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First Thoughts

The Sixth Commandment of Staff Relationships: Thou Shall Not Gossip

We will never speak critically about someone without a plan to help them

Gossip consists of critical comments made about another person without a plan to help them. At First Baptist, our ministry staff is not allowed to talk this way. I hope this is true for your ministry team as well.

To help you understand why, I want to tell you ten true statements about gossip.

1. Gossip Is Very Damaging

When I first came to First Baptist, there was a terrible problem with gossip. It seemed that everyone talked about everyone else. Tons of problems flowed from this. One problem was the absence of trust that came with working on such a team. Another problem was the way difficulties persisted by never being addressed. Perhaps the worst problem was the destroyed reputations. I could tell you many stories of reputations that were devastated by circulating stories that were completely untrue.

The horribly destructive nature of gossip is why the Bible commands that we are not to associate with a person who does it (Proverbs 20:19).

2. The Opposite of Gossip Is Gracious Language

Gossip is language that destroys and tears down. Its opposite is gracious language that builds up. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

If you are a gossip because, in part, you just love to talk, then the solution is not to stop talking but to change what you talk about. You don’t have to be a person who uses words to tear down. By faith, Jesus can change you into a person who uses words to extend grace and build others up.

3. Avoiding Gossip Doesn’t Rule out All Critical Conversations About Someone

There will be times when you have concerns that you are not sure how to process. There will be other times when you are not sure about the exact way to address your concerns.

The Bible makes room for these times of confusion: “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). It is a good idea to carefully seek out counsel about how to proceed in a difficult conversation. The Bible doesn’t call that gossip, but wisdom.

4. Gossip Happens with Your Mouth

One of the more obvious truths about gossip is that it requires a human mouth. Of course, in a digital age, that mouth could be replaced with fingers on a keypad. The point is that we engage our bodies to sinfully spread information.

This is wicked because God gave us the ability to communicate to build others up (Ephesians 4:29), but gossips tear people down. No ministry staff can be effective, and no relationship can survive the efforts of someone to destroy.

5. Gossip Happens with Your Ears

Years ago, I was talking with a woman who no longer attends our church. She wanted my response to some rumors she had heard. As she proceeded through her long list of charges, asking me which ones were true and which were not, she kept assuring me that she had not been gossiping.

She did not understand that gossip not only requires a mouth, but a set of ears. In order for gossip to work, it must be heard—or read. The person who consumes gossip is just as guilty as the person who spreads it.

Proverbs 17:4 says, “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.” Since you do not want “evildoers” on your ministry staff, you must not tolerate gossip, even if they use their ears to do it instead of their mouths.

6. Gossip Happens in Your Heart

Some gossips use their mouths, others use their ears, but all gossips use their hearts. Before gossips sin in their sharing of information or sin in their listening to information, they sin in their hearts by how they should handle information. Because we are to use information about others to build them up rather than tear them down, something is deeply wrong in the heart of a gossip.

Deep in the heart of every gossip is selfishness and pride. They want credit for being in the know with the latest round of information. They have a terminal case of FOMO that makes it feel impossible to avoid listening to the dirt that is being dished. They want to use information differently than God commands. This heart problem is damaging them, is damaging the team, and must be addressed.

7. Gossip Creates Liars

Gossip is a carrier for other sins. One of the sins that often attends gossip is lying. During the transition at First Baptist, word began to spread that I had no experience as a pastor and that First Baptist was my first time serving in such a role. It was patently false. I have been in ministry for longer than I have been married, and much of that ministry has been in pastoral ministry at several local churches.

Everyone who repeated the story of my lack of experience was telling a lie. Someone created the chain of gossip and told the lie intentionally. Others sharing the gossip told the lie unintentionally. But everyone told it and is guilty of more sins than one.

Gossips are very often liars.

8. Gossips Earn a Reputation

Some of you reading this are gossips, and I need to share with you some unpleasant news. Here it is: people know you are a gossip. They talk about it. They talk about you. They listen to you and love to hear your stories. Some of them seek you out. But they also understand what you’re up to. You have a label. I promise you this is true.

When they have information they absolutely do not want to spread, they keep you far away from it. When there is information someone else has that they truly want to protect, they give a heads-up not to tell you. At your work, you have a reputation as a gossip.

The good news is that encouraging people who say kind things, who go directly to the source, and who refuse to engage in gossip also have a reputation. The better news is that Jesus died to pay for your sins of gossip and to equip you to use your mouth to build others up instead of tearing them down. If you ask for his grace to change, he will give it to you, and over time your reputation will change.

9. A Person Who Will Gossip to You Will Gossip About You

Gossips are untrustworthy. They prove this by refusing to do with information what God tells them to do. They have a sinful craving in their heart to hear and be heard that violates God’s word. You need to know that if they have indulged this sin with you, they will indulge it against you as well.

They are not your friend. Something is wrong.

10. Gossip Is at Odds with the Love of God for You

One morning, I was pouring out my heart to God. I was struggling in a relationship and was saying whatever came to mind as I laid out my heart before the Lord. As I was saying everything, it hit me that God would never repeat what I was saying to him that morning.

One of the demonstrations of God’s love for us is his commitment to avoid gossip. God knows everything about you, me, and those at our work. He has more dirt than anyone you have ever known. But he never shares it.

We should pray to be like God and have reputations as people who are trustworthy and never speak critically of someone without a plan to help them.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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