I have thought a long time about whether I should write this letter to you. You know that I’m not one to complain. But after talking it over with five or 10 other folks in the congregation and realizing that some people had similar concerns, I thought you had the right to know. Below are some suggestions to consider.
First, we need to talk about your upcoming vacation. The last time you went out of town, you didn’t respond to any emails, which was pretty disappointing. We didn’t feel we could reach you in a timely fashion, and I’m sure you agree that it’s not good if a flock can’t reach their shepherd. We’re happy you’re able to get away with your family, but we don’t want you to forget your responsibility to us. Jesus said the church was more important than family, remember. So we want you to have a good time and relax—you deserve it!—but please pay better attention to your inbox and voicemails.
Second, it’s come to our attention that last week when one of our dear sisters was visiting in your home she noticed your children were playing games on computer tablets. You know that sister doesn’t like nosing around, but she knows that they are fairly pricey. Your finances are none of our business, of course, but please consider how this looks.
I heard you were thinking about buying a newer car too, and you should probably know people are talking about that. Just want you to be aware.
Generally speaking, we think you’re doing a great job. But there are some areas of improvement we’ve noticed. Here are some suggestions we came up with for you:
– We want you to be very humble and transparent, but don’t make us uncomfortable. Some things shouldn’t be talked about.
– We want you to be readily available to the congregation, but we don’t want you to think you’re too important. You should be available 24/7 like any good pastor, but don’t get a big head about it.
– We want you to be confident and “take charge,” but not bossy or arrogant.
– We want you to be tender and sympathetic, but not weak or whiney.
– We want you to be very theologically knowledgeable, but not too bookish.
(We have a list of “suggestions” for your preaching, but will send separately.)
Almost finally, some of us have had growing concerns about all this talk about “reaching people.” We know that our Lord has called us to preach the gospel to everybody, but all your emphasis on evangelism and mission and “reaching out beyond our church walls” seems premature since there are some of us inside the walls who feel like we don’t get enough ministry from you. If people want to hear about Jesus, they know where our church is, and they are welcome any time. But in my last three churches, the pastor did this same kind of talk, and before you knew it, people started coming—people with all kinds of issues and baggage—and, frankly, the place changed. It wasn’t ever the same with all those new people and their needs and problems. It stopped feeling like a tight-knit family. I really don’t want that to happen at our church, and others agree.
While we’ve got you here, we need to let you know that another sister is very hurt that she has not been invited to tea with your wife. I know your wife is a shy person, but she is a pastor’s wife, which means she can’t just spend her time with two or three friends. She has to be friends with everybody.
We really do want the best for you, which is why we felt like you needed to know these things. With a little more hard work and concentrated effort on your part, this can be a win-win for all of us.
A Concerned Member
Dear Concerned Church Member,
I received your letter with great interest, as I’m always grateful for the sharpening of my skills, knowledge and, of course, personality. I know I always have room to improve as a pastor.
Some of your concerns were, naturally, disappointing and discouraging. In a few areas, I already knew I needed improvement, so the criticism was not a surprise to me, but nevertheless confirms some of my own worst opinions about myself! I don’t know if you know what that’s like—being your own worst critic—but I gently suspect not. In any event, I am trying to “test all things” here and cling to what is good. If I may, some responses to specific concerns:
– On my last vacation I responded to emails as best I could. This was a huge mistake. It kept me from “unplugging” and being present with my wife and children with undivided attention. I would like to humbly suggest that if the church can’t live without me for a week, it is barely a church to begin with and perhaps more like a religious daycare center. You are all (mostly) grown-ups and some of you have been Christians a long time. It is Jesus who is available to you 24/7, and I’m not him. Any messages that are not emergencies I’d be glad to respond to when I return. In the meantime, I will maintain radio silence while on vacation so I can rest, recharge and return to you all with renewed energy.
– Yes, my children have new iPads. Sister was not mistaken to notice those in our home. They were gifts from grandparents. I confess it didn’t occur to me to think about “how it might look” to someone, especially someone who had been invited into our home as a guest and shown hospitality, but if it had, my hope would’ve been that we’d be given the benefit of the doubt and not have assumptions made about the situation, still less assumptions that were shared with others and not with us directly. (Just as an “FYI,” we are buying our kids the latest XBox this Christmas. You are welcome to come play on it with us.)
– In regards to your concerns about “reaching people,” I have quite a few thoughts, as I’m sure you can imagine, but the words of Christ should suffice: “Go and make disciples of all peoples.” When our church begins to exist only for its members, it begins dying. I love our church and all its members and want to provide the best care I possibly can for them, but I confess I am not interested in ministering in a pasture that has no concern for the “other sheep” Jesus talked about in John 10:16 and whom he said we must bring in. If our church is going to grow—which is what you asked me to lead when you hired me—it will change. It’s impossible for a church to grow and not change. It’s possible, brother, that your desire for our church never to change is a selfish one and not godly.
– Finally, I am not in the habit of telling my wife who she can and can’t be friends with. As a mature Christian, she feels led by God to be friendly with everybody. But she’s a grown woman and, like any other woman (or man) in the church, is free to be close friends with whoever she feels most heard and loved by and connected with.
All that to say, I am glad you have felt the freedom to trust me with these concerns. I know I’m not perfect and I am always open to constructive criticism. I do feel that some of these concerns mentioned are not appropriate, and a few of them revelatory of some pretty serious idolatry.
Since you did not sign your letter and most everyone you mentioned has gone unidentified—the infamous church choir known as “some people”—I am not quite sure who to respond to. Anonymous complaints are very difficult to get used to, I must say. It’s like getting punched with a bag over your head. It taints every relationship I try to have in the church, honestly, because I never know if the person I’m ministering to is someone I can trust with my heart or someone who has no compunction about sharing criticism of me with third parties behind my back. Therefore, because I cannot respond to you directly, I am posting this letter to the bulletin board in the fellowship hall. See “you” at the next potluck!
This article originally appeared here.