Archive for April, 2016

This is my 500th blog article, and for the past few months, I’ve been thinking and praying about how I should mark this milestone.

After much reflection, I’ve decided to distill some of the things I’ve learned about pastoral termination that I haven’t written about before.

After earning a doctorate in church conflict … after writing a book called Church Coup … after providing counsel for scores of pastors and board members … and after writing all those blogs …  let me share with you five hidden realities surrounding pastoral termination today:

First, evangelical Christian churches rarely treat a pastor under fire justly.

When a faction inside a congregation attacks their pastor, they don’t consider treating him fairly … they just want him to meet their demands or resign.

When a staff member sabotages his pastor – personally or professionally – he’s not concerned about justice … he just wants to avoid doing what the pastor wants.

When a governing board prematurely forces their pastor to resign, they will avoid Scripture … ignore their governing documents … and later declare that everything they did was justified.

The standard seems to be “how we feel about the pastor” or “let’s make sure the pastor gets what he deserves” rather than anything related to Scripture or even love.

When a pastor is under fire inside his own church, all the rules tend to get tossed aside.

There should be a rulebook for treating a pastor under attack fairly … but most of the time, there isn’t.

I’ve written nearly 100 pages of such a rulebook, but haven’t been able to finish it.  If you think it’s important, please pray that the Lord will help me to get it done.

Ironically, mainline churches – which tend to be theologically liberal – treat their pastors much more fairly than evangelical churches … which claim to believe and practice divine truth.

By the way, I shouldn’t have to say this, but the goal of discipline/correction in the New Testament isn’t revenge, but restoration (Matthew 18:15-16; Galatians 6:1).  My guess it that at least 80% of the time, the restoration of a “wayward” pastor isn’t even considered by the governing board.

They just want him gone … and will use any weapon in their arsenal to accomplish their goal.

We can do better than this … much better.

Second, pastors who have been attacked in the past have a limited pain threshold.

A friend of mine called me several weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in becoming an interim pastor at a church not far from my home.

I didn’t have to think about it or even pray about it … my answer was a swift “No.”

I know some older pastors who have suffered through an unjust termination, and they love ministry so much that they are open to an interim position.

But I’m not … and maybe it goes back to something I learned from Jay Carty.

Jay Carty played basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1968-1969 season.  Lakers’ announcer Chick Hearn once nicknamed Carty “Golden Wheels” because he was so slow on the court.

Carty became a popular Christian speaker.  I once sat next to him at a pastors’ meeting (I told him I still had his autograph from that 68-69 season) and he told me this story:

He said that if you put a fly in a jar, the fly will try to fly out by hitting the lid of the jar once.  The fly will try again a second time, but after that, the fly will give up because it doesn’t want to go experience any more pain.

I’m unsure whether that’s how flies really act, but when it comes to church ministry, there’s definitely some truth there.

Back in the mid-1980s, I survived two separate attempts to get rid of me as pastor in the same church.  Both times, my antagonists left instead of me, but I was bruised and bloodied emotionally for months.

Somehow, God enabled me to lead the rebirth of that congregation (I contributed a chapter to Gary McIntosh’s book Make Room For the Boom … or Bust detailing what happened) but it about killed me.  A nationally-known church consultant told me, “It’s a wonder you’re still standing.”

Even though I was exhausted, a pastor friend told me, “I think you have one more church left in you.”

So I became the pastor of a congregation that seemed healthy.  Attendance and giving nearly doubled during my tenure … we built a new worship center … and we became the largest Protestant church in our city … but church leaders eventually turned on me, and even though I chose to resign, some people were pushing me toward the door … hard.

Even when you’re successful as a pastor, there’s a limit as to how much pain you can take before you reluctantly admit, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Three attacks and you’re out.

Third, the Christian community observes a “winner take all” mentality when it comes to pastoral termination.

When a pastor presides over a growing congregation, he will make enemies … on the staff, on the board, among key leaders … and if they pool their complaints, the pastor’s tenure may end swiftly and harshly.

I’m thinking of a megachurch pastor … one of the best Bible teachers I’ve ever heard … who was forced to resign because he tried to make changes to the worship service.  He received approvals through all the proper channels except he didn’t consult the people with old money … who no longer held official positions … and they made his life a living hell until he quit.

In the Christian community, pastors like that gifted megachurch minister are labeled “losers” if they’re forced out even when they have done nothing wrong.

I have a pastor friend who reads this blog who told me that for years, whenever he heard about a pastor who experienced an involuntary exit, my friend would think to himself, “What a loser.”

After it happened to him, he found himself singing a different tune.

However, the pastor who is pushed out of a church is a “loser” in one respect: he loses most of his church friends … his reputation … his income … his position … his house (sometimes) … his career (often) … and occasionally, even his wife … and all those losses together brand him in many people’s eyes as someone to be shunned and abandoned.

Yet it doesn’t matter if the pastor’s antagonists harassed him … lied about him … or misrepresented him … if he’s forced out, he’s the loser … and by default, those who successfully removed him are crowned the winners.

And in the words of the pop group Abba, “The Winner Takes it All.”

In the Christian world, people don’t care about the details of a pastor’s ouster … they only care about outcomes.

There’s only one problem with this shallow thinking:

By this reckoning, Jesus was a loser, too … as were His apostles.

Even though I was pushed out of my last ministry, I have never viewed myself as a “loser,” but I know that some do, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Except to say that the values of the evangelical community are often more tied to worldly success than biblical faithfulness.

Fourth, those who force out an innocent pastor should be exposed and asked to repent.

Here’s something I will never understand:

If a pastor starts bullying and manipulating people in his church, shouldn’t he be confronted and asked to repent?

Of course … and if he refuses to repent, he’s subject to being removed from office.

By the same token, if a group in a church … even if they’re the governing board … start bullying and manipulating the pastor behind-the-scenes, shouldn’t they be confronted and asked to repent as well?

Yes, they should … but if they’re successful in getting rid of their pastor, nobody will ever ask them to repent.

The governing board won’t.  The staff won’t.  The congregation won’t.  The district won’t.

Even if they know the facts, no single party will approach the pastor’s detractors because the pastor lost and his opponents won.

And in the evangelical world, that’s the end of the matter.  (Remember, according to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, we’re not supposed to sue one another.)

In fact, if a church is denominational, the district minister will often spin the pastor’s departure and make him look bad … and make those who pushed out the pastor look good … even if the latter group acted wickedly.

I’ve seen this scenario played out scores of times over the years.

This kind of cover up … slander … and lying has nothing to do with biblical righteousness … and everything to do with crass politics.

District ministers in evangelical denominations (many of which are congregational in nature) like to say, “Oh, we can’t intervene in disputes in a local church.  We respect the autonomy of the local church.”

But that bromide is a lie.

Because district ministers do interfere in the lives of local churches (almost always behind closed doors) … and I can tell you story after story where that’s exactly what happened … including my own case.

I have learned over time that 90% of all district ministers handle church conflicts in a political way … not a spiritual way … because they aren’t interested in truth or righteousness … they’re interested in keeping donations flowing from the church to the district office to pay their salary.

And if they side with the pastor … or even hint he’s right and the board is wrong … he’s afraid the church will cut off those funds.

So he either remains silent or aligns himself with the church board … and nobody is asked to even consider their part in their pastor’s departure.

Because after the pastor is gone, the whole conflict can be blamed on him.

Finally, pastors get into trouble when they forget they are persons first, pastors second.

Nine months before I left my last ministry position, I was struggling with whether I could be a pastor anymore.

Instead of being a pastor, I longed to be just a person.

I didn’t want to be Pastor Jim … just Jim.

I would come home from a day at the church office … park my car in the garage … rush inside to eat dinner … and rush back to church for a meeting.

But I didn’t want to go to the meeting … I just wanted to stay home.

I began avoiding tasks I didn’t want to do … and avoiding people I didn’t want to see … and trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

Part of me wanted to tell the church board how I was feeling.  I knew I needed some time away to recover, but when I looked at the composition of the board, I decided I couldn’t risk telling them anything.

That particular group would not have understood.

I reasoned, “If I tell them how I am feeling … because they don’t seem to care for me as a person … they will probably fire me outright or force me to quit.”

And I couldn’t take the chance.

So I decided to tough it out and hope that I’d improve over time … and at times, I behaved uncharacteristically.

People like it when their pastor’s behavior is predictable.  When the pastor becomes unpredictable, some will clamor for him to leave.

I finally went to see a Christian counselor, who diagnosed me with a severe case of burnout … and said I was headed for a breakdown.

Thank God, I didn’t break down … not even when the conflict surfaced two months later … but I came awfully close.

I don’t blame the church board for my condition because I never told them about it … but I do blame them for not saying to me, “Hey, Jim, you don’t seem like yourself.  Are you okay?  Is something wrong?  Can we pray for you?”

There is no doubt that my burnout was the result of being overcommitted to my ministry.  I cared too much … and maybe that was my undoing, but I needed somebody to say, “Hey, it’s okay to back off … we’ll help carry the load.”

I wore the “pastor” hat too often … and longed to be just “Jim” … a normal, anonymous person … instead.

I finally got my wish.


This is my 500th blog article.  I started writing … with trepidation … in December 2010.

I wasn’t sure if anyone would find … much less read … anything that I wrote.  And because my son warned me that I would attract critics, I braced myself for mean-spirited comments that never came.

Some blog articles have done very well.  Some died the day I wrote them.  In the early days, I wrote three in five days.  Now I only have time for one per week.

From the beginning, my primary passion has been the relationship between pastors and their antagonists in a local church … especially those who pursue the pastor’s termination.

If you’re a subscriber, or an occasional reader, thank you so much for reading what I write.

I try to tell the truth with grace.

When you think about it, let me know if what I write is helpful.












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Several years ago, I preached a sermon on the topic “Resolving Conflict Biblically” at a church several communities away.

When I was done speaking, a woman in her mid-80s – who had attended a prominent California church for most of her life – told me, “I have never heard a sermon on the subject of conflict in my entire life.”

Now maybe she was ill or away on the Sundays that her pastor spoke about conflict, or maybe all his sermons fused together in her mind.

But I happen to know that her former pastor – one of America’s best-known Bible teachers – experienced a major conflict in his church before he eventually resigned.

The best churches experience major conflicts.  In fact, I still agree with this adage that I heard years ago: “Small churches have small problems, while big churches have big problems.”

Regardless of your church’s size, it’s almost certain that your congregation will experience a severe conflict within the next ten years … and about a 40 percent chance that you’ll suffer through a major conflict within the next five … unless your church is ready when that conflict strikes.

But sadly, most churches aren’t ready for a major conflict.

Maybe they’re in denial, thinking, “We’re such a nice group of Christians that nothing horrendous could happen here.”

Or they’re thinking, “Our constitution and bylaws specify what to do if conflict breaks out, so we’re adequately prepared.”

Or they’re thinking, “Our leaders are such godly individuals, they will handle any conflict expertly” … not realizing that church leaders are often the source of major conflicts.

There isn’t a lot written on how to prevent major conflicts in church life.

That’s why I’m doing a workshop for Christian leaders next week called “Strengthening Your Church’s Immune System.”  I’ll be talking about ten ways that a church’s leaders can prepare for and prevent major conflict from even happening in their congregation.

Let me share with you one of the ten steps I’ll be presenting next week … and it takes a bit of work.

I believe that the lead pastor in a church must take the initiative to prevent major conflicts from surfacing.  He should allow people to share feedback and even disagree about matters without, at the same time, letting them start a bloodbath.

One way to do that is to hold regular meetings involving every key leader in your church: staff members, board members, ministry team/committee leaders, small group leaders … and to find reasons to make the group larger rather than smaller.

So if feasible, I’d invite their spouses as well.

The meetings can be held monthly or quarterly … maybe after the last service on Sunday morning, which means you’ll have to provide lunch … but it’s essential that they be held.

During one of those meetings, here’s what I would do if I were the pastor:

First, I would prepare a 3-4 page document for each person listing every New Testament reference – word for word – on church conflict. 

Maybe throw in some verses from Proverbs on the tongue as well.

Don’t ask people to look the verses up in their Bibles.  It takes too long … people have different versions … and you want all the relevant verses gathered in one place.

So the pastor should do the work for them.  Write out Matthew 18:15-17 … 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 … Titus 3:10-11 … 3 John 9-10 … in chronological order.

Second, I would ask the leaders to divide into groups without their spouses. 

The fewer people in each group, the more each person will have to interact with Scripture themselves … and that’s what you want.  Aim for five people per group.

I would have at least as many groups as there are pages.  For example, if you hand out five pages of verses, make sure you have at least five groups.

If you have 50 leaders present, then make ten groups with five individuals in each group.

Third, I would ask each group to appoint a leader … and for group leaders to ask for volunteers to read the verses.

My last few years as a pastor, I always asked for people to volunteer as readers.  Some people can’t read very well, and others become anxious when asked to do something in a group.  You want people to feel comfortable going through this exercise.

Fourth, after the verses have been read, ask each group to summarize the verses on their page in five principles. 

This should take 15-20 minutes per group.

Then starting with page 1, ask each leader to appoint a spokesperson to present their five principles to the entire group.

Fifth, the pastor should ask someone ahead of time to record each principle word for word on newsprint and hang each sheet on the wall. 

This isn’t busy work … it’s documentation.  In fact, the pastor should store the newsprint somewhere safe in case someone ever challenges the wording of the principles.

Sixth, after all the reports, the pastor should ask the entire group questions like:

*Can we summarize the teaching of Scripture concerning conflict resolution in one sentence?

*Which verses that you studied stand out to you?

*How well do you personally carry out these principles in your own life?

*Why do we have such a hard time dealing with conflict?

*How realistically can we follow the teaching in these verses in 2016?

*How well does our church follow Scripture when it comes to conflict resolution?

Seventh, after that discussion, the pastor should do two things:

*Ask someone to collect all the newsprint sheets and give them to the pastor directly.  The pastor should consider reproducing everything written down word for word on the church website.  This not only shows the leaders that their words are taken seriously, this also shows the congregation that the church takes Scripture seriously when it comes to conflict.

*Then reserve time on the agenda of the next board meeting – or call a special Saturday board meeting – and ask the governing board as well as members of the church staff to summarize the biblical teaching on conflict resolution in ten principles.

(The board and staff should do this because they are ultimately the guardians of both the congregation and the pastor … and because they are sometimes the sources of potential trouble themselves.)

When that’s complete … maybe at the next board meeting … three more things need to happen:

Eighth, the pastor makes sure that those ten principles for resolving conflict are posted in key places all over the church.

This includes the rooms where staff meetings, board meetings, finance team meetings and other key meetings are held.

Ninth, the pastor then schedules a brief series – maybe two sermons – on those ten principles, letting the congregation know, “This is how we handle conflict around here.”

And every year – possibly before the annual meeting – the pastor should preach another brief series on biblical conflict resolution.  Call it internal insurance.

Finally, the pastor schedules time every six months to review the principles with the staff, the board, and the key leaders. 

This doesn’t have to take long, but it has to be done.

Some people might say, “But Jim, if a severe conflict does break out, some people will become so emotional that they will ignore those principles, so aren’t these principles really worthless?”

No, they aren’t worthless.  God gave those principles to us, and He never gives His people anything that isn’t of value!

But even if some people become irrational during conflict, there are others in the congregation who will view matters in a more biblical and rational fashion, and you want the more logical people to deal with the more emotional ones.

Let me give you an example of how these principles can help once they’re posted:

Imagine that you’re in the church library after a Sunday service, and a woman saddles up to you and says, “Listen, a few of us are meeting for lunch today to discuss the latest changes that the pastor is trying to impose on our church.  If you want to join us, we’re meeting at Olive Garden at 1:00 pm.”

Instead of answering her directly, you take her by the hand, waltz her over to the north wall, show her the list of ten principles for resolving conflict biblically, and say to her, “Look at principle number seven.  It says, “If you are upset about a policy, please speak directly with any member of the church board.  [They set policy along with the pastor.]  And if you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak directly with him.”

You then ask this person, “Are you upset with a policy?  Then you need to speak directly with a board member … maybe the one you know the best.  But if you’re upset with the pastor personally, you need to speak with him directly.  Which is it?”

If the person says, “I’m upset with the policy,” then ask the person, “Which board member will you speak with about this issue?”

If the person says, “I’m upset with the pastor,” then ask them, “When will you be speaking with the pastor about this issue?”

If the person says, “Forget it.  I thought you were a friend, but you aren’t,” I’d say to them, “These ten principles summarize how we handle conflict around here.  If you don’t comply, I will report you to the pastor and the church board and tell them what you’re planning to do.  It’s your call.”

The beauty of this approach is that these principles:

*are based on Scripture.

*have been devised by all the key leaders in the church.

*have been ratified by the governing board and staff.

*have been presented to the church through the pulpit.

*have been posted all over the church facility.

*can then be enforced by all of God’s people.

If you follow this plan, I can’t guarantee that you’ll never experience a major conflict in your church.

After all, when some people are intent on committing murder, they can be hard to stop.

But I can guarantee that if you do this, the plotters will know that they’re violating Scripture and the culture of their church … and that will take all the fun out of plots against the pastor … secret meetings … and playing politics.

If you can manage major conflict in your church, that might allow your church to do what Jesus called it to do:

Fulfill His Great Commission in your community.






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A friend sent me an article yesterday about a well-known megachurch pastor (although he’s not someone I’m familiar with) who was removed from office by the governing board of his church for “ongoing sinful behavior” over “the past few years.”

Here’s the article:


When I read the article, I was impressed by the way the board handled the situation.

In my experience, whenever a pastor is terminated or forced to resign, the board often handles matters poorly.  The board identifies the pastor as their enemy, exaggerates any charges against him, and either fires him outright or forces him to quit.

But the board mentioned in this article, in my view, seemed to do everything in a biblical and healthy manner.

Let me highlight five things that this board did right:

First, the board spoke with their pastor directly about their concerns.

Don’t all boards do this?

No, they don’t.

Too many times, church boards never tell their pastor what they’re seeing or hearing in his life or ministry that bothers them.  They remain silent, hold a secret meeting without the pastor present, detail all his faults, conclude he has to go, and assign someone to tell him he’s fired … or agree to tell him together at the next board meeting.

Individual board members might tell their spouses how they feel about their pastor … or they might tell certain friends in the church … but they never approach their pastor personally.

But thankfully, this board shared their concerns directly with their pastor from the very beginning, so that when he left, he didn’t feel that the board conspired behind his back or fired him via ambush.

One pastor told me he was fired in an email … without any kind of warning.  Another pastor was fired via certified letter.  Other pastors I know have been told they’re fired right after a Sunday service … again, without ever being told that anything was wrong.

Such tactics speak volumes about the lack of maturity on the board.

Second, the board told the pastor that their goal was his restoration. 

Much of the time, this is the key … but missing … element whenever a church board tries to correct their pastor’s behavior.

Think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

According to Jesus, what is the goal when a fellow believer sins against you?

The overarching goal is to win your brother over … to get him to listen to your concerns, repent of his wrongdoing, and change his behavior.

The goal is not to remove the pastor from office or from the fellowship.  That’s the last step in the process (verse 17), not the first step.

I’ve discovered that when a board begins with the end result … “We need to remove our pastor from office right away” … they will wreak havoc on their pastor, his family, the congregation, and even on the board members themselves.

Because all too often, the board really wants to punish the pastor … and engages in what is really a vendetta.

But when the board begins with a process … “We are going to take our time, work the steps, encourage our pastor’s growth, but monitor his behavior” … there may be some fallout, but God will honor such a board’s motive.

Pastors not only have faults they know about … they also have blind spots.  The best men do … even those pastors whose sermons you revere or whose books have blessed your life.  (And that includes John MacArthur.)

If a pastor believes that he will be treated fairly and graciously by the governing board, he’ll be much more open to admitting his faults and trying to work on them.

But if a pastor believes that the board’s attitude is “one mistake and I’m out,” he’ll become resistant to correction … and too many boards operate like this.

And they’re usually the unspiritual ones.

Third, the board was specific about the behaviors they wanted the pastor to change.

In their letter to the congregation, the board mentioned “historical patterns of sin” and “pastoral misconduct.”  They even named the exact behaviors that concerned them.

And, may I add, they gave the pastor plenty of time to change … a few years.

The pastor didn’t have to guess which behaviors the board didn’t like.

He knew.

In addition, the board let the congregation know that the pastor wasn’t guilty of adultery or financial impropriety.

Whenever a pastor is fired, but the governing board is silent about the grounds for dismissal, people automatically assume that the pastor committed adultery or engaged in fiscal shenanigans.

So even though it may not feel like a blessing, it’s wise for a board to say, “We’re dismissing the pastor because he did this and this and this … but we want you to know that he didn’t do this and this.”

The board did such an effective job that the pastor released a statement admitting that the board was right … he was still plagued by certain sins … and that their deliberations were “miraculous and beyond gracious.”

I wish that every dismissed pastor could say that they were treated that justly.

Fourth, the board kept the process as open as possible.

The board not only involved the pastor in the corrective process, but after the pastor agreed to resign, they also told the congregation why the pastor left and encouraged people to send them feedback, including both questions and comments.

They also put their names and email addresses on the contact page so people could easily converse with them.

This is a far cry from most of the situations that I hear about.

I once heard about a church board that announced that their pastor had been dismissed, and then warned the congregation, “You are not to contact the pastor at all.”

If I was told not to contact the pastor, that’s the very next thing I’d do.

You say, “But Jim, wouldn’t your action be divisive?”

My reply: “Unity should always be based upon truth, and trying to find out the truth isn’t by itself divisive.”

You might counter with, “But if you contacted the pastor after the board told you not to, isn’t that being rebellious against God’s leaders?”

Maybe, but what if they’re trying to cover up their own mistakes?  What if they’re more guilty than the pastor?  How can anyone know unless they do contact the pastor?

I’ve noticed that the more hush-hush the board is about their pastor’s dismissal, the more they’re trying to protect themselves … and the more likely it is that they intend to slander the pastor’s reputation to eliminate any future influence in the congregation.

Finally, the board made sure that the pastor and his family were cared for.

The board did this in two primary ways:

*They gave the pastor a severance package.

*They encouraged the congregation to send encouraging notes to him and his family.

I’m embarrassed to say that there are many church boards that plan to fire their pastor, and at the same time, do all they can to make sure that they don’t offer the pastor any kind of severance.

I’m thinking of one pastor in particular who was forced to resign and was denied severance even though he had no savings, Social Security, or retirement income to fall back on.

Boards offer excuses like:

“We don’t have the money to offer the pastor anything.”

“We have the money but let’s earmark it for other projects.”

“The pastor has behaved so badly that he doesn’t deserve any severance.”

“The pastor’s wife works so we’re off the hook and don’t have to give him anything.”

“Let’s let the church vote on any severance package … and arrange matters so they vote no.”

But as I’ve said many times, the board should offer the pastor severance more than 95% of the time because:

*the pastor’s family needs financial assistance even if the pastor has been a rascal.

*it can take a pastor a year or longer for the pastor to find another ministry.

*a severance package minimizes the chance the pastor will start a new church in the community … and use his recently-former church as his mission field.

*it’s the right thing to do.

I also love the idea that the board encouraged the congregation to write positive notes to the pastor and his family.

This practice can provide healing for the pastor, who is tempted to think, “I must be a horrible person for not being able to keep my pastor-job.”

This practice can also be therapeutic for the congregation because they’ll be forced to see all the good the pastor did during his time at the church … and not just the bad.

Whenever a governing board has to correct a pastor’s conduct, it’s very stressful for everyone concerned … and it’s tempting for board members to say, “Let’s just end the anxiety and fire the guy.”

But when a board operates biblically, their actions might even cause their pastor to agree with their conclusions.

How do you feel about the way this board handled their pastor’s dismissal?

I’d love to hear from you.





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A few months ago, my daughter Sarah told me, “Dad, I know you like to write about church conflict and pastoral termination, but I like it when you write about something else, too.”

So since it’s almost baseball season, let me write about something else … my long-time hobby of collecting the autographs of major league baseball players … both past and present.

It all started when I was 13 years old.  I grew up in Anaheim, California – two miles from Disneyland.  My friends Kevin and Steve called me one day – two months after my father died – and told me they had gotten the autographs of New York Yankee greats Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford several hours before.

I asked where they got them, and they replied, “At the Grand Hotel where the Yankees are staying.  We waited for the players to come out for the bus to go to the game (at nearby Anaheim Stadium), and when they did, they signed for us.”

The Grand was about 3 miles from my house.  I HAD to go the very next day … because I was … and am … a HUGE baseball fan.

Since the age of six, I collected baseball cards … seriously.  I still have thousands.  But until that day in 1967, I had only met a handful of ballplayers in person … and had less than 10 signatures.

Many of the kids in my Anaheim neighborhood eventually made their way to the Grand Hotel to wait for the players to come out.  Some went only once.  A handful went many times.

I went more than most.

We never knew who we’d see around the hotel.

One time, actor Jimmy Durante appeared.  He was performing at the adjacent Melodyland Theater – which later became a church – and I got his autograph a couple of times.

Another time, two friends – both named Steve – took the shuttle from the Disneyland Hotel (which went toward the Grand) to get autographs from the Detroit Tigers on Labor Day in 1968 … and sat next to famous actor Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity/My Three Sons) … who talked with them and gave them his autograph.

Many players were great signers.  They would sign whatever you gave them … sometimes many cards.  Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles and Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins were especially nice.

But some were tough, including Elston Howard of the Yankees (he always yelled at you); Ted Williams (who managed the Washington Senators for several seasons and could be very intimidating); Frank Robinson (who has never liked signing); and Mickey Mantle (who stared sideways at every person who asked for his autograph).

Over the years, I was able to obtain the signature of nearly every player I saw at that hotel, including Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, and Joe DiMaggio.

One guy was super-tough, though.

Mike Marshall was a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in 1968.  He came out of the hotel one day … I was the only collector there … and he stood against a pillar, waiting to take a van to the ballpark.  I asked him to sign a 3×5 card, and he didn’t look at me … didn’t answer me … didn’t respond in any way.

Years later, I learned that Marshall determined from the time he was in the minor leagues that he would not sign autographs for anyone.  I don’t have his signature, and don’t really want it.

But there was another player whose signature was almost impossible to obtain … and I wanted it very much.

His name?  Richie Allen … or as he later asked to be called … Dick Allen.

Richie Allen was both talented and troubled.  He played initially for the Philadelphia Phillies, and he was a superb hitter, but he also marched to his own drummer.  I recently read the autobiography of the late Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts who said that early in Allen’s career, the Phillies were playing a doubleheader, and Allen just didn’t show up for the games.  Roberts found him at home instead.

Today, that would be a MAJOR scandal.

In 1967, the All-Star game was held in Anaheim, and I spent Sunday night, all day Monday, and Tuesday morning at the Grand, where the National League players stayed.  Monday night, just after dark, Richie Allen showed up, and I got his signature in my autograph book: R. Allen.

He signed it on the wrong page.

Allen didn’t seem to like fans, and he certainly didn’t like to sign his name.

Over the next few years, I never saw Allen anywhere, but whenever I spoke with other collectors, nobody else had gotten his signature, either.  He was nearly impossible.

Some of us used to write to players in the mail, and if someone was mean in person (like Elston Howard), they might be cordial in the mail … and Howard was.

But if you wrote to Richie Allen … he didn’t respond.

In 1972, Allen was on the Chicago White Sox, and he had such a great year that he was later named the Most Valuable Player in the American League.

I went to the Grand one day that year hoping to get Allen’s autograph on a 1967 Topps card that had already been signed by former teammate Johnny Callison.

I had read in the newspaper that White Sox manager Chuck Tanner allowed Allen not to take the team bus and to skip most pregame preliminaries, so after the bus left at 5:30, the collectors went home … but I stayed … determined to get Allen’s autograph on my card.

I almost never got autographs in a crowd … like from the stands before a game … and I wouldn’t follow a crowd chasing a player after a game, either.  It was too undignified.

But if someone is a tough signer, but you can catch them by yourself in a solitary place, you have a better chance of getting their autograph than if there’s a crowd waiting.

So about 6:40 pm that night, Allen came out of the hotel, accompanied by another man.  My heart pounding, I walked toward him and said, “Mr. Allen …”

He held out his right hand and waved me off.

That was it.  I had waited 70 minutes after the bus left, only to be dismissed outright.

I quit collecting the following year.  When Roberto Clemente died in 1973, I had 30 autographs of him … but just one of Richie Allen.

After I got married, I picked up the autograph hobby again, even taking some guys from the youth group to spring training games in Palm Springs, where we did very well.  (Going to spring training workouts … before the exhibition season starts … is the single best way to get autographs today … especially if you can have access to the practice fields.)

Years later, my friend John heard that Dick Allen owned horses at Santa Anita racetrack here in Southern California.  He took his items to be signed, went to the track, asked when and where Allen might show up, and waited.

Allen finally came by.  John asked him if he would sign for him, and Allen replied, “No, but I’ll shake your hand.”

John … who had a knack for getting the signatures of even the toughest players … told me later that was it: he figured he would never get Allen’s autograph.

Fast forward ahead many years.

In 1992, I was pastoring a church in Santa Clara, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley.  My collecting days were over, but if somebody asked me if I would ever collect again, I’d always say the same thing: only if Dick Allen comes to town.

How likely was that to happen?

One day, my old neighborhood friends Kevin and Steve – the same ones who had told me about getting Mantle’s autograph 25 years before – came to visit me in Santa Clara.

For some reason, we went to Vallco, a shopping center in Cupertino (near Apple’s headquarters), and there was a baseball card show in the mall.

While looking at a few signed photos, I noticed that one collector had Richie Allen’s signature.  I asked where he got it.

He told me that he had obtained it at a show … maybe back east … and I said something like, “Wow, I wish Allen would come here.  He’s always been the hardest guy for me to get.”

The collector told me, “Well, he’s coming to Santa Clara,” and he handed me a flyer.

Sure enough, in about a month, Richie Allen was scheduled to make an appearance at a card show at the Santa Clara Convention Center … about two miles from my church!

Card shows both hurt and help the autograph hobby.

They hurt it when players sign for money at shows … and then won’t sign for free anywhere else.

They help it when tough players like Richie Allen go to a show, where they are paid to be nice … and to sign whatever you hand them … as long as you pay for it.

My specialty in the hobby was trying to get the signatures of each player on every card I had of them.  (It was much more doable when Topps was the only card company around, and nearly impossible when Fleer, Donruss, Score, Upper Deck, and others started up in the 1980s.)  I didn’t sell any duplicates.  If someone wanted one, I’d make a trade … or give it to them.

I had about 40 different cards of Richie Allen, and at $6.00 a pop, that was going to require $240.00 … but for me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But I knew how to get the funds.  I went to my local baseball card shop … cashed in some old cards … and walked away with the money I needed to meet Richie Allen … finally.

That Saturday afternoon, I went to the Convention Center, and there weren’t many people there.  Away from Chicago and Philadelphia, Richie Allen wasn’t much of a draw.

There in the back sat Allen, next to former A’s pitcher Steve McCatty … whose signature I had many times.

I bought my tickets, went up to Allen, and asked him to sign my cards … and while he was signing, I told him my story from 1972 … how I had waited for his autograph and he just waved me off.  (Steve McCatty couldn’t believe all the cards I had of Allen.)

Here are some of the cards he signed that day … including the card with Callison in the middle:

Richie Allen Signed Cards 001

Okay, maybe Allen was being nice because he was being paid, but the last item I asked him to sign was his autobiography entitled Crash.

Here’s what he wrote:

Richie Allen Book Signature 001

A while later, my friend John visited me, and when I showed him the Allen signatures, he couldn’t believe it … regardless of how they were obtained.

I gave him a couple of items Allen had signed, and John was ecstatic.  He finally had his man.

Several years ago, the Veterans Committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame voted on whether or not to induct some veteran players, and Richie Allen got the most votes … but fell one vote short.

Maybe someday he’ll go into the Hall … I’m not really sure.

I have sometimes wondered, “Why do I like collecting baseball autographs so much?”

Is it a way of saying, “I met someone famous?”  If so, wouldn’t a photo work just as well?

Is it a way of saying, “I’ve had contact with that person?”

A lot of collectors get autographs on bats, balls, and expensive things … items that will later increase in value.

That was never my intent.  I liked getting signatures on cards, which were relatively inexpensive to purchase and easy to categorize and hand to a player.  The cards were a direct tie-in to my childhood when baseball was my passion.

The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon founded the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.  Last week, while on holiday, I visited the church with my wife.


Spurgeon loved to get books that he valued signed by the author, sending them away for their signatures.

Even in Christian circles, when an author comes out with a book, some bookstores … or churches … will host a book signing.

I do know that a creative signature signed with a Sharpie pen on an item of your choosing can look like a work of art … and they make great items to display in your house.

To the left of my desk, I have a bookshelf filled with signed photos of baseball players: Mays, Mantle, McCovey, Aaron, Musial, Snider, and Koufax among them.

Among those greats – all members of the Hall of Fame – is a signed photo of a young man who became a great ballplayer … and who became one tough signature.

Like many things in life, finally meeting him was well worth waiting for.








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