‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’. If there was ever a lie it’s that one. Words can encourage and build up, but they sure can destroy and hurt as well.
In my experience, one of the most destructive ways words can have impact is through gossip. Gossip is so often seen as a ‘minor sin’ in the church and in youth ministry: a bad behavior, but relatively harmless compared to other, far more ‘dangerous’ sins. Yet gossip has a destructive power that can wound people deeply and that leaves scares that take years to heal. Gossip is anything but harmless and it’s a behavior you need to address in your youth ministry.
Now I have to be honest here. I struggle with gossiping, or with not gossiping to be more correct. It’s an area that I’m weak in and that I’m trying to grow in. So what I’m writing in this post, I’m not writing out of superiority or with even the hint that I’ve mastered this, because I haven’t. But I have been on both ends of gossip, the giving and the receiving end, and neither one is pretty.
What is gosssip?
So let’s talk about gossip and what it can do to others…and to you. First of all, we need to define gossip. Gossip is casual talk about others and their personal affairs and situations. You can debate if the word in itself is neutral, but there certainly is a distinction between the mere sharing of truthful info and the bad mouthing of someone behind their backs, based on false accusations and lies. The second is especially harmful, but the first can easily lead to the second.
The problem is that we live in a culture that thrives on gossip. Perez Hilton and many like him in the boulevard press document each and every step celebrities make and people gobble it all up. They love reading what Lindsay Lohan has done wrong now and they pretty much believe every lie that’s written. And this gossip culture starts with teens, because teen magazines and sites promote gossip as much as anything.
The destructive effects of gossip
Living in this gossip culture, one might conclude that gossip is okay, that it’s part of life, that it’s normal. Teens and adults alike may copy this behavior to their personal lives, to church, to the youth ministry. But it’s not okay. And gossip certainly isn’t innocent.
Gossip can ruin a reputation
Gossip can destroy friendships
Gossip can lead to bullying
Gossip can humiliate and demean
Gossip can lead to exclusion from the group
Gossip can ruin trust between people
Gossip undermines the morale in a team
Gossip is incredibly destructive and not just for teens. Adults have been destroyed by gossip as well. Recently a book came out in the Netherlands with a story about a woman who had become a prostitute. The writer had accidently used a pseudonym for this woman that was a somewhat unusual name, but not so unusual that there wasn’t a real woman with this name. She immediately became the topic of gossip in the very small town where she lived and many assumed the book was about her. She had to sue the publisher to change the name because the gossip was ruining her life, in effect destroying her.
The Biblical argument against gossip
The destructive power of gossip should be reason enough to address this issue in our youth ministry, but there’s also a very strong Biblical argument. Gossip is sin, make no mistake about it. The Bible warns against gossip and condemns it in no uncertain terms in several places. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about it for instance, just look at these three examples:
“A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” (Proverbs 11:13 NKJV)
“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.” (Proverbs 20:19 NKJV)
“Where there is no fuel a fire goes out; where there is no gossip arguments come to an end. Troublemakers start trouble, just as sparks and fuel start a fire. There is nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip! It melts in your mouth.” (Proverbs 26:20-22 CEV)
So how does your youth ministry do in this area? Is gossip a problem and if so, what are you doing against it? Next week we’ll talk some more about this issue and see how you can address gossip amongst your youth leaders and amongst your students.
Do you recognize gossip as destructive? What could we do as youth leaders to fight gossip in our youth ministry?