5 Alternatives to Gossip

gossip

This is a guest post by Matt Mitchell, a local church pastor and the author of Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue a new book on a topic about which I care deeply.

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So, you don’t want to gossip, right? If you’re like me, you don’t want to fall into a pattern of sinful gossip because you know how hurtful and harmful it can be and how much God hates it.

But it’s not always that easy to resist, is it? The Bible says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8, 26:22). The choice morsels are those little bits of food that are hard to say “No” to and, once swallowed, have a lasting effect on our hearts.

One of the chief reasons why it’s hard to resist gossip is that we often can’t see any alternatives.

I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone say, “But if we didn’t gossip, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about!” Of course, that is not true. But it often feels as if it is.

Everybody around us is doing it. Talking about others behind their back is fun and exciting. Gossip is juicy and attractive, and it just doesn’t feel like we have a lot of options.

In Resisting Gossip, I dedicate two whole chapters to planning alternative strategies for when we get into potential gossip situations.

Here are five good ones:

1. Say Nothing At All

As the saying goes, “If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.” Silence can be golden. Proverbs 17 says, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (17:27-28).

Abraham Lincoln put it this way: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and let them think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” This rule of thumb goes not just for face-to-face talking but also for texting, messaging, emailing and every other kind of communication through which gossip could flow.

2. Commend the Commendable

Often we can do even better than silence. We can say something good. Offer encouragement, commendation, affirmation and approving words. If we are tempted to talk about someone, then we should talk about that person’s good points.

Don’t lie. Do not commend something that is not commendable, but in most situations, we can find something positive to share instead. The next time you are tempted to gossip about someone, talk about how good that individual is. That is what Jesus’ Golden Rule implies. Speak about people in the way you would want them to speak about you.

I get this phrase “commend the commendable” from Sam Crabtree’s book Practicing Affirmation. In one chapter entitled “100 Affirmation Ideas for Those Who Feel Stuck,” Crabtree offers a terrifically long list of options. We can do this!

3. Talk to People, Not About Them

When there is a problem between us and another person, the overwhelming temptation for us is to run to just about anybody other than the one with whom we have the conflict. The way forward in conflict, however, is not to talk about the other person but to talk to the person in love. Jesus says, “First go and be reconciled to your brother” (Matt. 5:24).

Did someone offend you at church? Talk to him about it. Did a co-worker hurt your feelings in a meeting? Bring it up with her. Did your parents’ recent decision mess up your plans? Take it up with them.

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, had this rule for managing conflicts at her mission station: “Never about, always to.” Conflicts are fanned into flame when we talk about people, but they can be resolved when we talk directly to the person with whom we have the problem.

4. Offer Words of Mercy

Ephesians 4:29 says that our words should build up others “according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Proverbs says, “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (10:21).

I have a friend who is that kind of person. Dan always has something good to say, even when there is not much good to talk about. He’s not afraid to confront someone in love when they are offensive, but he goes above and beyond the call of duty and encourages the people he’s confronting! He’s the first person I call when I have a problem, not just because he is wise but because he is nourishing. He uses merciful words, and people love to be around him. Dan is what I call “a party waiting to happen,” because he’s so full of grace.

You and I don’t have to say everything we think. In fact, we can be merciful because our heavenly Father is merciful (see Luke 6:36). Often we can do better than just staying quiet or even commending the commendable. We can go the extra mile and speak words of grace.

5. Practice Avoidance

Proverbs says, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (20:19). Don’t go near a gossiper. Walk on the other side of the street. Get away from that person. You and I might even need to skip out on some social situations if we know that all we will hear in them is sinful gossip. It might be a sacrifice, but it might also be worth it.

Sometimes we cannot avoid a person who gossips, simply because of our relationship to them. They are our mothers, sisters, brothers, co-workers, and fellow church members. In cases like these, we need to avoid not the person but the topic. We need to redirect conversations, if we can, to avoid the gossip in them. It’s not wrong to push a conversation in a new direction.

That may sound a bit sneaky, but it is really just shepherding a conversation and acting as a leader. The Bible says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Prov. 26:20). Just removing the gossip can change the temperature in a room.

Of course, these five strategies are impossible for us to successfully follow without the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s make it our prayer today that He would navigate us through the treacherous waters of everyday gossip with godly alternatives.

7 Reasons I’m Dumping Delegation

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I’ve always strived to be a delegator. I know I’ve written posts on it before…how to do it successfully…that kind of garbage. But, that’s before I knew the skinny on delegation. So, that’s it. I’m done. No more delegation for me.

I’m dumping delegation for good.

Here’s what I discovered…

7 problems with delegation:

I might appear to be doing less – Everyone knows I’m the leader. What will they think if I’m not the one doing everything?

I will lose authority – Delegation…done right at least…means I give up the right to control. Does that even need an explanation? Seriously?

I will still have to be available – Supposedly you aren’t supposed to dump and run with delegation. So, if I’m going to be involved anyway…I might as well do it. Duh.

Someone might not do things the way I would – And you know my way is best.

It might get done faster and better – Faster is one thing…but better? Who’s got time for that? And, then what am I going to do with the extra time on my hands?

It might expose or grow a new leader – How threatening!

Someone else might get credit – My credit!

Do you see why I’m dropping delegation from my leadership toolbox? Brilliant I say.

What say you? What problems have you discovered with delegation? Ahh…never mind. I’ll answer myself.

(For those who struggle with a weird sense of humor like mine…or for the extremely literal among us…here’s the disclaimer you’re looking for…Is this enough? Hope so, because I’ve technically delegated clarifications of my posts to someone on our team. And, I think they’re off today.)

10 Times You Don’t Need Leadership

leadership

You don’t need leadership if there is no risk involved.

You don’t need leadership to maintain status quo.

You don’t need leadership if it doesn’t involve change.

You don’t need leadership if you already have all the answers.

You don’t need leadership if every outcome is predetermined.

You don’t need leadership to manage current systems.

You don’t need leadership to keep things the way they’ve always been done.

You don’t need leadership if only one person is making decisions.

You don’t need leadership to give everyone what they want.

You don’t need leadership if “safe” is what you’re looking to achieve.

What would you add to my list?

7 Suggestions for Navigating Change When Standing in Muddy Water

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Have you ever navigated change through muddy water?

Have you ever had to lead change when no one knew for sure what change was needed? Or when there wasn’t clear agreement on where the organization needs to go? Or when some players on the team were uncommitted or complacent? Or when the leadership pipeline…who is supposed to be leading…wasn’t clearly defined? Or when the season of decline has been so long no one remembers what success looks like? Or when…you get the idea.

It’s like navigating through muddy water. Ever been there?

Continuing with the muddy water metaphor, what do you do during those times?

Here are 7 suggestions when you are leading change through muddy water:

Analyze the water – How muddy is it? You need to know the work you have before you. How desorate is it? You’ll get very discouraged if you try to lead through semi-cloudy water and find out it really wasn’t muddy at all, but in fact, you were standing in quicksand. This process can take a day, a week or a year depending on the depth of the water and how long it’s been muddy. Give it time. Learn the issues. Learn the players. Hire a professional water analyzer for perspective if needed. But, know your mud first.

Be honest – “The change is going to impact you and it’s going to be hard.” How is that for transparency? It may sound too forward, but people know something new has to happen. They may not yet be able to admit it. They may not want change. They may even resist it, but they know change has to occur. Go ahead and admit the obvious. You can and should encourage people that things will improve, but they already know there is a problem. The water is muddy. They can see that. Maybe even taste it in their lemonade. Admit it. People will trust you more when you are honest.

Cast a clear vision – Where are you going? How clear must the water be for you to be satisfied? How do you propose to get there? What’s the timetable for doing so? As much as you know today…share it. People need to be assured that good things are being planned and on the horizon and clearer water is on the way.

Communicate well – Communication is always important, but especially during times of unrest, confusion or chaos. When the water is muddy, people become frustrated. They need to know what’s happening and what is being done to clear the muddy water. Remember, effective communication is speaking and listening. Do both. Do them often. Do them well.

Stand strong – Muddy currents can pull you under quickly. You will heed to be firmly anchored as a leader. Make sure you are keeping yourself healthy, emotionally, physically and spiritually so you can navigate the muddy waters.

Challenge when needed – During difficult times…in especially muddy conditions…there will be some who try to disrupt any positive change that occurs. You’ll have to challenge those who want to add more mud to the water. If you have to remove some who prefer to stay muddy…do so. Instead, lead with those who grab a shovel and help clear the mud.

Keep casting clearer water – You’ll have to encourage with a healthy vision of where you are going over and over again. This is the time for leaders to be very visible and very approachable. People will want to know someone is guiding the ship though the improving waters.

Have you ever navigated through muddy water? Any suggestions you’d add?

Is Work a Blessing or a Curse?

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Is work a curse or a blessing?

I have heard that question all my life. And the various opinions associated with the answers. Even for those who have careers in ministry…is it a blessing or a curse?

During such discussions, some who answer “blessing” have even told me that ministry is not work, since it is a blessing. I completely agree that ministry is a blessing, but isn’t it also work? If I can’t call it work, then I’m in trouble with 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and other passages. (And I need a real job :) ) Even though it is a blessing to serve, ministry can be hard too. I don’t know of a pastor who wouldn’t agree that the work of ministry is difficult and messy; even as rewarding as it can be to help others.

Now back to the original question.

Is the work a blessing or a curse?

Many people answer that question as to whether or not they like their job, but the question isn’t whether or not you enjoy your work, but simply is work a curse or a blessing?

As I read Genesis 3, after the fall of man, work appears to be cursed. Consider this: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” (Genesis 3:18-19) Sounds cursed.

At the same time,the ability to work and the income, production and opportunities it provides is a blessing. In a day when many are looking for work, I’m very thankful to have a job. There are those during this economy who have learned how much of a blessing any job is, just to be able to eat and provide for shelter.

God created work and I actually enjoy it. Ministry is my work…my job. God has called me to the vocational work of ministry and when I am doing the will of God I have an inner peace I can’t get any other way, so I love my work. Sounds like a blessing.

So, I’m thinking it could be a little of both.

I don’t think work is bad. Maybe the curse isn’t work, but on the enjoyment of the work we do. Somedays work is hard. Many days. Sometimes achieving the blessings from work come with sweat and labor. One of the reasons we often dread Mondays, for example, is because of the curse upon work, but, if we were honest, most of us are glad we have a job to go to on Mondays.

It shouldn’t surprise us that something God created as a blessing falls under a curse. Other areas of our life became more difficult at the fall of man, didn’t they? God created marriage. Marriage is wonderful. God created marriage before the fall, but would anyone who is married say that a great marriage never happens without a lot of hard “work”?

Here’s a final thought. If work is a blessing that falls under a curse, then it seems to me that even when our work is hard, the goal should still be to enjoy it. It’s a blessing.

We are blessed to work. Even if its subject to a curse.

What do you think?

Fear Devotional, Part 5

Fear

“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. Genesis 46:3 NIV

Jacob was obedient to God because he shifted from fear to faith.

If you recall the story, Jacob would have to leave for Egypt, a foreign land, in search of food and to see his son Joseph again, whom he thought was dead. It could have meant death for him and his remaining sons too. And, he was old. Past the prime risk-taking years. He had faced so many trials and disappointments in life…many he brought on himself…but at the end of his life, Jacob was willing to face his fears and walk by faith again.

In fact, he had a history of times he moved from fear to faith.

All of us will have fear. Fear began with the fall of mankind and, since we still live in a fallen world, we are still subject to fear. We shouldn’t be surprised when we are afraid when facing something that seems beyond our abilities or when the outcome of the situation is unknown. That’s natural in a fallen world.

To counter our nature we must do something spiritual. We must place our faith in something…really SOMEONE…who has the power and ability to accomplish what appears to be the impossible…the unnatural. That someone, of course, is the Creator God. The controller of nature. When we place our trust in God, He takes our inabilities and turns them into His abilities. Then, working all things towards an ultimate good, He works through our situations and circumstances to bring about His final plan. Our job in all this is to be obedient…in spite of our fears…by placing our complete faith in Him.

What is that fear that has you stagnant right now?

Perhaps you need to move from fear to faith!

Do something which may seem unnatural, depending on your circumstances. Turn your fear into a complete and total trust in God. Then watch Him do His miracle work and transform your situation into a glorious tribute to His power and strength.

Let me give you an easy 4 steps to begin this process:

1)Admit your fear

2)Renew your faith

3)Obey completely

4)Repeat steps 1 through 4

Again. And again. And again.

Random thoughts on spanking or not spanking as a parent

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To spank or not to spank…that’s probably one of the most frequent debates I have heard about parenting. Parents ask me frequently for my opinion on the issue. It is an important, but seldom talked about by those who teach on parenting. Many think the government should address the issue. Others think this is only a matter left for parents.

I suppose I should not be surprised when I am addressed with this question, since I frequently teach on issues such as parenting, marriage and the family, but I never know exactly how to address it. This post addresses some of those reasons.

Here are a few of my thoughts about the issue of corporal punishment:

  • This is a personal issue, a difficult one at that, and one I do not feel comfortable solving for parents. A parent can and will only enforce consistently those discipline strategies he or she agrees with personally.
  • This is an important question, but not at all the most important question about parenting.
  • The bigger issue is having an overall plan for parenting. I know too many parents trying to solve this question, but they have never fully thought through a strategy for where they are leading their children and how they are going to get them there. I would rather we spent more time talking about the adults we want our children to be someday and how we can better steer them in that direction. Discipline deals with the issue of discipleship. Building character in our children.
  • The goal of parenting is far more important than the methods used in parenting. In our parenting we tried many different methods; some worked and some didn’t. The key of our parenting experience was that we were intentionally thinking through the goal and working towards realizing that goal in each of our boy’s lives.
  • Each child is different. The strategy and methods for disciplining each child must be different.
  • You should never spank, or do any discipline, in anger. Cool off first
  • The child should never be able to question your love after the moment of discipline has passed. That’s with any discipline.
  • I did spank, but it was rare and always intentional. It seemed to work at the time. At a certain age it was the best method for one of our boys to discipline him through a strong-willed period. The cliché “this hurts me more than you” was really true for me, but it worked with this child. It wouldn’t have as well with the other.
  • The Bible verse that is often questioned is Proverbs 13:24, which says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” This verse is often interpreted as referring to spanking, thinking the Bible uses the imagery of the rod and staff of a shepherd. The shepherd’s methods to train the sheep were always for the sheep’s best interest, and always what worked for the sheep and its predators.The verse, however, as are all the Proverbs, is a principle, and, therefore, I think it refers more to the principle of effective parenting than it gives us a mandate to spank.
  • The mother and the father should agree on the form of discipline. If they do not, they should perhaps get help to come to a sense of agreement. Mothers and fathers should recognize that each plays a unique role in the process and one handles discipline differently than the other. I was much sterner on my boys than Cheryl was and she was much more of a nurturer than I was, but both were necessary.
  • For me the end goal of my discipline was spelled out in the Bible, in principles such as Proverbs 29:17 which says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” I was less concerned about process and more concerned about progress. Discipline is to disciple the child…prepare them for life and adulthood.

Again, I don’t have all the answers here. Most parents are doing the best they know how. My best advice is to be intentional. Have a goal and have a plan. For each child. What parent would not want to see the principle of the verse above come true in their child’s life some day? Good parenting should do what works best to accomplish the goal of parenting.

Those are my random thoughts. Anything to add?

(Last thought. This is the kind of post, dealing with controversial issues with strong opinions on both sides, that seems to bring out the mean people. Let me be clear I’m not looking for a fight or argument. And, if you’re mean…be nice here. :) )

5 Tips to Write Better Informational Emails

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Can I be candid with you? I don’t read every email I receive. I’m not even talking about forwards of cute stories that get massed emailed…I almost never read those…I’m talking about informational emails. The emails that have information in them I probably need…I don’t often absorb all of it.

I know. That sounds awful. Hopefully, someone in the comments will let me off the hook of seeming cruel or weird and admit they are the same way. But, here’s the fact. I’m not detail oriented. At all. If you send me a “book email”…one that appears exceptionally long and full of details…you often lose me before I really get started. (Again, just being honest.)

But, I know it’s probably vital information. You wouldn’t send it to me unless you wanted me to read it…right?

So, what can we do about it? I could tell you I’ll change…I’ll bite the bullet and read your longer than necessary email (see, I’m trying to be lighthearted about this subject…so you can laugh now), but the truth is…I probably won’t. History proves otherwise. Show me more than a few paragraphs and I’m probably out of here.

Let me give you a few suggestions. I’ve given these to staff members who write really long…packed with detail…emails. Some have taken my advice and learned that it actually increased their communication results. People seemed to more closely read their emails. They actually appeared to know more of the details the person emailing was trying to communicate. And, isn’t that the goal?

With that in mind, here are 5 suggestions for better emails:

Personalize the email – Mass emails get read less by me. If I see there are many people on the list of recipients, I figure I’m not that necessary as a reader. Someone else will respond. (I know…to some that seems arrogant of me…but at least I’m truthful. And, I suspect I’m not alone.) An email written just to me is far more likely to grab my attention. Thankfully there are programs now that do a mail merge type function for you.

Make the main point early – What is the point of the email? What do you want to communicate if I get nothing else. Say that immediately. If it’s multiple pieces of information, say that up front too. It might be helpful to bold or underline the main ideas, (but don’t use weird colors or oversized font.) Highlight the most pertinent facts you want to convey, dates or locations, especially if the email is very long. Here’s the bottom line, if you don’t capture my attention soon in a longer email, I’m probably less likely to absorb the key points you want to make sure I get. I realize that’s my fault, not yours, but if you want the information absorbed…you’d want to know your audience, right? And again, I suspect I’m not alone. If you write long emails, I suspect you are losing more readers than you think.

Use bullet points for main ideas – People can often read lists easier than paragraphs when dissecting detailed information. The points you want to make will seem more streamlined and easier to follow if you number them or bullet point them in some way. (I hear frequently that people like how I do that with blog posts like this one. Some wired like me may only read the points in bold. I already know that. If that’s you, you’re not reading this right now…are you?)

Consider an opening summary – On especially longer emails, or emails with lots of details, consider opening with the main highlights for quick and busy readers, listing only the points you’ll expand upon later. They can scan down if they want or need more details, but this way your main ideas get attention and hopefully you capture the reader’s interest enough so they read what you have to say before they disappear.

Proofread – Before hitting the send button, read over it as if you were reading it aloud for the first time. Does it sound like you? Is it complete in thought? Are there obvious grammatical or spelling errors? Are there any lines or words you could cut and the point still be made? (If so, cut them.) You’ll lose some readers if it is not a tightly written email.

That’s it. There might be more I could add, but this post is getting kind of long. And, I’ve already lost some of you.

Here’s to writing better emails.

What suggestions do you have?