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Monday, August 01, 2005

Pastors and Spiritual Glossolitis (The Swollen Tongue of the Saints)

Whychurchesdie_3 Each Monday, we're looking at a chapter in the book Why Churches Die:  Diagnosing Lethal Poisons in the Body of Christ by Mac Brunson and Ergun Caner.  It's a great book that diagnoses many of the problems in churches today; and gives so remedies to clear up the ailment.  Today's subject:  Gossip.  Mac and Ergun write...

It was Ergun's first Wednesday night prayer meeting at his new church.  It was supposed to be part of the "honeymoon" period.  Instead, it turned out to be a nightmare.

Walking into the sanctuary of that small country church, Ergun felt like he was in a dream.  It was his first full-time church, complete with a parsonage.  In a town with a population of 115, the pastor would obviously be a central character.  Ergun hoped and prayed that he was up to the challenge.

He felt taking a smaller church would be easier.  The fact that he had received a unanimous vote also bouyed his assumptions.  Of course, it was not difficult to receive a unanimous vote from seventeen people, but he did not allow that to dissuade him. 

The church had the tradition of writing the prayer requests on the huge, five-foot-wide marker board.  As members would share their requests, the pastor would write them down.  The Wednesday night prayer service was usually divided, half an hour for requests and prayer, and then a twenty-minute Bible lesson by the pastor.  This night, the entire hour would be dedicated to the fight stemming from the prayer meeting.

The requests began slowly.  A case of gout here, a cousin with rheumatism there.  The board was filled somewhat quickly with requests of varying seriousness.  Some were heartbreaking, such as a broken home.  Some were less serious, such as a mother asking for prayer for her fighting teenage sons.  However, time seemed to stop when Doreen stood to share her request.

"Preacher," she began, "I am asking the church to pray for a woman in serious condition.  She really needs our prayers."

Doreen then proceeded to share one of the most horrific stories Ergun had ever heard.  This woman for whom Doreen was asking prayer had a serious condition that demanded a prolonged brain surgery.  That afternoon, Doreen had heard the doctors say it was possible that the woman could die, even post-operatively, due to the complications. By the time Doreen finished the report, the sanctuary was silent, except for the sound of the Ergun writing the name of the woman on the marker board.

The darkest part of the tale, however, was yet to come.  Doreen remained standing and spoke with a faltering voice.  The elderly woman seemed almost broken over the tragedy.  She continued to share that the woman's own husband chose her pre-operative moments to tell her that he was leaving her for another woman.  The man was heartless and godless, she exclaimed. 

The new pastor was in shock.  He stood silently, unable to speak or even offer comfort.

The silence was broken by a solitary voice from the back.  Another elderly woman, with hair the color of woven wool, spoke up with a brutal voice.

"Doreen, sit down and shut up!"

The pastor was aghast.  He was unaccustomed to such a scathing rebuke in God's house.  He assumed the woman in the back was a friend of the heartless husband.  He was standing in the midst of a real-life, familial Shakespearean tragedy.

"Ma'am," Ergun began, "Please let her finish her prayer request.  I would ask that we don't speak to each other in that manner."  He tried to summon all the courage he had to face down this conflict.

Doreen continued to share the unfolding horror this woman was facing.  Doreen spoke of the woman's children and compounding debt.  The depth of this woman's misfortune was almost unimaginable.  The young preacher made a mental note to go to the hospital on Thursday morning, even skipping a seminary class. This was certainly more important.

Before Doreen could complete her thought, the white-haired woman in the back spoke up again. 

"Doreen, would you please shut up?  If you don't sit down and be quiet, I'm gonna come up there and punch you in the mouth!"

Now the pastor was simmering with rage.  How dare this woman defend such a man?  And how could she dare speak in such a manner in the church, threatening violence?  Two older women fighting?  What kind of a horror had he inherited?

The new preacher scanned the approximately fifteen people in the church.  Did anyone have a clue about what the preacher should do?  The four men in the sanctuary, sitting with their wives, were looking down at their shoes.  The other women were alternating looks between Doreen and the other woman, as if they were watching gleefully as a fight unfolded.  This is too lurid for words, the young preacher thought.

Finally he spoke.  "Ma'm, I am not going to ask you again.  Please do not interrupt a prayer request. This is a sacred place, and I believe such fighting is an ungodly show of..."

Before the new pastor could finish, the woman in the back stood up and yelled, "Preacher, that's my sister standin' in front of you, and that ain't a real woman, and it ain't a real husband, and it ain't a real surgery.  She is sharin' a prayer request from her soap opera she saw this afternoon!

So much for an auspicious beginning for a new pastor.

Glossolitis is a serious medical condition that is marked by a swelling of the tongue.  In biblical terms, glossolitis occurs when the tongue is overused.  It is, in our estimation, the most prevalent disease in the body of Christ and has the potential to destroy every church it infects.  Gossip, in all of its sinister manifestations, is such a menacing threat that it has become epidemic.  To make this plague worse, Christians have grown accustomed to its ravages.  We assume that it "comes with the territory."  This assumption is our greatest peril.

Mac and Ergun then look at some basic points as it pertains to gossip in the body:
1.  God hates gossip inthe church, in ALL of its forms
2.  A gossip cannot keep a secret
3.  A gossip derives his worth from your pain
4.  Gossip is an addict's fix
5.  Gossip is a knife in a friendly hand


If you haven't already picked up a copy of the book, I urge you to grab one today.  This chapter itself could be worth the price of the book!  :)

For those joining in the discussion, what really struck you about this chapter and the points above?

We'll try to take a look at a remedy for pastors in dealing with gossip in our next post on this book later on this week!

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August 1, 2005 in Leadership Issues, SPECIAL: Why Churches Die | Permalink

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I think that if we remind ourselves to consider what the purpose of our gossip is, we will greatly reduce it. How often is our true purpose to make us feel better about ourselves, either because we have the "inside dirt" or because we are better than someone else.

How does this tidbit of information about another change who we really are? It may change the way we perceive this other person, but does it really change them? Are they really doing something that much different than what we either have done or might well do in the future?

Two questins that might be asked when gossip arises are: 1) how do you know this to be true, and 2) how does passing this along help anyone in a constructive way.

Posted by: Bill | Aug 1, 2005 10:42:57 AM

" She is sharin' a prayer request from her soap opera she saw this afternoon!"

She must have been mentally disturbed... Next to determine, is she a drain on the church, or someone to minister to?


Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Aug 1, 2005 10:49:13 AM

Was this considered gossip? Maybe I missed it here. Where is the gossip? It appears you have a woman who has a mental condition and should be treated as such. It also appears you have another woman who needs anger management. And finaly you have a new pastor that has a great story to tell his grandkids.

Did I miss something in the story? Please help!!!

Posted by: PB | Aug 1, 2005 10:57:46 AM

Sorry...I can't comment on the substance...I've been too busy laughing on the floor and telling others about this story. I would have had NO CLUE as to where to go from that point on in the prayer meeting. I got nothin'. Stinkin' hilarious. :))

Posted by: rico | Aug 1, 2005 11:04:46 AM

There are several reasons that Churches die, bit in the situation that I'm involved with ( Small Country Churches) Is that once al the members of that Church go home to be with Jesus there aren't any new members to carry on, for lack of support from even their denomination. That if a church isn't growing into the mega-Churches that we've all come to know, well what is the sense in keeping that Church alive? The sad thing is that there are country Church buildings sitting empty while people around that empty building are dying and going to HELL because there aren't any interested parties shareing Jesus with them.

Posted by: David Conrad | Aug 1, 2005 11:16:46 AM

ROTFLOL - I'm with Rico! This sounds like it has to be a parody or a certain part of the country where I've pastored, but will not mention - risking geographical defamation. This "stuff" does happen. There's a whole lotta wheat and chaff out there.

Posted by: Jeff Stewart | Aug 1, 2005 12:23:17 PM

I am with the guy who said he doesn't get the connection to gossip in this story. It is just a sad case of a woman with some form of illness. If it is true - it is sad, not funny.

Posted by: Michael | Aug 1, 2005 1:36:19 PM

The saddest part of this drama, is the reality of the problem. This is not humorous, unless you have never seen the defamation of the tongue. The mouth is a murder and assassin. The sad portion of this is that 1. The Pastor is standing alone, the congregates should know of this woman's problem due to their knowledge of the Church, no one is standing with the Pastor in dealing with the problem. 2. How come there is only one person who is standing and addressing the gossiper, are we not our brother's keeper. 3. Where is the "Fear of the Lord"? 4. Why does the Body of Christ look at such things and list them as humor, it is a sad state of the Church when we ignore the sin and sickness and find the latest story to pass on the our friends. Is that possible that the "Pot dare not speak concerning the blackness of the Pan". The tongue can be sharpened like a sword, the tongue can be shot like an arrow. This greatest destructive weapon we possess is located in the arsenal of the tongue. The power of life and death is in the mouth. The Word of God is nigh thee even in thy mouth. My hope is that by Divine Grace I never find myself in a service like the one mentioned, and an even greater fear would be those "Ministers", who found humor in the situation. The spreading of untruths is Gossip, it is destructive, it is the weapon of a killer vent on destruction. The Bible states that God hates hands that shed innocent blood, and that liars are found in a lake of fire. However, I guess that it is easier for us to laugh and wink at sin rather than to address it, less we offend. We are going to stand in front of the "White Throne Judgement', for what we as Pastor's have ignored to keep our congregations happy and ignorant. I believe we need to get back to the Word and use that for instruction and reproof.

Posted by: TJ | Aug 1, 2005 1:38:27 PM

Come now! The problem is not gossip. The problem is not a major deal at this little church.-- The problem is simple, someone should have warned the pastor about this disturbed lady's deal-- that is #1

#2 The old lady in the back with the shut up was out of line-- somebody should have dealt with her.

#3 Why wax spiritually about this? A prayer meeting involved in that stuff, in my (no big deal) estimation will be continually stuck going no where... along with the church. The light really does attract the bugs. You betcha

Posted by: Don Solin | Aug 1, 2005 2:26:00 PM

Oh one last deal... To T.J. because you don't find it funny, does not make it unfunny period. Very limited in your view, especially about those that find it funny. What gives? While it has funny stuff-- kind of like "where's the beef?" from long ago, why pontificate with all the stuff about winking at sin... The unfunny part is the pastor who is serving at a place that has this going on. He needs our prayers.

Posted by: Don Solin | Aug 1, 2005 2:31:11 PM


Now, I have had to endure plenty of bad "prayer requests" but this one takes the cake. It gets me to think, “how many other requests I might have heard coming from the same Soap Opera!”

I am with the majority here, where is the Gossip?

While Gossip is an evil to be sure, this story seems to deal more with small church dynamics then gossip.

Posted by: Al | Aug 1, 2005 3:12:59 PM

I'm with PB here. Where is the gossip? I'm not sure this qualifies as an act of gossip. However, Rico poses an even more interesting question. Where does this poor pastor go from there? I mean, this story comes right out of the book:(Not an actual book)A Pastor's Memoirs: 14 Dark Tales of Church Drama( Now includes fully illustrated drawings of real life scenarios). Of course I would like to a see a follow up book on this series titled: A Pastor's Memoirs: How Pastor xxx Resolves the Drama Without the Drama(Includes Audio Comentary On Strategies For Today's Embarassing Leadership Moments, Politcal Tips Guaranteed to Work on Board Members, Exit Strategies For Avoiding Irritating Church Leaders, and Ideas For Selecting Committees When Planning Church Renovations.)

Posted by: Pete King | Aug 1, 2005 3:17:58 PM

I think this situation has a lot less to do with gossip than it has to do with Christian people who don't know how to behave in the presence of persons who are irrational. Several points to consider:
1. The prayer requester's concern was real, even if her perception of reality was blurry. Her heartfelt concern needed to have been treated with respect. Even when a person is sincerely saying words that you know cannot be true, you can still respond truthfully and prayerfully to the emotion they express.
2. "Doreen, sit down and shut up" is not kind, not helpful, not supportive, and quite evidently from the story, not effective. Sounds to me like there is some "caregiver burnout" on the part of the sister: she is tired out from dealing with Doreen's behaviour and I suspect a bit angry that she is stuck with dealing with it anyway. And it also sounds like this congregation needs some training in loving the unlovely and caring compassionately for and providing relief for those who are living those "lives of quiet desperation." The women who could look on "gleefully" in anticipation of a fight between the sisters were apparently not asking the Lord for guidance in how they could help the situation! WWJD?
3. It was not dealing with the embarrassment of the situation when the others present did nothing to inform the new pastor what was happening. Someone could have quietly tiptoed up and slipped him a note explaining, "Doreen has dementia and is often confused. She may go on for a long time if you don't graciously remind her that other people need time for their requests too." This would not be gossip, this would be giving him the background information he needs to do the job without getting his foot in his mouth!
4. If Doreen's sister was "in the back", apparently people were sitting in rows. With an attendance of only fifteen, why was this necessary? Why would they not form a circle? Is there resistance in this congregation to actually facing each other and seeing each other's raw humanity? It is not just those who have a mental disturbance who are broken: we are all broken people, some of us in more public ways than others. It is too easy to forget about our own brokenness when we avoid seeing the brokenness of others. And being aware of ourselves as believers as broken people being mended together reduces the likelihood of gossip: gossip requires a distancing of oneself from the humanity of the person being gossiped about.
4. My understanding of gossip is that it involves passing on unproven or not-quite-true or blatantly untrue tales about a mutual acquaintance to another person in hopes that they too will pass it on. A recitation of the events of a soap opera by a person whose ability to deal with reality is impaired by a medical condition would not qualify as gossip, in my opinion. It would appear that the real gossip may have been going on between the other members of the congregation out of church, since none of them would speak up to support either the pastor or the sisters while in church. The act of gossip seemed to have blunted their ability to discern the Spirit's leading as to how they could helpfully care for their sisters in Christ: the ways in which we blunt our ability to hear the Spirit could make a good sermon series!
5. The caregiving sister is no less needy than the one with dementia, though her needs are different. I would suggest, for one thing, that the other women in the congregation take turns staying with Doreen at home so that her sister could get out for an evening at church without the burden of being responsible for Doreen. If they shared the experience of dealing with Doreen's dementia, they would be less likely to gossip about her behavior. And is it possible that if Doreen were more involved in their lives that she would have less need to create her own reality from a soap opera?

And perhaps this is long enough and I should stop now?!

Posted by: lyndat | Aug 1, 2005 3:24:57 PM

Please don't miss understand those who find the humor in this. It isn't that we with a sick sense of humor are not sensitive to the dire situation. You see, just as some surgeons need to play loud music while opperating in order to stay relaxed while saving their patients life so are those of us who are in the business of helping in the church trying to save lives while dealing with the ridiculous bugs that swarm around our churches light.

Posted by: Pete King | Aug 1, 2005 3:35:58 PM

Is it true, helpful, inspirational, necessary and/or kind?
Did it happen to you (eye witness or hearsay?) What is
the motivation to repeat it? (only God knows the heart.)
Gossip in the bible usually coincides with false witness.

Ministers gossip about their leadership who knows the
truth to destroy the witness to keep his (The minister’s) job.
He tells other ministers in town who listen—making them
a party to the gossip, oh, what did you say? Oh, yeah,
ministers don’t gossip, they just ask for prayer concerns.
It is gossip when it disagrees with me or someone of influence who
knows what REALLY went on so you label them to keep
anyone from listening to the truth. Our Lord knows the truth
and who is really causing the division.

Some woman in the audience should have gone quietly to her side
and suggested they go for coffee and talk about it. The minister
should have been clued in quietly with love and concern.

Posted by: TLC | Aug 1, 2005 6:30:21 PM

"are those of us who are in the business of helping in the church trying to save lives while dealing with the ridiculous bugs that swarm around our churches light."

Are they bugs, an irritant, or wounded people that need to be ministered to?


Posted by: bernie dehler | Aug 1, 2005 7:03:25 PM

It seems to me this is not so much gossip but rather a poor way to lead a prayer meeting. I have noticed that when we all sit around and mention our prayer requests we spend more time talking about prayer and details that are not needed. We are praying to God, Who already knows the details. It would be a much better use of time to just begin to open the meeting to prayer and as each prays for the need the others can agree and give the Amen. Less time to be distracted and tempted to gossip and much more prayer happens.

Posted by: Tom | Aug 1, 2005 9:46:15 PM

Gossip is passing along a tale, to someone who doesn't have any power to do anything about it. KJV = talebearer (usually sharing 'the bad news' about someone else). Our culture usually uses the term in regards to passing along an unproven story. The woman doesn't necessarily have to have a mental illness, though she seems to have lost her sense of reality. Many people live vicariously through TV shows, even dreaming about them. When I 1st became a Christian, I prayed for a field goal kicker to miss (I was watching the game on a tape). By the way, he missed and my faith was bolstered. Maybe she just had a child-like faith for those 'persons' for whom she had grown to love. Don't some children's prayer requests bring a smile to your heart? You try your best to encourage their faith and move on. Smaller churches can become so consumed with not losing the members that they have, that they fail to confront those, who are scripturally out-of-line. Ducking their heads in embarrassment over the actions of this member, that they've learned to accept, probably saying to themselves, "here we go again." Maybe they were trusting in the new pastor's wisdom to deal with a situation that they've never been able to resolve. Definitely sounds like the sister has dealt with this before, and has finally reached her limit. Not to justify her actions but trying to sympathize. I would certainly laugh about this later, if I was the pastor, not to demean any of the parties involved, but rehearsing how wrong I was in sensing what truly was going on.

Posted by: JMH | Aug 1, 2005 10:22:13 PM

Since I strarted the bug thing.... its easy... If the light attracts the bugs and you and I along with others that have been attracted to the light... then who are the bugs? All of us-- somewhere in the book of Romans.
No problem to admit it... I'm a bug. Too bad for many, they forget where they came from and thus become... ah, never mind.
No wonder many are looking for authentic people.


Posted by: Don Solin | Aug 1, 2005 10:26:12 PM

It may be tough to get the connection from this story to the problem of gossip, but if you are reading the book you understand that this woman would repeat any piece of gossip she could find. She sought out gossip to elevate her position. Reading this post only gives you a portion of the whole.

I think the line between gossip and true prayer request sharing is the wishes of the "victim" in the situation. If Martha wants others to be praying for her bladder infection, great, but if she wants to keep it a secret then people have no business passing it along -- even with the holy wrapping paper of prayer request on the outside.

A good point made in the chapter is that many who gossip are so conditioned to gossip that the sinfulness never occurs to them, even when confronted. They have fooled themselves into believing that bad is good.

Posted by: rev-ed | Aug 1, 2005 10:49:37 PM

Even though I receive these articles on a regular basis in my email, I have to admit I seldom read them. For some reason, this article about gossip (yes, it IS about gossip) caught my attention. Even more so the astounding responses to this article. At the risk of being "spiritually flamed", I feel I must add my 2 cents.

Soap operas are gossip. Period. Therefore, the relating of a story from a soap opera is gossip. Period. The mental condition of the teller does not make it any more or less gossip. So for those that don't see how this story is about gossip, there you go, and for no extra charge because I'm just generous that way. :=D

The point of the story is the destructiveness of gossip in a church, causing divisions and hatred. While some have pointed out other problems pertaining to the sister and the other church members (acurately, I might add), these problems are not the point of the story. Ever hear about church splits? They happen, and usually it has its roots in, you guessed it, gossip. I'm all for finding humor in things, but the unfortunate truth is that church divisions are serious business. So go ahead and laugh now, but remember how serious this really is in the church today.

For those who found this funny enough to relate to their friends, well guess what? Yep. You're a gossip. You don't agree, I know, but think about it this way; the possibility of a harmful sin has been pointed out. The flesh wants to rise up and pride screams out "No, NOT ME!" But as ministers, isn't better to take the time to examine our hearts, then get before our Saviour and find out what He has to say? If, after communing with God and meditating on His Word, you find you're NOT a gossip, what have you lost? But if you do find the truth about yourself, and decide to change, what has your congregation gained? ;=)

So that's my 2 cents. If you disagree, so be it. I'm not going to be checking back here for responses or anything, so don't worry about hurting my feelings. I only hope that this has come across to you as loving insights and gentle corrections, because that is how I sincerely meant it.

And just so you know, I am examining myself, too.

Posted by: HUH? | Aug 1, 2005 11:18:41 PM

This was funny and I like others do not get the connection. It is less about gossip and more about relationships. I our church, our pastor has been preaching/teaching on the powers of reconciliation. This seems to be the issue to me here. It is obvious that the sister (caretaker) is tired of dealing with the day in and day out issues of caring for her sister. It is easy for peple to get wrapped up in the Soaps and the issues addressed in them. I have had experience with this issue and agree that the genuine concern is there and often real. The address should be to see this woman at a later date and see where she is mentally and emotionally. Christ has called us(the church) to care for these people and as such we need to be mindfull of our members who are in need of relief when it concerns caring of our family in Christ. Just as a family would take turns caring for an individual in need, we as a church should take turns as well. Someone needs to give this woman a break once and a while to find Christ in her caring for her sister. As a person who cared for my father his last year on earth, I know the relief I felt when family and Hospice came to relieve me from the day in and day out care of Dad. It helpe me to see the need to show Christ in this difficult situation. This is what families do for one another and as the family of Christ we should do the same. Still the story was funny!

Posted by: Sue Arredondo | Aug 2, 2005 10:12:43 AM

In reply to should we conform to the culture or the culture conform to us- What is the culture of today vice who set the culture of yesterday? Someone had to set the rules- It wasn't Jesus- who wore sandals- Heres a question- Where did wear your Sundays best originate???
With women wearing no tops- WOW- Where was that at? I guess this is really all a personal decision that the Pastor will have to set in place- If it makes a brother or sister stumble would be one point I would look at. Which a woman not wearing a top would definetly make a believer or non believer who is struggling with sexual issues fall but someone wearing flip flops- I guess the point could be made that someone could have a foot fetish -haha- but again- different strokes for different folks.

Posted by: Rick | Aug 2, 2005 10:48:18 AM

Bernie said,

"Are they bugs, an irritant, or wounded people that need to be ministered to"?

I think it depends on the context and the person. I could tell you that not all people are always at your church because God has sent them there. Obviously, there is a very difficult line that needs recognizing when it comes to meeting people's needs. Sometimes you have to look at the whole and decide which is more important. I'm not saying leave the downtrodden people on the street. But sometimes you cannot help those individuals with difficult challenges. So if this individual has special needs and cannot meet them is fair or right for either party to coexist in this church? People with mental illnesses are always a challenge for churches in general. That's something that really needs developing. I do know this that I have seen people leave churches when people with special needs are acting up and disrupting the church. Just a thought. Please don't think I'm insensitive. I've have just seen things from a different point of view. God bless.

Posted by: Pete King | Aug 2, 2005 1:09:18 PM

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