I have been a pastor for 10 years. Over that time, I have experienced some incredible blessings. I have shared in the joys of life as well as the losses and valleys that people have experienced. Along the way, I have experienced some of my own valleys as well.
Early on, someone that I knew gave me some helpful advice regarding notes that I got. They told me to keep a file with encouraging notes. They told me to store them in a drawer where I could easily find them and refer to them on those days that I felt less than adequate, when I needed a good dose of encouragement again. They also told me to disregard any notes that weren’t signed.
I have had a significant amount of experience with anonymous feedback. Generally, when someone needs to maintain their anonymity, they are not going to be offering helpful or constructive feedback. I have often found that advice offered anonymously is mostly aimed at causing hurt and humiliation.
Even though I was given this advice, I’ve still kept a few notes that were less than complimentary to me. In fact, I found one the other day that I received early on in my ministry. The anonymous responder was questioning my heart and whether I really was a worshiper of Jesus because I had said the word “heck” in a rehearsal three times. Three times. I’m glad it wasn’t four or five. My language had offended them and caused them to question my relationship with Christ.
Wow! When I found this note, I began to think back to when I first received it. I wondered exactly what I had thought when it came in. Did I take it seriously? Did I begin to question my own faith because of this anonymous feedback? I don’t think so. I think I kept it because, even if it wasn’t funny at the time, I probably figured that one day I could look back on it and laugh. That day came, and I laughed.
But anonymous feedback that is less than complimentary can be helpful, at least for me. Another reason for me to keep the anonymous and critical note was to keep me humble. If I have a good day or if I preach a good sermon, I could easily find myself taking credit for how wonderful I am, but that’s the last thing that I want to do. The minute that I begin thinking that I am the one who has accomplished something is the minute that I need to reassess my calling into ministry. I need to remember who I do this all for and who gives me the strength to do it. Realizing that not everyone loves me is a really good way to remember that.
Thankfully, I have grown and learned a lot over the 10 years that I have been in ministry. I have seen growth in myself and been affirmed by others with whom I am close who have seen that growth. I am grateful for the feedback that I have received, even if it’s less than stellar. We can all learn some lessons from people who don’t like us, even if they write anonymous notes to us.