We Preachers - The Worse Offenders?
"Practice what you preach" is an old charge, but it is ever relevant. The old jest, "Don't do like I do, do like I say do," represents something more real than remote. Paul's observation about himself is perpetually appropriate - "But I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:27).
We are adept at castigating assemblies of people for the lack of ethical living or for failure in "Christian living." We take something like Barclay's "Flesh and Spirit" and make real good case against folks who, while abstaining from a real good case against folks, who, while abstaining from immorality, engage in other "works of the flesh" like enmities, strife, jealousy, outburst of anger disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings (Galatians 5:20-21). Upon observing the troubled expressions on the faces of some of the hearers, and noting considerable squirming in the pews, we conclude that we are getting a message through to the hearts of those who need it.
But we may be the ones who need it the most! The area of preacher-to-preacher relation is surely one to be considered at the judgment day. Perhaps if we explore it a little beforehand some of us can be spared divine scrutiny, on this score, at the great time of reckoning.
Preachers - some of them - are known for "bad-mouthing" fellow preachers. It may be somewhat unsafe for a preacher to miss attending an area preacher's luncheon, for he may turn out to be the one upon whom some other preachers feed. The absent preacher is often the brunt of a lot of humor, sometimes it is all in fun, other times it is not. He may be the victim of a tattler, or of one who has the proverbial axe to grind, or of one who wields a mischievous tongue.
We hasten to discount the idea that all preacher gatherings are of such nature as described above. They are not. But some of them are. When preachers get together they are likely to unwind. It is a healthy experience for brethren who get "up-tight" in the daily responsibilities of their work to share experiences, pleasantries, troubles, successes, worries, joys, and sadness. Yet, regrettably, while some preachers unwind they tie someone else to a cross.
We have some legitimate reasons for offering criticism of various fellow preachers, and they have plenty of them for which to put us under evaluation and examination. But if you have "got it in" for a fellow, you are apt to take the occasion of a preacher's "get-together" to "take him apart." The victim is not present to defend himself. If he were to appear unexpectedly, the accuser would be called upon to "tell it to his face," as he likely insisted he would be bold to do. So if the victim suddenly appears the accuser will have to rise to the occasion and "tell it to his face," or else lose face quite quickly. After he gets his piece said, the victim must have his say. The stage is set for a real big fuss! And when it comes to fussing, preachers are the "greatest!"
Preachers form a brotherhood "grapevine." In their natural contacts and communications word is passed on and on, until it permeates the brotherhood. We do not seem to be able to pass it on exactly like we receive it. To hold it within, as we recommend to others regarding gossip, is quite difficult. It is exciting to be the first to inform a fellow preacher of some choice bit of information. It wouldn't be so bad if we told the absolute truth, or passed the information on accurately. But we are apt to color it with our particular feelings about these involved in the story . . . . or tale. Even if we pass it on accurately, as we received it, we may be a party to something that was incorrect at the beginning, or corrupted along the way.
I hasten to say that preachers are aware of this "grapevine" problem and would govern their individual roll in it. It is like everything else, there are enough bad ones in the thing to cast reflection on the whole. But most preachers are able to gather from a fellow preacher's attitude, expressions and countenance whether or not his "information" is being colored by bitterness, prejudice, animosity, or the like. But what great mischief has been spread among brethren and churches by preachers who cannot seem to practice what they preach with regard to ethics and the tongue! Not all preachers in the "grapevine" are guilty of repeating gossip .... one of them had to start it.
Often preachers feel it necessary to "expose" a fellow servant. So they quite freely spread their hurtful stories... not realizing that most will listen with a suppressed thought that "there is surely another side to this story... an explanation which needs to be heard." A man's bitterness or animosity may show as he relates his information, and thus he arouses a natural questioning of what's behind the telling of the story about a fellow soldier of the cross. The worse thing he can accomplish is the assassination of another's character and influence. The "best" he might achieve is the encouragement of doubts about his own motives, or disposition, or integrity.
Here are two good rules: "There are two good rules which ought to be written on every heart — never to believe anything bad about anybody unless you positively know it to be true; never to tell even that unless you feel that it is absolutely necessary, and that God is listening while you tell it." (Henry Van Dyke)
We might also well remember that "Who gossips to you will gossip on you."