“Dear pastor, there are at least 4 volunteer women who have things against you. Why are people leaving? I cannot put a finger on it. Rumors or not, this is what I am hearing. People are saying your messages aren’t what they used to be.” By an anonymous concerned member.
This was a question I raised several weeks ago to a group of pastor friends. How can one respond pastorally to a concern member?
If you are a pastor, you will periodically receive anonymous letters like this. Comments like, “People are talking” or “I can’t reveal the name, but I can check” or even “It’s confidential” from perhaps one of the deacons that serve under you.
- How should one respond to criticism like this?
- Should leaders write them off immediately?
- Is it possible to eat the meat and spit out the bones?
- How should you address these anonymous complaints that cannot be addressed to the individual?
- How would Jesus respond to these things that may have some legitimate thoughts?
Here are 3 reasons why anonymous letters are “useless” and goes straight to the trash pile in ministry settings.
Why are Anonymous Letters Useless?
(1) The un-importance of the matter of accusation.
If the anonymous concern is not important enough to place a name with it, then that anonymous concern is not important enough for my time. I have counseled countless pastors who have spent so much time worrying, being anxious, and distracted from ministry as they have tried to address minuscular issues.
An anonymous letter is not worth the time to fight and battle issues. Not every hill is meant to die on and an anonymous letter is one of those that needs to be brought to the shredder. Once again, if the concern was legitimate enough, then the concern needs to be dealt with properly. Usually, the concern is so trivial, there is no merit to even be met.
Therefore, most of the time, unsigned letters go straight into the trash can as they are not helpful or insightful. Pastors don’t address issues from the pulpit “anonymously” therefore, concerns of members should not be addressed anonymously as well.
(2) The weak character of the anonymous complainer.
When the concern is brought up, it speaks volumes of the individual and the integrity of one’s character. As we flip this script, an anonymous letter shows the individual’s lack of maturity. The anonymous letter does not lead to unity or reconciliation as it brings further division and disorder in the body. If reconciliation is truly the goal, then the concern would have been brought privately in person.
There can be people saying, “Well, that person may have wanted to avoid conflict and didn’t want to create a scene….” But that brings a greater sense of issue. Does God give us Christians the path of least resistance so that we do not take the biblical mandate to, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15). Doesn’t the person have to speak this not “anonymously” to grow more into Christlikeness?
Therefore, anonymity can be a tool of hiding behind a mask of “cowardness” with an unwillingness to work towards real solutions to real problems. Anonymous letters, anonymous comments, anonymous criticism, or any anonymous advice cannot be validated as too often can mess more with the mind of the pastor/leader rather than be helpful or even beneficial.
(3) The residual toxic cycle of gossip hole
When an anonymous letter is addressed “incorrectly” this encourages further bad behavior in the body, which results in greater division and disorder in the body of Christ. I wish I could just say, “Thank the person and be….” but the truth of the reality is that you cannot even thank the person because they are “anonymous”
Anonymous letter makes it impossible, in fact, no way for the person to response and help the process which makes it impossible to deal with the problem itself. As a result? The poisonous cancer of gossip begins to spread and begins to place doubt within the mind of the leader thinking, “To whom am I accountable and who does this letter belong to?” into a frenzy of doubting games within the body.
How to Respond to an Anonymous Letter
As seen above, anonymous letters are not the way Christians handle issues. The church needs to be trained on how to deal with proper church procedures and how to respond to issues within the body. Therefore, I am not a fan of anonymous letters.
I would personally NOT express in an announcement from up front, as you cannot respond to concerns that you don’t know the offended party. When dealing with conflict, if there is no one to speak to as it is “anonymous” that often leads to further confusion that results often to greater conflict within the body.
The Bible does give a way to deal biblically with issues within the body. Matthew 18 gives us a four-step process on how to deal with issues prom the private to the public arena.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matt 18:15-17).
Step 1: If a sin problem can be resolved between the two people by themselves, then the case is closed.
Step 2: If it cannot be resolved, then the offended brother should bring two or three others. Involving other people will either bring the offender to his senses or help the offended see that he should not be so offended.
Step 3: If the intervention of the two or three does not resolve the issue, the offended party is then instructed to tell it to the church.
Step 4: The final step of church discipline is exclusion from the fellowship or membership of the church, which essentially means exclusion from the Lord’s Table. He is to be treated as someone outside of God’s covenant people, someone who should not partake of Christ’s covenant meal.
Biblically from Scripture to Teach / Train Believers
The Bible says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Even Scripture makes it clear, that this is not an anonymous concern but with proper process of addressing an actual author with the actual recipient. The proper process for communicating concerns is not anonymous letters but privately brought to the individual. In a sense as prison talk goes, “Snitches get stitches, and they belong to stitches”
What may be helpful is for the leadership team to sign a covenant agreement so that once acting “outside” of the parameter, this can be easily addressed in the early stage of the conflict of an anonymous letter.
I would not address the issue immediately, but as I walk through expositional preaching, when the text speaks on the issue then we will speak on how to biblically and faithfully walk-through conflict with one another as a body.
On an obvious note, any issue on matters of communication is better dealt with “in person” rather than an email, a text, a voicemail, and obviously, better than an anonymous letter that is not signed by the individual.
Now this will not be in a critical spirit, but a charitable spirit. Assume the best in the person and take it to heart by seeing if there’s truth in the statement or not. In heated situations, pride in life can get in the way (Jam 4:6).
Moreover, as leaders, it is important to remember that Christ is the defender and not the gossipers out hiding in the dark. I’ve witnessed too many pastors and ministers pour so much being concerned and suck their energy out of them.
So, what should you do? Avoid reading anonymous letters at all and discard them. Keep on trucking. Keep on faithfully preaching. Keep on disciplining the saints.
Let us as Paul said to the Corinthians, “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1). Let us be faithful servants and faithful stewards for the cause of Christ.