Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dispelling The Rumors…

Prov. 16:28
"A perverse man stirs up dissension,
and a gossip separates close friends."

I hate gossip.

An amazing thing for me is how people tend to believe whatever they hear. Even more, that they pass things along—sometimes hurtful untrue things—without verification or concern for those who could be hurt. Even more amazing is the fact that some people MAKE UP hurtful untrue things and pass them along.

But it happens. A lot. What's most unbelievable? People who claim to be followers of Christ do this. A lot. I've done it too. And it is wrong.

I recently spoke with a friend who is leaving full-time ministry. This is a very talented and godly person. My friend could not take the gossip and slander that is par-for-the-course for ministry leaders anymore. "I just did not know that Christians could be so vicious," my friend said. I've known of pastors who have committed suicide because they couldn't handle the slander they received from their sheep.

Believe me, I've experienced it too. All leaders do. All pastors do. Don't worry, I'm not going to commit suicide. I've got pretty tough skin (not that it doesn't hurt--it does!). And I thank God for letting me grow up in a well-known coach's home. I watched Dad handle false rumors about him, I listened as "fans" and parents screamed curses at him, I've read sports page articles that misquoted or mistreated him, and heard many people question his motives, ethics, and integrity. I even played on his team and saw players spread conspiracy theories. I know he was hurt when these things happened. But he showed humility, wisdom, and grace when it was hard. Sometimes even to those who lied. What an example to me.

I've been the brunt of rumors. Even lately. Several people in the last few weeks have asked me if I'm leaving Providence, some said they heard I was. News to me (I'm not, by the way). Someone else said they heard that the elders were divided in our church. If they are, I don't know about it. And neither do they…I asked just to make sure! I've heard conspiracy theories about staff leaving and about people leaving that you would not believe (or maybe you would—but you shouldn't)! A recent one was about a family in our church that God has led to go be a part of the Kingston plant. The rumor was that they had left our church in anger! Again, not true. Apparently that rumor came from someone who really HAD left our church unhappy—hmmm. I could keep going, but I think you get my point.

My dad used to say that every team had what he called a "fellowship of the miserable" (hereafter "FOTM" for short). These were the guys who became embittered because they felt they should be on the starting team. They would talk about how unfair the coach was and murmur about favoritism or secret deals due to the color of a starter's skin, or because his parents were boosters, blah, blah, blah. Members of the FOTM rarely amount to anything. And they hurt their own team.

Just as gossips hurt their own church.

God has a way with gossips. They repent or he removes them. I think God has been sifting our church. This is good. I pray he will either change or filter out those who hurt the body. We have told the staff that one of the quickest ways to lose their job at our church is to engage in divisive gossip. It's like cancer—and must be removed for the sake of the body. All members have gone through 101 and have signed the membership covenant, which says it like this:

I commit myself to God and to the other members to do the following:
1. I WILL PROTECT THE UNITY OF MY CHURCH acting in love toward other members refusing to gossip following the leaders

These words from our covenant have remained unchanged from our church's very beginning.

How to dispel rumors…
When someone tells you something negative or potentially hurtful about someone else—particularly a leader in your church—how should you respond?

1. Learn to recognize gossip for what it is. Any second-hand information about someone or the church that is potentially hurtful is gossip.

2. Stop them. Tell them what your mom told you: "if you can't say something nice, don't say it at all." Your mom DID tell you that didn't she? You can do it tactfully. Like, "Why don't we talk about something else?" Usually they get the message.

3. Encourage them to go to the source and verify or correct what they heard. In most cases, they should also get permission before passing news along even if it is accurate and first hand.

4. If a person passes gossip along anyway, the GOSSIPPER is now the problem. You should immediately and lovingly ask them to repent. That's just how Jesus said to handle it when a brother or sister sins (see Matthew 18), and gossiping IS sin (see Rom. 8:29, 2Cor. 12:20, 1Tim. 5:13, and others). If they will not repent, follow the process Jesus laid out.

5. Choose not to believe gossip. Let me tell you, most of it is wrong. If you hear a lie repeated by 10 different people, it is still a lie.

6. Can't get the rumor out of your head? Think you have reason to believe it? Verify it yourself! BUT DON'T PASS IT ALONG or you will be sinning. Any of us elders are available if you have questions or concerns regarding the church. We have always been this way. You will never be considered a troublemaker for going to the source!

The Proverb is right. A person who gossips stirs up dissension and separates close friends. It is perverse. The church is more than merely a group of friends. We are a family. God inspired those words to Solomon, the leader of Israel, who had no doubt been the victim of it. His mom was Bathsheba you know!

What if you are the victim of Gossip?

In his sermon on the mount, In Matthew 5:11, Jesus said:

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Did he say, "rejoice"? He did. This is hard! But those who are gossiped about should remember that anyone God uses will be criticized. What's more, we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. In Matthew 10:24-26, Jesus said,

"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known."

The truth will one day be known. Take joy in this! Your Father in heaven knows the truth. He will repay those who slander. He is in control. Remember this. Those who gossip only hurt themselves. They reveal their own immaturity and sinfulness, and they identify themselves as a member of the FOTM. That's not where I want to be.

Go on the offensive…LOVE!

God actually wants you to love those who don't love you with their words. Read closely this great passage:

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Now listen to the very next verse...

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary:

'If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
(Romans 12:9-21)

So don't go try to chase down every false rumor. Don't think of how to repay those who spread them. Don't consider leaving your imperfect church (psst…they all are!). Don't get depressed or angry. Just love.

I need to hear this. Do you?


Lisa said...

I hope the rumors about the family who left Providence to help with the Kingston plant were not about us because we definitely did not leave in anger. In fact, we miss everyone terribly and plan to visit regularly. Even Abel was complaining about not getting to hear you preach on Genesis. I told him we could listen online but he said it wouldn't be the same! :)

~Lisa Ector

Susan Tucker said...

Thanks for posting this ... something we all need to think about, myself included! Instead of getting caught up in and distracted by the small dramas (real or imagined) in life, we should rather tune in to the larger drama unfolding in the world. What is God up to, and how are we part of that? LOVE God and one another.