“Gossip? No, not me!”
We’re all guilty of gossip, whether we believe it or not. It takes place in our everyday environments—from work to playdates with other moms, to brunch with friends, and yes, even our small group at church. It shows up in many ways, like when you are nodding in agreement when your coworker complains about a previous coworker. Or when you share what you thought happened between a friend and her ex with another friend. Or when you shared a prayer request with your small group about your friend’s eating habits.
Our flesh loves gossip! It feels so good. We often forget that it is sin, because it feels more like a small issue that deserves a slap on the hand instead of our human wickedness that hung Jesus on a cross.
But why does it feel so good? A study recently examined brain imaging of men and women as they listened to positive and negative gossip about themselves and celebrities. The results were fascinating. People who heard gossip, whether about themselves or others, showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex of their brains, which would suggest that people correlate gossip with image and how they are viewed by others. The caudate nucleus, known as the brain region associated with pleasure and reward, showed a strong response to only negative gossip about celebrities.1
The study concluded that people felt happier when they heard positive gossip about themselves and negative gossip about others. What is even more interesting is that the brain scans also showed activity in regions associated with self-control when the participants heard the negative gossip, which suggested the participants were trying to hide how much they enjoyed hearing about someone’s downfall.2
We are all humans, with a human nature that wants more of the feel good than the die-to-ourselves lifestyle. But here’s the thing: humans make up the church, which means humans make up your small group, too. If we know that we are prone to wander, what guidelines can we set in place to keep gossip out of our small groups?
- Establish your small group as a safe place. One way to do this is to have a group covenant—a list of expectations for your group. There is a sense of stability and safety when a group can come together and create a covenant of what they want their small group to look like and how the members should interact with others, inside and outside of the group. It’s best to do this at the beginning of the semester and go over it with any new members who join throughout the semester. Gossip usually breads on insecurity, curiosity, and boredom. When there is structure and safety, the need for gossip goes down.
- Define prayer request. Clarity is kindness. Your small group might be composed of women who have walked with the Lord for a long time, as well as new believers who are trying to pick up on social cues and understand all the lingo. Before you ask for prayer requests, go ahead and explain what a prayer request is and what it is not. Give a few examples and remind them that it is about taking it to the Lord instead of telling the group all the details of what happened.
Your younger sisters are watching. Gossip doesn’t have an onset when you hit adulthood. I remember being on the playground as a little girl and running back and forth to different groups of friends to hear if they had any “news” on my crush, Hank. We would giggle and throw our hands over our mouths whenever someone would share something. This was a learned behavior. Our relationship with gossip does not only affect us but the generations to come. We are doing a disservice to our younger sisters in Christ if we do not model this relationship well.
“If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless, and he deceives himself.”James 1:26
- Peng, Xiaozhe et al, “The ugly truth: negative gossip about celebrities and positive gossip about self entertain people in different ways,” Social neuroscience vol. 10,3 (2015): 320-36. doi:10.1080/17470919.2014.999162
Catherine Inman is the event project coordinator for Women’s Leadership Training Events at Lifeway Christian Resources. Prior to her current role, she served as girl’s ministry director at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. She also was a missionary in Europe, Africa, and Asia serving in various ministries. Catherine is passionate about biblical literacy and equipping women to reach their full potential in Christ. She aspires to minister to women while cultivating rawness and vulnerability. Catherine enjoys spontaneous road trips, conversations with friends over a cup of coffee, spending time exploring nature, and watching sports!