Writing an Email about a Confrontational Issue

Woman yelling at computerWe have moments of confrontation and confusion in our churches. Scripture guides us in how to navigate the tension of our human existence.


“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 18:15-20 ESV


Where scripture doesn’t guide us directly, and where we have to rely on community wisdom, is what platforms and mechanisms to use when we communicate. Email, texting, tweeting and the like have made the art of communication increasingly complicated.

We offer a few suggestions when email is the method of communication in these tense moments:

  1. Have tried every in-person option? – Email is a great tool of communication, but it should not be the primary mode of communication in these tense, often easily misunderstood, conversations.
  2. Really, you tried everything? – Did you pop in on them at work? Did you invite them for coffee? Did you really try everything to talk to them in-person?
  3. Draft an email, walk away – Our natural inclination is to write and send immediately. We want this issue resolve fast and so why not send it now. A “best practice” for emailing in times of tension is to write it, save as a draft, and then walk away.
  4. Walk away for at least a 30 minutes – The church will not fall down around you. One of two things will happen (there is also the third possibility that the person will call in that time, having not heard from you, will reach out to you) 1) When you look at the email again, you will delete the email and seek other ways of communicating. 2) You will be convicted to revise and edit your words after you have walked away for a few minutes.
  5. Stick to just the facts – Read what you wrote and eliminate all (or most) of the emotional words. Consider the difference: “I didn’t like your stance on that issue
    and it made me angry that you would say that.”  OR  “I have considered what you said ” “, I wanted to reach out to you to see if I understand what you said.” Emotions need to be interpreted in-person, so leave communicating via email to details and facts to be analyzed and considered.
  6. Indicate that follow-up will be in-person – Email begets email begets email. Noting a time where you will follow-up with them, in person (or on the phone), will help to filter the possibilities of email responses.

Happy Emailing….

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