Today we’re privileged to have a guest post from Dr. Garth Leno who is the President of WORDfirst Ministries. He has been a pastor for 30 years and is currently taking steps to plant a church in Windsor, Ontario. We’ve all faced that person in our church who is spreading negativity through the community … this post provides counsel for church leaders looking to deal with these people in a straight forward manner.
The pastor gets fired. Rumors spread like an Alberta prairie grass fire in mid-August. His family does not want to be seen in public. Even though he has no job, he would rather move than face his former parishioners. No prospects come forth. Who wants to hire a pastor who’s been fired? The rumors multiply…
But you need to remember that rumors are not the end of the story.
Abraham Lincoln’s coffin was pried open twice.[i] The first occasion was in 1887, twenty-two long years after his assassination. Why? You may be surprised to know it was not to determine if he had died of a bullet fired from John Wilkes Booth’s derringer. Instead, a rumor was sweeping the country that his coffin was empty. A select group of witnesses observed that the rumor was totally false, then watched as the casket was resealed with lead.
A second time, fourteen years later, the martyred man’s withered body was viewed again – this time by even more witnesses. Why again? For the same grim purpose! Rumors of the same nature had again implanted doubts in the public’s mind. The pressure mounted to such proportions, that the same grotesque ceremony had to be carried out. In spite of the strong protests of Lincoln’s son Robert, the body was exposed a second time. Then finally – the corpse was permanently embedded in a crypt at Springfield, Illinois.
Pretty cruel, huh? But rumors are like that. Lacking authoritative facts and direct source, information is loosely disseminated, creating unrest and harm. It is pandered by busybodies who cater to the sick appetite in petty people. Those who feed on rumors are small, suspicious souls. And it seems like churches are full of them. They find satisfaction in trafficking in poorly-lit alleys, dropping subtle bombs that explode in others’ minds by lighting the fuse of suggestion. They find comfort in being only an “innocent” channel of the unsure information … never the source. The omnipresent phrases “They say” or “Have you heard?” or “I understand from others” provides safety for the rumor-spreader.
Have you heard that the Concrete Baptist Church is about to split?
They say there’s been a higher-than-average turnover of staff at his church.
I understand from others that they are divorcing … apparently she was unfaithful.
Several people say the pastor had to leave his former church, too.
Have you heard? Their son is taking drugs … got picked up for shoplifting.
They say he’s hard to work for because he’s an autocratic leader!
The tongue is capable of prying open more caskets, exposing more skeletons in the closet, and stirring up more choking, scandalous dust than any other tool on earth. I know this from personal experience, having been terminated and then exposed to some ungodly, unkind gossip and speculation.
Charles Swindoll gives four suggestions for silencing rumor-mongers which I find extremely helpful:
- Identify sources by name. If someone is determined to share information that is damaging or hurtful, request that the source be specifically stated.
- Support evidence with facts. Do not accept hearsay. Refuse to listen unless honest-to-goodness truth is being communicated. You can tell. Truth is rarely veiled or uncertain. Rumors fade when exposed to the light.
- Ask the person, “May I quote you?” It’s remarkable how quickly rumor-spreaders can turn four shades of red! Equally remarkable is the speed with which they can backpedal.
- Openly admit, “I don’t appreciate hearing that.” This approach is for the strong. It might drive a wedge between you and the guilty … but it’s a sure way to halt the regular garbage delivery to your ears.
Rumors are not the end of the story. Truth and time go hand in hand, and sooner or later God reveals the truth. So be patient, and wait for the Lord. “The words of the godly lead to life; evil people cover up their harmful intentions. Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:11-12 NLT).
Take the high road and don’t stoop to respond to every rumor you hear about your life and ministry. Don’t defend yourself. It never helps.
[i] Story adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1983, pp. 105-107.