Good News in Writing; Bad News in Person

If your brother sins against you, go to him. Matthew 18:15

I mentioned a few Sundays ago the principle I have tried to follow throughout my ministering to other people. I would commend it to our church as a standard. It is captured in this phrase, Good news in writing; Bad news in person.

Following this axiom has more profound implications that we can know.

I know of one pastor who would regularly write 4 -7 page-long criticisms and corrections of others. Rather than speaking in person, he would pour out his corrective and critical thoughts on paper and then mail it away. Needless to say, he wounded many in his congregation by handling conflict this way.

Likewise, I also know many pastors who tell of the painful letters they receive and how those criticisms pierce them deeply. These letters, sometimes anonymous, go into detail about what is wrong in the church or with the leader’s ministry. Today’s email makes this form of criticism even more available. Anonymous letters are particularly painful. Charles Spurgeon had this to say, “An anonymous letter-writer is a sort of assassin, who wears a mask, and stabs in the dark. Such a man is a fiend with a pen. If discovered, the wretch will be steeped in the blackest infamy.”

The problem with handling conflict in writing is that it is not biblical. A writer specifically disobeys Matthew 18:15 which says if your brother sins against you, go to him. We are to go in person, not in writing. Going in person allows there to be give and take, the reading of facial expressions and clarifying questions. Face-to-face communication also tends to soften harsh words. The written letter brings its news and inflicts pain over and over and over again.

We cannot hide behind a keyboard, instead we are commanded to communicate face to face. Because of this principle. I have made it my rule not to read critical letters or emails. Instead, it prompts a phone call to talk about the issue. As a church we are not perfect. We will have our conflicts. But Jesus commands that those conflicts be talked about, not written about.

As you deal with disagreements in the workplace, in your family and in the church, I commend this biblical standard to you.

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