Every effective pastor gets a poison pen letter at least once during their careers. They’re never nice to get and they can cause a lot of anxiety and self-doubt. Frankly, they can send an otherwise well-adjusted, healthy pastor into a tailspin. They shouldn’t, but shouldn’t doesn’t cut it in the real world.

When one of these letters finds its way into the hands of multiple church leaders, such as when the complainant copies the chair of the board, there is always a rise in the congregation’s anxiety level. However, often the affects of the letter can be somewhat ameliorated by a careful dissection. Once the real issues are exposed, a measured response (or no response) can be proactively determined. Below is a dissected example to help you with the process. The letter below is a real letter from a disaffected couple, but it has been significantly edited to protect everyone’s integrity (or lack thereof, as the case may be).

Dear ____, We are writing this as concerned and unhappy members of First Church. We do not like or agree with the direction our church has taken in the past year or so. We don’t have a “good” feeling when we leave church on Sunday morning. We walk away from the sermons feeling disappointed. 

In this first paragraph notice that the word “we” is used four times and that these members have taken ownership of the church – it’s “our” church. There is no mention that the church has an adopted congregational mission and vision that’s been in place for over a year. These are clearly people who are more concerned about their personal preferences than they are with the collective congregation, which has already made a decision about the church’s direction.

We, along with many of our friends and acquaintances, have chosen to stop attending services. We have also stopped our giving to the church. We consider First Church to be “our” church and have been members since 1963. We wish it could remain that way, but it can’t because of all the changes and because of the leadership. Please be aware that there are many, many other members who feel exactly the same way we do. If the church leaders would visit these folks, they would find out why they are taking the actions they are taking. 

When these sorts of statements are made, it’s important to check your attendance and giving numbers. Often the “many” who aren’t coming turns out to be fewer than one or two others … and sometimes there are no others who have joined the boycott. At other times, you’ll discover the attendance has actually increased even though a few have left. The deficit of giving may or may not be a concern. Frankly, often those who are as “committed” to their church as this couple appears to be were committed mostly in voice only. Rarely do the larger givers quit the church because they have more invested in it and are more willing to either acquiesce to the changes or are able to more appropriately express their concerns.

Notice once again that this couple claims ownership of the church. Considering this statement and the withholding of presence and presents indicates the couple believe they are entitled to get their way – they have paid for it and they deserve it! In addition, the assertion that they’ve been members of the church for so long is a clear mark of bullying behavior.

The invitation to visit these folks is a thinly veiled attempt to garner the attention they think they deserve. This couple has made it abundantly clear why they have chosen to abandon the church.

Before diving into the last paragraph, let’s look at what’s NOT in their letter.

  • Not once is the good of the church mentioned, just the good of a few.
  • Not once is the commission of the church to make disciples of Jesus mentioned.
  • There is no reference to meeting the needs of the least or the lost.

The only thing this letter addresses is the couple’s personal disappointment that their desires and personal preferences are not being met – along with the assertion that there are “many” who agree with them (though no names are given).

We have been visiting other churches but our membership remains with First Church. When the current leadership has been removed and our church restored to order, we’ll be back. 

In Christ, Mr. & Mrs. John Doe

This is the final confirmation that this couple has engaged in terrorism. Remember, a church terrorist attempts to take the church hostage in order to get their demands met. In this case, the threat is “If you don’t meet our demands, we’ll never come back!” The only appropriate response to this kind of behavior is to employ a Matthew 18:15–17 response.

To the credit of the church’s leadership, this couple was visited and informed that, since they were so unhappy with the way the church was going, they should find a church where they could be blessed and where they could once again be a blessing.

Question: Have you had experiences with members like this? How did you respond? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.