And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.—Romans 1:28–29
When I see a list of the sins associated with abandoning God, I expect to see things like wickedness and murder. I don’t expect to see gossip and slander. Why? Because those they’re so commonplace—even in our churches.
Because we tend to use information as a commodity when we’re building relationships and alliances, gossip gets woven into the foundation of most human communities. The truth is that it’s a cancer that ultimately eats away at the core of a community’s security until there’s nothing left.
What makes gossip particularly nefarious is our attitude about it. We expect people to gossip, we make jokes from the pulpit about women and gossip (regardless of the fact that loose talk is no respecter of genders), and it’s this casualness that empowers and emboldens this sin.
If you’re ready to wage war on this unity killer, keep reading. I’ve put together 5 tips to help you put gossip in its place.
1. Be a model of love and solidarity
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.—Ephesians 4:29
As a pastor, I struggle with gossip. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been in a church where it wasn’t an issue in leadership. Ministry’s tough and sometimes you just want someone to commiserate with.
But every time you gossip with someone, you’re modeling that behavior—and there is no sermon that will undo the bad example you’ve set.
The first step in eradicating gossip lies in showing your church what healthy communication looks like. That means you need to:
- Share information with only those who can legitimately contribute
- Immediately shut down gossip when you hear it
- Protect the victims of gossip
2. Define it
Identifying what is and isn’t gossip can be difficult. When your church has a working definition of gossip, it removes the mystery. By leaving it undefined, you give people an ignorance loophole to exploit.
Here are some definitions to help you get started:
- Rumor: any unverified information
- Slander: false or malicious information with the intent to harm
- Gossip: sensational talk passed on because of it’s “juicy” nature, whether true, rumor, or slander
3. Communicate its significance
It couldn’t be more clear from the verse that opens that God takes the issue of gossip very seriously. In John 17, we see Jesus praying for the church, and his number one concern was that we would be unified. (Jn. 17:22–23)
Pastors need to be champions of unity and stalwart critics of anything that would jeopardize that togetherness. This means we need to preach strongly and often about the evils of gossip.
Here are some Bible passages to use for inspiration:
- You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.—Exodus 23:1
- If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.—James 1:26
- Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.—James 4:11
- He who conceals hatred has lying lips,
And he who spreads slander is a fool.—Proverbs 10:18
- He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets,
But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.—Proverbs 11:13
- A perverse man spreads strife,
And a slanderer separates intimate friends.—Proverbs 16:28
- For lack of wood the fire goes out,
And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.—Proverbs 26:20
4. Make gossip a staffing issue
Your church leadership sets a tone that the rest of the church follows. It really doesn’t matter how great anyone operates in their position if their presence undermines the church’s unity.
You need a staffing policy that elevates the significance of gossip. Not only should they be free from gossip themselves, but they also need to be equipped to shut it down when it rears its ugly head.
5. Cover gossip in your discipleship program
Gossip isn’t one of those things we just stop doing. We are set free from gossip at at the place where information and spiritual empowerment intersect.
Keeping a rein on our tongues is such an integral part of our spiritual maturity that it’s worth creating a curriculum that everyone goes through. These classes can be used in youth groups, small groups, and Sunday school classes.
The important thing is to ensure that you have a systematic plan in place to help your church members understand gossip’s significance and a safe platform to talk through its implications.
We don’t have to accept gossip!
We need to recognize that gossip is contrary to the gospel. It is love and acceptance that creates life-changing community. Whispered shame is a terrible motivator and a destructive habit. If we want to reinforce real unity, we need to work on talking up each other’s strengths and encouraging them when they’re doing well.