Pastors Gossip!

Gossip-megaphone pastors

There needs to be a fair and honest discussion
as to what constitutes “GOSSIP.”

If it merely means the communication of information that may be embarrassing to another, pastors are guilty of GOSSIP!

Anyone who has attended a pastoral staff or deacon’s meeting knows that is what happens when discussing the local church ministry and its operations.  Ministry involves people, all kinds, at all different levels of spiritual growth, coming into the faith and a local church with all kinds of baggage.  But does that mean that discussions involving the members and friends of the ministry fall into the category of GOSSIP?

Please do not take the position that pastors do not have feet of clay when it comes to what is deemed by them, and preached against, as GOSSIP!

Pastors Do GOSSIP!

Pastors GOSSIP — inadvertently or advertently — for several reasons . . . .

#1 — Relationships — To establish and/or solidify a relationship: When you share private information with another individual, you are communicating a secondary message as well. You are non-verbally telling them that they are trusted and exclusive. That they are a person you trust, and are part of a circle to which others do not belong.

What such “pastors” may not understand is that the GOSSIP can undermine their credibility and integrity.  Worse yet, their relating of such information may come back to bit them when it becomes known what they have said, and/or said about others.

Over the years I have been told by various pastors what I considered to be rather personal information about others under their ministry and I have been taken back by the fact that it was shared with me — a person who had no absolutely need to know that information.   The information was irrelevant to my relationship with that individual or family.   Some church members would have been shocked that this-or-that was shared with me, but apparently not the pastor.

I repeatedly thought to myself . . . .

“If he is sharing that about them, he will find no reluctance to share things about me with others as well!”

Seeking to establish or solidify a relationship by breaking faith with other church fellowship members is not only wrong-headed but manipulative. A pastor may think that he is drawing others closer to him, but actually, he is laying the groundwork for a “cumulative-reasons-movement-away-from-him” or even eventual departure.

One criterion for defining GOSSIP . . . .  

Sharing information which has no relevance to the person with whom it is being shared.

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#2 — Defensive — To defend their decisions, actions, and behavior:  At times, pastors may share GOSSIP because it is used as a weapon, a means of defending a decision, action, or behavior.

When an individual questions a decision, action, or behavior, the easiest way to defend oneself is by employing an ad hominem defense. Attack the person who is questioning or challenging the pastor. That can be done by either bringing up facts and details about them that others might not know. Or by injecting information into the discussion which questions their right to be even asking or addressing this-or-that issue!

The information being shared is to divert attention from the issue at hand, to the person who has challenged, called-out, or questioned the pastor!  While it is done all the time in the political world, it seems like it has also become part of some pastor’s toolbox for avoiding the real issues at hand.

Another criterion for defining GOSSIP . . . .  

Sharing information which is motivated by defense. 

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#3 — Self-promotion — To exalt or promote themselves by contrast:  As I John states, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” all draw us away as believers. The flesh and the desire to be a significant someone causes some pastors to contrast themselves with others.

It is the same spirit that says — “Thank God I am not like this man, a tax collector.” All of us are drawn by that temptation and are marked by repeated failure when it comes to pride and ego. However, as a pastor, GOSSIPING about others in order to draw a comparison that exalts or promotes is heinous. Heinous? Yes, I think I will stay with that word!

Why heinous — because the pastor comes to know, and knows, information about people which far exceeds common awareness! That information is not merely personal or private to some circles, but is secretive. As we all know, there is information that only our families know. We have said to our children, “This is family information. It stays within the family.” It is “inside information!” No one has the right to use it to “trade off of” and personally profit, no less a pastor!

That is the kind of information that many a pastor is privy to due to counseling situations, family crises, and spiritual guidance.  To share highly confidential family and personal information with others, in order to self-promote is — yes — heinous! — to garner respect or enhance one’s power at the expense of others

Another criterion for defining GOSSIP . . . .  

Sharing information which is promotes one’s righteousness and/or self-importance

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#4 — Sermonic Value — To make a great illustration:  I think any pastor would agree that various people and situations do not come to mind as one works on a sermon —   “Wow, that situation really illustrates the point I want to make!”

In fact, as we think back about this-or-that illustrative situation, it may even help one understand the elements or dynamics operating regarding that biblical truth or principle.  That only increases the temptation to share privy and personal information through an illustration,  to GOSSIP about a person — publicly!

Pastors can be tempted to share an account, that they believe is unknown to those listening, but still share privy and personal information which would embarrass others were they present.  Merely because someone has died, moved away, is in the distant memory of but a few, or unknown to all, does not mean a pastor has a right to GOSSIP about him-her-them in an illustration.

Some information that is personal and privy to you, needs to go to the grave with you! — “I know that many do not know, but he struggled with pornography since he was a kid.”

Some information that is personal and privy to you is not for use in an illustration; it is not yours to share for interesting and informational sermonic use or consumption! — i.e. “I walked in on them, and he was stark naked when I opened the door.”

Some information privy to you need not be used in an illustration to prove how important and/or wise you are!  — “They told me that they had tried to commit suicide / wanted to commit suicide and I was able to talk them off the ledge.”

There needs to be great care exercised when calling up past people-events-situations to illustrate a point. I claim no innocence, but I am willing to acknowledge that it can easily and quickly be GOSSIP in the form of an illustration without diligent care and concern.

Don’t feel an unrestrained freedom to add weight to your words by calling up an illustration based on private and personal information known only to you as a pastor.  What you know as a pastor is not for advantaging you sermonicly.  Don’t illustrate at the expense of others.

Without trying to cover all possibilities, perhaps it is best to take the effort of keeping it in the “hypothetical” rather than making a specific reference to a person . . . .

“Could you imagine a situation where someone who teaches the Bible in the local church, ends up leaving his wife — and children?  That even the pastor or other church leaders could not persuade him otherwise — that he would knowingly violate the Scriptures.  I know it hard to imagine — but it happens and it happens in Bible-believing and teaching local churches!

Note: The reason for sharing such GOSSIP may also fall into one of the above categories as well.

Note: Let me add, that whether or not anyone knows who a pastor is referencing in the illustration, those listening are thinking  — “Will I become an illustration some day?  That is the end of me sharing personal, private, or family information with the pastor!”

Another criterion for defining GOSSIP . . . .  

Sharing private and personal information which costs others; it is used at their expense

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#5 — Credibility — To counsel others: What we know about others’ lives should not be used to bolster or prove to others that we are qualified to be heard. Speaking in general terms, without breaking the trust relationship of other counselees, is simply ethical! To open up the windows of the lives of others will not only chill the atmosphere of those being counseled, but when it is “reshared” (and it will be), the source will become revealed as “the pastor.”

If you have to bolster your counsel and prove your words are wise, then you have little-to-no hope for effective counseling anyway.

Note: Part of your pastoral credentials are your “confidence” and “trust-worthiness.”

Another criterion for defining GOSSIP . . . .  

Sharing private and personal information to bolster our credentials

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#6 — Offload — To offload burdens: One of the stresses and strains of pastoral ministry is the shared and felt weight of life situations carried by the members and friends of a local church ministry.  No, don’t call that weight into play to excite some kind of sympathy for how difficult it is to be a pastor — to provide proof at your personal pity party.  That weight comes with the territory!

Nevertheless, some pastoral GOSSIP is an offloading of that burden. The offloading may lighten the teller’s shoulders, but it is now on the shoulders of others. While we are called upon to share each other’s burdens, I am not sure that the burden that a pastor bears in knowing what he uniquely knows and has been entrusted with is what others should also be bearing!

Note:  This interacts with “relationships” in that others who have a relationship with a pastor may feel offended when a pastor refuses to share the information with them.

Such downloading of personal or private information, or information that another need not know to pray and/or encourage others, is selfishly motivated. In the end, you may feel a lot better, but those who just heard this-or-that now carry the weight.

Yes, been there — Done it!   When asked about a situation I have even said, I am not sure that my cargo needs to be loaded onto your truck. [1]. I left those situations feeling better (temporarily), and others felt worse.

Another criteria for defining GOSSIP . . . .  

Sharing private and personal information
to unload your burdens onto the shoulders of others

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#7 — Sway — To provide personal commentary and opinions: Making or repeating comments about Christian institutions, other churches and church ministries, or secular leaders (such as the President or past presidents), with little-to-no knowledge about a situation is GOSSIP.  Whatever GOSSIP is, no one would question that the truthfulness of a comment plays into the definition.

Surely, GOSSIP is GOSSIP when we do not know the truthfulness of what we are sharing.  Pastors (and God’s people) across America have slandered ministries, ministry leaders, presidents, and political leaders.  While we believe in “freedom of speech,” we do not believe that pastors have the freedom to propagate or perpetuate lies and half-truths.  Disclaimers don’t wash as an excuse . . .  “I have heard it reported.  Don’t know if it is true.” [2]

“Do unto others . . . .” — Let’s follow that same standard when it comes to your actions and name! Truth matters, and there are enough lies floating around without being complicit. Let’s make sure that what we are repeating or saying is true, and that we are willing to stand behind what we say to others.

Another criterion for defining GOSSIP . . . .  

Stating opinions and viewpoints which may or may not even be true or accurate.

What is GOSSIP? [3]
Whatever it is, much of what defines it involves. . . .

√ the motive for sharing it — was it self-serving
√ the level of privacy involved — do I know because of a position of trust
√ the need for others to know — why do they even need to know
√ and of course, what all would agree on, the truthfulness of what is being said

We Do Not Need To Agree . . . 
But We Do Need To Think, And Re-Think!



1. Obviously, there are situations where other church leaders and even members need to know the facts as to what has taken place.  An obvious case is when dealing with a genuine  Matthew 18 situation.

Anytime there is a serious church dispute, disagreement, or conflict, more, not less information becomes necessary.  Clarity as to what has happened, is happening, was said and done is vital to get to the crux of an issue.  The leadership and/or the members of the church should be made aware.  It is the covering and concealing of what was said and done that protects wrong-doing and wrong-doers — i.e. Ravi Z. and others — see Julie Roys reportWrong-doers aim at concealing the facts by targeting and categorizing all discussion of wrong-doing as GOSSIP.

2. Obviously, again — There are statements which Christian and secular leaders have made, and actions which they have engaged in (i.e. Jerry Falwell Jr.) for which they ought to be held accountable for making or doing.  There is no way that I am able to personally ascertain what is true. I rely on other reliable sources to access the truthfulness of this-or-that situation.
Again, wrong-doers in the political or religious world lean on the inability of others to discover the truth of a situation.  Therefore, it takes institutions such as a “free-press” (I know!) to investigate and report.  Julie Roys or the “wartburgwatch,” are one of several such outlets.

3. Attention: The word “GOSSIP” is also used as a defensive weapon . . . .

  • to suppress what ought to be revealed and known by God’s people
  • to quiet and stifle even the most reasonable levels of discussion and questioning
  • to shame people into submission

Multiple examples of this could easily be provided.  Is it GOSSIP when a member of the church speaks to another person about . . . .

  • their disagreement with a church policy?
  • the music being used in worship (of course? it is not GOSSIP if they speak favorably)?
  • a questionable or inappropriate reference a pastor made in a sermon?
  • their support of, or refusal to support,  a particular church ministry
  • the lack of love and concern by the leadership during COVID-19?
  • their disagreement with political comments being made from the pulpit?
  • the lack of evangelistic outreach by the church?
  • the lack of modesty in dress by those on the platform?
  • the spending of money?
  • salary and compensation?
  • the lack of church growth?
  • etc.
Or . . . . are only ministry leaders, board members, ministry staff, pastors, and/or deacons allowed to discuss these areas of ministry life.
Perhaps, there is a “cancel culture” and “freedom of speech” shutdown which is also a manipulative movement found in some ministries and the local churches.
The go-to arguments . . . .
You are sowing discord.
and
That is GOSSIPING.
It is a matter of control when open, honest, frank, fair-minded discussion, and legitimate criticism by and within the membership is labelled GOSSIP.
It is a matter of hypocrisy when ministry leaders and pastors engage in it themselves, on different levels, as outlined above.
— Just saying! —

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