At the conclusion of my sermon this past Sunday, I shared some thoughts about an anonymous note we received in the offering plate several weeks ago. There are several different schools of thought with respect to critical anonymous letters. Some pastors flat refuse to even read a letter that is unsigned. Not me. I read every correspondence that comes my way, and even those that are unsigned are sifted for any insights that might help move the church’s ministry forward. The authors of the note in question concluded with, “We have written this letter in hopes that it will be received in a way that will make the church leaders think a little.” I can’t speak for the rest of the church’s leaders, but it made me think. A lot.
The note was particularly critical, and I anguished about that it for a couple weeks. I don’t know if it was the author’s intention, or if he or she is even aware of the pain such critical comments cause a preacher. I am like many pastors in that it is hard to tell where I stop and where the church begins. (It’s nearing midnight after all, and I am sitting in my home office doing church work.) Rightly or wrongly – and it is probably more wrongly – I live and die with the successes and failures of our church.
Mostly though, I wish the author had signed his or her name. Here’s why:
1. Signing your name means you are invested. An unsigned note says, “Here’s what’s wrong with your church.” Putting your name on the line, however, takes ownership – not just of the comments, critical or otherwise – but also of the church. Signing your name says, “This is our church, and I am concerned that there is something wrong with it.” Even if we disagree, I respect the author, and I respect the sincerity of his or her concerns because I trust his or her motives.
2. Signing your name means we can have a conversation. An unsigned note is like a heckler at a baseball game. It is someone standing on the sidelines shouting onto the playing field. It is a cheap concession that he or she chooses to be drowned out by the din of the crowd rather than come close enough to have a conversation. It takes courage to close the distance enough to talk. It takes conviction to speak critically to someone with perceived spiritual authority. I get that. But the pastors, elders, and church staff I know want to have a conversation. We want to hear from people who disagree or who feel voiceless. We’re not looking for flatterers and “yes men,” because we know that it is sometimes the crucible of conflict that yields the strongest and brightest steel.
3. Signing your name is how it is done in the family of God. Or at least it is how it should be. It’s how we do conflict in my family. If my wife and I disagree about something, we don’t send anonymous notes or pussyfoot around an issue. We get it on the table and deal with it. We might even fight – loudly at times – but, in the end, we’re family and we hash out whatever has us crosswise with one another and then we move on. And, in the end, we end up loving each other all the more.
4. Signing your name is an act of worship. This might not have occurred to me had the letter not been placed in the Sunday morning offering tray. The weekly collection is an act of worship; tossing a critical letter in with the sacrificial gifts of the rest of the saints is defilement – plain and simple. But signing your name and delivering a critical letter into the hands of an overseer or staff member is a “choose this day whom you will serve” moment. It is a risk, both personal and spiritual. How will the ecclesial authorities react, after all? Accompanied by prayer and reflection, such a courageous response is an act of spiritual worship.
The author revealed in the letter that he (or she) feels ignored. Unheard. His (or her) comments revealed that there are probably legitimate concerns and that others might even share them. I hurt for him (or her). I wish I could offer some consolation and a listening hear and that, together, we could pursue some resolution that grows each of our faiths. But, unless something changes, that won't happen.
And that, Frankly Speaking, is regrettable.