I love to talk to people in our church, but often it seems they think that I need to know every detail about everyone else. People complain about the last pastoral family or tell me all about other members’ trials or scandals.
I’m uncomfortable listening to gossip, but I don’t want to be rude. I’d like to know how I can let people know that it’s not OK to tell me gossip, without making them feel like I don’t want to chat.
It’s really important to me to be trustworthy with the information I’m given. How can I put a stop to all the gossipers without damaging my relationships?
~Desiring To Be Discreet
Dear Desiring To Be Discreet,
Gossip isn’t new to our generation. King Solomon wrote, “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy [wo]man keeps a secret” (Prov. 11:13, NIV).
Paul wrote about people who know God but choose to keep on being evil—and yes, he calls gossip evil. He lumps gossip in with envy, murder, and deceit (see Rom. 1:29-32). The Apostle John made it a point to deal with gossip straight on, in 3 John 1:9-11.
Try creating a standard answer that you can always fall back on when conversation turns into gossip. It might sound something like this:
“Have you talked to ______ (the person in question) about this? Because I’m really not the person to help you with the situation. It would be better to just talk to so-and-so about it.”
“You know, I’ve been really trying to make sure that I don’t talk about anyone who isn’t here to defend themselves, so if it’s all right with you, can we change the subject?”
“I don’t want to judge, but this sounds like gossip to me. It isn’t my place to hear this, but maybe you should talk to them directly about how you feel.”
Whatever you choose to say, be kind yet firm. If they keep right on gossiping, it’s okay to politely excuse yourself from the conversation and walk away. If they didn’t mean to be gossiping, your statement will be a gentle rebuke, and they should be happy to change the topic. And if they get mad at you even though you’ve been kind, that’s okay too—it just shows their heart.
If someone continues gossiping relentlessly, perhaps it needs to be a matter for the pastor to deal with. He might make a personal visit, or take them to lunch, and help them see the damage they are causing.
Some great scripture texts about gossip include: Proverbs 16:28, 18:8, 20:19, 26:20, and 26:22; 2 Corinthians 12:20; and 1 Timothy 5:13.