I’m not talking about the innocuous version of gossip which is simply talking about people. “In Bible times, women met at the village well to exchange the latest gossip.”
I’m talking about the harmful kind of gossip. Gossip that hurts. Gossip that takes the place of the godly, face-to-face truth telling which ought to take place more often. Amy Carmichael had a rule for all those who served at her mission station: “Talk to, not about.”
I like to define the harmful variety of gossip as saying negative things about a person which the hearer does not need to hear.
I like this better than the oft’-quoted definition which says that “If my hearer isn’t part of the problem or part of the solution, then it’s gossip.” The problem with this definition is that we can always pretend that the hearer is part of the solution because at the end of our gossip session we ask our friend to “Please pray for brother so and so.”
Here’s how it works: Your friend begins to share some juicy gossip with you. You raise both of your hands to the level of your chest and move them forward slightly while saying, “Whoa!” like you’re trying to stop a horse. Then, while moving your hands back and forth – like you’re erasing a chalk board with two erasers – you say, “Wait a minute.”
Then, perhaps while pointing to your gossiping friend you say, “You need to talk to _________ (name of the person being gossiped about) about this.” If the person being gossiped about is on the other side of the worship center, or in his office down the hall, you can point in his/her direction.
If this isn’t quite clear, you can watch me doing this with a congregation on You Tube. Just punch in my name, and don’t confuse me with the high school football running back by the same name.
The Everlasting Gossip Stopper should be done very gently with the young believer in Christ and much more vigorously with the veteran Christian who ought to know better. Getting your hands pretty close to his nose is not inappropriate with the old church bully.
I’m not kidding about doing this; it really works. Remember to smile, but try it.
I teach this, from the pulpit, over and over again in church after church. (It fits quite nicely into many sermons.) I’ll teach it anywhere I can.
I ask church congregations to practice it with me, out loud, with the hand motions. Most people cooperate. Many go out and practice it. I’ve had kids tell me that they’re using it at school. I’ve had grownups tell me that they’ve used it at work. It really does work.
Best of all, the Everlasting Gossip Stopper can literally help to change the culture of a church. This is not my own claim; it’s the testimony of a staff pastor from one of my former transitional ministry assignments. Of course it has to start at the top, with the lead pastor and staff.