"Did you hear about Jake and Ashley? I probably shouldn't be telling you this but . . ."
"Heather told me not to tell anyone this but I know you won't say anything. This is what she said - "
"People have been saying that this is what happened."
"Well, I don't feel comfortable saying."
I have encountered each of these scenarios multiple times in my life and ministry. Obviously the names in these examples are irrelevant. It's the message they convey that is important. One of the most destructive forces in the church is this kind of loose talk. This is why one of my core ministry convictions is that:
Loose talk and gossip offends the heart of God and hurts others so we must always go to the source for confirmation rather than listen to rumors.
It is tempting to share insider information or to feel like we have extra insight on a situation. If we start a conversation with, "I probably shouldn't say anything" then the conversation should end right there. We can make ourselves feel more significant when we use the term, "people have been saying" when in reality it was one, maybe two individuals. Making it sound like it was a large group lends credibility to what we are saying. Often, the things that get shared among church goers aren't the kinds of things that could change the world. They are seemingly innocent, meaningless trifles of information. But the information isn't the issue. It is the trust that is broken when things spoken in confidence are revealed. Or the trust that is broken when someone realizes conversations about them are being held behind their back. These are the moments when the church, God's people should be markedly different from the rest of the world.
Years ago, the "water cooler" was the euphemism for the place in offices where gossip was shared. Today there really is no central place because so much of this happens via social media and cell phone connections. But it IS happening. You may have seen it in your own work place, neighborhood, school or extended family.
What if the church was the place where this type of loose talk and gossip never happened? What if when someone started a conversation with "I probably shouldn't tell you this" you said, "then please don't". Or what if after hearing information about someone you went directly to that person to verify what you heard instead of passing it along? What if the next time someone told you something about another person you asked in response, "Can I go talk to them about this?" Chances are the person sharing the info will start backpedaling.
That sounds intimidating and it may seem like you're being unkind to the person who told you that information. But isn't it more unkind to pass the information along or believe something you hear without verifying it? 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." We are to be "grace talkers". Gossip finds its way onto at least 3 lists of sinful behavior in the New Testament, lumped in with behaviors such as coveting, strife, murder and jealousy! In other words, gossip and sharing a bad report about someone is not looked on favorably.
If we know Jesus and follow him, our goal should be building others up with words and giving grace. What do your words do? And can we agree to not gossip or deal in rumors and speculation? I believe that will honor God and bless others.