I recently attended a seminar for church leaders entitled “Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love”. It was a topic that struck me right away as potentially helpful in my job as a music director at a large church. Anyone who has ever worked in a church knows that the behind-the-scenes stuff even at church often looks disappointingly similar to the “real world”, though we’d like it to be otherwise. I have had many occasions to either meet conflict head on myself or guide others through conflict. I have had no training on this, other than reading God’s word, but as a church leader that doesn’t necessarily matter. When people look up to you for one thing, they often transfer that authority to other things as well.
This seminar was very helpful in its biblical guidance and explanations of the structure of confrontation. One line in particular jumped out at me, as the seminar leaders discussed it, as a foundational problem of Christian conflict. It said this:
Go directly to those with whom we disagree; avoid behind-the-back criticism.
Gossip is prevalent in our society, in our churches and in our families. I personally hate gossip, but have found that it sometimes even worms its way into my own conversations with friends, family and co-workers. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to back out once gossip has begun? Once you have nodded in agreement even once, you have become a participant in the downward spiral of “behind-the-back criticism” mentioned in the seminar.
I sometimes find it difficult to form boundaries for speaking of others. Is it OK to speak to your spouse about a negative experience with a co-worker? What about if you call it “venting” as you speak to your mom or close friend? Or, worse yet, how about if you say that you want prayer for this person as you talk of them in a not-so-friendly way? Is it OK to say something to someone else about a particular person if you insist you would say the same thing in their presence? Where can we draw the line?
I was reminded today of the quote:
Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, small people talk about people.
It made me ask myself, “How much of my daily conversation is about other people?” The question certainly gives me pause.
So, to clarify, I went to the scriptures. Matthew says,
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.
That seems pretty clear to me! And what about this:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
It doesn’t only say, “that it may benefit those of whom you are speaking”, but those who are listening as well. When we speak negatively of another, we are harming the one we speak with as much as indirectly harming the one being discussed.
Finally, the scripture from Philippians:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
How is speaking of others negatively compatible with those noble and good things Paul mentions in Philippians? It’s an easy answer- it’s not.
It saddens me to see the church behaving in this way- tearing each other down rather than building each other up. I think one of the main reasons people gossip is because it’s so much easier than going to the person who has wronged you and confronting them in love. Most of us have never been taught how to do this. I have had numerous occasions to practice this in the past 6 months alone. It’s one of those things that makes you wish you were a kid again so your mom could handle it. But, I have to keep reminding myself, I’m the mom this time. It’s up to me to set a good example.
So I think for Lent this year, on top of giving up ice cream to support Jason in kicking his nightly habit, I’ll be trying even harder to give up the poison of gossip. I want to be worthy of my leadership role, both in my family and in my job, and I encourage you to do the same. Let’s kick this habit!