Recently, a friend shared with me his experience of receiving an anonymous letter from a member of his church. I don’t have to tell you that the letter was not intended to encourage my brother. How do I know?
Well, for the 28 years I served local churches in the role of Worship Pastor, anonymous letters, nameless voicemails, and scribbled messages on strips of bulletin fragments placed in offering plates was an all too familiar experience for me. In one church, I had a choir member who met with me every Monday morning to share the biggest complaints and concerns of other choir members from the day before — always unable to tell me who actually made the comments — they were just passing the comments to me on the condition of anonymity. What a blessing.
Brothers and sisters, this ought not be.
What God desires from His church is unity. It’s precisely what Jesus prayed for His disciples. And while unity does not demand agreement to happen, it does demand mutual respect and understanding. When someone sends a message anonymously, they are not seeking unity — they are attempting to control and influence. And one thing I am totally convinced of — you have no right to influence anyone you are not first willing to serve and love — let alone someone you don’t respect enough to be honest with your feedback.
So, if you have a deep concern that merits the attention of your leader, share it in the context of a relationship — and for the biggest and most difficult conversations — conduct them face-to-face. It is the only way to have a conversation that can produce unity — which is the most essential quality of any family of believers. And if you don’t have unity as your goal in the exchange, but your intent is to control or unduly influence, I submit you may need to abandon the whole thing. Instead of complaining, how about praying about it?
Now, for those of you who are getting these kinds of communications, let me suggest a few things I started doing after several years of being eaten alive by the few criticisms from the anonymous —
- When someone came to me and said, “Someone told me something they wanted you to know, but I can’t tell you who it is.” I would simply respond — “You know, instead of sharing that with me go back to that person and tell them I asked you not to share it unless you could give me the name and then encourage that person — in the spirit of Christian respect — to have their own conversation with me.”
- When I got a letter/note/bulletin fragment in the mail with no return address, I would immediately go to the signature — if it was blank, I would take it to choir practice and read it to my choir and add, “Someone may have forgotten to sign this. If it was you, I sure would love to know who you are so we can discuss it.” And then if I could and it was appropriate, I would give my answer to the letter to the choir. Sometimes the point made was a valid one and I could express that in a public forum, which would foster an environment where people knew I took comments seriously. The amazing thing is that I would only have to do that once or twice — after word got out that I read anonymous letters to the choir, I wouldn’t get one very often, if ever.
- I tried to create an atmosphere where people were comfortable approaching me with their ideas and feedback. I learned to cherish relationships and to thank and affirm people for honest and spiritually motivated feedback. I tried to be open — not defensive, and to remember that the goal in any relationship is not to be right on issues that are doubtful (Romans 14) — but to be one.
- I wanted to remember I was leading people — if I distanced myself from the ones I felt disagreed with me, then I would not be able to lead them anywhere. Instead, I wanted to move toward the people who resisted my leadership. I tried to serve, love, care about them, their families and their concerns. I started to see those folks as my prize — not my problem.
Now, I don’t want to intimate that after trying this, I never had any more times of doubt and confusion caused by an anonymous criticism, because I did. But the way I approached people got better when I stopped letting the criticisms of a few nameless people drive my decisions for the good of the whole. And when those people saw me leading with more confidence and less reactionary doubt, I became a much easier leader to follow.
I thought about not signing this, but then…
Director, LifeWay Worship