Today, I interview Matthew Mitchell on his new book, Resisting Gossip. Matthew’s book contains a much needed message for the Body of Christ today.
What follows is our interview.
By the way, if you’re an author of a book — a new or old title — and you’d like to promote it on this blog via a full post interview, email PTMIN@aol.com and attach a copy of your book with your email.
Matthew, instead of asking, “what is your book about,” I’m going to ask the question that’s behind that question. And that unspoken question is, “how are readers going to benefit from reading your book?”
Great question! We all encounter gossip of some kind on a daily basis, yet most followers of Christ have received very little training on how to deal with it. So, I wrote this book to fill that gap. Resisting Gossip helps Christians to recognize sinful gossip for what it is, to resist gossip when tempted to speak it or receive it, and to respond in both faith and love when targeted by a sneak attack.
There are at least three people involved in every gossip situation: (1) the speaker, (2) the listener, and (3) the subject of the gossip. My book aims to help each of those three to assess their hearts and know how to do the right and righteous thing in their particular circumstances.
I wrote the book mainly for ordinary Christians who want to resist gossip. Most other books about this problem spend a lot of words convincing the readers that gossip is bad. I wanted to spend more time convincing readers that gossip can be successfully resisted because of the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, hopefully, readers will gain both new information and new confidence in battling this temptation.
I also had church leaders in mind because “loose lips sink fellowships.” The bonus chapter at the end of the book offers ten principles for cultivating a gossip resistant community.
Tell us a bit about the experiences that shaped the insights in the book.
I’m the pastor of a local church, so I’ve seen the outworkings of gossip in the lives of real people. In the book, I share some of their stories, including a young teacher we call “Lynette” who got addicted to gossip in the teacher’s lounge of her school and a nurse we call “Natalie” who wanted to avoid gossip in the breakroom at a rehab center. Readers will find out how Lynette got out from under her problem and how Natalie began to use strategies we had brainstormed for avoiding gossip at her workplace.
I’m not immune to these temptations or trials, either. In one chapter, I tell the story of how I had gossiped about a guy named “Ethan” and what I learned about rushing to judgment. And I also share about a time when I heard it through the grapevine that a rumor was circulating in our rural community that I had left my wife. That story was laughable to anyone who really knows us (I don’t know how I could live without Heather Joy!), but I have no idea who started the rumor or who might have heard it and believed the lie. The biblical principles in this book are fleshed out in real life illustrations.
Why do you think so many Christians believe that gossip is a far less serious sin than say premarital sex, adultery, stealing, and viewing pornography?
Hmm. One reason is that we’re conditioned to think that way. The world actually celebrates gossip, and the church has turned a blind eye. Since most of us haven’t been clearly taught about this problem, our thinking about its seriousness is bound to be fuzzy.
Another reason is that gossip is stealthy; it’s an under-the-radar sin that is more difficult to detect and therefore harder to condemn.
But the biggest reason is probably because gossip is something that hits too close to home. We all are guilty on some level, so we explain it away and re-label it, downgrading its importance relative to the “biggies” you mentioned. The problem is that gossip makes the Bible’s list of “biggies” (see Romans 1:28-32), so we can’t ignore it and still be living God-pleasing lives.
Give us two or three insights on gossip that would be helpful to Christians.
Sure. First, my definition of the sin of gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart. All three parts of that definition are important. There is (1) bad news involved (normally a shameful story, whether true or false), it is (2) shared clandestinely when the other person isn’t present, and it comes (3) out of a twisted motivation within the person (Matthew 12:34). If you want to know if something is gossip or not, ask yourself why you are sharing or receiving it.
Second, gossip can be motivated by many different things–not just jealousy or revenge, as is commonly understood. In the book, I identify at least five different heart-level motives that often result in gossip, and I’m sure there are more. For example, a lot of gossip in our culture comes from an out-of-proportion desire to escape boredom. We talk about people to amuse ourselves. But I’m learning that the foolish people of the world do not exist for my entertainment. The good news is that God offers greater and more precious promises than these multiple temptations to gossip. There is always a way out in Christ!
Third, you can’t control your reputation, and that’s okay. There are two chapters in the book on this. If people are gossiping about us, it’s out of our power to control, so we need to learn to entrust our reputations into God’s sovereign hands. Jesus was gossiped about–the nastiest rumors! So we should expect to receive some of the same treatment and handle it in a Christ-like way (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Also, as you pointed out in one of your blog posts, jealousy is often the root behind gossip and slander.
Good points, though people can deceive themselves as to the motive of sharing “bad news.” I think the greatest test is simply this: “How would I feel if someone talked about me this way without my permission?” When issues of sin are involved, Matthew 18 is pretty clear on what to do and not to do. Namely, go to the person in private. If they don’t repent (stop committing the specific sin), then take others to talk with them. If the sinning person still doesn’t repent, then and only then should it be “told to the church.” In such cases, it’s not gossip to do so. However, many Christians never go through the first two steps. And step two can last a long time, urging the person with forbearance to stop doing what they are doing (repent), which is injuring others (sin).
What has the response been to the book so far?
Very encouraging in every way. Early reviews have been positive and the publisher, CLC Publications, is encouraged by the sales–the book may soon go into its second printing, and it just came out this month. They are also contemplating a Spanish translation.
What’s most encouraging to me is hearing about small groups, Bible studies, and individuals who are reading the book and the way God is using it to re-direct conversations and lives. One reader recently commented, “Public confession … I have been reading a celebrity gossip blog and I deleted my RSS feed after this line in your book, the foolish people of this world do not exist for my entertainment.” Another wrote, “It helped me to remember to be a gracious person.” Another reader told me that God had used the book to unearth pettiness and pride in him that he hadn’t realized were there. I’m pleased to be a part of what God is doing in these readers’ lives and looking forward to hearing about more.
What else do you want readers to know about your book?
At my website–resistinggossip.com–readers can find out more about the book, watch the video trailer, preview the foreword by Ed Welch of CCEF, read the introduction and first chapter, and get ordering information from booksellers such as Amazon, CBD, WTSBooks, Next Step Resources, and CLC Bookcenter. Resisting Gossip is also available in several e-book formats.
Thanks for the opportunity to tell your readers about it!
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