Have you ever played the gossip game? This game has been around for a long time—probably because of how well it illustrates the effect of gossiping. I remember a particular Vacation Bible School when the youth class played this game. The teacher began by whispering the sentence “Donnie went fishing” into the ear of one of the students. That student, in turn, whispered what she heard into the ear of the student seated next to her, and so on around the table. When the last student had been whispered to, the teacher asked that person to restate the sentence. The young man answered, “Rhonda wears a wig.” That was a far cry from the original statement! Sometimes a message changes from person to person as illustrated by the gossip game. Sometimes the communication is restated exactly as it was received, but the information is just plain false.
Gossip can do more to upset and distract a pastor and his family than most other situations that arise within the church. Every traditional church I have come in contact with has what I call “the hotline”—a close-knit group of church members (both male and female, by the way) who talk to each other during the week about everything from their families to the goings-on within the church. The chances are high the pastor or someone in his family will be the subject of the conversation at some point. I have often wondered if those who talk think what they say stays a secret. If so, they are mistaken! I have heard it all—everything from my husband is suing a member of the community for a half million dollars (not true) to the rumor he gets his sermons from the Internet (also not true).
Let me be the first to admit that as a pastor’s wife, nothing raises my dander more than gossip within the congregation—especially a falsehood told about a member of my family. I jokingly tell the story of the time I invited a deacon to the parking lot for talking about my husband. He refused the invitation. But let me also be clear: any pastor who follows God’s leading and does what He says to do will be the subject of gossip and verbal attacks at some point in ministry. However, at the end of the day, God’s approval is the only approval that counts. Paul said, “Stay firmly planted—be unshakable—do many good works in the name of God, and know that all your labor is not for nothing when it is for God” (1 Cor. 15:58, The Voice). You should lie down at night knowing you have been obedient to the Father’s instructions. As laborers together, let us tune out the noise and stay focused on the work God has given us to do.
Maleah Bell is a freelance editor and pastor’s wife. She and her husband make their home in Middle Tennessee.