What is the danger of gossiping about your pastor and his family?

Gossiping is spreading stories or information about someone else to other people. Gossip can be false or intentionally slanderous, but even passing along information about someone that isn't negative can be gossiping. Gossiping is not only a sin that God detests (2 Corinthians 12:20; Romans 1:29; 2 Timothy 3:3), but it hinders the church by building suspicion and distrust of others. Gossip can ruin. Most people are aware of the way that gossip destroys people's reputations and does great harm to relationships, but still they continue to spread gossip because it feels good (Proverbs 26:22). The pastor and his family are easy targets for gossip in the church, and unfortunately gossip has ruined the unity of a congregation and done great harm to the ministries of many faithful pastors.

While most people can identify some forms of gossip easily ("did you hear what Mark did?"), gossip most often sneaks into the church through other means. Telling your close friend or small group more information than necessary about someone else so that they can pray for them could really just be gossip. One of the biggest ways that gossip is spread throughout the church is through complaining. Sometimes people prefer to spend time complaining about the people in ministry or the way things at church are run than to spend time worshipping God in community, learning about God through His Word, growing in their relationship with Him, and serving in the work of ministry both inside and outside of church. Jude says that this kind of behavior is fueled by sinful desires for one's own advantage, and it often results in divisions in the church (Jude 1:16). James realized the power of the tongue, calling it a world of unrighteousness, a fire set aflame by hell that stains the whole body, changing the course of people's lives (James 3:6). Our words can do a lot to help or harm the ministry, so what can you do to end gossip and build up your pastor and your church (Ephesians 4:15–16, 25, 29)?

God calls us to work for peace and unity
Pastor, elder, deacon, children's ministry worker, worship leader, cleaning team, small group leader, AV team, Bible study participant, church member—if we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are all a part of His body. If one member is suffering, the rest of the body suffers (1 Corinthians 12:26). When one aspect of church ministry is going well, the other ministries in the church are able to flourish. The body of Christ is "joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16). Because of this we should be working to support our fellow workers in the ministry, and your pastor is just that: a fellow servant in God's kingdom. His function is different, but he is working towards the same goal you are. Throughout the New Testament we are encouraged to work towards unity in the church: "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement" (1 Corinthians 1:10). This excludes gossip in all forms. Instead we need to focus on loving one another, "which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:14).

Don't hold your pastor to unrealistic standards
Pastors are easy targets for gossip because congregation members don't usually think about them as people who struggle through sin and trials. Instead, pastors and their families are put in a separate category, one that often holds them to standards that are near perfection. In reality, pastors and their families are subject to the same weaknesses and temptations as everyone else. Their lives are subject to pressures, stresses, and spiritual attacks that many people outside the ministry don't face. Pastors are not only expected to be there for their own families, but also for the rest of the congregation. For example, when someone in the church ends up in the hospital or has a family crisis, the pastor is often there no matter the time of day. This puts pressure on the pastor's wife and children who have to be okay with their husband or father leaving to meet other people's needs rather than be with his own family. With this in mind, congregation members should focus on lifting up their pastor and his family in prayer and encouragement. Rather than gossip about your pastor and his family, seek to genuinely support him. You might even ask him what specific things you can do that would be helpful to him and his family. Prayer is certainly a great place to start (1 Timothy 2:1).

Handle real issues biblically
If your pastor sins against you or you are made aware of a questionable situation involving your pastor, the Bible lays out instructions for how to handle this: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15–17).

Instead of asking other people about the issue, and therefore spreading the story, go straight to your pastor and talk to him about it. Most likely there was a misunderstanding, or there was more to the situation than you knew. Whether that is the case or not, it is not wrong to lovingly express your concern to your pastor. They key is to express the concern with a genuine heart of love and to do so directly to your pastor rather than to gossip about the issue.

It is also important to remember that most pastors have a circle of mature Christians in their lives to hold them accountable. In many cases, it is not the responsibility or the place of a congregation member to confront his pastor because the pastor has people in place in his life to rebuke him when he needs to be. If you aren't sure whether your pastor has this type of support group, ask him about it.

Trust God with your pastor
God holds pastors to a higher standard of living and a higher standard of judgment (1 Timothy 3:2; James 3:1). If you are worried that your pastor is in some way not living up to the standards God has called him to, know that God is handling the situation. God will not allow a pastor to misrepresent Him for long. Pray for a change of heart in your pastor and know that God is taking the situation seriously. Ask God to guide you on whether there is anything you need to do, but refrain from gossiping about your pastor. Gossip has a tendency to make problems where there were none to begin with or to exacerbate existing problems. Gossip never helps.

The Bible calls us to respect those in ministry leadership. First Timothy 5:17 says, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching." Rather than gossip or complain about your pastor and his family, seek to be an encouragement and a support. Respect your pastor and honor him for choosing to pour out his life for others rather than advancing his own goals. Be gracious, recognizing that your pastor is just as human as you are. Bring genuine concerns directly to your pastor, as you should with any other believer. Examine your own heart before God and seek to live in unity with other believers. Ultimately we are each accountable to God. "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).

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