Question: "What is the danger in gossiping about your pastor and his family?"
Answer: Gossip is wrong no matter whom we are gossiping about. Gossip, the sharing of privileged information about others to those who have no business knowing about it, is often listed among sins that are detestable to God (2 Corinthians 12:20; Romans 1:29; 2 Timothy 3:3). We gossip about people because it makes us feel important. We supposedly know something “juicy” about someone else and relish the attention we receive as we divulge it to others (Proverbs 26:22). Gossip can destroy reputations and relationships, but when it is about the pastor or his family, gossip can destroy a church.
Pastors and their families carry a heavy load, and gossip about them just increases their burden. God has entrusted the spiritual well-being of an entire congregation to a man or men He has called for that purpose (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:2). Along with the responsibilities for pastors, God gives instructions for the flock: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17). God holds His undershepherds in high regard and expects those who benefit from their ministries to honor them as well. There is no honor in gossip.
Gossiping about the pastor undermines the work God is doing in and through a local church. Gossip plants seeds of doubt, mistrust, and rebellion that take root and bear more poisonous fruit than anyone could have foreseen. It is easier to talk to others about our questions than it is to approach the pastor himself. The office of pastor is intimidating to some, so they might see gossiping as a “safer” way to express concerns. However, gossip is soundly condemned in Scripture and usually results in slander, another forbidden action (Colossians 3:8).
Unfortunately, most churches have their share of troublemakers, gossips, slanderers, and the spiritually immature (1 Corinthians 3:3; 11:18; Romans 16:17). But those who want to walk above worldly ways and represent Christ well guard against divisive discussions. They refuse to listen to gossip about their pastor or to pass it on. They commit to bringing any and all concerns about the pastor or his family to the pastor himself in a spirit of love and humility. They refrain from criticizing his wife or children, realizing that his family has the same right to imperfections as we all have. If there is a serious error, a mature believer will lovingly show the pastor where he is contradicting Scripture (Galatians 2:11; Acts 18:25–26). Jesus gave instructions concerning church discipline in Matthew 18:15–16, and the process precludes gossip.
Neither pastors nor their families are perfect. They struggle with the same sins, weaknesses, and immaturities that everyone else does. But talking about them behind their backs solves nothing. The biblical alternative to gossiping about the pastor is loving, respectful inquiry. Gossip would rather whisper, “I heard that Brother John is in financial trouble. Do you think he’s a gambler or just careless with money?” But wisdom asks for a meeting with the pastor and says, “I’ve heard some things that trouble me and wondered if you could let me know what’s true and what isn’t. I’m concerned that you might be facing some financial struggles and wonder how we as a church can help.” Most pastors welcome such openness from fellow churchgoers, and those conversations can build relationships rather than destroy them. Gossip divides; honest inquiry unites.
When we go approach matters directly, rather than hide behind gossip and slander, we stop damaging rumors and prove ourselves to be trustworthy to our spiritual authorities. Consider this example: Sharon notices that Pastor Ben’s wife has not been in services for several weeks. No one has heard that she was ill. In a discussion with her friend Jill, Sharon mentions that fact and then adds, “You know, I always wondered if she even likes this church. She was Methodist, you know, before she married the pastor. I’m wondering if she’s secretly going to the Methodist church because she doesn’t like Baptists.” Jill nods, saying that she’d thought the same thing, and by the next week the pastor hears through the grapevine that his wife is divorcing him because he’s Baptist. A visitor catches wind of this gossip and thinks, “I don’t want to go to a church where the pastor’s marriage is in trouble. I think we’ll visit a different church next week.” Like a spark in dry grass, gossip can ignite a flame that cannot be contained (see James 3:5–6). When it concerns a pastor’s family, gossip does more than damage a few individuals; it damages a church.
Returning to our example, if Sharon had followed biblical steps, she would have noticed Pastor Ben’s wife’s absence, asked to speak with the pastor privately, and expressed her concerns. She would have learned that his wife’s brother in another state was threatening suicide and she had gone to help the family. They had not publicized her trip to respect the brother’s privacy. If Sharon had not gossiped, not only would the church and pastor have remained free of controversy, but Sharon would have earned respect from the pastor himself.
We all have a natural tendency to gossip before we realize that’s what we’re doing. Walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25) means we learn to curb our natural tendency to share all the “news” we can. Before we share information that is not ours, especially when it is about someone in spiritual authority, we must first ask ourselves: Will the person to whom I am sharing be part of the solution? Have I first talked to the pastor before I talk about him? Is this information loving, constructive, and of benefit to the pastor and my confidante? If we cannot answer those questions in God-honoring ways, it’s best to keep the information to ourselves.