Gossip can have potential destructive effects in your youth ministry, as we explored in last week’s post. That’s why it’s important to have a no tolerance policy in your youth ministry when it comes to gossip. Since your youth leaders set a huge example here for the youth, you’ll have to start with addressing the issue of gossip amongst your youth leaders. The biggest issue of course is gossiping about the students in your youth ministry.
If you observe your youth leaders gossiping about students amongst each other, do address this issue. Remember that ignoring a situation or pattern of gossip, is effectively the same as approving it. It can help to have a formal policy on gossip in your code of conduct, but even that is useless if you don’t enforce it and actively live it out.
How to address gossip
First of all, you have to lead by example here. This is one of the reasons why it was hard for me to address gossip, because I wasn’t exactly squeaky clean myself in this area. But even when you struggle, you can still address it, just make sure to be open about your own weaknesses here. We often think that our sins and weaknesses disqualify us from saying something, but that’s not true. We can still condemn the behavior, even when admitting we’re sinning in that area ourselves.
Secondly, talk about the destructive effects of gossip. Make it very practical and use real life examples of what gossip can do.
Thirdly, be consequent in addressing it when you see it. Talk to each and every leader who has a problem in this area and keep tabs on how they’re doing.
And last: help your youth leaders in battling gossip. Below are three questions to ask yourself before sharing any information with another youth leader. It’s important that every youth leaders knows these and uses these. But it’s also important that they don’t listen to gossip, that they lovingly but firmly cut off somebody who is gossiping.
When is it gossip?
When we look at youth leaders and the potential for gossiping about the students, there are three key questions to consider, three questions to ask yourself before sharing any info with other youth leaders:
Is it okay to make this information public?
Do these people need to know this?
What’s my motivation for sharing this?
When is it okay to make information public?
The first hint to know if information about a student is okay to share with other youth leaders, is if you have permission. Have you asked the student if it’s okay to inform others? If so, it’s usually okay to share. Be careful with sensitive stuff though, because the student may not always oversee of the consequences of something becoming public. Always protect the student when necessary, even when they have given permission!
A second aspect is if the information is going to become public anyway. If the parents of a student are filing for a divorce for instance, that is not something that will remain a secret. You could still ask your youth leaders thought to not spread the news further until it’s common knowledge.
A third thing to consider is if it’s important to control how something is communicated. There may be sensitive situations where it’s better to communicate early so you can share the right information and control the gossip before it starts. An example from my own youth ministry is when one of our students quite unexpectedly gave birth to a baby. We shared that with everyone right away, because it was going to come out anyway and this way we could influence how it was communicated.
Where is the line between exchanging information about students and gossiping?
The answer to this one is relatively simple, but takes discipline to enforce: if the youth leader isn’t part of the problem, nor part of the solution, it’s gossip. Every time you want to share info on a student, ask yourself this question: do the people you’re sharing the info with need to know this? Can they do anything with the info they get, are they in a position to help the student? If not, why inform them?
This is where it often gets tricky, because how do you define this ‘need-to-know’ basis? A grey area is for instance when a student is involved in something and one of the youth leaders has a sibling in his or her small group. In that case there’s always the option to share limited info. You mention there’s a situation and that the sibling may be affected, without going into detail.
What’s your motivation for sharing the info?
This is when it hits close to home if we take the time to honestly reflect on our motives. Why do we share the information we have? Do we do it out of genuine concern for the student or do we have our own, more opportunistic motives?
Let’s face it, information is powerful in any organization and it’s no different in a church. Sharing the right information with the right people (in slightly edited form when necessary of course) can be a way to build alliances, to protect our position, to discredit our ‘enemies’. But it’s a sliding scale to dirty church politics, to manipulative leadership and to downright lying. And that is not the way we want to lead, is it?
If each and every one of your youth leaders asks these three questions before sharing info with anyone else, gossip will be much less of a problem.
How big a problem is gossip amongst your youth leaders and what are you doing to address it?