Into Thy Word -
One of the most despicable things I've ever seen in my ministerial experience was a prayer group spending all their time gossiping and very little time actually in the Word of God and prayer. While on staff at a church, where we were putting together small groups for the purpose of spiritual growth, I encountered this to be not such an unusual problem. The group's format was supposed to be worship, prayer, study, accountability, and sharing. One of the first groups to be put together was at the initiative of the church secretary, this secretary loved to gossip, and so she got together with two other ladies in the church who loved to gossip and invited a few others to join them. As I would go around visiting the groups, checking on the leadership and making sure everything was running smoothly, this group required a lot of attention. The leadership and people that attended this group had no intention of prayer or study whatsoever, and would actually spend all their time gossiping, while strutting around the church telling everyone how spiritual they were because they were the first small group. Talk about not getting the point!
Over the years I observed many small groups and Bible studies following this format. One third of their time is spent welcoming and greeting people, along with idle conversation, which isn't a bad idea because it encourages relationship building. The problem is when they get into the next two-thirds of their program. Usually the second part of their program is spent gossiping. This gossiping is usually in the context of prayer requests such as; "let's remember deacon Charles who needs to see a psychiatrist, or let us remember sister Joan in prayer because nobody likes her, or let us remember the pastor that God will teach him to let sister Janice, who's here with us, be in leadership;" and so forth. These prayer requests are only designed to spread gossip and slander at the massive cost to the church and community, due to the damage of the body of Christ. When our focus is to be mean to each other and belittle each other, all we accomplish is the shooting of ourselves. As Christians, we all are partakers and participants of the body of Christ, so we're just shooting parts of our own body. What they're doing is taking something Holy of God, which is prayer, and turning it into slander and misinformation for a very un-holy agenda. These belittling, embarrassing, hateful, harassing, vexing, loathsome, obnoxious, offensive, un-inviting, annoying, burdensome, upsetting, tormenting, and just plain nasty behaviors do not belong in the body of Christ, and certainly do nothing to further the Kingdom of God.
Prayer is the business of building our relationship up with God , and of uplifting each other to further God's kingdom. Yes, we're to bring requests from each other before God, this is intercession; an important aspect of prayer and community building. What prayer is not, is a place to share information that no one else needs to know. We do not need to share personal matters unless the person we're sharing about has agreed for this to happen. Breaking confidentiality to people who do not have the right to know is very dangerous and destructive. As is bringing slanderous accusations without facts or verification to back them up and especially not going through the process of Matthew 18, which we will discuss at a later chapter. Some Christians are very careful not to divulge confidential matters but instead will let loose just enough information to leave an impression, which may not be true. Especially when it comes to someone else's character, such as, "let's pray for Brother John because he keeps losing his job." With just that little bit of information no one knows the reasons why John lost his job, perhaps it's illness, perhaps incorrect career decisions, perhaps its the economy, it can be many reasons besides that John may not be a good worker or not have the necessary skills. Even if it is a skills or ethic problem, it's up to the body of Christ to help John with the skills and work ethic. We're called to build each other up, not to tear each other down.
Bible studies, small groups, and prayer groups are essential for spiritual formation and growth and for us to come to our full potential as Christians, seeking the heart of God. We must be in communication with God, through prayer, practicing the spiritual disciplines, and encouraging and lifting each other up. The small group is the perfect vehicle for this endeavor. But when our own agenda clouds the focus of these groups, then it creates a vacuum so that the forces of evil replace what has become an empty meeting. The primary focus of these groups must be spiritual growth and accountability. But beware, be very aware of the role of our evil nature that will dissipate the growth process and neuter our effectiveness to each other and the world; so that a vacuum is not formed thus souring the work of Christ.
An elder in a church I was consulting said that gossip is necessary for convicting people and is needed to give constructive criticism, and that it keeps people informed so we know who to help and pray for. There is a fine line between gossip and constructive criticism. First, gossip always seeks to put people down and escalates the problem. Gossip is dividing to the people involved and is subjective and not based on fact. Constructive criticism seeks to lift the person up and encourage growth and improvement. It is objective, based on fact, and seeks to unite people and to direct positive change. This elder may have had the right motives and heart, but was not mature enough in the faith to know the difference. If the leaders do not know the difference between constructive criticism and gossip, you will have a church riddled with strife, not a pleasant place to be, or a haven of rest that we are called to provide.
When we gossip, when we hear something and turn around and repeat it without knowing its validity, we are being malicious and have no concern for the truth. And when we have no concern for the truth, then we have no concern for the Lord, who is a God of truth!
Ó R.J. Krejcir 1998, 2001 excerpt from the upcoming book Pew Sitting