March 15, 2022

Transformation Tools – Eliminating Gossip

Transformation. From a cynical perspective, it’s nothing more than another buzzword that’s been overused by consultants like me.

Yet when I read how various dictionaries defined transformation, my heart softened. When we talk about being transformed, we’re talking about a making a significant change – a radical change – as some sources say, for the better.

As we begin to emerge into a post-pandemic world that will most certainly still include COVID, the church is right to consider what being transformed will look like. How do we transform as a church writ large and as individual parish communities?

We start with ourselves, and we look at how we interact one with another, because communication is the foundation on which all relationships are built. Sadly, gossip is often part of how we communicate, build alliances, suppress others, and elevate ourselves.

Gossip is insidious. It is not an obvious sin like murder, yet St. Paul in his letter to the Romans includes gossip and slander alongside murder. What then, exactly, is gossip?

Gossip is talking about other people when they are not present, and therefore cannot participate in the conversation. Even if the information is accurate, to discuss the personal matters of another without them means the information will now take on a life of its own. And the life it takes on will become more sensational, losing accuracy with every retelling.

More problematic is when gossiping includes spreading information that may or may not be factual, or at its worse, when one knowingly shares a lie. I have seen gossip cause more damage to companies, non-profit organizations, communities of faith, and personal relationships than I can count.

Transformation cannot occur in the presence of gossip, so we need to work tirelessly to eliminate it.

Here are some tools to deal with the sin of gossip:

1. Own it. Working as a vestry together with your Rector, share with the congregation that the leadership of the parish is committed to reducing and eliminating gossip as a means of establishing healthy communication, a requisite for a healthy parish.
a. Share the scriptural references to reinforce the importance of this issue.
b. Clearly define what constitutes gossip so everyone is on the same page.

2. Acknowledge that it will be difficult. Think about how often we say or hear statements and questions like this:
a. “Did you hear what the Rector said in the sacristy...?”
b. “I know I shouldn’t be saying anything, but...”
c. “It’s so strange that they left together after hours, right...?”

3. Be the change. This means that all clergy, staff, and vestry need to lead the charge by exercising discernment and restraint in order to eliminate gossip from their conversations, and to lovingly call each other out when they hear gossip occurring.

4. Create and share a communication plan that is transparent. This doesn’t mean that you tell everyone everything. It means that you’re clear about what you can share and what you cannot share because of confidentiality. If your congregation knows the boundaries of what can and cannot be shared, they are far less likely to speculate about what might be going on behind closed doors and to gossip about it.

Eliminating gossip represents massive transformation. Do this and you set the stage for more good work to follow.