I was talking to a friend recently and he was telling me about a few anonymous letters of complaints that he received from his congregation within the past few months.
Ah. Anonymous notes.
How much do I hate anonymous letters, let me count the ways…
A pastor received a note in the offering plate (!!):
It reads: Dennis — Have Jason put on his robe for 11:15 service. We deserve that respect.
More on the “we deserve that respect” thing later.
Another pastor friend received an anonymous note from saying, “Can you please stop talking about the poor so much in your sermons?”
Let that sink for a minute.
Can you — as a pastor of a church that represents Jesus Christ — stop talking about the poor — the very people Jesus ministered to; the ones he said he had come to proclaim the good news to???????
Where are we as a church if talking about the poor impedes our comfort in the pews? (this is a post in of itself.)
At this point in my life, if a note floats my way, the first thing I do is look to see if someone signed it. If not — 9 out of 10 times, I’ll just throw it straight into the trash. Because I don’t need to concern myself with it. (That 1 time I read it? I instantly regret it because it’s 9 out of 10 times a passive aggressive note on something petty).
Here’s the thing: most pastors would want nothing more to hear you out and have a conversation with you about what upset/offended/bothered you. We really do. Majority of us tend to be — want to be– fixers. We’ll, at the least, sit and hear you share your experience. We can’t say that the outcome is what you may desire because there’s a chance that you’re crazy — but you will be heard.
I once said something that didn’t sit well with a parishioner during a sermon.
She approached me after the service and she let me know why she was so offended. I absolutely heard her out and respected her and even was grateful for her — that she would seek me out to let me know. It was something at the end that we couldn’t get to the same place on — but I was grateful for the opportunity to listen and talk, but mostly listen. I know it wasn’t easy for her and I respected her all the more.
But an anonymous note is a disrespectful way to get your point across — not only disrespectful, but a cowardly way to do so.
Rule of thumb: if you’re embarrassed/scared/__________ to put your name on it — maybe not send it?
I can’t speak for everyone else –but if you feel it’s a serious enough issue and you feel that you can’t approach me — then use the appropriate channels to discuss your issues (like if you’re in the UMC — your SPRC chair or if the pastor is not the lead, talk to the lead pastor). Don’t leave a note. Unsigned. In the offering plate (which believe it or not is where a lot of anonymous notes find their home). You’re using up a holy moment in the service to air out petty grievances that you can’t even put your name on? C’mon. We’re all better than that. And we all deserve more than that.
That note above? The one with “We deserve that respect”? What respect did they show to their associate pastor? 1) it wasn’t even addressed to the pastor. It was addressed to the senior pastor to order his subordinate to wear a robe and 2) what happened to ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’? Again, the note talked about respect. Respect is often a two-way street: you have to give respect to earn respect. It’s laughable to demand respect in such a disrespectful way.
Most pastors would genuinely want to walk with you through what upset you.
We would love to hear you out; converse with you; work it out with you; and hopefully come to a point where we walk away with a solution/resolution, even if the end game is to agree to disagree.
Don’t lower yourself to leave a passive aggressive anonymous note.
It solves nothing.
No one receives a passive aggressive anonymous note and say “I’m going to change my way.” If anything it resolves us to keep doing it out of spite. … speaking for a friend.
My friend asked how to deal with anonymous notes and I told him:
They should receive as much attention and care as the respect, courage, and love that it took to write the note: none.
Toss it in the trash; brush your shoulders off; shake the dust off your sandals and move forward.