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Rumour and Gossip (1 Timothy 5:19)

Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:19)

One of the greatest joys you'll have in leadership is serving alongside others as part of a team.

Being part of a team means that there are more gifts and abilities available to enhance your leadership and the ministry you oversee. At times you'll become aware of your own weaknesses and limitations and it's in these situations having people who can do things you can't, will be of great help.

Teams also help with creativity and new ideas. When people lead alone, it's not long before a "sameness" develops in a programme. The lack of a team means few new ideas or ways of doing things are adopted.

A team can also help us when we're struggling. There will be times you feel discouraged or are facing a situation which you're not sure how to handle. At these times a team can encourage us, lift us up and offer wise advice.

Because teams are so valuable, it's not surprising that the devil loves to attack them and sow discord and division.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jesus' primary prayer for his followers was that they may "one", even as He and the Father are one (John 17:21). As churches were planted it was left to leaders such as Paul and Timothy, to develop practices that helped this prayer become a reality.

One such practice is outlined in this verse: "Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses."

This was a formal process that recognised the damage that can be caused in a church by slander and gossip. Once rumours about someone start circulating it becomes difficult to separate truth from fiction. This practice ensured that legitimate concerns about leaders were examined properly and those that were mere rumours or misunderstandings were quickly extinguished.

The principle behind the rule is applicable not only to a team leader but to the whole team.

As mentioned, the devil loves to divide teams and the people he targets to do his work are members of that team like you and I. If he can make us envious of others and critical of them he is already achieving his ends. If he can spread rumours and have people believe gossip, the divisions start to widen and a team's effectiveness begins to diminish.

It's our duty therefore as team members, to be on our guard against actions or attitudes that cause division.

If we hear things said about other team members that are critical without being serious, then the best advice on this verse is the two words "Don't listen!" Don't get involved in such conversations.

If you hear a rumour or accusation against a leader in the church or against someone on your team that is more serious, believe the best about them (1 Corinthians 13:7) while remaining open to uncovering more facts.

Elsewhere, in Matthew 18:15,16 we read that the first step is to approach the person themselves with your "evidence". If they deny it or have good reason for their action it may be the end of the matter.

But in both Matthew and in these verses, we read the next step is to verify the person's conduct through witnesses. Be careful about seeking witnesses. Talk only to those people who you know will be in a position to verify or dismiss the accusation. Otherwise you'll end up spreading more rumours.

If you are not aware of any such people, "don't listen". If it is serious you might mention the rumour to the leader of your team, otherwise leave it. If wrong is being done, God will bring it to the light without you playing detective!

Of course, if witnesses do support the accusation the next step is to talk with the overall ministry leader, sharing what you know. At that point it's over to them to investigate further and take action.

All this may seem common sense but it takes determination not to get drawn in by rumours and to not to create division by talking about other leaders behind their back and passing on stories that have not been validated or proven.

Failure to follow these guidelines may in fact do greater harm to a team and a ministry than the actions of the person under question.

Reflection:

How tempting is it for you to listen to and pass on rumours that don't paint others in a good light? Is your natural tendency not to listen, or do you find yourself getting drawn into gossip?