You haven’t been a pastor long if you haven’t received a nasty email… or better yet… an anonymous note telling you how Satan must have sent you there (sent, 99% of the time) in the offering plate.
David Murray gives some ideas as to how to handle three different kinds of hate mail:
First, a definition: Hate mail is motivated by hate, a desire to harm and hurt. It is usually insensitive in tone and content, and intends to discourage, damage, dishearten, and demoralize.Appropriate criticism is motivated by love, by a desire to help and grow a person. It is expressed with kindness, wisdom, and balance. Unless we have a particularly thin skin, or have developed a martyr complex, it’s usually quite easy to distinguish hate mail from constructive criticism.
Anonymous hate mail recommendation: I recommend reading no further than necessary to discern the hostile nature of the communication; there’s no point in letting the author achieve his or her aim of upsetting or frightening you at no cost to themselves. However, instead of trashing them, I now suggest giving any such letters to an experienced Christian in your congregation, probably to an elder, and ask him to read them and keep them secure.
Signed hate mail recommendation: Most of the time, I decide that I just have too much important work to do than to give any time to modern-day Sanballats (Neh. 6:3). Usually I follow Hezekiah’s model of prayerfully placing the letter or e-mail before the Lord and ask for guidance as to whether or how to reply (2 Kings 19:14-16). I also ask the Lord to help me not to be intimidated or distracted and that the language and threats would not linger with me to disturb my peace.
Friendly Fire recommendation: Unless the letters are coming regularly from one source, I’m not for reporting them to the church leadership, as people can often fire off a letter in a bad temper and come to regret it later. There’s no point in damaging a person’s reputation or relationships with everyone else due to one foolish mistake. That said, I do recommend the following.
1. How often do you, as a church leader, receive ‘hate mail’?
2. How do you usually respond?
3. What’s the most bizarre/outlandish hate mail you’ve ever received? What was the most disturbing?
Leave a comment… I’d love to hear!