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Archive for March, 2014

Today is Opening Day in baseball, and hope springs eternal for every fan.

Will the Red Sox repeat as World Champs?  Will the Dodgers go all the way instead?  And how far will the A’s and Mariners and Pirates and Reds go?

I’m not very good at predicting the future.  I’m better at looking back at the past.

So when I think back to 1960 – when my interest in baseball began – I think of players in whom I had a special interest.

Last time, I mentioned 5 of those players: Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Steve Garvey, Brooks Robinson, and Ted Williams.

This time, I’ll complete that list.  Here are my Top 5 Favorite Players:

Favorite Player #5: Duke Snider

Songwriter Terry Cashman put out a song in 1981 called Talkin’ Baseball in which he mentioned the names of many ballplayers.  Having grown up in New York City, he and his friends were enamored with the center fielders for the New York Giants, New York Yankees, and Brooklyn Dodgers: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider.

During his song, Cashman kept singing about “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.”

Duke Snider was a left-handed, power-hitting center fielder for the Dodgers.  As a kid, I read an article where he noted that he had hit 4 home runs in the World Series against the Yankees on 2 occasions.  That impressed me!

Duke Snider Signed Card

When the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, the Duke came along.  For years, he lived in nearby Fallbrook.

He hit 407 lifetime home runs – 40 or more 5 years in a row – and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.

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In 1988, I met Snider at a baseball card convention.  The Duke was dutifully signing whatever people put in front of him until I mentioned something I had just read in his autobiography The Duke of Flatbush.

Duke Snider Book Cover

Snider mentioned that he had invited Christ into his life in 1979 and that he and his wife regularly attended worship services and Bible study at their church in Fallbrook.

When I brought this up, Duke stopped signing, brightened up, and talked to me for a few minutes about his faith in Christ.  He and his wife had become involved with The Torchbearers ministry and he told me they had flown to England to receive teaching from Major Ian Thomas.

I can’t remember much else of that conversation, but I’ll always treasure that time … and I look forward to resuming that conversation someday!

Favorite Player #4: Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb hit .367 over his 25-year career, winning 12 batting titles, stealing 892 bases, and amassing 4, 191 hits.

He also made a truckload of enemies.  Some people believe that Cobb was the meanest player who ever lived.

Normally I don’t like players who are rude and inconsiderate.  I knew someone who used to sell newspapers in downtown Menlo Park, California, and he said that Cobb regularly bought a paper from him – and was nasty.  (Cobb lived in nearby Atherton for many years.)

But I have 3 reasons for still making Cobb one of my favorites:

*As a kid, I read his autobiography My Turn at Bat, and learned a lot about base running which I incorporated into my game.

Ty Cobb Book Cover

*His mother accidentally shot his father (she thought he was an intruder), and Cobb worshiped his father.  That wound stayed with him the rest of his life and affected his personality.

*Cobb mellowed somewhat after his playing days and became good friends with Babe Ruth – whom he formerly hated – by playing golf together as documented in the book Ty and the Babe.

Ty and the Babe Book Cover

I admired Cobb because he used his brains as much as his talent, and because I was never a big kid, Cobb helped me learn how to win by thinking, not just by slugging.

Seven years ago, my son Ryan and I took a trip through the South, and we stopped in Royston, Georgia, where Cobb grew up.  We visited the Ty Cobb Museum and his tomb just outside town.

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When I was ten years old, I found a gospel tract at my grandfather’s church in Chicago.  The tract stated that Ty Cobb had received Christ at the end of his life.  While I’ve never seen this bit of information verified, I hope it’s true.  (Mickey Mantle received Christ a few days before his death as well.)  If so, maybe heaven will truly be a “Field of Dreams.”

Favorite Player #3: Willie Mays 

There are many people who believe that Willie Mays was the greatest all-around ballplayer who ever lived.  (Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds are also in the conversation.)

He won 2 Most Valuable Player Awards … hit 660 home runs … and could beat you with his bat, glove, or legs.

Willie Mays Signed 1957 Topps

As a kid, my brother John and I played fast-pitch with a tennis ball in our backyard.  He was the Dodgers … I was the Giants … which meant that I got to be Willie Mays.

Even though I was a Dodger fan, I’d check the box scores every day to see how the Say Hey Kid had done the previous day.

In early 1968, I took a picture of Willie and John inside the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Anaheim.  We have it … somewhere.  I’ll post it if I can ever find it.

I saw Willie in various venues over the next several years, but he became increasingly grouchy.

Willie Mays Signing Autographs

It’s got to be a burden to be so visible … and to be considered by many to be the greatest player who ever lived.  (I’m posing with his plaque at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.)

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I got to see him play in person on several occasions … and plan to tell my grandsons all about it!

Favorite Player #2: Sandy Koufax

Growing up in Southern California, I became a Dodgers’ fan, cheering for Maury Wills, Don Drysdale, Tommy and Willie Davis, and anyone wearing Dodger Blue.

But the greatest Dodger of them all was Sanford Koufax.

Sandy Koufax Signed Photo

He won 5 Earned Run Average titles in a row along with 3 Cy Young Awards.

I saw him pitch in-person twice: a 3-hit shutout against the Houston Colt 45s (now the Astros) in 1963, and a 4-2 pennant-clinching victory against the Milwaukee (now Atlanta) Braves in 1965.

In that 1965 game, Koufax set the all-time record for strikeouts in a season: 382.

Koufax won 25 games in 1963 … 19 in 1964 … 26 in 1965 … and 27 in 1966.  Here is his plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown:

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Every time Koufax pitched, you wondered if he was going to throw a no-hitter.  He did throw 4 no-hitters … the last one a perfect game.  (My brother John and I listened to it on the radio.)

I can still recall sitting in English Class during the Seventh Game of the 1965 World Series.  Koufax had shut out the Minnesota Twins 7-0 in Game 5, and was asked by Manager Walter Alston to pitch Game 7 on only two days’ rest!

In our day, this would never happen with a starting pitcher.

What did Koufax do?  He shut out the Twins 2-0 …  striking out 10 … and the Dodgers were again World Champs.  I bought that game on iTunes.  Best $1.99 I’ve ever spent!

Koufax was a magnetic pitcher but came off as a humble and considerate person.  He was easy to root for because he seemed surprised by all his success.

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When my parents gave me a signed copy of his autobiography one year, it became one of my most prized possessions.

As great as Koufax was, there’s someone I came to love even more:

Favorite Player #1: Nolan Ryan

The first time I saw Nolan Ryan pitch in person, he hit 3 San Francisco Giants in an exhibition game in Palm Springs in 1972.

Like many pitchers, Ryan threw hard but couldn’t control where the ball was going.

He played several seasons for the New York Mets, and then was traded to the California Angels after the 1971 season.

Somehow, Ryan started putting things together in 1972.  Every time I opened the Santa Ana Register, Ryan had pitched another shutout … and struck out a bunch of guys.

In 1973, Ryan threw 2 no-hitters.  He threw 7 in all … the all-time record, surpassing Sandy Koufax’ record of 4.

Nolan Ryan Signed 1978 Topps

After we got married, Kim and I lived in Santa Ana and later in Anaheim.  When Ryan pitched, I listened to every game.  He often had a no-hitter through six innings.

I’d ask Kim, “Can I go to the ballpark?”  (She always said yes.)  Back in the mid-1970s, I could drive to the stadium … park my car in the lot for free … and then walk right in when the ushers opened the gates after the seventh inning.

I always hoped to see Ryan throw a no-hitter in person, but I never did.

However, I did get a game ball from one of his victories.

Ticket Stub May 2, 1979

On May 2, 1979, Ryan defeated the Yankees in Anaheim.  Rod Carew made the final putout for the Angels, and as he approached the dugout, my friend John asked Carew for the ball.

Carew tossed it to John, who ran up the aisle and gave it to me.

In September 1973, Ryan pitched on a Thursday night against the Minnesota Twins.  Many of my friends went to the game that night.

Ryan need 15 strikeouts to tie Sandy Koufax for the all-time record … and 16 to beat the record.

After 9 innings, Ryan had 15 strikeouts … and nothing left in his gas tank … but he got that 16th strikeout on a high fastball thrown past Rich Reese … and he ended up with 383 strikeouts in a single season, the all-time record.

Ryan went on to become a legend.  When he was eligible for the Hall of Fame, he received the second highest percentage of votes in history.

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Whenever I encountered Ryan, he was cordial.  Kim and I once drove to Anaheim Stadium and asked Ryan to sign two posters before a game.  They hung on my wall for years.

Back in 1979, I drove down to Palm Springs and caught an Angels’ exhibition game.  Ryan was just walking around the stands and then exited the ballpark.

Nobody knew who he was.

I followed him and asked him to pose for a picture for me, which he did.  If you see photos of him today, he’s aged a lot.

Nolan Ryan Spring Training 1979

My father was a pastor, but he was also a big baseball fan.  He used to bring my brother and me packs of baseball cards.  And when Dodgers like Roger Craig, Don Drysdale, and Maury Wills made personal appearances in our area, he drove us to meet them and get their autographs.

When I was at Cooperstown a few years ago, I took a picture of this painting of a small baseball fan asking for the autograph of the great Pirate shortstop Honus Wagner.  If you click on the picture and read the text, you’ll understand why I’ve enjoyed having a connection to these players for so many years.  Thanks for reading!

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Baseball has been in my blood since I was six years old.

Back in 1960, my father took my brother and me to our first game at the Los Angeles Coliseum where we watched the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Dodgers 5-2.  I can still see the right fielders for both teams: Frank Howard for the Dodgers, Roberto Clemente for the Pirates.

I’ve had so many thrills as a fan.  I have been privileged to:

*run the bases at a public open house at Dodger Stadium shortly before it opened.

*attend the groundbreaking of Anaheim Stadium on July 31, 1964 … and I kept dirt from the home plate area for years.

*go to the All-Star Game in Anaheim in 1967 … a game that went 15 innings until Tony Perez hit a home run off Catfish Hunter.

*attend various playoff games and two World Series games.

*see games at Wrigley Field (Chicago), the old Comiskey Park (great park!), Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and Yankee Stadium, among many ballparks.

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When I was 13, I discovered that every player in the American League was staying at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim – only 3 miles from my house – for 3 road trips every year.

All my friends in our neighborhood discovered this, too.

Including exhibition games, Old Timer games, and that All-Star game, I met players like Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Willie McCovey, Tom Seaver, Al Kaline, Pete Rose, and Rod Carew.

Some were pleasant … others were businesslike … and a few were downright mean (like Early Wynn and Elston Howard), but wow, what a great time my friends and I had growing up!

Years ago, I made a list of my favorite players, and recently condensed it to just 10.  I’ll share favorites 10 through 6 today and 5 through 1 next time.

Favorite Player #10: Roberto Clemente

Besides the fact that Clemente played in the first game I ever attended, I admired his flair.  He won 4 batting titles … dominated the Orioles in the 1971 World Series … and ended up with exactly 3,000 hits.

I watched him play at Dodger Stadium in 1966 … and what an arm he had!  An absolute cannon.

On the Sunday before the All-Star game in 1967, I was at the Grand Hotel waiting for players to check in, and Clemente was spotted walking along the road  He looked regal in his blue suit and signed for everybody … maybe 30 people.

Sometime after that, I learned that if you wrote Clemente during the season, he would sign everything you sent him … so my brother and I did just that.

Roberto Clemente Signed CardClemente Drawing

Several years ago, I read most of the book Clemente by David Maraniss, but I can’t finish it because I don’t want to read about Clemente’s tragic airplane death on January 1, 1973 while taking relief supplies to Nicaragua.

Favorite Player #9: Stan Musial

Stan the Man played his entire career for the St. Louis Cardinals, amassing 3,630 hits: 1,815 on the road, 1,815 at home.  How’s that for consistency?

I read a biography on his life as a kid and was amazed at his greatness.  He won 7 National League batting titles and 3 MVP awards.

Stan Musial Signed CardStan Musial Signed Photo

Musial’s last year was 1963, and when the Cardinals came to Dodger Stadium that September, the Dodgers announced they were going to hold a Stan Musial Night on Thursday evening.

I was determined to go, even though I was only 9 years old.  I asked my dad if we could go, and he said no.  But I wouldn’t give up.

Call me stubborn … manipulative … or spoiled … but I WANTED TO GO TO THAT GAME!

So I went to my room and cried … and screamed … and yelled bloody murder.  The neighbors must have felt that my parents were engaged in some radical form of abuse.

They finally relented and our entire family went to the game … but we sat so high up that we couldn’t see much.

I only had two encounters with Musial … and was thrilled to get his autograph at the All-Star Game in 1967 after a meeting of general managers.

He was a classy man … and the greatest Cardinal of them all.

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That’s why this statue of Stan the Man is in front of Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Favorite Player #8: Steve Garvey

One Saturday in 1972 – when I was 18 – I drove to San Diego with 2 friends.  We visited the Town and Country Hotel because the Dodgers were staying there.

Sometime during the afternoon, Steve and Cyndy Garvey started talking to the three of us.  They were SUPER nice.  This was long before Steve was an All-Star and Cyndy co-hosted a TV show in LA.

We must have talked to them for 20 minutes.  I’ve never forgotten how pleasant they were.

Two years later, Steve Garvey was the regular first baseman for the Dodgers and the Most Valuable Player in the National League … long before he received any bad press.

Steve Garvey Signed Card

I admired Garvey’s ability to hit to all fields … dig errant throws out of the dirt … and hit in the clutch.  He was always a winner.

In addition, Garvey was always great to his fans … signing autographs … posing for pictures … and acting like he enjoyed it … like in this photo with my son Ryan.

Garvey and Ryan

A few years ago, I saw him at a benefit softball game, and told him that I believed he was Hall of Fame worthy.  He sincerely thanked me.

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Steve Garvey remains a great ambassador for baseball.

Favorite Player #7: Brooks Robinson  

To this day, if I ask my friends, “Who were the two nicest players in the American League when we collected autographs?”, they always answer: Harmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson.  And both were superstars.

Brooks Robinson Card Signed

Brooks was the third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles.  He won the American League MVP award in 1964 and the World Series MVP in 1970.  He was such a great fielder that he was nicknamed “The Human Vacuum Cleaner.”

I liked Brooks because he was always kind and personable with his fans.

Brooks Robinson

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James rates Brooks the 7th greatest third baseman of all-time … and then goes on to write about nice and not-so-nice players … crowing Brooks The King of Nice Ballplayers.

Here’s one that wasn’t so nice:

Favorite Player #6: Ted Williams

Several years ago, my wife and I visited the San Diego Sports Hall of Fame in Balboa Park.  The baseball exhibits focused on two Hall of Fame ballplayers: Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn.

I cried my way through the whole thing.

Ted is a legend in San Diego.  There’s even a parkway named after him off Interstate 15.

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But Ted Williams … whose mother devoted her life to the Salvation Army in San Diego … was a brutally honest but moody man.

In my view, Ted was the greatest hitter who ever lived.  He won 7 American League batting titles … hit 521 home runs (including one in his last at-bat) … and hit .342 lifetime.  He also hit .406 in 1941, the last player ever to hit .400 in a single season.  (Tony Gwynn hit .394 in 1994 but fell short.)  Since he retired in 1960 – the year I became interested in baseball – I never saw Ted play.

Ted Williams Signed Card

On those few occasions I saw him in-person, he had a presence about him.  He was movie-star handsome and plugged all kinds of products.  But he loathed pitchers … as well as sportswriters.

But when kids were around, The Kid changed completely.

In 1969, Ted became the manager of the expansion Washington Senators.  When the team came to the Grand Hotel late in the season, only my brother and I showed up for autographs.

Ted came out late in the afternoon and sat on a shoeshine chair by the pool and starting reading a newspaper.  He scared me to death.

But my brother John … who was 13 at the time … went up to Ted and they started conversing.  Ted looked through John’s baseball cards … many of which were of Ted himself!  Ted probably talked to John for 15 minutes and seemed genuinely interested in him.

I wish I had just one photo of that meeting.

There’s a statue of Ted Williams outside Fenway Park in Boston.  It’s hard to see at night, but it shows Ted’s interest in a boy … just like my brother.

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I’m fascinated by deeply flawed people who do great things, and Ted certainly falls into that category.

Who are my Top 5 ballplayers of all time?  I’ll share that post on Opening Day.

Who are some of your favorite baseball players – and why?

 

 

 

 

 

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He was fighting a battle inside … a battle that had no sign of ending soon.

For his entire life, Bob had attended church services … and enjoyed doing so.  Church was in his DNA.

But recently, things had changed.  Bob no longer felt at home at church … any church.

He tried visiting churches in his community, but never felt comfortable.

During one service, a staff member asked those with a need to stand up so believers nearby could pray for that person.  While Bob had needs, he didn’t feel comfortable having strangers pray for him.

At another church, the pastor said during the announcements, “If you want to attend this event, see Joe.”  The pastor assumed that everybody knew Joe … but Bob didn’t, and felt left out.

Exhausted and frustrated while searching for a home church, Bob took a break a few Sundays and watched a service on television from a megachurch he liked … but he longed to find a church home nearby.

One Saturday night, he went online and located the website of a church that met at a local community college, and since it was close to home, he thought he’d give it a try.

So on Sunday morning, Bob got up on time … showered and dressed … grabbed his Bible … got in his car … and drove to where the church was located.

When he drove into the parking lot, he noticed there weren’t many cars there.  Was this a small church where he might stand out?

When Bob walked into the building, nobody was present to greet him.  As he turned to walk down a long hallway, he noticed a literature table … but no one was there.

As he proceeded down the hallway, he noticed another literature table … again with nobody staffing it.

No one said a word as Bob walked toward what he hoped was the worship center, which he eventually found.

He hesitated for a moment, looking for greeters, but they were talking to each other … with their backs to him … so he slipped into the auditorium … without ever being offered a bulletin.

Bob looked for a seat in the back row, but since some seats were roped off, he walked beyond the ropes and sat down on the second seat next to the aisle.

Looking to the right, he saw a man in a suit talking to three other men against the wall.

Looking toward the front, he saw two other men talking behind the church podium.

Since the church had Bible classes before the service, maybe those men were discussing their studies … but they seemed oblivious to others.

Church growth experts claim that a guest forms 11 impressions about a church within the first 30 seconds … and so far, Bob had only formed negative impressions of this church … but maybe the service would be different.

Suddenly, an older woman appeared at the end of the aisle.  Pointing to the seat next to Bob, she said, “This is my seat.”  And then, pointing to the seat he was sitting in, she said, “And that’s my friend’s seat.”

Already feeling apprehensive, Bob now felt embarrassed.  “Okay, I’ll leave,” he said.

He walked back down the row … back down the hallway … back into the parking lot … and drove home.

Bob turned on the television and once again watched the service broadcast by the megachurch.  The preacher told the congregation how much God loved each one of them.

And Bob thought about his experience at church that morning and wondered:

If people matter to God, why don’t they matter more to God’s people?

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If you haven’t yet figured it out, I’m Bob.  This article reflects the frustration that I’m experiencing finding a local church that loves guests without making them feel uncomfortable.

Maybe as a longtime pastor, I’m too critical … but I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s no wonder that 85% of all churches are stagnant or declining in attendance because from my vantage point, most believers are engrossed with their own friendships and concerns on Sundays … and their church simply isn’t ready for company.

The first thing that non-growing churches can do is to ask themselves, “How can we improve the way we welcome our guests?”

It’s not rocket science … but for some reason, most churches think they’re doing fine when they’re failing miserably.

My wife and I once visited a large, prestigious church where we were locked out of the worship center for the first ten minutes while they had a baptism … and then the pastor complained about the decline in church attendance during his sermon.

Please, sir, look in the mirror.

If I feel this way … and I’m a veteran believer … how do you think unbelievers or seekers feel when they visit the average church?

Visiting a church is an anxiety-inducing experience … especially when you’re by yourself … and every time a church isn’t ready for company, it becomes that much harder to visit the next church.

Sometimes people aren’t rejecting Christ … they’re rejecting churches where they instantly sense rejection … and no, it’s not logical.

If Christians are serious about reaching the world for Christ, maybe we can start by better welcoming the guests that God brings to our churches on Sundays.

Remember Jesus’ words?

“… I was a stranger and you invited me in … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35, 40).

 

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The following article is from a working draft of my e-book tentatively titled Thinking of Terminating Your Pastor?  The book is directed to church decision makers – especially board members – who are responsible for correcting a pastor and/or starting the process of removing him from office.

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One of my pastor friends once went through a harrowing experience.  After the Sunday worship service, the church board called him into a meeting.  A few minutes later, the pastor emerged from that gathering without a job.

To this day, that pastor doesn’t know why the board terminated him – and it gnaws at him.  Was it his preaching?  His leadership?  His refusal to surrender to a wealthy church bully?  Since the board never gave the pastor specific reasons why they let him go, that pastor has been forced to guess.  Imagine that you’re visiting a country overseas, when suddenly the police burst into your hotel room and haul you off to jail.  Wouldn’t the first question out of your mouth be, “What have I done wrong?”  That’s how pastors feel when they undergo a forced exit – and they are entitled to know why they’re being pushed out.

Legally, you may not have to tell the pastor why you’re letting him go, but on a spiritual basis, it’s essential.   According to Scripture, you must have specific reasons for dismissing a pastor (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19-21).   Once you formulate and agree on them, you’ll need to share them with:

*The pastor, who in turn will share your reasons with his wife, children, extended family, friends, ministry colleagues, advisors, and any prospective churches or employers that may be interested in hiring him.

*Denominational leaders, who will want your board to account for why you dismissed your pastor.

*An interim pastor and any future pastors, who will need to know the truth about why you dismissed your current pastor because it will affect whether they’ll want to come to your church.  In fact, they may wonder if you’ll dismiss them the way you dismissed your current pastor.  When I was called to my first pastorate, I had great apprehension about taking the position because the board had fired their previous pastor after only one year of service.   What assurances did I have that they wouldn’t do the same thing to me?

*Future board members, some of whom may be reluctant to join a board that pushed out their pastor.   After a pastor is forced to leave a congregation – especially a pastor who is loved by many people – some churchgoers will look for someone to blame, focusing their attention on the church board.  Because board members may be vilified after a pastor is terminated, it may be difficult to fill future board positions in the future, at least for a while.

Should you share your reasoning with family and friends?  What about the congregation?

While I tend to lean toward at least partial disclosure, do all in your power not to harm the pastor’s reputation or ability to secure a new position.  There may be legal repercussions if you do.

Regardless of your reasoning, make sure to keep your story straight.   Avoid giving various parties different sets of reasons why you made the decision you did.   If you share varying reasons with different parties, some will compare notes and seek to discover the real reason why you removed your pastor … and your board won’t look credible.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention one particular party in my list above: God.

Hopefully, you won’t be telling God why you dismissed your pastor … you’ll be responding to God’s guidance instead.

Never say, “Lord, please bless our decision to remove our pastor from office.”

Say instead, “Lord, we strongly sense that You are leading us to remove our pastor from office, and we only want to obey Your will.”

And if you cannot sincerely say that last line to the Lord, seek to handle the difficulties you’re having with your pastor in another way.

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Jesus was once accused of being a liar … being suicidal … being a half-breed … and being demon-possessed (twice).

And then a group of religious leaders picked up stones to kill Him.

All this occurs in the same chapter: John 8.

The Savior’s enemies made the following similar but incredible statements about Him:

“Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan [half-Jew, half-Gentile] and demon-possessed?”  (John 8:48)

“Now we know that you are demon-possessed!”  (John 8:52)

And then the leaders ask Jesus in verse 53, “Who do you think you are?”

When Jesus walked this earth, some religious leaders believed that He was evil … and yet Scripture says that Jesus was “without sin.”

Why bring this up?

Because I deal with staff members and church leaders who write to me and talk to me and have come to this conclusion:

Their pastor is evil.

Are there evil pastors?

There might be.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever met one.

Yes, some pastors commit evil deeds.

And yes, some pastors are dysfunctional … have personality disorders … suffer from depression … and have areas of incompetence.

But does that mean that their character is evil?

Let me share with you four quick truths about so-called evil pastors:

First, some pastors are difficult to figure out.

I’ve heard a few pastors preach sermons that made little sense to me.  Their messages were disorganized and didn’t flow.  They made points that I couldn’t grasp.  They seemed to revel in creative interpretations that I didn’t think were justified.

But that doesn’t mean they were evil … just incoherent at the time I heard them.

I’ve worked with a few board members who couldn’t understand the direction I wanted to take the church.  No matter how hard I labored, they couldn’t mentally envision the kind of church I had in mind.

But their lack of understanding didn’t make me evil.

However, in the case of several board members, when they couldn’t understand me, they labeled me “dangerous” and felt justified in harming my ministry.

Jesus could be hard to figure out, too … but did that make Him dangerous?

Please remember: Just because you don’t understand a pastor’s sermons or plans doesn’t make him evil.

Second, some pastors believe they must obey the Lord before they obey the board.

Jesus said in John 4:34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

The night before He died, Jesus told His Father in John 17:4: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

Jesus’ ministry agenda came from His Father, not from His disciples.  He was always conscious of what the Father wanted Him to do, while Jesus tended to ignore the agendas of His friends, followers, and foes.

Like most pastors, when I was ordained to the gospel ministry, I promised to preach “the whole counsel of God.”

For me, this meant that I was duty bound to preach from the entire Bible … never to avoid difficult topics … and to speak prophetically about the issues of our day.

In one church I served as pastor, an ex-board member – who had left the church a year before – decided to visit a Sunday service … and railed against me afterwards.

My sin?

He felt that I was “preaching at him” … so he immediately began a campaign to get rid of me as pastor.

He never considered that the Holy Spirit was trying to speak to him … and even warn him …  not to attack me.

Sometimes I’m shocked by how often a board member concludes, “Since the pastor stubbornly disagrees with me on this issue, I’m going to get him.”

Please remember: Just because your pastor disagrees with you doesn’t make him evil because in his mind, he’s simply obeying the Lord.

Third, some pastors are viewed suspiciously because they offended a leader’s friend(s).

Have you ever been a supervisor?

Imagine that you’re supervising an employee who has clearly been insubordinate to you.  So you call him into your office and warn him not to do it again.

He immediately goes to four of his friends in the company and says that you’ve been mistreating him … but you aren’t aware of what he’s saying.

I’ve had this precise scenario happen to me as a pastor … only the person I supervised was a staff member.

Even though church bylaws stated that the senior pastor was responsible for supervising ministry staff members … when a staff member didn’t like what I said to him or her, rather than submit to my authority … they would invariably find a board member and complain to him about me.

The biblical way for the board member to handle such a situation is to say to the staff member, “Let’s go talk to the pastor about this right now.”

But the board member usually wouldn’t do that.  Instead, he and the staff member would form an alliance together … both agreeing on one thing:

The senior pastor must be evil because he wounded the staff member.

But the real evil here is that the board member was seduced by the staff member into taking the staff member’s side without ever talking with the pastor.

In this scenario, it’s crucial that the board member circle back and speak with the senior pastor because (a) the staff member might be exaggerating the situation, or (b) the staff member might be lying as a way of retaliating against the pastor.

Please remember: just because a staff member tells someone that the pastor mistreated him doesn’t mean it’s so.

Finally, some pastors have become special targets of Satan.

Years ago, I saw a Christian film called Whitcomb’s War.  While the production values were rather crude, the film’s message still rings true.

Pastor Whitcomb arrives as the new pastor of a troubled church.  As he sets up his office upstairs, demons begin setting up their headquarters in the church basement.

Much of the time, the demons didn’t intend to attack the pastor directly … but to attack him through individuals in the church.

As a pastor, I’ve been attacked by people outside the church and inside the church.

When you’re attacked by people outside the church … like city planners or church neighbors … the congregation tends to unite together in purpose and in prayer.

But when you’re attacked by people inside the church … especially board and staff members … the congregation tends to follow the person they like/know best and division results.

And all the while, Satan laughs.

Jesus told His opponents in John 8:44:

“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Even though Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong in God’s eyes, once His opponents labeled Him as being demonic … and thus evil … they felt justified in destroying Him.

And even when a pastor is innocent before God, if a few detractors label him as evil, they feel justified in using every weapon in their arsenal to run him out of their church.

Please remember: just because a pastor’s detractors call him evil does not provide justification for destroying him personally or professionally. 

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m trying to get Christian churches to wake up to this important point:

The way Christian leaders treat each other in private will eventually affect the congregation in public.

What are your thoughts about what I’ve written?

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A friend recently told me about a church that did something unspeakable.

During Sunday services, the picture of a church worker was flashed onto the video screens.  The worker was identified by name along with a crime that he had allegedly committed.

And then the congregation was told to stay away from this individual.

However, when someone contacted the local police department, the individual in question hadn’t committed any crime at all.

But not long afterwards, it was discovered that that church’s pastor was sexually involved with a woman.  He later resigned.

I know the name of the church and the name of the pastor because I visited there on three occasions … but I didn’t stay because I could sense something was wrong.

And I was right.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m still smarting from reading revelations from Frank Pastore’s book Shattered about a coup that some Christian leaders from my college and seminary wanted to execute many years ago.

You can read that article here: https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2014/03/10/blackballed-by-christian-leaders/

Employed by the school, Frank had been invited to a clandestine meeting of men he respected, during which time he was told that this group was plotting to overthrow the school’s president.

Frank wanted no part of it … but when he wouldn’t agree to their scheme, they slandered Frank until he lost his reputation … and his job.

Over the past four years, I’ve learned a lot about power plays inside the body of Christ … and they make me as sick as they made Frank Pastore.

Let me share with you four things I’ve learned about Christian power plays:

First, plotting in secret to get rid of a pastor or Christian leader is wrong.

Frank Pastore instinctively knew that plotting to overthrow the school president was evil.  I assume that the school has written grievance procedures for handling such concerns.

But for some reason, the plotters felt that using those procedures wouldn’t help them reach their objectives.

In the same way, factions in churches – including the official board at times – may meet in secret and plot to force out their pastor, even though church bylaws almost always specify the correct way to do that.

Why do such groups meet secretly?

Because the plotters lack the patience to do it the right way … or plotting makes them feel powerful … or they don’t want anyone to know who they are … or they don’t believe they can succeed unless they go underground.

I’ll bet those plotters tell their kids and grandkids all the time, “The ends does not justify the means.”

Then why is doing wrong okay for them?

Second, the key to getting rid of any leader is to smear his reputation with falsehoods.

The Gospels tell us those who plotted to kill Jesus had to resort to lying to get rid of Him.

They accused Him of sedition against Rome and blaspheming against God.  History records that both charges were false … but they worked at the time.

In Frank Pastore’s case, when he didn’t join the plotters, he says: “… they put a kinder, gentler hit on me – character assassination by slander and gossip.  To my face they acted as though nothing had changed.  But all the while, they were destroying my reputation.”

How in the world can professing Christians do this to a fellow believer?

Over the past few years, I’ve heard dozens of stories from pastors who have been forced out of their churches.  And in nearly every case, the plotters have lied to smear the pastor and gain adherents.

But friends, make no mistake: resorting to lies to get rid of a Christian leader is satanic. 

And when a believer joins forces with the father of lies, it’s always soul-damaging.

Please resolve that you will always tell the truth about Christian leaders – even those you don’t like – and that you will not pass on information unless you know it’s true.

Third, plotters will vilify anyone whom they view as a threat.

After his initial meeting with the plotters, Frank Pastore knew too much.  And when he wouldn’t go along with the plotters, they marked him for blackballing.

I can’t prove this, but my guess is that the pastor in my introductory story chose to vilify that worker by name because he knew too much about the pastor’s extracurricular activities.

Here’s how things often work behind the scenes:

Person/Group A does something wrong.

Person B observes/knows what they did … and Person/Group A knows that they know.

Person/Group A insinuates to Person B: “If I/we find out that you’ve told anyone about what we’ve done, I/we will make sure that you are blackballed.”

Because Person B has his own skeletons (don’t we all?), and doesn’t know what Person/Group A knows, Person B agrees to keep his mouth shut.

But because Person/Group A can’t take a chance that Person B will talk, Person/Group A privately blackballs Person B anyway.

This should never happen among Christians … but it does – all the time – especially when an innocent pastor is forcibly terminated.

One would hope that once Person B knows about the plot, Person/Group A would repent and drop the whole thing, but they usually don’t because …

Finally, the end game of the plotters is to take over their church/school/Christian organization.

Why did the Jewish leaders plot to kill Jesus?

Because He was becoming too influential … and they wanted their power back.

Why did the plotters in Frank Pastore’s story want to stage a coup against the school’s president?

Because they hoped to have more of a say on who the next president would be … and if they helped to choose him, they would have more say over school direction.

Why do factions and church boards plot to get rid of their pastor?

Because they believe the pastor has acquired too much authority and they covet that authority for themselves.

When I went through a horrendous conflict in a church that I served as pastor 4 1/2 years ago, I could not initially understand what the plotters were after.

My father-in-law – a veteran Christian leader – told me frankly, “Jim, it’s the same thing in every situation … this is all about power.”

Galatians 5:16 says, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

When you don’t like your pastor … or your school’s president … or a self-proclaimed Messiah … you can handle it by the Spirit, or by the flesh.

Handle it by the Spirit, and everybody wins.

Handle it by the flesh, and everybody loses.

Your move.

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Frank Pastore was a major league baseball pitcher, a speaker on apologetics, and a Christian talk show host.  He died last year when his motorcycle was struck on the 210 Freeway near Los Angeles.

Frank Pastore Signed CardsIn 1996, my church flew Frank and his son to our community to speak at our church.  That Saturday night, my son and I joined Frank and his son for dinner at Chili’s – where we discussed Frank’s career with the Cincinnati Reds – and then we retreated to my church study, where Frank and I discussed Christian books we both loved.

The next day, he spoke at our Sunday service and blew everyone away with his knowledge and passion for the truthfulness of the Christian faith.

Several years later, I saw his initial appearance on Bill Maher’s television show Politically Incorrect.

And then I lost track of him.  A friend said that Frank was giving pitching lessons to his son, and I heard that Frank had a talk show in the Los Angeles area.  Although I regularly read the transcripts of his shows, I never got to hear Frank in his element.

But before Frank died, he wrote a book called Shattered: Struck Down, But Not Destroyed.  My sister Jan showed me her copy last week … and what I read made me both angry and sad.

When I first contacted Frank, he was teaching at my seminary.  He was also hosting a radio show for the school.  He absolutely loved what he was doing.

Then one day, Frank was invited to a clandestine meeting by men he respected … who were plotting to overthrow the school’s president … one of my former professors.

When Frank came home that day, he told his wife that he felt like he needed to take a bath.  He said, “It’s just dirty business, and I thought this was ministry.  But it’s no better than the world.”  (Don’t those last two lines make you want to weep?)

I once attended a meeting of some prominent Christian pastors.  We were all members of the same organization … and we weren’t happy with the direction it was taking.

One of the pastors suggested that he knew how we could get rid of the leaders.  I immediately said, “I’m not having any part in this,” and that was the last I heard about any sort of plot.

Frank Pastore wanted to say the same thing to those men … that he didn’t want anything to do with their plot.  But now that he knew what they were doing, he had become a threat.

His wife told him that he would be blackballed if he didn’t go along with the plot.  Frank writes about these men:

“I looked up to them.  They were my mentors.  We hung out together.  Their opinions had become my own…. I heard a lot of stuff I still wish I didn’t know.  Gradually I began to realize that they weren’t the men of integrity I’d thought they were.”

Frank says that if this scenario had happened in the Mafia, those men would have put out a hit on him.  He writes: “But this wasn’t the Mafia.  This was ministry.  So they put a kinder, gentler hit on me – character assassination by slander and gossip.  To my face they acted as though nothing had changed.  But all the while, they were destroying my reputation.”

The men who tried to stage a coup against their president were later disciplined … but the slander worked.

Frank was uninvited from speaking at conferences and retreats.  A program he had launched in churches began going south.  He wasn’t asked to teach in the undergraduate program for the next semester.

Then Frank appeared for the second time on Politically Incorrect … and he was fired afterwards.

If you’re interested in reading Shattered by Frank Pastore, you can download it from Amazon for $9.99.  I love the book because it’s just like Frank: authentic and honest.

And I’ll write more about what Frank – and many pastors – go through in my next article.

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