7 Biblical Steps for Dealing With Harsh Criticism

Many pastors have received unsigned notes of criticism. (Pexels)

Every pastor and leader has received at least one.

Wayne Benson, a former leading pastor in Michigan, once called them sniper notes. That's a good description for unsigned notes.

Across the nation, pastors, young and old alike, have struggled with unsigned sniper notes, wondering who wrote them. Unless the Holy Spirit gives clear discernment, they will probably never know who sent them but will be haunted by the words written.


These sniper notes come in all varieties. Some express personal opinions. Others question the pastor's motives, tear apart his personality or trash his character. They usually come during an already-stressful time in the life of the church. Someone who doesn't have the courage to ask the right questions or go to the right person for clarification tries to influence the pastor or others through secret letters. Sometimes they are even written in a prophetic tone as if the Lord were speaking. One pastor I know received a secret sniper note from signed as "Jesus."

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I used to get these quite often in my earlier years. People had their opinions, and if they didn't harmonize with mine, I could count on an unsigned note arriving. I would look out at the congregation wondering which member it was.

Stingers of the Enemy

When I'd receive an unsigned note, I couldn't understand why my stomach would twist up in knots. It was frustrating. I wanted to respond, but to whom? It was hard to pray because my mind would wander recklessly back to the words in the sniper note.

Then I realized something. These fiery darts are actually satanic stingers. That's why these unsigned notes bothered me so much. They were designed by the enemy to harass me. That's exactly what the devil wanted—to get my focus off God's plans and goals and onto the fiery stinger of the wicked.

Ephesians 6:10-16 says:

Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your waist girded with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, having your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace, and above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the fiery arrows of the evil one.

How to Deal with Them

I asked the Lord how to handle these notes. Here's what He gently said to me: "Don't ever read another letter that is unsigned. Throw them away immediately."  After that, whenever I would read my mail, I would first check to make sure there was a signature before I would read it. No signature—it got tossed.

I announced to the congregation what the Lord had shown me. Soon the snipers drifted off to other churches to find a pastor who could be motivated by their controlling habits.

Unsigned notes that contain stingers are always wicked. We read in Ephesians 6:16 (KJV) about, "The fiery darts of the wicked."  Wicked means twisted, like wicker furniture. A candle has a wick right in the center of it. Wickedness, like a candle's wick, comes from the center—the heart of a person (Mark 7:20). An individual who sends unsigned notes and letters is twisted and has a real heart issue that's not being dealt with appropriately. These notes always have barbs in them that try to stick to you, bringing your mind constantly back to the words in that note.

Secret letters—stop and think. The word occult means secret or secretive. Paul talked about the "hidden principle of rebellion," saying, "For the mystery of lawlessness (that hidden principle of rebellion against constituted authority) is already at work in the world" (2 Thess. 2:7, AMPC)

The Shroud of Secrecy

Your enemy loves to work in a shroud of secrecy. He likes to keep his tactics, agendas and motives hidden. And people who use these secret note strategies are engaged in an occult activity without realizing it. Most are infantile in their faith and don't know any better. Some think they are doing God a favor without understanding the nature of the spirit that is motivating them.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Don't read unsigned notes. Throw them immediately in the trash. Speak this: "I have the shield of faith engaged, and every fiery stinger of the wicked is extinguished in Jesus' name."
  2. Ask the Lord to bring the writer of these sniper notes to repentance. Judas secretly betrayed Jesus without realizing the consequences to his own life. The writer of a sniper note needs help.
  3. Ask the Lord to give you clear discernment.
  4. Don't negotiate with people who use these kinds of occult tactics if you are aware they are doing it. Just as you cannot negotiate with terrorism or tyranny, you can never negotiate with a person who is twisted, dishonest and hypocritical.
  5. Don't hang out or fellowship with people in rebellion or who use secretive measures to influence others. Get away from them like you would get away from Dathan or Abiram in the Bible before the earth swallowed them alive. We become wise by walking with the wise, but we get hurt when we walk too closely with those who are operating under the influence of "different" spirit: "For [you seem readily to endure it] if a man comes and preaches another Jesus than the One we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the [Spirit] you [once] received or a different gospel from the one you [then] received and welcomed; you tolerate [all that] well enough!!" (2 Cor. 11:4, AMPC)
  6. Commit to keeping your own heart pure and your own hands clean. Never use the tactics of these cowards. If you have something to say, sign your name to it.
  7. Always remember John's words: "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4, MEV). You are an ambassador for Christ; snipers choose to be ambassadors for the devil: "So we are ambassadors for Christ"(2 Cor. 5:20a).

Pastor, do not despair when you find yourself under the attack of snipers. It's happened to all of us. I believe it could be a sign that you are about to be promoted to the next level in your ministry if you handle it correctly.

Everything designed to be a curse in your life will reverse, and God will turn it into a great blessing for you!

Charisma House has just released Dave's latest book, Hope in the Last Days.

Dr. Dave Williams served for over 30 years as pastor of Mount Hope Church in Lansing, Michigan, with over 500 outreach ministries around the world. Dave led the church in giving over $40,000,000 to world and local missions. His leadership training course, The Art of Pacesetting Leadership, is credited with catapulting one church from 226 to over 4,000. Another church went from 8 to over 1,000. His all-time best-selling book, The New Life: The Start of Something Wonderful, is a practical, step-by-step guide to help new believers become established in their Christian walk and has sold over 2.5 million copies. His latest book, Hope in the Last Days, is published by Charisma House. Dave now focuses on helping young ministers whenever he has an opportunity.

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