Several hundred years ago it was common for Christians to visit their pastor (or priest) and confess their sins on a regular basis. Not too long ago, I asked a local pastor if anybody does that anymore. He said, “I rarely have anyone who makes an appointment to confess their own sins. What does happen is this: people come in to see me in order to confess someone else’s sins!”
This is called gossip. I asked the pastor what he does when someone starts telling about the sins of others. He said, “I tell them they can’t talk to me. It’s a sin to gossip.” Gossip is one of the most hurtful and socially disruptive actions in any group of people—including the church. Why does it continue at such a high level?
Gossip is rampant perhaps because of the insecurity in all of us. We aren’t facing people directly if we sense there is a problem. We resist facing issues one-on-one for a couple reasons. First, we have the false notion the mistakes (sins) people commit are private. That is not true. We are all in this life together, and when we mess up, we do harm to one another. God teaches us to love one another enough to confront these issues. Second, we often use the excuse, “I don’t like conflict.” Of course, we don’t like conflict. The only person who likes conflict probably needs therapy! Sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable, for the good of society—for the good of the church. We are our brother’s (sister’s) keepers—as the saying goes. Third, people say, “Let me tell you about Joe. It’s not gossip, because I know it’s true.” Wrong! It can be totally true, but if you are talking to anyone but Joe, it’s gossip. And it’s hurtful. And it’s wrong.
Jesus taught this approach very clearly. If someone represents an offense to you, you are to go to that person privately and share your concern. You are to “speak the truth in love.” If that person won’t listen, you are to take someone with you, a second time, speaking privately and doing it in love. If that doesn’t work, you are to involve wise leaders from the church. The whole idea is about restoration. You’re not out to “prove” anything. You are out to help someone. You do not approach a situation as someone who is a perfect know-it-all who doesn’t make mistakes yourself. Instead, out of love and concern, you’re trying to help.
Your attitude toward confronting should be like this: “If I was involved in some unhealthy, destructive activity, I would hope someone would care enough about me to confront me in a loving, non-judgmental, private way. I would not want someone spreading it all around, which would cause me public embarrassment and humiliation.” You see, the chance for restoration is stronger and easier if it’s private.
Developing a culture of mutual care and concern brings a refreshing new level of health and vitality to any organization, including a church. In fact, among churches that are serious about God’s direction to “love one another,” all leaders in a congregation (volunteer and paid) are encouraged to join an accountability group. I’m part of one, with Jon and Joshua. We meet every couple of weeks. It is completely confidential. We share in three areas:
- Our relationship with God. How is our worship life? What about our prayer life? Personal Bible reading? Quiet time with God?
- What about our relationship with other Christians? Are we holding a grudge with anyone? Do we need to extend forgiveness to someone? Are we in fellowship with other Christians? Are all of our relationships healthy?
- How is our relationship with non-Christians? Are we a good example to non-believers? Are we sharing our faith with those who are not Christians? Are we helping those in need? Are we making this a better world?
Turning gossip into caring relationships will bring health and vitality to your world.
How does your church develop a culture of mutual care and concern? Please share your experiences below.
Kent Hunter is known as the Church Doctor. His most recent e-books are The Future Is Now and The J-Dog Journey, available at no cost. Contact him at (800) 626-8515, or you can visit www.churchdoctor.org.