Dear Concerned Church Member,
I received your letter with great interest, as I'm always grateful for the sharpening of my skills, knowledge, and, of course, personality. I know I always have room to improve as a pastor.
Some of your concerns were, naturally, disappointing and discouraging. In a few areas, I already knew I needed improvement, so the criticism was not a surprise to me, but nevertheless confirms some of my own worst opinions about myself! I don't know if you know what that's like — being your own worst critic — but I gently suspect not. In any event, I am trying to "test all things" here and cling to what is good. If I may, some responses to specific concerns:
– On my last vacation I responded to emails as best I could. This was a huge mistake. It kept me from "unplugging" and being present with my wife and children with undivided attention. I would like to humbly suggest that if the church can't live without me for a week, it is barely a church to begin with and perhaps more like a religious daycare center. You are all (mostly) grown-ups and some of you have been Christians a long time. It is Jesus who is available to you 24/7, and I'm not him. Any messages that are not emergencies I'd be glad to respond to when I return. In the meantime, I will maintain radio silence while on vacation so I can rest, recharge, and return to you all with renewed energy.
– Yes, my children have new iPads. Sister was not mistaken to notice those in our home. They were gifts from grandparents. I confess it didn't occur to me to think about "how it might look" to someone, especially someone who had been invited into our home as a guest and shown hospitality, but if it had, my hope would've been that we'd be given the benefit of the doubt and not have assumptions made about the situation, still less assumptions that were shared with others and not with us directly. (Just as an "FYI," we are buying our kids the latest XBox this Christmas. You are welcome to come play on it with us.)
– In regards to your concerns about "reaching people," I have quite a few thoughts, as I'm sure you can imagine, but the words of Christ should suffice: "Go and make disciples of all peoples." When our church begins to exist only for its members, it begins dying. I love our church and all its members and want to provide the best care I possibly can for them, but I confess I am not interested in ministering in a pasture that has no concern for the "other sheep" Jesus talked about in John 10:16 and whom he said we must bring in. If our church is going to grow — which is what you asked me to lead when you hired me — it will change. It's impossible for a church to grow and not change. It's possible, brother, that your desire for our church never to change is a selfish one and not godly.
– Finally, I am not in the habit of telling my wife who she can and can't be friends with. As a mature Christian, she feels led by God to be friendly with everybody. But she's a grown woman and, like any other woman (or man) in the church, is free to be close friends with whoever she feels most heard and loved by and connected with.
All that to say, I am glad you have felt the freedom to trust me with these concerns. I know I'm not perfect and I am always open to constructive criticism. I do feel that some of these concerns mentioned are not appropriate, and a few of them revelatory of some pretty serious idolatry.
Since you did not sign your letter and most everyone you mentioned has gone unidentified — — the infamous church choir known as "some people" — I am not quite sure who to respond to. Anonymous complaints are very difficult to get used to, I must say. It's like getting punched with a bag over your head. It taints every relationship I try to have in the church, honestly, because I never know if the person I'm ministering to is someone I can trust with my heart or someone who has no compunction about sharing criticism of me with third parties behind my back.
Therefore, because I cannot respond to you directly, I am posting this letter to the bulletin board in the fellowship hall. See "you" at the next potluck!