“Peoples Talkin, Preacher!” Those were the first words out of Earl’s mouth when he walked into my office that afternoon. “Really? What are they talking about?” I asked. He responded, “I don’t recall.” “Well, who’s doing the talking?” I asked. He said, “I can’t remember, but they’re upset.” “Why are they upset?” I asked. To which Earl replied, “I’m not sure, but I thought you oughta know.”
“Earl, so you’re telling me that peoples talkin and they’re upset, but you don’t know exactly what they’re talking about, who’s doing the talking, or even why they’re upset?” “That’s correct,” he replied. I asked, “Why do you think I should know this when there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it?” He said, “Because peoples talkin, preacher. They’re not happy and I just thought you oughta know.”
Ghost chatter, that’s what I call it. It comes from those that hide behind vague concerns and mask their agendas though the voices of other people. When in reality they’ve simply had their feelings hurt because someone did something they didn’t agree with. When the words “I’m concerned” leaves someone’s lips without a detailed explanation, it’s typically a red flag that what’s to follow is coming from a place of personal offense. It’s a cowardice way to interact and certainly not the mark of a Christ-follower.
It’s all tied to leadership.
Leaders make decisions, pure and simple. They lead by example and try to bring everyone along. Good leaders are also courageous enough to admit when they’re wrong. Sometimes along the way trust is broken. A good leader will do anything in their power to restore brokenness in relationships. That doesn’t mean that all parties will submit to the restoration process. Nonetheless, a leader must keep their side of the road clean.
People’s feelings are going to get hurt as you lead. There’s no way around it. Not everyone is going to agree when it comes to direction. When people come together, it’s a beautiful thing. When they don’t, there’s really nothing anyone can do about it. My job has always been to do my very best at bringing everyone along, mending bridges when necessary, and always leaving the door open for anyone who wants to return at a later time.
I’ve experienced ‘people talkin’ on numerous occasions over the years. I’ve had people shake their fist in my face. I’ve witnessed people attempt to crawl over my desk while foaming at the mouth. Once a church member even gave me the middle finger at a stoplight (I just smiled and waved). I’ve had people listen through the walls during board meetings. I’ve endured people conducting secret meetings in an attempt to persuade decisions. I’ve had to dismiss staff members for causing division only to have them seek revenge by influencing people against me. I’ve withstood gossip, name-calling, insults, backbiting, and the list goes on… You name it and in twenty years, I’ve likely encountered it.
Let me tell you something about Earl. He loved Jesus. He was innocent. He was my friend. He was a man of integrity. When I preached his funeral I spoke with deep admiration for this man. I miss him. He was certainly one-of-a-kind. If you knew him, you know what I mean.
Like Earl, we all have the capacity to get caught in the middle of awkward situations. Don’t let the folks caught in the middle become a hindrance to your ministry. It’s not their fault. It’s the ones deliberately sewing discord, using intimidation to get their way, and hiding behind others to fulfill personal vendettas. These are the people we must stand up to.
People will never stop talking. Even if you go to great lengths to make things right, some will never stop with the ghost chatter. They can’t, it’s too deeply ingrained in who they are. It’s sad actually. Pray for those people, they aren’t your enemy. Many of them suffer with much deeper pain than we can possibly imagine.
Nonetheless, let your ‘yes be yes,’ and your ‘no be no.’ Say what you mean, and mean what you say. The Israelites ‘murmured’ against Moses and the Pharisees ‘muttered’ against Jesus. Remember, it was the common folk and the religious elite who turned on our Lord. If he caught it from both sides, what makes you think you’ll be exempt?
In the midst of all the chatter I implore you to be a good leader anyway. Live with conviction. Lead with integrity. Apologize when you’re wrong. Extend grace and stand for truth. Yield to people over petty issues. Fight for significant ones. Try to bring everyone along. Realize not everyone is going to come. It’s okay. Don’t ever close the door on relationships, even when people hurt you. Set you’re eyes on the goal. Keep Jesus first. And always remember, when ‘peoples talkin’ it usually means you’re doing something right… Let ‘em talk.