What Pastors Should Do With Anonymous Letters

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How do you handle unbiblical approaches to problem solving?

Have you ever received one of those anonymous letters that come with no return address? You know the ones we are told to not to read, to disregard and discard into File 13?

Well, my curiosity always gets the best of me and I can’t help myself.

You may be thinking, “Why are you spending your energy addressing Mr. or Ms. Anonymous in this post?”

First, I hope Mr. or Ms. Anonymous will read this post, and second, I hope they will set up an appointment with me so we can handle their concerns according to the Scriptures that they are so concerned about me violating.

I find it amusing that many times these letters come as corrective rebukes, warnings of false teaching, or criticisms of what is assumed to be a breach of biblical standards, when their very approach in writing an anonymous letter is in direct violation of Scripture.

Here’s why:

1. Anonymity.

The Apostle Paul wrote many letters of correction and rebuke to the leadership of the churches he pioneered, but here is the key. He signed them.

When a person neglects to sign a letter there is no authority behind it. Like a check without a signature, no relational transaction can be made if a person has failed to authorize it.

2. Fearfulness.

The Bible states that perfect love casts out all fear. An anonymous letter doesn’t have my highest good as its objective (Agape Love).

It’s destructive because there can be no response or resolution to it. Though it was not meant to attack or offend me, the enemy uses it to capture and occupy my thoughts that I cannot express. An anonymous letter is an imperfect and immature way to address a Pastor. 

I have a suggestion. Let’s be biblical about straightening out matters of concern and misunderstanding with what I call the Matthew 18 principle (Matthew 18:15-18).

”If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him — work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love. Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this.”

Please hear me, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. I am not offended in the least by your letter, but I’m hoping we can handle this as mature Christians should, according to the Scriptures.

Dean Deguara I’m an encourager of leaders at all levels on this blog at deandeguara.com. My posts have been featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Smallgroupchurches.com, FaithVillage.com, and JesusCulture.com. I am currently serving as the Director of Resources at Jesus Culture in Sacramento.

More from Dean Deguara or visit Dean at http://deandeguara.com

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  • Brian Taylor

    While I understand All of us are short on time, I don’t see how reading these letters would be a bad thing. Regardless of how they tell us, the great majority of people who have complaints have our (and the church’s) best interests in mind. I don’t think we should take every complaint/critique to heart, but I do believe that sometimes, they may hit on something we ourselves didn’t see that can be a benefit. Is it possible even God could speak through well-meaning, but ill advised people? I’d say definitely.

    • deandeguara

      Brian I do think you can learn from anonymous letters or notes, but they can also suck a lot of your time & energy. I would have to disagree that the majority of these anonymous notes come from folks that have our best interest in mind, because most of the time the reason they write is for their best interest. Not all but most that come across my desk.

      • Brian Taylor

        But they believe that their best interest is also in the best interest of the rest of the church. Their zealousness may be misplaced, but it doesn’t come from outright insincere motives. We are all a part of the body of Christ….even the “selfish” ones. And God can use them as well as the more mature believers. In fact, judging by the Biblical record, God seems to choose these unlikely sources as the primary vehicle to deliver His message. I’m not saying we should devote hour upon hour to prayer over each individual request. Just that we be open to what the Lord may want us to see or hear.

        • Hersh, or is it Harsh

          Brian,

          I agree with you. All too often in the churches I’m familiar with, many Pastors have a lot of Yes men around them…. that’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it.

          Two times, two churches, two Pastors I have spoken up about concerns I thought needed to be addressed, one Pastor it was the need for Outreach and with another Pastor about his lack of integrity…. guess what happened? Yep, shunned until it got so uncomfortable I left. I followed scripture to the “T,” I humbly approached etc etc etc.

          I’ve learned, for me…. when in Roman do what they do or leave graciously…. DON’T make any wave no matter how small.

          I want to say there are lots of good Pastors out there, the problem is you find out rather quickly which are good and which aren’t as soon as something comes up and it’s never a good day when they don’t take the higher road.

          That just recently happened and I was deeply saddened watching the Pastor whom I like a great deal do an amazing face plant. Should he recognize he did… I hope he also takes notice his appointed Yes men didn’t even attempt to slow his fall down.

          Several families left at the same time because he just couldn’t/wouldn’t see the need for any Outreach…. neither did the Yes men. You would think that Outreach would be a “Given” in a church. And all of us were wanting to get involved at some level. It wasn’t like we wanted someone else to do the work…. sadly, this cycle had been going on for several years. Each time it is brought up with Leadership the shunning starts…. I couldn’t watch it happen anymore.

          I don’t think an anonymous letter would have helped, but I do see why it’s done sometimes….

  • Ed V. Morgan

    Very good and practicle advise Pastor Dean.

    • deandeguara

      Thanks Ed! Just trying to keep it real.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Suzanne2k Suzanne Sneath

    I think you read those letters/notes because IF there is a shred of truth in their issue, you want to take that out and learn from it. However, I agree 100% that those who don’t sign their names to issues they’ve so “boldly” brought to your attention, are directly in violation of the Scriptures!! I guess there are people who are terrified of confrontation…like me.

    • deandeguara

      Good point! Probably one of the biggest fears people grapple with…confrontation.

  • PastorCarla

    I agree with the contents wholeheartedly, but also believe that many prefer to remain anonymous because of fear of retribution of sorts. I think it’s also a good idea if pastors can put people at ease in offering constructive criticisms and concerns.

    • deandeguara

      I guess there are cultures where people might think a pastor would come down hard on them or abuse power??? My pastor is the most approachable I know, so it’s kind of hard to picture people being afraid of him. You gave me a thought. Surveys could be a good way to bring constructive criticism to a staff, etc.

  • jamie

    Sadly, we live in the social media age where it has become much easier to hide behind our remarks rather than face someone when giving them. Pastors will always have their critics. Some of them will be right and some of them will be wrong. “Speaking the truth in love” is a rare thing these days. I serve as an Associate Pastor and when people come to me to complain about my pastor I ask them if they have spoken to him or not. A lot of Pastors don’t know how to take constructive criticism. Most are people pleasers by nature and are dealing with their own issues of self-esteem because of the program/performance driven mentality of our church models. Not signing a letter is really the cowards way out.

  • Jerry Edmonds

    This is just me, but I don’t open letters without return addresses, and when looking at a letter the first thing I look for is the signature. If there is no signature, it gets tossed unread.

    Have I missed truth that could have helped me? Perhaps, but in my experience anonymous letters are never written for the purpose of helping…only hurting.

    Suzanne, no one normal or sane looks for confrontation. It’s normal to avoid it. It’s also deadly, damaging, and dangerous. I know this from personal experience.

  • Twinsfan1

    It’s a two-way street. Pastors need to be approachable and transparent, even publicly inviting people to bring concerns to them (and then actually allowing that to happen without scorn). The congregation members need to follow Matthew 18 in a gracious manner that allows the pastor or leader to hear the heart of the person bringing the complaint.

    There were times during my pastorate when I got the anonymous or “send a letter to the board” stuff instead of talking to me. Had they talked to me personally and privately, the vast majority of what was bothering them would have been cleared up, along with my asking forgiveness for hurting them. Instead, it led to even more hurt and bitterness piled up over a few years’ time.

    But I’ve also had the experience of someone coming to me privately, after much prayer, and telling me their concern. We don’t always part in agreement of whether or not the concern is valid, but we always parted knowing that they loved me and the church. I didn’t enjoy those experiences at all, but I was willing to listen – and in some cases repent – because they came to me face-to-face. God used those times to shape me.