I am sure that every profession has its rules. I worked in the field of engineering for nearly a decade and I learned some of the valuable rules within the trade. Knowing friends and acquaintances in other fields, I know that there are certain rules that can be applied. As a pastor, there is no exception to this; there are certain rules to be followed.
Most of the rules are passed on by other more experienced pastors. They pass on what they have experienced, some helpful hints along the way. It’s important not to trust them all, 20 years of experience doesn’t necessarily mean what they think it means. It’s possible that those 20 years were spent doing the same thing over and over again and very little growth happened. But, you learn who you can trust and you learn who deserves respect.
One rule that was passed on to me, especially by those pastors who had brought their churches through some difficult situations or transitions is this: NEVER respond to anonymous criticism. If someone has something to bring to you, hiding behind anonymity is not helpful. Matthew 18 gives us a clear picture of what we are to do when we have something to bring to someone else. The key in the confrontation is relationship, and when we come at things anonymously, we completely disregard relationship.
What is the benefit of anonymity when it comes to something as important as offering feedback? Most of the feedback within the church has to do with preferences. I think this or that and I think that you should think it too. Here’s my preference and let me tell you all of the reasons why my preference is better than yours.
True, there is legitimate feedback in the church, but in my experience, the legitimate feedback comes from reliable sources who have no qualms about sharing their identity. Why hide behind a mask when you are bringing legitimate feedback? I am sure that there are some exceptions to the rule of anonymous legitimate feedback, but they are exceptions which don’t occur very frequently.
So, if what you have to offer is legitimate and helpful, what is the purpose of sharing it anonymously? Will your identity change the way that the feedback is received? Is there a fear that somehow identity will somehow diminish the feedback?
I think that it has to do with relationship and investment. Have you built up your relationships enough that you can offer constructive criticism and legitimate feedback? Have you invested in whatever it is that you are criticizing enough to have earned the right to be heard? We receive criticism and feedback from those whom we trust and with whom we have strong relationships. There are people who are able to say much harder things to me because of their investment and the relationship that they have with me.
The big question in the midst of this, at least to me, is what happens if your relationships and investments don’t amount to enough to feel that you can share your criticism? I guess it depends on the nature of the criticism. Is it important enough that it needs to be shared immediately? Again, I think there are exceptions to the rule and this may be one of them. If it’s that much of a concern that it should be immediately shared, I would venture to think that most people would receive it, especially if it was shared with love, concern, and intent for growth. Otherwise, if it’s something that can wait, go ahead and build relationships, make investments, and earn the right to let your voice be heard.
I feel like I play one “song” over and over again, and that “song” is about relationships. But it’s an important song, and one that we can too easily allow to be background music if we aren’t careful. It’s a song that can easily be pushed aside because of the busyness of our lives, but we can’t well afford to do that. When we fail in the area of relationships, we can easily make excuses for the other areas in our lives that will suffer, and I think the area of feedback is no exception.
The bottom line is this: if you have the urge to offer feedback anonymously, think long and hard before you do it. Why is it necessary to remain anonymous? Have you done everything to allow for your feedback to be well received if your name is behind it? Will it be helpful and received if you offer it anonymously.
There are many pastors and leaders out there whose rule of thumb is to never respond to anonymous feedback. I know that I’ve received my fair share in 9 years of ministry, but I’ve not given it much credence. Those who care for me and have invested in me will tell me and I have enough close relationships with people who I can ask when I am in doubt. My skin is thick and I can take a lot, but of course it’s much easier when I know someone loves me and has my best interest in mind.
Anonymity is not helpful when it comes to valuable feedback. Before you decide to stay anonymous, you might want to ask how important your feedback is. If it’s not that important, stay anonymous because it most likely won’t be heard. If it’s important, share your heart in why it’s important, I can assure you that it will go a long way.