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Archive for September, 2016

Over my 25 years as a pastor, I worked with various church boards, and many board chairmen.

Up until my last several years in ministry, I got along with all of them, and considered each one a personal friend.

The first chairman I served with was 74 years old.  I was only 27.   We used to drive up Interstate 880 to Oakland from Silicon Valley together and watch the Oakland A’s play.

Another chairman met me at 6:00 am on Tuesday mornings for prayer.  He lived right behind the church and could tell when I was working because he could see my car in the parking lot.

A third chairman helped spearhead a radical change: selling our church property so we could start a new church with a new name in a new location … with a new mission.

The above gentleman have all gone home to be with the Lord.

Still another chairman helped guide my last church through fundraising and the construction of a new worship center … and always had my back, for which I will always be grateful.

But I’d like to tell you about someone who was, in my mind, the ideal board chairman.  His name?

Russ Jones.

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Russ and his wife AJ came to our church in Santa Clara in the spring of 1993.

At the time, we were meeting in a warehouse with a concrete floor.  The sound from the stage during the Sunday service was bouncing all over the room.

Russ and his wife kept coming back to the church, and they eventually donated funds for the warehouse to be carpeted.

Through a series of events, Russ became an elder, and then chairman of the board.

Here’s why he did such a great job:

*Russ spent time getting to know me.  He knew what I liked and didn’t like.  He knew how to talk my language so that I listened and heeded his advice.  We became a team.

*Russ had an extensive business background and wasn’t intimidated by the company that managed the warehouse (which I was).  Because a contractor had cheated us financially before Russ’ arrival, we had some rough days financially as a congregation, yet Russ handled all financial discussions with a calm and confident demeanor, which freed me to focus on ministry.

*Russ also knew how to correct me when necessary.  One time, when ministry stresses were getting to me, I didn’t handle myself well in a board meeting.  Russ took me out to breakfast, told me how I was coming across, suggested how to handle things in the future, and gave me a letter to reiterate his concerns (which I still have).  He never ran me down to others or plotted behind my back.  He was always up front and honest with me.

*Russ let me know that he was there to serve me and the agenda God had given me.  He considered me to be the professional.  While this didn’t mean that he always agreed with my ideas, he always respected me, and I could sense that respect.  Russ didn’t meet with the board in secret to create and institute his own agenda: he always tried to carry out mine.

In fact, five years ago, he wrote a blog article about the role of the board chairman in relation to the pastor at my request:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2011/08/31/support-your-local-pastor/

Russ also had some personal qualities that I found endearing:

*He was a big kidder.  I come from a family where some of the men – including my father – enjoyed verbal sparring, and I enjoyed joking with Russ immensely.

*He was outgoing and friendly.  He could talk with anybody about anything … and frequently did.  To this day, everybody in my family loves Russ.

*He was a big sports fan, and especially loved the Los Angeles Dodgers and UCLA Bruins.  When the Giants or 49ers lost, boy, did I hear about it!  (Russ took me to my first NFL game.  The 49ers beat New England 21-3, so you know it was a long time ago.)

*He was totally trustworthy.  Several times, I found myself in dilemmas, and after talking with Russ, I knew what to do.  When the board in my last church made some drastic decisions, I consulted with Russ, who told me exactly what they were doing … and he was right.

*He was incredibly generous.  When I left the church in Santa Clara in early 1998, I joined the staff of a church in Arizona, but had to raise 1/3 of my salary.  I appealed to family and friends for those funds, and Russ and his wife donated the largest monthly amount.

Russ and AJ moved to Arizona soon after I moved back to California, but we still saw each other a lot.  They eventually moved to Wickenburg, Arizona, living on the edge of town closest to California.

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When we could, we’d go to a spring training game together, whether in Scottsdale to watch the Giants …

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… or to Tempe to watch the Angels and Giants.

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When I turned 60 nearly three years ago, Russ and AJ made the long drive from Wickenburg to a Fuddrucker’s in Orange County which touched me deeply.

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And like me, Russ enjoyed obtaining signatures from former baseball players, like Bobby Richardson, former second baseman of the New York Yankees from the late 1950s and early 1960s:

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Over the course of my ministry, I’ve discovered that many churchgoers try and befriend their pastor while they’re attending a particular church, but drop him like a hot potato when either he or they leave.

Russ wasn’t like that.  The friendship that we developed transcended the typical pastor-parishioner relationship.

When we both lived in Arizona a few years ago, we frequently had breakfast together … and I didn’t want those times to end.

To me, Russ was a father figure, a mentor, and a ministry partner.

But most of all, Russ was my friend.

After a stroke and a series of illnesses, God took Russ home several weeks ago.  Fortunately, I was able to see him one final time last spring when he was staying at a rehab center in Surprise, Arizona.

Even though he wasn’t as sharp or as quick as usual, he was still the same Russ … and he still loved his Lord.

I will be speaking at his memorial service this weekend in Wickenburg, and I’ve already shared with you what I’ll be saying.

Russ, thanks for being my friend.  I miss you, but know that I will see you one day when we reunite around the throne of God.

And when that day comes, we won’t have to talk about politics – or straightening out the world – any more.

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I have very few heroes anymore.  For example:

*As a kid, I looked up to a certain baseball player … later found out he had an affair with a famous actress while he was playing … and that after he retired, he became a drug addict.

*I looked up to a well-known pastor for many years for his authenticity, biblical insight, and writing skills.  When I had a chance to meet him, I jumped at the chance.  Several years ago, I found out he had an affair, that his wife divorced him, and that the news never hit the wider Christian public.

*I remember when a singer whose music I enjoyed was arrested for drunk driving.  Later in his autobiography, this man … who wrote and sang tender love songs … confessed that he once took a chainsaw to his wife’s bed during an argument.

I could talk for hours about people I once put on a pedestal who embarrassed themselves or disappointed their followers by violating common decency or their own moral standards.

Let’s say that over the years, I’ve had 100 different heroes.  At this point in my life, it’s probably down to less than ten (Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax from baseball; Archibald Hart, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John Stott from the Christian community).

I don’t expect perfection from someone I admire, but I do want them to exemplify virtues like authenticity, modesty, and wisdom.

And next week, one of my few remaining heroes will retire after 67 years of doing the same thing.

His name?

Vin Scully … voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers … and generally considered to be the greatest sports announcer of all time.

My first memory of hearing Vin Scully on the radio was as a six-year-old boy in Anaheim, California.  Our family had an old black radio in the kitchen, and Scully was announcing the Phillies-Dodgers 1960 home opener.  (Frank Sullivan was the starting pitcher for the Phillies.  Don’t ask me how I know that.)

The following month, my dad took me to the Los Angeles Coliseum where the Dodgers played their first four years.  I remember how green the grass was … how vast the outfield was … and that Vin Scully’s voice seemed to be everywhere because the LA crowd brought their transistor radios (they were fairly new at the time) to the game.

Vin Scully was a big part of my childhood.  The Dodgers only televised nine games a year (all from San Francisco), so to follow the team, you had to listen to the radio.  I often fell asleep listening to Scully talk baseball on 50,000 watt KFI, AM 640.

Scully broadcast the first three innings … Jerry Doggett took the next three … and Scully then handled the final three.  Unlike most announcers, he didn’t interact with his partner … he wanted to call the action himself.

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I heard Scully broadcast portions of all four of Sandy Koufax’ no-hitters.  When Koufax threw his last one on a Thursday night in September 1965 against the Chicago Cubs, my brother John and I listened to the whole game on the radio, even though we were supposed to be asleep.  When Koufax struck out Harvey Kuenn for the final out, he cried out, “A perfect game!”  My brother and I jumped for joy in the darkness.

Scully’s call of the final inning of that game is a classic.  It’s here on YouTube if you’ve never heard it:

I listened to Vin Scully call Dodger games for 22 years until my family moved to Silicon Valley in 1981.  Sometimes we could pick up Dodger broadcasts from Santa Clara, but it became difficult to follow the Dodgers 400 miles away, and when our son Ryan started following baseball, it was natural for us to follow the Dodgers’ arch rivals, the San Francisco Giants, because we could attend their games and watch them on television.

On my day off, I used to drive up to San Francisco and visit the hotels of the teams that were playing the Giants, and the Dodgers always stayed at the Hilton.  There was a long hallway from the lobby to the elevators, and everybody on the team had to walk by the few of us who were waiting for signatures.  On one occasion, Vin Scully signed this portrait by Nick Volpe for me:

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This Sunday, Scully will be doing his final home broadcast for the Dodgers, and the team has devoted the entire weekend to honoring him.

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On Sunday, October 2, Vin Scully will broadcast his last game from San Francisco, and both the Dodgers and Giants will carry his broadcast in the third inning … an unparalleled tribute.

While watching the Giant-Dodger games from Dodger Stadium this past week, I listened to Scully all three nights, and even at his advanced age, he is head and shoulders above any announcer I’ve ever heard … and I’ve heard some great ones.

Why is Scully so good?

First, he is a master teacher.  If you don’t know much about baseball, he’ll inform you.  If you don’t know much about the players, he’ll enlighten you.  (He does a brief biography of every player who comes to bat from the visiting team.)  If you don’t know much about baseball rules, he will explain them.  While his trade is baseball, he always puts the game in perspective.  I’ve learned a lot about life by listening to him as well.

Second, he is an incredible storyteller.  Scully has not only read deeply about baseball history, he’s been a fan himself since the 1930s, and has either seen or known most of the greats personally.  I love to hear and tell stories myself, and Scully has been an influence on my love for baseball and anecdotes since my childhood days.

Third, he is always fair.  When the Dodgers aren’t playing well, he’ll say so.  When the opposing team is messing up, he’ll point it out without berating them.  The Giants have been having a terrible problem over the past few weeks with their relief pitching, and when they blew another game in the ninth inning to the Dodgers several nights ago, Scully expressed genuine empathy for Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy.

Fourth, he isn’t afraid to mention God.  Most sports announcers avoid the “G” word, but Scully talks about God and “the good Lord” all the time.  He’s a practicing Roman Catholic, but his acknowledgement of the reality of God is refreshing in our politically correct world.  You’ve heard the phrase, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans?”  The first time I heard that was from the lips of Vin Scully.

Finally, he is a humble and modest man.  Scully knows how much he means to Dodger fans … and even Southern California … but it’s never gone to his head.  He made the Baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster in the early 1980s, but he seems to be the same person in every venue.  The few times I’ve asked him for his signature, he’s always complied.

Eight years ago, my wife and I visited the famed Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, and whose star did we run across?  That’s right …

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I didn’t want my picture taken with most of the stars … but this one, I did.

Scully is so good that I love listening to him even while I’m rooting against the Dodgers.

Here is Scully’s final letter to his beloved fans.  It’s the classiest letter I’ve ever read … just like the man.

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Along with the Los Angeles area … all of Southern California … all of baseball … and much of the country … I want to echo the sentiments of this Facebook page logo:

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I just dropped a final payment and a sharply-worded letter in the mailbox to my former cable company (let’s call them Corrupt Cable) a few minutes ago.

Last April, Corrupt bought out my previous cable company (which I was very happy with) and immediately began alienating their new customers.

The bills were higher than they had been.  When I called customer service – which I did every month – the reps would tell me I owed one amount, but the subsequent bill would be larger.

When my bill in July was double what the customer rep said that I owed in June, I immediately cancelled (I was on a month-to-month contract) and contacted another company, which came the next day and exceeded my expectations with their professional attitude and performance.

I called Corrupt’s customer service again, asked how much my final bill was, and sent in that amount.  But Corrupt later billed me twice the amount the rep said I owed.

That was it for me.  I sent Corrupt management a strongly-worded two page letter along with a check for the amount the rep said I owed.  Corrupt countered with a letter threatening my credit if I didn’t pay them the remaining balance immediately.

I have never written the word “Corrupt!” on a check before, but I just did.

Now here’s the deal: I don’t want to hurt Corrupt’s CEO or force him from office.  I don’t want to destroy the company or its shareholders.

I just don’t want to think about them or talk about them anymore.  I am done with the Corrupt Cable Company forever.

But in many churches, when someone becomes upset with the pastor, they want to hurt him.  They want to target him.  They want to force him from office.

And they want revenge.

It’s my contention that many pastoral terminations are really the result of one or more church leaders seeking retribution against their shepherd.

More and more, I’m hearing stories of pastors and staff members who are forced out of their positions, and when they’re done sharing, I say to them, “You know what this sounds like to me?  Revenge.”

Let me share with you a composite of situations I’ve heard about firsthand.

Tom (who is now in his early 60s) has been the lead pastor of New Life Church for fifteen years.  The church has grown steadily and has a weekend attendance of 1100 people.  Tom and the board hired an associate pastor named Joe five years ago, and the first several years went well, but over the past two years, Joe has made Tom’s life a living hell.

Joe (who is in his mid-40s) is surrounded by family and friends who think that he’s a better leader and preacher than Tom and that he’s more culturally relevant.  Joe’s wife has been especially vocal in this area.

Some members of Joe’s group (which numbers about thirty) have started to make snide comments about the church and its leadership on social media.  Though they don’t mention Pastor Tom by name, it’s obvious they’re aiming their barbs at him.

By contrast, when Pastor Joe does anything in public, he’s praised on Facebook and Twitter by the FOJ Brigade.

At this point, the ideal solution is for the official board to intervene and tell Joe that (a) he still works for Pastor Tom; (b) he needs to tell his supporters to knock off their social media campaign; (c) if Joe has any concerns, he should discuss them with Tom first; and (d) any deviations from their instructions will result in Joe’s dismissal.

But because most church boards are afraid of conflict, and because some board members like Joe more than Tom, this solution isn’t likely to be implemented.

If Pastor Tom does nothing, he’s going to be driven from his position within a short while, because Joe’s followers are starting to smell blood.

But if Tom goes to the board and enacts too heavy-handed an approach, some board members will turn on him and back Joe instead.

So Tom decides that he will talk to Joe in private first.  Tom will tell Joe what he’s seeing with his attitude and ask Joe what he plans to do about it.

Tom’s plan doesn’t work and, in fact, upsets Joe greatly.  Ten minutes after their meeting, Joe is texting and calling his group, telling them, “How dare the pastor talk to me like that!”

Tom comes out of their meeting dazed and confused, while Joe calls a couple of board members that he senses are sympathetic and negatively exaggerates both Tom’s tone and words.

The verdict?  Pastor Tom can’t get along with the staff (even though he gets along with everybody but Joe) and he can’t get along with important people (like Joe’s followers).

So Tom has to go.

I wrote the following paragraph in my book Church Coup:

“I have a theory about the mentality of those who seek to target a pastor they don’t like. Because they sense that what they’re doing is wrong, they have to (a) exaggerate any charges to the level of a capital crime; (b) find others who agree with them to alleviate their guilt; (c) justify their actions by convincing themselves it’s for the common good; and (d) work up their hatred so they follow through with their plan. While this progression sounds like the kind of diabolical rage one might find in politics or war (or the prelude to a murder), the last place we’d expect to find such irrationality is inside a church.”

Over the next three months, Joe’s revenge against Tom manifests itself in five ways:

*Joe lets scores of people know – both directly and through his minions – that Tom should no longer be the pastor at New Life.  Joe details Tom’s inadequacies for anyone who will listen, including veiled swipes at his age.  As news spreads through the church underground, people add their own grievances against Pastor Tom to Joe’s list.  Some people start saying that if Tom doesn’t leave, they will.

*The church board absorbs Joe’s complaints against Tom and calls a special meeting to deal with the conflict.  Since nobody on the board has a clue how to handle matters, the easy way out is to dismiss Tom, even though he isn’t guilty of any major offense.  Because the board lacks any impeachable offense, they decide to justify their actions by “gunnysacking” Tom – listing as many faults and petty offenses against him as they can create in a single meeting.  They come up with seventeen reasons why Tom must leave but make a pact they won’t tell Tom anything.

*Keeping Joe informed at every turn, the board then ambushes Pastor Tom at their next regular meeting and informs him that he has a choice of resigning (with a small severance package) or being fired (without a severance package).  When Pastor Tom asks for the charges against him to be read, the board declines.  When Tom pleads for them to let him defend himself, they refuse.  The charges against Tom are merely a smokescreen for personal hatred.  When Tom becomes upset, they add that to their list.

*Pastor Tom resigns and receives a three-month severance package.  However, he’s told he must (a) clear out his office (and all his books) in two days; (b) turn in his keys immediately afterward; (c) never set foot on the church campus again; (d) not discuss his dismissal with anyone or his severance will be curtailed; (e) cut off all contact with everyone at the church.

*After Tom’s resignation is read to the congregation, Joe and his minions want to make sure that Tom’s supporters (at least 95% of the congregation) won’t cause any future trouble, so they spread rumors that (a) he was having an affair; (b) he was using drugs; and (c) he had trouble in previous churches that never came to light.  Several of Joe’s supporters also call the local district office and exaggerate the charges against him to make sure that no church in the denomination ever hires him again.  The district minister complies.

Some quick observations:

First, this whole situation was handled politically, not spiritually.

When revenge is involved, church politics rule.  It’s all about maximizing power … counting noses … denying the pastor due process … and checkmating him personally and professionally.  It may not look or sound like revenge, but it is.  Where’s the Bible in all this?

Second, the church board wimped out.

Had I been on New Life’s board, I would have recommended that Pastor Joe be confronted for challenging Pastor Tom’s authority.  If he wouldn’t repent, I would recommend his dismissal instead.  Tom didn’t do anything wrong; Joe did.  And it’s far easier to get a new associate than a new lead pastor.  But the board went with the squeaky wheel rather than any semblance of fairness or righteousness.

Third, the church lacked a predetermined process for handling complaints against the pastor.

Every church needs such a process.  It automatically kicks in whenever dirt starts being thrown at the pastor.  Because church boards often operate politically, I believe that another group in the church needs to monitor this process: a CRG (Conflict Resolution Group).  It’s not their job to make decisions about a pastor’s future.  It’s their job to make sure that the board and the church treat the pastor fairly: according to Scripture, the church’s governing documents, and the law.  And if the CRG’s directives aren’t followed, the entire board should be asked to resign rather than the lead pastor.

Fourth, treating Pastor Tom badly will come back and bite the church … hard.

Yes, people will leave the church, even if they never find out the details surrounding Tom’s departure.  But more than this: unless Pastor Joe and the complying board members repent, do you really believe that God is going to bless New Life Church in the future?  If so, you and I worship a different God.

Finally, God seeks redemption for His leaders, not revenge.

Allow me a personal word.  When I left my last church ministry nearly seven years ago, the entire church board resigned because they initiated a coup that failed.  They wrote and signed a resignation letter that was cruel and demeaning and intended to provide me with the maximum amount of pain.  (I have read it only three times.)  They obviously were upset with me about some issues, but they never sat down and talked with me about them.  Instead, they concocted a plan designed to checkmate me at every turn, and when their plan backfired, they left enraged.

There was never any attempt at restoration or redemption.  It was all about retribution and revenge.

Several weeks ago, I found out that two couples from my former church who had been friends for forty years severed their friendship over the way I was treated.  One couple bought into the gunnysacking charges the board made against me, while the other couple – which never heard from me directly – defended me to the hilt based on the pettiness of the charges themselves.  While this new information made me sad, I thought to myself, “This is what happens when people seek revenge against their pastor.”

When church leaders hear complaints about their pastor, they have two options:

First, they can lovingly bring the charges to their pastor’s attention, let him face his accusers, ask him for explanations, and remain open to his staying.  That’s redemptive.

Second, they can angrily spread charges behind the pastor’s back, refuse to let him face his accusers, insure that he’s not permitted any kind of defense, and remain determined to get rid of him.  That’s revenge.

We all know these verses, but they’re a good reminder during such times:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17,19,21).

What are your thoughts on what I have written?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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