I’ve learned to be leary of anonymous letters. In fact, when I was pastoring, we devised a strategy to minimize the impact of such orphaned missiles. If the letter had no return address, I handed it to my secretary who opened it and looked for the closing signature. If there was none, the letter was torn up and discarded without either of us reading it.
So how this letter got through our lines of defense, I’ll never know. It’s dated March 17, 2003, which figures out to almost exactly one year before I resigned that pastorate to move across New Orleans into the Director of Missions office for the Baptist Association.
It’s actually a good letter. I had kept it and ran across it today while clearing out some old files. Here are some excerpts.
“I know as pastor, you have received plenty of complaints and varied opinions on how everything in the church should be run. From mustaches on the ministers to whether the service runs over a minute or under a minute. It’s almost comical but yet very serious. And at the same time I know a majority of church members are very grateful and proud that you are our pastor. We just tend to be silent about it.”
“I believe what you have been saying about revival is real and needs to happen.
“Over the last few years I have realized that our church and its message has been the only thing in my life that has never failed me. And yet it’s the one thing I feel I have failed. It’s me that needs reviving. I can only imagine the impact a ‘revived me’ would have on our church and people I come in contact with everyday. It blows my mind to think what if it happened collectively as a church.
“I don’t know what it will take to revive me. I know it won’t be easy. It’s like the illustration you gave a few weeks ago about someone drowning and how he will fight the very person who has come to rescue him.
“Maybe it’s more like an organ. When all the ‘stops’ are pulled out, it sounds great! My stops need to be pulled out. My greatest fear is that there isn’t much music, if any, inside to come out and that I will just be broken. But I guess that’s what Jesus is all about, right? He is the Music and He fills up empty and broken-down organs.
“I know I am not alone in this. Many of us need our stops pulled out. I don’t know if we will do it on our own or have to pull each other’s out. I have a hunch it is both.
“I know you have earned the respect and love of our church to be a ‘stop-puller.’ Some of us may fight you (or I should say the Holy Spirit) quietly and others vocally. Stay faithful! Those of us who end up playing music will never be able to thank you enough.”
The letter has this in place of a signature: “I know how you like anonymous letters so I will leave it at that.”
Reading this over two and a half years after it was written leaves me with a certain sadness and yet an appreciation for the sensitivities of the writer.
I do appreciate the support he or she expresses. The letter is type-written, so there are no clues as to the identity or gender. That support, he says, is silent.
I know about silent support. In 1989, the church I was serving in North Carolina had a little group of leaders who were bound and determined to run the show and that involved getting rid of me in order to choose a leader of their own. When a mediator was called in to study the situation and make recommendations, he sent out a questionnaire to every member of the church.
Over two thousand people received the letter containing the questionnaire. Five hundred were filled out and returned. Of those, 104 said the pastor needs to leave. The mediator decided this meant that 20 percent of the members were against me and I should leave.
After I resigned, I cannot tell you the number of members who came up and said, “I got that questionnaire in the mail and threw it in the trash. I’m satisfied with my pastor and the direction our church is going, so I didn’t think you needed to hear from me.” Silent support was no support.
In the late 1960s when my Mississippi church was trying to be faithful in a racial matter and I was becoming the target of gossip and hatemongers, one of our deacons said, “Preacher, hang in there. We’re right behind you.” I said, “I appreciate it, but I don’t want you behind me. I want you right up on the front line beside me.”
My anonymous friend said the only thing in his/her life that had never failed was our church. That both pleased and burdened me. It hurts that the writer’s life has known such disappointments; it is comforting to know he or she has found us faithful.
I received an email today from a friend whose husband is facing some crucial health issues, real life-or-death situations. I had e-mailed her that “we are praying both for you and for him.” She replied that her Christian friends had amazed her. She said, “I expected them all to say they were praying for my husband. But everyone has included me in their prayers too.” She added, “I’m so glad, because this is a frightening time for me, too.”
Pastor Tony Merida followed me as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana. We’re all praying that he will be God’s agent for revival in our church and city. I expect, however, that reading this little note will be Tony’s first realization that he is now the designated Stop-Puller.
As my writer friend said, Jesus is the Music and we are the organ. He just prays there will be music in him to come out.
“Lord Jesus, you are the Music and the source of all harmony. Produce in us that Heavenly melody that sounds like nothing man had a hand in, the kind that directs the hearts of all who hear to Thee. Be the Composer and the Organist.
Play, Lord. Play.”