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“So also the tongue is a small member,” James 3:5 says, “yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”

Yes, it starts with little sparks. Unchecked, it can turn into an inferno. It starts with little nitpicks and henpecks, little nips at each other that turn into ravenous consumption (Gal. 5:15).

The pastor must not tolerate gossip. When he hears it, he ought to stop it and check it. When he hears of it, he ought to intervene and check it. Gossip often is disguised as concern. Some concern isn’t gossip, but a lot is. Gossip is when we say things about someone we won’t say to them. If you have a concern about someone that you aren’t wiling to take to them, it should be forgiven or forgotten. Any serious concern—about sin, about error, about immodest associations—ought to be brought to the person for discussion.

A pastor will sometimes find himself the recipient of hearsay. What I mean is, he will occasionally receive reports of concerns about his character from anonymous parties delivered by parties willing to deliver them. There are few circumstances in which this might be acceptable. But in general, a pastor facing anonymous criticism will be asked to answer to ghosts. Very few things discourage a pastor more than anonymous criticism. More often than not, a wise pastor will need to say, “If someone is concerned about that, they need to bring it to me personally. As it is, I won’t entertain it.” The wise pastor will then personally consider whether the concerns are valid, anonymously generated or not, and “cling to what is good.” But he is under no obligation to entertain the charges of nobody in particular. “People are saying . . .” can be emotionally crippling to even the most secure pastor. Which people? How many people? One person, two people? Members? Regular attenders? Someone who likes me? Someone who doesn’t? Suddenly every interaction with someone in the congregation is covered by a dark cloud. Is this one of the people who has concerns? Can I trust this person? Nobody can be trusted now because some anonymous somebody has not trusted the pastor with directly delivered concerns.

The pastor should give no harbor to about-talk that avoids to-talk. The gospel is a great creator of order in this regard. When people are reminded of the gospel constantly, and the church’s teaching and programs are centered on the gospel, gossip finds itself in a hostile environment. “Gossiping” the gospel, then, creates an environment where sinners are more inclined to talk to and for each other rather than about and at each other.

– from The Pastor’s Justification

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10 thoughts on “What to Do With “Some People Are Saying . . .””

  1. Louise says:

    An articulate admonishment on gossip, a sin that breeds more sin, like bitterness it can defile many (Hebrews 12:15). Christians can deceive themselves into believing that gossip isn’t that big of a deal, and treat it as “a harmless thing we all do. We’re only humans,” (1 John 1:8, 10) when it should be “we’re all sinners,” so why sin? Gossip is one of those sins that can easily be masked under a guise of piety, or “concern” as you say. A well intentioned act meant to bring about good, not injury or hurt. And many times the recipients of such well intentioned “covert” speech go along with the covert tactic too afraid to confront it, because then the covertly operative speaker could deny it or excuse it, and who wants to get stuck beating around a bush? Gossip is something God judges. I have seen people get judged by God for their gossip, which simply means that God allowed negative consequences into their lives, along with public awareness of how their gossip opposed the truth, to teach the gossiper that their gossip was an obstacle to God’s purpose and grace. But I don’t think that many christians ever think of their gossip as something that God will judge them for, even though the Bible is clear that He will. Instead it is taken lightly, as a minor offense, which is not as bad as other immoralities or indecent behaviors. It is here where religion has sunk in vs. the gospel. And so christians deceive themselves into believing that their sin will not count against them (1 John 1:8, 10), and carry on in their gossip by masking it in some pious motive or intention, which may even serve to convince themselves that their covert actions were not sin, and puff themselves up further in hubris as though they had just performed some good work in their pious intentions rather than a wrong committed against another (1 Timothy 6:1-5).

    In other words, your admonishment from The Pastor’s Justification is a helpful edification for the church. I’ve never thought of how a gospel centered environment creates an atmosphere that lends itself to bonds of peace over hostility and busy-bodying (Ephesians 2:14-16, 4:3). A good insight, and reason to create an environment centered on the gospel.

    1. Jeremy Kidder says:

      Louise, I agree will all that you said except one thing, I do not think that Hebrews 12:15 has anything to do with the topic. If is referencing Deuteronomy 29:18-21 and the “I know it’s wrong, but Jesus will forgive me” attitude. Hope I don’t seem too nit-picky. :)

  2. MC says:

    A good word…timely and convicting. Thanks!

  3. Hal says:

    Good words … from an excellent book.

  4. Jay says:

    “If you have a concern about someone that you aren’t wiling to take to them, it should be forgiven or forgotten.” Umm granted I’m tired but I think you meant willing, not wiling which is “To influence or lead by means of wiles; entice.” Which kinda you know contradicts the point of this article.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Yes, it was a typo.

  5. David says:

    Thank you for this post. As a pastor, I have been on the receiving end of “people are saying” on more than one occasion. I appreciate the wisdom offered here on how to respond. I think I’ll check out this book too.

  6. Scott Douglas says:

    Jared thanks for posting this! My pastor and I were talking about this and he lumped this kind of talk in with the unsigned letter. There’s a special place to file those, the trash can. Even in the midst of hearsay and anonymity, there may be some merit, but without any shred of integrity to deal with the pastor in areas of concern, there’s no difference between this and the unsigned letter. Having gone through this worrying who was talking about me only to find out it was a couple people who didn’t like me confronting a sin issue in their students, I get both the paranoia that accompanies but also the freedom and relief to find out that the “spokesman” really isn’t as much a representative as he is the one who drew the short straw among the group of cowards.

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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