7 Deadly sins of a declining church: Gossip

By Replant

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
2 Corinthians 12:20

Every church has a personality and culture, which is expressed through the words of its members.

Some churches are encouraging, joy filled and affirming. Other churches may be serious, contemplative and quiet. What matters most is not necessarily the tone of a church but the content in the conversations of its members.

The scriptures are replete with instruction regarding the words we speak as followers of Jesus. Paul exhorts us to speak only that which is helpful and uplifting for those who hear. James warns against being duplicitous in our speech.

When a church has a culture of communication that contradicts what is commanded in scripture—you have a church headed toward decline.

Some members stop short of slander, abusive or corrupt and condemning speech but fall headlong into the sin of gossip. Gossip is a sin, a deadly one.

When and where present it divides, builds walls, creates a lack of trust, undermines authority, sets up bullies as power brokers, erects coalitions and repels visitors. Like an infestation of weeds—it is difficult to eradicate.

Gossip – the sharing of information (some of which may be true/factual) with the goal of elevating or protecting self or cause while diminishing another person or cause.

What makes gossip so dangerous is that is often believable and based on some element of truth. It is shared with the intent of building an alliance with those who receive it for the agenda of the one who speaks it. 

It may sound innocent at first: 

“You know I heard that……”

“______ told me that……”

“You know what is really going on is ____________”

“I think they _________”

As we began our Replanting efforts gossip reared its ugly head. I declared publicly many times that we would not cancel Sunday School but keep it as part of our church transition toward health. Only days later the rampant talk circulating among some of the members was just the opposite. 

Repeated declarations of our intent to keep Sunday School fell on ears that had already been muted by gossip that said otherwise.

We took steps to uncover the source(s) and to speak with them personally regarding what had been attributed directly to them. In one case a member repented and apologized. In another case the situation worsened and spiraled out of control falling into slander, out right lies and denial of any wrong doing even in the face of an abundance of evidence and testimony. After rejecting an effort to reconcile and restore these members decided to withdraw their membership and leave our church.

In this experience I learned this important truth. This was not a new pattern—gossip had been woven into the DNA and fabric of our church for decades.

Previous Pastors had been affected and impacted; some were forced to leave, others chose to leave because of half-truths and gossip. Members transferred their letters to other churches to get away from the pain; those who stayed had developed the protective response of excusing the sinful behavior as personality flaws or attributing gossip to the aging process and early dementia. 

The reality for our Replant was that gossip had been there for decades and its presence hindered the work of revitalization.

In addressing gossip we began implementing the following in the life of our church:

  • The talk to—not about rule
  • Equipping our members to respond to those engaging in gossip by saying: “I would be happy to go with you to talk to _______ about _______”
  • Teaching biblical principles of conflict resolution
  • Holding high the standard of love
  • Clearly communicating that our mission is Jesus’ mission—not preserving our preferences or protecting our past
  • Practicing Biblical church discipline
  • Establishing Elders who loving served the congregation by listening to their concerns

Over time the weeds of gossip began to die out. Some who preferred to continue gossiping left our church when they realized that gossip was no longer tolerated.

Protect the church, proclaim the hope of the Gospel and the need for everyone to place their speech under the lordship of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Published June 4, 2015

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The Replant team of the North American Mission Board works to reverse the death and decline rate of Churches. For more information and resources on Replanting go to www.namb.net/replant and follow @churchreplanter.