The Bible, Church teaching, and our personal experiences constantly remind us that prayer makes a difference. Prayer has the power to change people’s hearts, and draws us closer to the heart of God – perhaps in the way that my heart is moved when I have a deep conversation with someone or receive an unsolicited hug from one of my kids.
I’ve noticed, however, that our sinful nature can infect even our most pure desires for prayer. I call this phenomenon “gossipy prayer requests.” It’s something I’ve been guilty of on numerous occasions, and perhaps you’ve experienced it, too.
In youth ministry, it goes something like this: since Johnny trusts me, he pours out his heart to me, sharing in great detail the struggles he’s having with his friends, girlfriend, family, and faith. I listen attentively. I offer advice. I even pray with Johnny. God shows up, and I know that God used me. God is good, right?
Then, something beautiful starts to turn ugly. I am so legitimately excited about what God did that I begin asking others to pray for Johnny. However, instead of asking them to pray for “someone I know who is struggling,” I imprudently share far too many details of Johnny’s life with people who really don’t need to know them. Then, God only knows how many people they share this information with. And so, what began as a powerful prayer experience turns into hurtful gossip, negatively affecting the way far too many people now view Johnny, his friends, girlfriend, family, and faith.
How can you avoid this ugly situation?
The way to determine whether we should or should not share details with another is if that person really needs to know in order to assist the teen. If Johnny is in need of pastoral care beyond our prayers or simple advice, then of course we must tell someone who really needs to know, who would be our pastoral leader.
For example, if a teen is being harmed, hurting themselves, or is a danger to others – we are mandated by law and by our consciences to share details with our pastoral leaders who really need to know in order to ensure that the teen gets the help they need – such situations often need to be reported to the police or to DFS, and thankfully our pastoral leaders can help us discern this. And our pastoral leaders need to know what is happening with a teen if parents might need to know, or if a teen needs the help of a counselor or doctor. Thankfully, if we are ever unsure how to handle a situation or what advice to give, God has placed in all of our lives people wiser than us – our pastors – to help us figure out how to handle things properly and in the most loving way. And Core Members, for example, should always let their youth minister know if a teen is struggling in a major way so that their youth minister can make sure a teen’s needs are being thoroughly taken care of – and the youth minister can help them discern if other Core Members need to know. So, these are not the incidences I am referring to when talking about “gossipy prayer.”
What I am describing as “gossipy prayer” is far different than bringing real pastoral care to someone in need. Rather, it is when we tell people who really don’t need to know about someone else’s personal business under the guise of prayerful concern. I am of the opinion that gossipy prayer is far too common in youth ministry and in the greater Church.
Have you ever experienced gossipy prayer requests in ministry or in your daily life? As they say, the devil is in the details. Johnny doesn’t need me to share his deepest needs and problems with the rest of the world; he may not even need me to share his name with others when I solicit prayers for him. God already knows the specifics, and He can handle them. What God asks of me in these circumstances is quite simple – to stir up prayer support without turning it into a chance to gossip.
Today, I vow to pray more for those who struggle and to gossip less about them. I want to eliminate gossipy prayer requests from my life. Because, as author Jon Acuff writes:
Gossip is like the ball bearings terrorist put into bombs. The scandal is the initial deadly blast, and then gossip telescopes out causing an even wider radius of hurt. Don’t gossip.