How to Handle Anonymous Criticism

This morning I checked my mail box and found this anonymous hand-written note that someone had dropped in our offering plate this past Sunday:

“The song leader does not know how to end this LONG service, my last here. (Frown face).”

How do you handle anonymous notes?

Step one: read them.

Step two: consider their content.

Step three: throw them away.

When someone takes the time to talk to me in person, call me, or write me a letter with a concern, comment, or criticism, I take it very seriously. While I might conclude that what they’re saying shouldn’t cause me to change my course, oftentimes this is the way God chooses to bring needed correction or insight that I would otherwise miss.

But when I receive an anonymous note like this, I don’t take it seriously at all. Since I am given no context to help me in considering (1) who is speaking, (2) what they’re saying, or (3) why they’re saying it, I am not able to discern whether or not this is the Lord speaking to me or just an angry person being angry.

I need God’s discipline, whether I like it or not. And when I need to be disciplined, God will do so out of love (Hebrews 12:6).

So even if an anonymous note might have a shred of truth in it, and might have something I need to hear, if its content is angry or unclear or hurtful, then it belongs in the trash. God will not communicate his loving discipline to me in a way that is mean spirited.

This isn’t to say that God’s discipline is pleasant. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”. (Hebrews 12:11) As I said earlier, oftentimes a painful conversation, phone call, or email will be the way that God chooses to speak something to me that I need to hear, whether I want to or not.

But his discipline won’t come in the form of angry scribbled notes in your box on a Tuesday morning. He’ll find another way and you’ll be able to recognize his voice. He always signs his name.

6 thoughts on “How to Handle Anonymous Criticism

  1. Scott Cochrane October 19, 2010 / 11:58 am

    Great post; I would challenge one aspect though, which is ‘step 1’; reading an anonymous note. I learned from a leadership mentor to NEVER read an unsigned note. For years I’ve had all correspondence channeled through my assistant, who weeds out and shreds any anonymous note long before it reaches my desk.

    Just another perspective to consider; but again, very thought-provoking and timely post.

    • Jamie Brown October 19, 2010 / 12:52 pm

      Thanks Scott. I totally hear you and have heard similar advice. My problem is that I never know until AFTER I’ve read the note that no one has signed it. If, like you, correspondence goes through someone else, that’s a great ground rule to set.

      • Andrew October 21, 2010 / 4:05 pm

        So, somebody on staff must have taken it from the plate and slipped it into your mailbox. They had to read it to know it was about “the song leader”, so they obviously knew it was unsigned. Can’t the church just have a policy that unsigned notes just get tossed/ignored and NOT passed on to the relevant party? Whomever put it in your mailbox could have just shredded it.

      • Jamie Brown October 21, 2010 / 5:07 pm

        Good idea, Andrew.

  2. Matt Blick October 19, 2010 / 1:20 pm

    Wow – harsh (the note not your post)

    That why bible times letters were better – signed at the beginning!

  3. Mike Ruel October 22, 2010 / 8:48 am

    WOW. That was my first reaction when I saw the note…thanks for taking the picture too, that makes it a lot more “real” and hits closer to home.

    Great post Jamie, thank you.

    There will be friction – I think often we may insulate ourselves and think that we are immune to friction and “issues” – but they will come. It is unrealistic to think they won’t – and it also comes as much more of a shock when they do come. I agree – have a process (even if it’s just an internal way for you to handle these comments) and you will be much better prepared when they do come.

    I also suggest (if they do sign their name…) personally approaching them, and thanking them for the input…then if it is something that can’t be resolved in a brief conversation, to invite them out to lunch or breakfast where it can be discussed further in private. BUT, before you actually meet them – PRAY and study the Word…seek God. Leave yourself open to the possibility that it is YOUR heart that may need to be changed. If we are humbly seeking to glorify Christ this is always a possibility to be prepared for.

    Thanks!

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