing it out into the open. We should not allow this for anyone in the church, but because many pastors’ livelihoods and families depend upon the pastor’s reputation, we must take special care.
- Watch What You Say to Outsiders. If we need to be careful within the church with people’s reputations, how much more should we be cautious in how we talk about our fellow church members to those outside the church?
- Open Channels for Airing Concerns. Sometimes when there is gossip within a church, it is actually the leaders’ fault. Those who are gossiping should not be doing it, but gossip flourishes when there is an oppressive regime and a tyrannical atmosphere of silence.
- Call Each Other Out. Read 3 John 9-10. The church John wrote to was being hijacked by a Church Boss. Self-important Diotrephes had tried to take over the church. Worse, he was gossiping maliciously about John. If you think being godly will protect you from gossip, forget about it. You can be John the apostle, and people will still gossip about you. We need to call each other out when we see church members maliciously gossiping and, as a last resort, be willing to exercise church discipline.
- Remember the Gospel. Leaders have the responsibility to keep the gospel central to the life of the local church. As individuals, the gospel empowers us to resist gossip’s lure and gives us the ability to love instead. The gospel also covers us with grace when we have failed.
Matt concludes his Bonus Chapter for church leaders with a powerful illustration from Chris Bruce.
Gossip is a serious problem for churches, but it doesn’t have to be. If, as James says, the tongue can light a great fire, then we might think of the church as a tree. On the one hand, we can neglect to water the tree, and stand by with a hose to put out fires that threaten its dry and brittle branches. But the much better course is to continually keep the tree watered and moist with the truth of the Gospel and the Bible’s teaching on godly speech. A tree like that, even when it encounters the flame, will not easily catch fire. A tree like that will grow and bear much fruit.
As mentioned before, this 5-part series is drawn from Matt Mitchell’s book, Resisting Gossip, which our team of elders recently read through together. I trust this topic has been personally challenging and helpful to you, as it has been for me. My hope is that it will bear fruit by strengthening your local church and protecting it and you from the destructive fires of gossip.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES
- 3 Ways We Judge Wrongly
- 5 Types of Gossiping People
- The Best Definition of Gossip
- Two Right Ways to Respond to Gossip