I observed an interesting conversation a while back.
We were spending some time around church people. Not our church people, not the people of FBC Vidalia. These weren’t even people in our community. They were, however, a group of people who all went to the same church, who knew the same people, and who were led by the same pastor. And as often happens when you get a group of people with these commonalities together, their conversation shifted to their pastor. Or more specifically, their pastor’s wife.
“She was wearing this really expensive dress to the service,” one of them said. “I mean, she’s always wearing dresses like that. Dresses that are way too fancy for our church. And they’re tight, too. Like, they make her look tiny!”
“Yeah,” another popped in. “I’ve noticed that about her. I watch her in Sunday school, trying to sit down in her dresses. Which she can’t, because they’re always too tight. So funny!”
“She was wearing one of them at the service the other night,” the conversation continued. “And one of her kids, right in the middle of the service, started freaking out! And he took off running down the aisle, right from the front of the church. And everyone was staring at her as she got up in that tight dress and ran after him. In heels!”
They all burst out laughing at this, making more comments about her clothes, her kids, and even (yes!) how she’s too thin because she wears dresses like that or maybe it’s that she’s too fat since the dresses are tighter than they should be and blah, blah, blah —
I turned to Wes and said, “This makes me wonder what our people say about me in my Wal Mart clothes every Sunday. And what they say about my kids.”
The others in the group were quick to proclaim that – no! – they weren’t being negative. They’re friends with their pastor’s wife. Good friends! And her kids aren’t bad. Not really. Except that one time that —
And then, they were off again, chatting and gossiping. I deliberately began to ignore the conversation at this point, wondering instead about this pastor’s wife and what her life must be like. Why does she dress the way that she does at church? Because someone somewhere has probably subtly suggested at one time or another that she dress her best and she now feels the need to present herself a certain way. (Been there, done that.) Why was she struggling to control her kids during a church service? Because those poor babies were probably exhausted from all the time they’d spent at the church that day – more time than most kids have to spend – and because she was by herself trying to handle it all while her husband was at the front, leading the congregation. (Been there, done that.) Why were her “friends” belittling her and gossiping about her in private? Because she picked some really bad friends at church. (Been there, done that.)
I told Wes later that it’s conversations like this that really make me hesitant as a pastor’s wife to have deep relationships with people at church. I’ve had so many knives in my back that I regard those who are overly enthusiastic to be my friend with wariness, wondering if their interest has more to do with some positional authority they think I have that they can take advantage of (I have no authority, y’all), some desire to get some sort of dirt on me and my family (eh, we’re pretty boring), or a simple need to gossip with others. Are people like this? Yes. Is it sinful? Yes. Do people have enough discernment to stop themselves and say, “I shouldn’t be talking about someone else like this”? No.
It’s not just limited to people in ministry, of course. People gossip all the time about all kinds of people. But it’s especially disheartening when it comes from the body of Christ.
It shouldn’t be like this. We have to do better.
This is my challenge to myself and to you, too. When you find yourself opening your mouth to say something about someone else, ask yourself if what you’re doing edifies and uplifts that person in any way. Is it good? Is it helpful? Will your words honor God? And don’t bypass these important questions by claiming that you’re only mentioning that so-and-so has a horrible marriage and rotten kids and bad breath (oy) because we need to pray for her. (Said in your most holy voice.) Go on and pray for her by yourself, but check your heart before you bring that all up with someone else. You know the difference between heartfelt concern for someone and the need to gossip about them. Do the right thing.
And if you’re around others who just can’t help themselves with the gossip, leave. Just get up and leave. Or call it out for what it is. “I don’t think it’s helpful for us to talk about other people like this. It’s wrong.” Would we want our kids acting the way we do? Would we want other people talking about our daughters the way we’re talking about other women? I don’t think so. Do the right thing.
All this said, I’ve met and talked with this sweet pastor’s wife who was the subject of this disheartening conversation. And she is so genuine and sweet… and so new to ministry. I wanted to give her a hug and whisper in her ear, “Beware the church folk!” But I refrained. Because I still believe, even with knives in my back from past attacks, that the people of God can be redeemed and refined. And we can forgive what’s done against us, just as Christ has forgiven us.
Church friends, we can do better. Think before you speak.