If you are a pastor, you more than likely have received an anonymous letter/note from someone or you are likely to receive one at some point during your ministry. They can be deflating and frustrating and really most of the time they hurt. Hardly ever do anonymous notes/letters contain words of encouragement or blessing, rather they often contain words about what you are doing wrong.
I got my first ever “anonymous letter” yesterday in the mail. This wasn’t my first interaction with an anonymous note, but it was the first time I received a letter that was anonymous. No return address. No signature. Just words:
Dear Pastor Justin-
Please keep your sermons to 15 min long. 25 min is way to long. We know you can get your message out in 15 min. We know people who stay home if they know you are going to preach.
Now I am not bothered by someone thinking my sermon was too long. It probably was for some (I couldn’t go back and check because the videotape is already to the cable company), and because of their words I did go back and look at my previous two sermons and they were 20 minutes and 17 minutes. It is probably safe to say that my typical sermon is between 15-25 minutes. However, worship doesn’t go over the usual time it ends when the other pastor preaches so in the end the person is spending the same amount of time in worship. That leads me to believe that it isn’t the “time” that is the issue but that they might have some other issue with my sermons, etc. (like “they are boring” or “you say the same stuff over and over…get to the point”) Unfortunately, I am unable to have a discussion with this person or the people who “stay home if they know I am preaching.”
That is the problem with anonymity: anonymity hinders growth. The anonymous letter writer may have some valuable pointers and insights into my sermons that could help me become a better preacher but I am unable to learn from them or the people who stay home because I don’t know who they are. I also cannot discern whether there is a larger issue with me as a pastor or my sermon because I can’t be in conversation with them and it makes me sad that we can’t honestly and openly talk to one another and grow.
In case “anonymous” might be reading this, here is my serious heartfelt reply:
Thank you for your note and I want you to know that I will be reflecting on this as I prepare for future sermons. What I am wondering is, do you have any advice as to what I could “cut out” from my message? Was there something that was missing? Did I repeat myself when I didn’t need to?
I will admit that I do not prepare sermons based on how long they will be but rather I focus on the message from God’s Word that might benefit the community and the individuals who are a part of this faith community? Do you feel that I am not doing this?
I would love to have a conversation with you and with the other people you know of who don’t come when they know I am preaching so we could learn from each other.
Know this, I have immense respect for those who address me with constructive criticism when I know who they are. I don’t think less of them and I value their insights even if I disagree with them. If you feel moved to contact me please know that I will not harbor any resentment or anger towards you for your note.