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“Something is seriously wrong with me.”

In my second pastorate, I used to tell myself that over and over again.

The reason was painful: my church wasn’t growing … it was shrinking.

I had been a youth pastor in three churches.  All three youth groups had grown both numerically and spiritually.

But then I became the pastor of a small church in Silicon Valley.

And it didn’t grow … but I couldn’t figure out why … so I blamed myself.

I would tell myself, “I must be the problem.  I have the training and giftedness to lead this church, but I don’t have the personality they want or need.”

For example, I wasn’t comfortable:

*using the telephone.  I’d do it because I had to, but I always felt like I was interrupting the person I was calling, and I couldn’t read their facial expressions.  I’d much rather speak with people face-to-face.

*visiting people in their homes.  Even if I called ahead for an appointment, it felt like I was invading their space.  I didn’t know what to talk about … didn’t know how far to pry into their lives … and couldn’t wait to leave.  I always felt awkward in those settings.

*contacting people who had been absent from church.  This required as much courage for me as calling a girl for a first date.  If I called someone who had been missing, they’d invariably tell me, “Oh, we’re visiting other churches right now,” and I ‘d take it personally.  So why contact them at all?

*going out to eat with others after church on Sundays.  In my first ten years as a pastor, I usually taught Sunday School and then preached a sermon, and I lacked the energy to go to a restaurant and be social, but my wife … an extrovert … would invariably say, “But I want to go!”  So I’d go for her sake … and feel like a relational failure afterward.

*confronting people.  Especially men who were much older than me.  When I watched the original Hawaii Five-O on TV,  Steve McGarrett would go to the home of a big-time crook, knock on his door, and warn him forcefully to close down his criminal activities.  McGarrett had no fear when he confronted people.  I wanted to be a Christian Steve McGarrett!  But I’d do anything to avoid a confrontation instead.

*making small talk during a meal at someone’s home.  I could not say, “Oh, that’s a lovely platter, where did you get that?”  I wouldn’t even notice the platter.  I could not say, “Oh, this casserole is incredible!  May I have the recipe?”  I hate casseroles!  If the conversation drifted toward an issue of the day, I’d come alive, but otherwise, I hated small talk.

*having a lot of friends.  When I was a pastor, some people tried to get close to me, but if we didn’t have enough in common, I usually resisted their overtures … but felt guilty in the process.  And when I did make a friend inside the church, they’d usually move away.

*being the focus of attention.  I shy away from the limelight.  I have no desire to be famous or well-known.  I didn’t even want my picture on church advertising.  Being a team player who is effective is enough for me.

In my first ten years of ministry, I defined myself by who I wasn’t.  I wasn’t Chuck Swindoll … I wasn’t an outgoing person … I wasn’t a visionary leader … I wasn’t the pastor of a growing church … and I was never who the district leaders wanted me to be.

My seminary taught me Greek and theology, but offered no insights into who God made me to be … or how to find out.

My mid-to-late thirties was a painful time because, in a very real sense, I wasn’t comfortable being the person God created.

I tried to be who my district leaders wanted me to be … who my church board wanted me to be … and who my wife wanted me to be.

But I was emotionally and vocationally lost … and I didn’t know how to pull out of it.

And then I ran into an insightful secular book called Please Understand Me by Keirsey and Bates.

The book (which I gave to my daughter so I can’t quote it accurately) said something like this:

“You are different from other people.  That is a good thing.  Don’t try to change to be what others want you to be.  Don’t try to be who you’d like to be.  You’ll just be frustrated.  Just accept who you already are and life will fall into place.”

I almost cried.  For some reason, I didn’t think being myself … in ministry … was good enough.

When I took the Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter, I discovered that I am an ISTJ.  (George Washington and Queen Elizabeth were both ISTJs.  When I watched The Crown on Netflix, I could usually predict which decisions the queen would make because I understood her.)

The first letter in ISTJ is “I,” which stands for “introverted.”

But I didn’t want to be an introvert … especially among my pastoral peers.  The extroverts set the agendas and steered the conversations when pastors congregated.  The introverts just listened … and outwardly nodded their heads.

I preferred to be an extrovert, because they seemed to have the corner on success in the Christian world.

My wife is an ENFP … the exact opposite of me.  (“E” stands for extrovert.)  She is outgoing and fun.  She makes people feel special.  She is dynamic and caring and a brilliant organizer of people.  She makes things happen.  She has charisma.

And most people adore her.

So I’d rather be an ENFP … or an ESTJ … or anything other than a boring ISTJ.

But try as I might, I could not become an extrovert.  It was too much work!

Because there are three times more extroverts in this world than introverts, we’re in the minority … and often misunderstood … which is why extroverts are always trying to turn introverts into extroverts.

But I came to realize … and to accept … that God made me an introvert … and an ISTJ.

1 Corinthians 12:18 refers primarily to spiritual gifts, but I believe it can also apply to temperament:

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

The day I accepted that fact, my life and ministry turned around.

Rather than fight who I was, I went with the flow.

According to Keirsey and Bates, an extrovert is someone who gains energy by being with other people, while an introvert is someone who gains energy by being alone.

That latter phrase describes me perfectly.  I can be a “professional extrovert” for a few hours, but after that, I long to be by myself.

After I learned that it was okay to be an introvert, I compensated by making some adjustments:

*I’m not good on the phone?  Okay … I’ll talk to as many people as I can on Sundays … use email when I can’t get a face-to-face … and call only when necessary.  If I talk to you on the phone, that’s special.

*I’m not good at visitation?  If I have to do it, I’ll take along my extroverted wife.  Otherwise, I’ll recruit extroverts to visit the shut-ins and only visit the hard cases.  (Rick Warren is fond of saying, “Yes, I visit people in the hospital, but you don’t want to be that sick.”)

*I’m not good at contacting absentees?  I’ll see if I can find an outgoing and caring lay person or staff member to do this … and found it was a task my wife did without fear … and she usually enticed people to return.

*I’m not good at going out to eat on Sundays?  Most of the time, I’ll just go out with my wife … and only say “yes” when I’m feeling good or really like the people involved.

*I’m not good at confronting people?  I’ll only confront those I must … and deal with issues as they arise instead of letting them stack up.

*I’m not good at making small talk?  I’ll just bide my time around the table and enter the conversation when I feel comfortable.

*I’m not good at having many friends?  While I have 258 friends on Facebook … and God knows I don’t want or need anymore … my wife has over 700.  Night after night, she writes notes of encouragement to her Facebook friends.  I don’t want to get that involved in people’s lives!  Like most introverts, having a few close friends is enough for me.

*I don’t want to be the focus of attention?  I’ll focus on our church’s mission and vision instead … and promote others as often as possible.

I have since learned that many sucessful pastors are introverts.  They tend to spend hours in study … looking for just the right quotes, stories, and applications.  And introverts tend to write well.  In fact, my favorite Christian authors are almost all introverts.

And I’ve noticed that while Christian leaders who are extroverts tend to be loved, leaders who are introverts tend to be respected.

And I can live with that.

So my encouragement to you is … don’t try and be someone else … and don’t try and be who others want you to be.

Discover who God made you to be.  Rest content in His marvelous creation.

And if you’re an introvert, find extroverts who can do ministry better than you can … then focus on what you do best.

When I finally stopped trying to be who others wanted me to be, I enjoyed years of God’s blessing.

Even though I’m an introvert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I grew up in Anaheim, California, just two miles from the original Disneyland park.

My family lived so close to Disneyland that during the summer, we’d open our curtains and watch the fireworks from our living room.

The older I got, the more I went to the Magic Kingdom.  One night, a friend and I went there for a private party, and it rained so hard nearly everyone went home early.  For several hours, we went on any ride we wanted without a line.

But three years ago … the last time I went … it was so crowded … and expensive … that I wasn’t sure I wanted to return for a long time.

Besides, I had gone on every ride multiple times over the years.

But I have a “happy place” that I have returned to repeatedly … and I tell people it’s better than ten Disneylands … because there’s always something I haven’t seen.

That place is London, England.

If you haven’t been to London, but you’d like to go someday, please keep reading and pay special attention to my planning tips at the end.

My wife and I have had the privilege of traveling throughout Europe.  We’ve walked the streets of Amsterdam …

Paris …

Prague …

Rome …

and Venice, to name just a few cities.

But I love London the best … so much so that I’ve visited there ten times … and just returned from a seven-day London adventure with my daughter Sarah.

I’ve also been there with my wife Kim … our son … two mission teams … and by myself … and London excites me every time I go.

As a California native, I’ve walked the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego many times … but I’m far more comfortable in London than anywhere in the US.

Let me share with you five things that make London special for me:

First, the city has incredible variety.

Want entertainment?  London offers world-class plays.  The tickets are less expensive and easier to obtain than those on Broadway.  I’ve seen Mary Poppins, Les Miserables, Beautiful, and Mousetrap (twice), among others.

Want history?  You can tour the rooms where Sir Winston Churchill managed World War 2 …

visit a house where author Charles Dickens wrote three of his novels …

see the famed Rosetta Stone in the British Museum …

visit the house where Handel wrote The Messiah

and visit the dreaded Tower of London.

Want shopping?  I’m not a shopper (I brought home souvenirs totaling $40 in US currency from our recent trip) but London offers Harrods …

Bond and Oxford Streets …

  

Selfridges …

Covent Garden …

Regent Street …

and an incredible number of unique and fashionable stores.

London has something for everyone … including you!

Second, the city is a walker’s paradise.

My daughter Sarah brought her Fitbit along.  On Easter Sunday, we walked fifteen miles together after church.  Overall, we both walked around eighty miles in one week.

Although London is covered with surveillance cameras, there’s a feeling of freedom rather than oppression on the streets.

There are beautiful parks everywhere:

Green Park, adjacent to Buckingham Palace …

St. James Park, across from the palace …

Regent’s Park …

and, of course, King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds … Hyde Park.

It’s also fun to walk the bridges across The Thames.

There are signs and maps everywhere to keep you on track … and everything is in English.

Walking is the best way to see the city because every time you turn a corner, there’s another discovery to be made.

I’ve been watching the British-made Poirot TV shows recently, and stumbled upon this monument in Covent Garden to their author …

and happened upon this monument to Charles Dickens on another site where he lived …

and discovered some Roman ruins after visiting the Museum of London …

and found a sign commemorating a building that was lost during the Great Fire of 1666 …

and found the entrance to the Sky Garden, a building where the public can view London from the top of a huge tower … for free!

If you love Sherlock Holmes (as I do), you can visit his pub near Trafalgar Square …

or the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street …

or the giant statue of Holmes on Euston Road.

If you love the Beatles, you can visit the zebra crossing at Abbey Road (and it’s always hilarious watching the interplay between vehicles and pedestrians) …

or see 3 Savile Row, the site of their final rooftop concert …

or visit Sir Paul’s house (discreetly) …

or see the Asher house where Paul lived in the mid-1960s (writing “Yesterday” upstairs and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” with John Lennon in the basement) …

or see Sir Paul’s offices in Soho Square …

or visit the Beatles Store (the line is for the Sherlock Holmes Museum next door).

My daughter Sarah finally talked me into accompanying her on a Jack the Ripper Tour which starts above the Tower.  It was eerie yet fascinating.

You can also explore World War 2 sites … or locate and walk through famous churches … or see some Harry Potter sites (like the 9 3/4 platform at King’s Cross Station) … or find discarded Tube stations … or explore Sir Winston Churchill’s haunts.

The list seems endless!

This is why walking through London is my favorite activity in the world.

Third, the city allows for day trips to many famous sites.

This time, my daughter and I took a day trip to two places: Canterbury Cathedral, where Thomas a Becket was killed before the altar (last photo) …

and Dover Castle, which Hitler refused to bomb because he wanted it for himself.  It’s probably the best castle I’ve seen in Europe … complete with underground tunnels and all kinds of staircases and passageways.

You can also visit places like Cambridge …

Oxford …

 

Greenwich …

Windsor Castle …

Stonehenge …

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Bath …

 

Chartwell (Churchill’s home in Kent) …

and the quaint old villages of the Cotswolds.

   

You can take the train from one of London’s stations to most of the above sites.  My wife and I took an Evan Evans bus tour to Bath and Stonehenge last year and loved it!

Fourth, the city features what may be Europe’s greatest number of world class sites.

The British museums are all free (donation requested) so you can enter and exit them at will.

I’ve entered most of the art museums … the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery (my favorite), Tate Britain, and Tate Modern … but I never stay long.

I love the British Library, where the Treasures Room has a copy of the Magna Carta … ancient Bibles … and original manuscripts from famous composers and authors …

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the British Museum, which is always crowded but enlightening …

the London Eye, which is expensive but worth it …

Buckingham Palace (which is only open to the public in August and September) …

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King Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace …

and, again, the Tower of London.

The city also has some of the greatest churches anywhere, including:

St. Paul’s Cathedral (my favorite church building in the world; the interior is breathtaking) …

Westminster Abbey (Charles Darwin is buried below the entrance; you can step on the grave of King James I inside) …

the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where Charles Spurgeon preached …

All Souls Church, where John Stott pastored for years; we celebrated Easter there this year …

Westminster Chapel, where Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached …

 

and Holy Trinity Brompton, home of the Alpha Course.

Possibly the most thrilling thing I’ve done in London was climbing to the Stone and Golden Galleries at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I had a terrible cold and little energy but still managed to reach the top … a more exciting event than anything I’ve done at Disneyland.

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Finally, the city can be enjoyed at a reasonable cost.

London can be expensive, but there are many ways to minimize the costs.

If you’ve never been to London, and you’d like to go, you don’t need to go on a tour or spend a fortune on expensive hotels.

Let me share with you seven tips that can make your first trip to London doable:

*Buy Rick Steves’ book London 2018, preferably as an e-book.  That way, you can click directly on his attraction/hotel links.

 

 

Go to Rick Steves’ website as well.  Watch his videos on London.  Master his tips and you’ll master London.  The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll start making plans!

*Set a date when you want to go.  Don’t let money make the decision.  Say, “We’re going to London in October 2019.”  Talk and act as if you’re going, and things will fall into place.  Have an adventure!

*It’s cheaper to travel in the spring or fall.  Plane fares can double in the summer.  I’ve traveled over spring break the past three years and secured excellent fares.

Research until you discover a reasonable plane fare.  Aim to fly nonstop.  Find an online service that tracks fares to find the cheapest one.  Wait until you’re ready to buy … and when that fare returns, pounce on it.

I once found a fare from San Francisco to London for $548, but I wasn’t ready to buy.  I waited for weeks, and the fare kept increasing.  Two weeks before my trip, that lower fare returned one night, and I grabbed it.

This last trip, I bought my ticket from Los Angeles to London just before Christmas for less than $650 … and had my choice of seats.

I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic across the pond twice, but I prefer to fly United because they don’t charge for as many extras.

If you buy directly from an airline’s website, you can earn frequent flier miles.  And make sure to buy the insurance … it’s not that much, and definitely worth it.

If you’re an anxious flyer, most trips I’ve taken across the Atlantic have been non-events.  Other than takeoffs and landings, I’ve had flights where the seat belt sign only came on once or twice the entire flight.  From Los Angeles, the whole flight is just short of ten hours … a little longer coming back.

If you book early, you can choose where you’ll sit.  It’s better to book an aisle seat than a window seat on a long flight.  (You have better access to the lavatory.)

*Book your hotel from the US as soon as you set dates.  Consult TripAdvisor and sites like Travelocity (which lets you cancel for free up until a week before your trip.)  You can get cheaper rates if you purchase a non-refundable room, but it removes your flexibility.

The more spacious your room … and the closer to London’s center … the more it will cost.  Figure that unless you’re ill or exhausted, you’ll spend little time in your room.

When I go with my wife, she wants more space.  Last year, we stayed at the Ibis Hotel at Earl’s Court.  We were “off the map,” but it worked out great, except we had to hunt for food all the time.

When I went with my daughter two weeks ago, we secured rooms at a small hotel behind Victoria Station.  The rooms were cozy, but they had everything we needed … for about $100 a night.  (Yes, there was a bed and a TV, but I couldn’t get them into the photo!)

*Eat cheaply.  Some places offer breakfast with the price of your room.  Then you can eat a deli-style/fast food lunch and enjoy a heartier dinner.

This last trip, I ate at Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut to save money … just for a week!  (Five Guys has moved into London as well.)

Victoria Station is full of places to eat, especially upstairs.  If you stay nearby, you’ll have access to all kinds of food at reasonable prices.

*Fly into Heathrow Airport if you can.  The cheapest way to travel into London is on the Underground, also called The Tube.  Go to Heathrow’s Visitor’s Centre and buy an Oyster card for Zones 1 and 2 for the duration of your stay.  You’ll save money on daily tube cards and have access to the entire Underground system.  It’s fun … safe … and efficient … unless the Tube workers on a particular line are on strike.

 

*London always feels safe to me.  While I’ve been disheartened by several attacks inside the city over the past few years, I don’t give it much thought.  I try and return to my hotel by early evening most nights so I can get organized and get a good night’s sleep for the next day.

There’s so much I haven’t talked about: visiting Parliament (the House of Commons or the House of Lords); climbing The Monument; seeing the Imperial War Museum; touring Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; perusing the Victoria and Albert Museum (the largest decorative arts museum in the world); visiting Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square … and on and on.

Like I say, London is better than ten Disneylands.

Why don’t you make plans to see it yourself?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I once had a friend who was both a lawyer and a pastor.

He started out as a pastor … became a lawyer … and then returned to pastoring.

A prominent Christian leader criticized my friend when he went into law because, he said, “When God calls a man to ministry, he calls him for life.”

Does this mean that a pastor should stay in ministry until death?

When I pastored a church in Silicon Valley, a pastor in my city dropped dead of a heart attack … while preaching.

John the Baptist died at a young age because of his preaching.

Is that what God desires?  For a man God has called to take his last breath while serving Him?

Billy Graham has famously said that he can’t find a retirement age in the Bible, and yet even Dr. Graham (who is 99 years old) finally retired from preaching a few years ago.

I served eight local churches as a youth pastor, teaching pastor, associate pastor, solo pastor, and senior pastor over a period of 36 years.

My ministry began at age 19 when I worked with youth for the summer at my home church.

The Lord gave me many good years of ministry … but some years were rough.

I wanted to quit at age 32 … but I kept going.

I wanted to quit again at age 35 … but I kept going.

I wanted to quit again at age 44 … but I kept going.

And then the Lord “retired” me at age 56 when I was pushed out of my last and most productive ministry.

It’s been more than eight years since I preached my last sermon as a senior pastor.  Even though I wanted to retire … or die … as a pastor, I realize that I will never pastor a church again.

Why not?

Let me give you five reasons … and I’m going to be brutally honest:

First, I am the wrong age.

Most churches are looking for a pastor between the ages of 30 and 50.  My guess is that the ideal age range is 35 to 45.

Due to exhaustion, I searched for another ministry when I was 44.  One of my mentors told me, “You’ll find a church.  You’re at a good age.”

And he was right.  About a month after putting out my resume, I had an interview with a church in Illinois that really wanted me to be their pastor, although I turned them down.

My credentials didn’t seem to be as important as my age.

In my next and final pastorate, I added to my credentials:

*I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary.

*I pastored the largest Protestant church in our city, averaging 466 in 2008.  (In our part of the Bay Area, that was like a megachurch.)

*Our church grew numerically and had a great reputation throughout the community.

*We built a new worship center.

*We had a staff as large as eleven at one time.

After I left my last church, I applied for several church positions at age 57.

*A church of 100 people rejected me for a solo pastor position within two weeks.

*A slightly larger church was looking for an associate pastor.  They turned me down in five days.

I was probably overqualified for both positions, but my age worked against me.

When a pastor doesn’t have a church, and he’s in his late fifties or early sixties, the best option for him is to become an interim pastor.

Because unless you start a church, almost nobody is going to hire you … unless you are willing to go to the East Coast … where they sometimes lack qualified candidates.

When I realized the reality of the age thing, I decided to look for a position in an older congregation … one in which an experienced 57-year old pastor might seem young.

I found such a church … in Arizona.  They were looking for an associate pastor to do outreach … right up my alley … in a church full of seniors.  I quickly made the top three candidates, but pulled out when they were going to have a beauty contest … bringing all three candidates and their wives to the church over successive weekends.

Besides, they wouldn’t tell me their salary range.

When I sent an email explaining why I was dropping out, I never heard from them again.

Thank God I didn’t end up there.

Second, I can’t put my wife through another church.

My wife Kim served alongside me in every church I pastored.  She was a camp counselor … a youth leader … the Sunday School Superintendent … you name it, she did it.

She became adept at starting ministries … recruiting and training leaders … and then handing a ministry off to them while she started another one.

In our last church, Kim served as our outreach and missions director for eight years.  She made the church go.

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But when she was attacked as a way of attacking me, she suffered greatly … and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome.

If anyone wants to know what Kim went through, we’re very free and open about it … in person … but I won’t describe the pain she experienced either in writing or online.

Being the trooper that she is, Kim would probably support me if a church called me to be their pastor, but I can’t put her through it again.

I believe that my marriage vows supersede my ordination vows … that God calls people to ministry for a season, but that marriage is for life.

I agree wholeheartedly with the words of Proverbs 5:18:

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

And I do.

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Third, I couldn’t afford it financially.

I spent many months trying to find a job in the Christian community:

*I applied for the three church positions described above, but nothing worked out.

*I filled out a 13-page application for a major denomination but never heard from them again.

*I spent hundreds of dollars and invested scores of hours training to become a certified church consultant … only to discover that almost nobody became one.  (In my state, out of 34 people who had completed the training, only one had become a certified consultant.)

*I made some contacts with a group of 20 men who did interim pastoring.  I was fully vetted but nothing opened up … and then was told that I would have to pay 50 dollars every week for a one-hour coaching session via the telephone.  (Then I found out that whenever a position opened up, one of the 20 “good old boys” got it instead.  I was number 21 … the odd man out.)

*I applied for an interim position at a church in the mountains.  They called me to preach and the time went so well that a prominent leader told me I had the job.  But because I didn’t want to live in the mountains, they hired someone else.  (The position paid very little.)

*I finally received training from Interim Pastor Ministries and was immediately assigned to a church in New Hampshire.  It was a very loving, outreach-oriented church, and we’re still friends with some of the people five years later.  But my next interim assignment just wouldn’t open up.

*My director asked me if I was willing to go to churches in Louisiana … Canada … South Dakota … or upstate New York.  I finally ended up flying to a church back east, but it was such a mess that I couldn’t envision doing church ministry anymore.

*I spent three hours being grilled by a bunch of lay leaders at another church that was looking for an interim pastor.  They went with someone else as well.

*While I was trying to find a ministry position, my wife heard about a search for a children’s director at the church where I was baptized as a boy.  We visited there one Sunday and then she applied for the position.  Four months later, she finally emerged as a top candidate.  While we were in New Hampshire, the church flew her out to California for three days of intense scrutiny.  The executive pastor assured Kim that she would be hired before she left, but then wrote her and said that because their senior pastor had just resigned, they weren’t going to hire anyone.

The entire time these events were happening, we were living off the funds from my retirement account.

But as the account dwindled, I realized that if I kept applying for Christian jobs, I would probably end up with no job … and no money.

Through a series of divine events, my wife sensed God calling her to start a preschool in our house.  We began in a rented house in August 2013 and bought a house last April.  The preschool is on the first floor while we live upstairs.  It’s a full-time job for both of us but God has blessed us financially.

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When I was a young man, the hiring process in churches and Christian organizations was much simpler and quicker.  It now takes many months to hire someone.

Forgive me if I don’t want to do it anymore.

Fourth, our grandsons trump everything else.

This is our son Ryan with his wife Vanessa.  They have three boys: Jack (far right), Liam (far left), and Henry (middle).

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If I became a pastor again, I’d probably have to move away and wouldn’t be able to see them.

But when you become a grandparent, you understand this simple rule:

Grandchildren trump everything … for me, even church ministry.

Finally, my soul is one conflict away from devastation.

In early 2013, after spending five days at a church back east that was considering me as an interim pastor, I spoke with my ministry mentor.

I quickly told him what had occurred during those days:

*One man … who owned five fast-food restaurants … ran the church.

*The church had a school next door … and the school held great power over the church.

*The church office was located inside the parsonage … and the basement was so trashed and spooky that I’m convinced there were dead bodies down there.

*One man came up to me and kept hitting me on the arm … hard.  I don’t know why.

*One older leader criticized me severely behind my back.  I later found out that he wanted to become the interim pastor.

*The church’s associate had been touching women and girls inappropriately for a long time … and nobody said anything … until he touched a young teenage girl … who did say something.  The pastor knew about the associate’s behavior and did nothing.

*After the associate left, the pastor asked for a vote of confidence … and was voted out.

That was the church that wanted me to come as interim pastor.

When I told my mentor about it, he said, “Jim, if you and Kim go to that church, it will permanently damage your souls.”

I can’t pastor another church because almost every congregation has one or more dysfunctional church bullies … and if I meet just one more of them, I can’t predict how I’ll react.

So rather than ending up in jail … or the funny farm … or some cult … I’d prefer to keep my soul intact and leave the pastoring to others.

Life has a way of chipping at our souls, but ministry does as well.  To become successful in ministry, a pastor has to become a change agent, and the change process inevitably results in personal attacks against the pastor and his family.

And I’ve had enough.

I’m grateful for the 36 years of ministry God gave me, and I wish I could have served as a pastor until the Lord took me home … or allowed me to retire gracefully.

But I have learned that His plan for me now is to support my wife … play with my grandchildren … do some writing … attend our local church … root for the Giants … and stay as far away from dysfunctional church people as possible.

And I’m having a marvelous time doing those things!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A pastor I knew for more than twenty years died last week.

For years, AA was my friend.

My first exposure to him was at Biola College when he came and spoke in chapel one Thursday morning in Crowell Hall.

AA pastored a church in Fresno and shared with students that radio ads helped his church to grow … then proceeded to play one such ad on a tape recorder.

Years later, on Veteran’s Day in 1980, my church in Garden Grove called an ordination council for me.  AA … who was now pastoring a church of the same denomination in central Orange County … signed my certificate after the examination, although I don’t recall his presence that day.

Fast forward six years.  One afternoon, I was sitting in the office of our district minister when he told me that AA was coming to Oakland to pastor one of the oldest churches in the district.  I wondered, “Why would anyone leave the beauty of Orange County for the ugliness of downtown Oakland?”

But AA went to that Oakland church, and using his entrepreneurial gifts, he sold some church land and started a new church in a beautiful area just a few miles away.

Right before Christmas in 1986, our district held their annual Christmas party at Mount Hermon Conference Center.  I was asked to do a humorous reading of The Night Before Christmas in the style of an expository preacher and it went well.  Afterwards, AA came up to me and suggested we have lunch together.

A few weeks later, we sat in a restaurant near his church overlooking a lagoon (a place I would later eat at dozens of times) and shared our ministry wounds together.  In the process, we became fast friends.

I invited AA to my church in Silicon Valley one day.  The church wasn’t doing well … we’d had a merger four years before that imploded … and I wanted his opinion on our prospects.

He surveyed our campus and quickly said, “I wouldn’t come here” which hurt a bit.

But he also read an article I wrote on “lost shepherds” and told me that it was good and that he knew the editor of the denominational magazine and would recommend that it be published, which is eventually what happened.

One day, I was speaking by phone to the president of our denomination, and he suggested that I put together a group of pastors in my area for support.  Our first meeting was at a Sizzler in Hayward, and over the next few years, our group of five met nearly every month for lunch.  AA was in that group.

For several years, those pastors and their wives met at AA’s home in early December for a Christmas dinner.  He and his wife were very hospitable.  We enjoyed other social events with those couples over the years as well.

I invited AA to speak to our leaders at my church in Silicon Valley, and he in turn had me speak at a men’s breakfast and a stewardship banquet at his church.

In the summer of 1997, I knew I was going to be leaving my church in Silicon Valley, so AA invited me to speak to his church on a Sunday morning.  The time went well, and AA said he wanted to hire me as his associate pastor, but things didn’t work out at the time, and I ended up at a friend’s church in Arizona instead.

But in the fall of 1998, AA began sending me emails, wanting to know if I’d consider becoming his associate pastor.  He planned on retiring and wanted to choose his successor.  After combing through 85 resumes, AA and the board couldn’t find anyone suitable.

I sent him five reasons why it would be good to work together, and five reasons why it wouldn’t work.

He answered all five objections.

Kim and I flew to Oakland on a Friday.  That night, we went out for dinner with AA and his wife, and we had a great time together.  But one of the board members was so upset about the possibility of my coming (he never even met me) that he instantly resigned.  (He wanted a Union Seminary grad instead!)

My wife and I met with the board the following morning, and things went well enough that I soon returned and spoke on a Sunday.

The board offered me the job of associate pastor, and I eventually accepted.  I did not call myself to that position … God called me … because I initially didn’t want to go.

Because our daughter Sarah was in high school, I agreed to start my ministry on June 1, 1999, so she could finish her junior year in Arizona.

In January 2000, AA announced to the church that he would be retiring the following December.  By this time, I had served at the church seven months, and except for one critic … a board member … I felt I got along great with everyone.

The following April … nearly a year after I came to the church … I asked the board to have the congregation vote on me as senior pastor-elect.  The vote was 76-4 … 95% approval.

AA began to pull back on his ministry a bit, and I began to assert myself more.  One day, as we walked past the open field on the church property, AA told me, “That’s where you will build a new sanctuary someday.”

In the fall of 2000, AA and his wife took a trip to New England, and while they were there, my primary critic resigned his position at the church and openly took shots at me.  When he returned home, AA fully supported me, which made matters disappear quickly.

That same critic began spilling board secrets in public, including the fact that the board had agreed to give AA a generous financial gift upon his retirement.  The church was holding its annual congregational meeting in November, and AA was worried that some oldtimers would publicly object to the gift and that he might not receive it.

I shared with AA and the board how to nullify any objections with the congregation, and the meeting passed without incident.

During the eighteen months that we worked together, AA and I got along very well.  We may have disagreed about certain issues … we’re very different people with very different styles … but I don’t recall one time where we had even a single unpleasant conversation.

And during the fourteen years that we knew each other, I considered AA to be one of my closest friends.  In fact, had I died before him, I wanted him to conduct my memorial service.

After he left the church and moved to Arizona, I did my best to maintain contact:

*Whenever I referred to AA in public, I spoke of him in positive terms and with gratitude.

*Whenever I spoke with his friends within the church … including four staff holdovers … I was conscious that anything I said might get back to him … and it sometimes did.  In fact, AA once told me that a certain individual called him all the time to complain about me.

*Since AA had family in our community, he visited the area a few times a year.  At first, he’d contact me and we’d get together, but after a while, he’d come into town and meet with people from the church without telling me, which made me suspicious.

*He and his wife visited the church a few times after he retired, and things seemed to go well … until the Sunday when I stood up to preach and noticed that AA and his wife were sitting by themselves next to a couple who were angry with me about an issue that had no resolution.

*I interviewed AA about two incidents that happened during his tenure as pastor that led to conflicts and included them in my doctoral project for Fuller Seminary.

*AA became president of a parachurch organization.  Our church supported him financially as a missionary and hosted one of their meetings in the church library.

*I invited AA to speak at the dedication of our new worship center in October 2005.  I also presented him and his wife with a letter of appreciation and a plaque for all they had done for the church.

But during his message, AA made a derogatory comment about me … one that most people wouldn’t have noticed … and I knew something had changed.

Then one man inside the church sent a bizarre email to one of our staff members stating that I needed a mentor and that AA should come back to the church as my associate pastor.  I called the man and tried to set him straight, but it began to dawn on me: AA is telling at least some people that he regrets leaving and wants to come back to the church.

After he retired, AA and his wife lived in Arizona … then Southern California (ironically, in the same city my wife and I live in now) … then in a city in Northern California.

Somewhere along the line, I knew I was being undermined and that anything I did or said that AA’s friends didn’t like would end up being shared with him … and quite possibly, be wrongly interpreted.

I had three options:

*Engage in an investigation into AA’s conduct.  But who would do it?  How would anything change?  What good would come from it?

*Confront AA about his behavior.  But what if he denied everything and then told people I was insecure and paranoid?

*Ignore his behavior and continue building the church … which is what I did.  But what if the undermining gained critical mass?

The church was doing well.  The attendance and giving nearly doubled during my tenure.  We built a new worship center where every vote by the congregation was unanimous.  We were the largest Protestant church in our city by far and had a great reputation in the community.

Fast forward ahead four years.

In the fall of 2009, I heard that AA and his wife were living in a house owned by former church members on weekends … only 500 feet from our church campus.

Only AA never told me.

Intentional or not, he now had a base of operations near the church to hear any complaints against me … just like Absalom listened to complaints about his father David at the gates of Jerusalem.

Only people weren’t bringing any complaints to me, so I didn’t know what they were or who might be upset with me.

I didn’t know it at the time, but AA not only had his fingers in the congregation … he had his fingers in the church staff, and especially in the church board.

In October 2009, a conflict broke out with the church board, and a few weeks later, I chose to resign.

The night I told church leaders that I was going to leave, I was told by the church consultant I had hired that AA had been meeting with the six members of the church board about me.  I don’t know who initiated contact, or how many times they met, or whether the board wanted AA to be their next interim/senior pastor … although a top Christian leader told me that was the plan.

That consultant exposed the plot and wrote a report stating that AA should not be allowed to return to the church in any capacity.

After years of friendship, my good friend had completely flipped on me.

_______________

I never learned what I did or didn’t do … or said or didn’t say … to cause AA to conspire to force me out of my position and eventually end my pastoral career.

Although I can venture some guesses, I’m not very good at mind reading.

I can’t recall our final conversation, but found it telling that he never contacted me after I resigned and left the church, even though I wrote a book about the conflict (Church Coup) and have written more than 500 blogs … most of them about pastor-church conflict.

Several years ago, I went to his Facebook page, and noticed that he was friends with nearly every single person who stood against me in my final days, including former board members and staffers.

In England, they call that a Shadow Government.

I have no idea when or where AA’s memorial service will be held … or if it’s already been held … and I’m certain that I won’t be asked to speak.

So I thought I’d write a blog about the man I knew.

I’ll always be grateful that he wanted me to become his associate pastor and eventually succeed him as pastor.  By every measure, the church did quite well over the next nine years.

And I’ll always be grateful for his friendship … his counsel … his support … and all the good times we had.

Rest in peace, Andy.  I forgive you.

See you in glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When my father was a kid, he and his brother Carl sneaked into the top floor of a hotel where a large group of major league baseball players were meeting … probably in the late 1930s.

I’m told they got the autographs of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, among others, but that their mother eventually threw them out.

My grandmother may not have had much use for those autographs, but my mother knew what baseball meant to me.  So when I wanted to get autographs of players in my hometown of Anaheim … or in downtown Los Angeles … she let me go … nearly always with a friend or two.

Last time, I wrote about experiences I had with six baseball Hall of Famers from the 1960s: Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, and Harmon Killebrew.

Here are encounters with six more players, including the three most celebrated superstars of the 1960s:

Seventh, Sandy Koufax.

I can’t begin to tell you how much Sandy Koufax meant to me as a kid growing up in the greater Los Angeles area.

Due to Walter O’Malley’s stinginess, the Dodgers only televised nine games per year … all from Candlestick Park in San Francisco … so I could only see Koufax pitch on television three times a year, at best … unless the Dodgers went to the World Series, which they did three times in four years.

I did see Koufax pitch twice in person: a three-hit, 3-0 shutout against the Houston Colt 45s (now the Astros) on June 14, 1963, and a 4-2 victory against the Milwaukee Braves on October 2, 1965 … a game that clinched the pennant for the Dodgers.

Koufax pitched four no-hitters, one each year from 1962-1965 … won five consecutive ERA titles … set the (then) all-time record for strikeouts in a season with 382 … twice struck out 18 batters in a game … and had a mystique about him that’s unique even for today.

In 1966, he won 27 games and lost only 9 … and then retired at age 30 due to injuries.

I once saw Koufax on the field before a game and yelled “Sandy!” … from the Bob Uecker seats … and he actually looked up toward me.

Following the 1965 season, Koufax published an autobiography appropriately titled Koufax.  My parents gave it to me for Christmas … personally signed.

I couldn’t believe it … and still have it.

In 1967, Koufax became an announcer for the Game of the Week on NBC, and he was in Anaheim for the All-Star Game.  The night before the game, I got his autograph in my autograph book.

Although he threw left-handed, Koufax batted … and signed … right-handed.

Then I went home for dinner … begging to be taken back to the hotel … and grabbed a mint condition 1955 Koufax rookie card for him to sign if I saw him again that night.

I did see him … and he did sign it … and this may have been the first baseball card I ever got signed.

I have not taken it out of this binder for nearly 50 years.

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Of course, all this was before vintage cards … or rookie cards … were worth anything monetarily.

I’ve been told that by getting the card signed, I have greatly reduced its value, but I never collected cards with the idea of reselling them, and I never got autographs to sell them, either.

Koufax was a good signer through the mail in the early 1970s, and I was able to get all my cards signed that way, although I risked losing some increasingly valuable cards.

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The only other time I saw Koufax in person was at spring training in Vero Beach, Florida, in 1980.  My brother and I went together for a week and had an absolute blast.

Here’s Koufax being mobbed by fans:

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Sandy is still alive and in his early 80s.  Jane Leavy’s book Sandy Koufax is a terrific read, as is Michael Leahy’s book The Last Innocents, which takes a close look at seven Dodgers’ players from the 1960s, including Koufax.

Eighth, Mickey Mantle.

The first day I ever got autographs at a hotel was at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim in April 1967.

The New York Yankees were in town, and I brought along an autograph book that had been signed by friends from fifth and sixth grade … I kid you not.

When we arrived at the hotel, there was a huge window looking into the coffee shop, and there sat Mickey Mantle … eating an ice cream sundae.

Upon spotting Mantle, some kids rushed into the coffee shop, but Mantle said he would sign when he came out … which he did … in my autograph book.

Over the next two years … 1967 and 1968 … Mantle signed at least five times other times for me … once every road trip.  (The Yankees came to Anaheim three times a year back then.)

Here are three of those signatures (remember, we didn’t have Sharpies back then):

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Here are a few Mantle stories:

*A friend of mine joined me at the hotel one day to get Mantle’s autograph, and when he did, Mantle made a snide comment about his appearance, which ended up circulating all around our Jr. High school.

*My brother John and another friend decided to ride the central elevator at the Grand Hotel (which they weren’t supposed to do) and when the elevator stopped at a certain floor, Mantle got on.  When they asked him for his autograph, he yelled at them.

*A kid in a wheelchair once waited for Mantle to emerge from the hotel, and when he did, Mantle went right up to him, but the kid didn’t have a pen for Mantle to sign anything with.  I quickly offered my pen, and when Mantle was done, he asked, “Whose pen is this?”  I said, “Mine,” and Mantle signed my item next.

*I wasn’t there, but I was told that a fan wanted a picture taken with Mantle in front of the small fountain outside the hotel.  The fan was so nervous that he fell in the fountain.

*My brother’s friend Mark joined us one afternoon to try and get Mantle’s autograph.  When Mantle came out of the hotel, he signed for my brother, then boarded the bus.  When we motioned for Mantle to open the bus window, he did.  When Mark asked him for his signature, Mantle mistakenly told him, “I already signed for you,” and signed another one for my brother … which he turned and gave to Mark.

The last time I saw Mantle was before an Old-Timers game at the Sheraton Hotel in Anaheim around 1971.  Mantle took my card … turned and stared at me for a moment … and then signed it.

He and Johnny Bench were the most intimidating players I ever asked for autographs.  Maybe Bench is nice now (as he seems to be on a TV commercial), but he was tough during the latter part of his playing days.

According to former teammate Bobby Richardson, Mantle became a Christian in the closing days of his life in 1995, so I look forward to seeing the Mick again.

Ninth, Juan Marichal.

Growing up a Dodgers fan, the San Francisco Giants were their rivals … and when the Dodgers went to Candlestick Park, they could not hit Giant pitcher Juan Marichal.

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Marichal threw nine different pitches from three different angles (overhand, three-quarters, and sidearm) … a total of 27 different looks for a batter … but he was best known for his high leg kick, portrayed in this statue outside AT&T Park in San Francisco.

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Believe it or not, the Giants used to hold a picture day at Candlestick Park in the early 1980s, and I got this picture of Ryan in front of Marichal’s number on the outfield fence.

The first time I got Marichal’s autograph was in 1968 at the Grand Hotel when the Giants came to Anaheim for an exhibition game on a Saturday before the season started.

The next time I saw him was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles around 1971 … the same hotel where Bobby Kennedy was shot in June 1968.  Marichal looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you go and get a job?”  (I worked for McDonald’s at the time but got off work to go and see the Giants.)  He usually signed only one item back then.

But the following year … 1972 … Marichal changed his disposition and signed everything in sight!

(The typical pattern is that players start off as good signers … become grumpier after gaining fame or stardom because average people, not just baseball fans, start to recognize them in public … become even worse as they near retirement … and then after a year or two out of the game, become better signers once again.)

Besides the “job” comment, I had only two other encounters with Marichal.

In 1983, Marichal appeared at a card show in Santa Rosa, California, and the autographs were only $2.50 each.  Marichal signed a lot of cards for me that day, and shook my hand afterwards.  He couldn’t have been nicer.

Several years later, Marichal appeared at a baseball clinic for kids several miles from my house, and he generously signed six cards.

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Marichal may be best known for clubbing Dodger catcher John Roseboro with a bat at Dodger Stadium in the heat of the pennant race in August 1965.

John Rosengren has written an inspiring book about that incident and the subsequent relationship between the two men called The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption.  I keep meaning to write a blog about the book and hope to get it done sometime.

Tenth, Willie Mays.

Willie Mays is considered by many baseball experts to be the greatest all-around player in the history of the sport.  He played with passion, charisma, and daring.

And he was my brother John’s favorite player.

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The first time I got Mays’ autograph was at the Grand Hotel in 1968 … the same occasion when I first got Marichal’s autograph.

When the players came off their bus, my brother and I followed Mays into the hotel, and I took a photo of the two of them.  I still have it … somewhere … but the flash didn’t work, and Mays made a comment about it at the time.

I was fortunate enough to get his signature three times that day … unlike Mantle, Mays never looked at who he was signing for … but all three signatures were different.  His autograph didn’t become uniform until he started signing at shows years later.

The next time I got his autograph was at spring training in Palm Springs in 1971.  My friend Dave and I went to the Giants hotel but we saw Mays slip away while wearing his uniform.  We jumped in Dave’s Volkswagen, followed Mays to the park, and got his autograph just as he was going into the clubhouse … but his signature (which I still have) was lousy.

This sets up the craziest autograph story I’ve ever experienced.

Remember how I mentioned earlier that the Giants stayed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when they came to town?

Well, one time in 1972, five of us went to the Ambassador in my friend Dave’s VW bug.  We got the autographs of most of the Giants … they came out the front for a cab or to take the bus … but we missed Mays … who usually rented a car, parked out back, and drove to Dodger Stadium himself.

If we waited for Mays, we’d miss the other Giants, and we didn’t want to do that … but maybe, we thought, we can get him after the game.

However, the Giants boosters were also staying at the hotel, and somehow, one of our group found out the room number where Mays was staying … information that didn’t interest me at all.

So after the game, Mays came out of Dodger Stadium, signed maybe one autograph (with a huge crowd surrounding him), got in his car, and took off.

Please understand that back in the early 1970s, the best way to get a player’s autograph was at the team hotel.  You could write a player in the mail, but if he didn’t answer, you’d lose your valuable cards, and that was a tough risk to take.

I don’t remember who made the suggestion, but somebody said, “Hey, let’s see if we can catch Mays at the hotel.”  So we drove to the Ambassador and waited … but there was no sign of Mays anywhere.

And then someone made this fateful suggestion: “Hey, I’ve got Mays’ room number.  Why don’t we go up to his room and ask him to sign for us?”

I’m sure I said, “No!  Bad idea!  Let’s just go home.”

But what if Mays was really cool and signed for us?

Someone else prevailed, and the next thing I knew, two of my friends were knocking on the hotel room of Willie Mays … just after midnight.

Mays opened the door, and he was wearing maroon pajamas.  He took a look at the five of us … I was hiding a bit down some stairs … and one of the five asked, “Willie, can we have your autograph?”  Mays asked, “Who are you guys with?”  My friend replied, “We’re with the Giants boosters, Willie.  Can we have your autograph?”

As Mays peered into the hallway and saw five of us, he said, “I’m going to call the house man on you.”

We ran … down the stairs … into the basement … up some stairs … across the back lawn of the Ambassador … and found Dave’s VW.  Dave peeled out down Wilshire Boulevard, and when he hit the Harbor Freeway, went 85 mph … as far from the Ambassador Hotel as we could get.

The next morning, I had a crew meeting at McDonald’s, and I kept waiting for the cops to come and arrest me.

Years later, I started a sermon with that story, and Dave … who also became a pastor … has used it as well.

While discussing this incident a few years ago, we both admitted that we’re still waiting for someone to come and arrest us for what we did to poor Willie 45 years ago.

Since that incident, I’ve gotten Mays’ autograph through two main venues: in spring training and at a card show (where his signature was only $2.50).

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I once read where Mays said that everywhere he goes, if he signs one autograph, he ends up signing 100.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to be so visible … and so popular … and Mays has gained a reputation as somewhat of a grouch over the past few decades.

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And after what we put Mays through at the Ambassador Hotel, I can’t blame him.

Sorry, Willie.

Mays can hardly see anymore … if at all … and the last I heard, he charges $100 per autograph.

Eleventh, Willie McCovey.

McCovey played on the Giants with Marichal and Mays, and when Don Drysdale of the Dodgers pitched against him, McCovey absolutely murdered him.

Big Stretch became the Most Valuable Player in the National League in 1969 and hit 521 home runs in his career.  He and Mays formed a powerful one-two punch.

McCovey was always pleasant and would sign one item whenever we saw him.

One time, we left the Ambassador Hotel and followed the Giants’ bus all the way to Dodger Stadium.  McCovey sat in the very back of the bus, and we saw his silhouette all the way to the ballpark.

In 1982, McCovey made an appearance at the Old Mill Shopping Center in Mountain View, near our home in Santa Clara, and I took the whole family after church.  Each autograph was only $1.00.

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I took this picture of my son Ryan with McCovey:

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After he retired from the Giants, McCovey held an annual golf tournament at the Olympic Country Club near San Francisco every November.  Back in the 1980s, I went up there a few times and had a great time getting autographs.  Baseball players and other celebrities (like Huey Lewis) would practice their drives and putts, then go to their golf carts and just sit there waiting to go to the first hole.

Some collectors would wait by a certain hole and wait for the golfers to finish before asking them to sign something, but I went early and got autographs while everyone was still loose … and happy.

When I was a pastor in Silicon Valley in the 1990s, a guy in the church did landscaping for McCovey at his home in Woodside.  I asked him if he would ask McCovey if he’d sign a few things for me.

McCovey said no.

When the Giants built their new ballpark in south San Francisco, they named the cove behind the right field fence “McCovey Cove” in honor of Willie.  Many years later, I had the privilege of riding in the cove in a Duck Boat … piloted by my pastor friend Peter Muthui from Kenya.

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If you look closely at the photo below, you’ll see a statue of McCovey swinging a bat just above the rocks.

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Finally, Frank Robinson.

Frank Robinson was the first player to win the Most Valuable Player Award in both the National League (1961) and American League (1966).

I first got his autograph at the Grand Hotel in 1967.  I was by myself, and Frank was okay.

But Frank could be a bit on the mean side.  With no one else around, I once asked him to sign his rookie card from 1957 in spring training as he was going from the parking lot into the clubhouse.

I can still hear him let out a yell … but he signed it.

Because he lived in Los Angeles, I saw him a few times at Lakers games in the late 1960s.

Frank was traded to the Dodgers in the early 1970s.  One night, he came out to his car and signed for everybody … something I wasn’t used to seeing.

Frank became manager of the Giants in the early 1980s, and I took a photo of him with Ryan at a Picture Day:

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Frank did a card show in the Bay Area in the 1990s … along with Ricky Henderson … and each autograph was $4.50 … bargains then and now.

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The last time I saw Frank was after Harmon Killebrew’s memorial service at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona.  Due to the solemnity of the occasion, I wasn’t about to ask him … or anyone else … for a signature, but I did take his photo with my (pathetic) Blackberry.

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After the Mays incident, I never violated a player’s privacy again, asking for an autograph only when they were in a public place.

I’ve got a lot more stories to tell … like the time a player invited me to lunch … or the time I drove a Dodger to the stadium the day before the All-Star game … or the time the league’s leading hitter sat down and talked to me for twenty minutes … or the time …

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With spring training games starting in both Arizona and Florida this week, I thought I’d devote my next two articles to baseball.

When I was six years old, I began collecting baseball cards as a hobby.

Seven years later … in 1967 … I began collecting autographs of baseball players … eventually on many of those very same baseball cards … and continued off and on for the next 33 years.

Getting autographs was much simpler back then:

*We went to the hotels where the players stayed before the games, and most were great about signing when they came out for a taxi or the team bus.

*We didn’t have Sharpie pens until the early 1970s, so for a few years, I was always nervous that either my ballpoint pen wouldn’t be legible on a card or that it would skip.

*When I got someone’s autograph, I didn’t rush off to sell it.  I kept it … expecting to hold onto it for a lifetime.  If I had two of the same item, and you wanted it, I would give it to you.

*Collectors became friends and traded inside information: “This guy is really mean … that guy answers his mail … this guy is moody … that guy signs everything.”

*The longer you stayed at a hotel or a spring training practice field, the more autographs you’d get.  I was usually the last to go home.

*They didn’t have baseball card shows back then where a player would be paid to sign.  You either got autographs in person or through the mail.

*Autographs are all about time and place.  Most players would sign if you could catch them alone or somewhere where they couldn’t be rushed.

My wife has encouraged me to write a book about my experiences.  I started one a few years ago, but I wasn’t sure many people would care.

But recently, I’ve been thinking, “Maybe people would be interested if I told stories about my encounters with players like Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays.”

So before my memory fades, here are my experiences … and impressions … of twelve Hall of Fame baseball players from the 1960s.

Here are the first six:

First, Hank Aaron.

Several times, I’ve had a dream that I’m at an airport terminal with Hank Aaron.  We’re just talking, and he’s really nice, except that I don’t have anything for him to sign.

And I wake up in a cold sweat.

That’s an autograph collector’s worst nightmare … to see someone whose autograph you want and to have nothing for them to sign.

In April 1974, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, and he became world famous.

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Before that, I only saw him a couple of times, and got his autograph each time.

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In the late 1970s, he became a spokesman for Magnavox, and he made a personal appearance at a large store.  Some of my friends showed up expecting Aaron to sign for us, but he didn’t.  (I did take a picture of Aaron with my friend Dave.  As I was taking the picture, Dave said out loud, “This is my friend Hank Aaron, who won’t sign any autographs.”  Aaron muttered, “You understand.”)

Then in the late 1980s, Aaron appeared at a card show in San Jose, and the promoter … who knew I was a good customer … introduced Aaron to me.  (I’m sure he’s forgotten.)  Each autograph was $4.50 each … a bargain for the then greatest home run hitter of them all.

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The first two cards are both from 1958, making them 59 years old.  I still find that amazing!

Second, Ernie Banks.

Banks had a reputation for being a super-enthusiastic ballplayer.  Every time he went on the field, he’d say, “Let’s play two!”

And he seemed like a very nice guy in person.  The first time I got his autograph, he signed 10 cards for me after a spring training game in Palm Springs in 1971.  (The second and third cards below … signed in ballpoint … were signed on that occasion.  Sharpie pens came into existence the next year, as I recall.)

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But many years later, I saw Banks at a golf tournament, and he was downright mean … the worst encounter I’ve ever had with a ballplayer.  (Richie Zisk of the Mariners once signed for me in spring training in Tempe, Arizona and told me, “Why don’t you go bother the other ballplayers in Florida next year?”)

I got a lot of the above autographs at a show Banks did in San Jose, and he spent most of his time joking around.  He’d sign his first name … banter with the fans for a minute … and then sign his second name.

He’s revered in Chicago, but not in my household.

Third, Roberto Clemente.

Clemente played right field in the very first major league game I ever attended in May 1960 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Six years later, I saw him play at Dodger Stadium.  He had the greatest outfield arm I’ve ever seen.

The 1967 All-Star Game was held in my hometown of Anaheim, and I got Clemente’s autograph late Sunday afternoon as he was walking toward the Grand Hotel where the National League players stayed.  He looked regal in his blue suit.

Several years later, he signed a card for me after a game at Dodger Stadium.

The great thing about Clemente is that he signed all his mail.  I’d write to him every year, and he’d sign and return whatever I sent him.

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Clemente died in a plane crash on January 1, 1973 while taking relief supplies to Nicaragua.  When I read David Maraniss’ biography of Clemente a few years ago, I stopped reading before Maraniss recounted his death.  It still hurts.

Fourth, Reggie Jackson.

Reggie came up to the Kansas City A’s in 1967.  The A’s stayed at the Jolly Roger Motor Inn across from Disneyland, and you could walk right up to a player’s room outside and knock on the door.  (Joe DiMaggio was a coach on that team!)

The next year, the team moved to the Grand Hotel in Anaheim … where all the other teams stayed … and Reggie eventually became a big star.  He hit 3 home runs and drove in 10 runs in one game in the summer of 1969.

A kid from my neighborhood named Gordy once introduced Reggie to a woman inside the hotel, and suddenly, Reggie and Gordy became friends.

Whenever the A’s came to Anaheim, Reggie and Gordy were inseparable.  Friends told me they even appeared on a post-game show from Anaheim Stadium together.

I once went to Gordy’s house and saw his large Reggie poster on the wall.  Reggie devoted a lot of space telling Gordy what a good friend he was.

But when Reggie went to the Yankees, he became a tough autograph.  I once saw him lecture a crowd after a Yankees-Angels game of at least 100 people, explaining why he didn’t want to sign for them.

Reggie wrote his full name for many years, but after he hit three home runs (on three consecutive pitches) in the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers (broke my heart), he started writing just “Reggie” or “Reggie J” … sometimes sideways or upside down.

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In 1987, when Reggie’s career was winding down, my son Ryan and I visited the A’s at Scottsdale Community College for spring training workouts.  Because there was a camera on Reggie, he signed two cards … on the practice field!

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One of my best friends growing up became a policeman in Anaheim.  He told me that after a game, a car turned the wrong way out of the stadium, and when my friend stopped the driver, it was Reggie, who asked my friend, “Don’t you know who I am?”  My friend gave him the ticket anyway.

Wish I had been there!

Fifth, Al Kaline.

Kaline was the star right fielder for the Detroit Tigers and became a batting champion at age 20.  He was always a classy guy.

While some autograph collectors were normal people, a few had their peculiarities, including a kid named Gary.  (Gary once drove Yankees’ outfielder Bobby Murcer from the hotel in Anaheim to a game show in Hollywood and I feared for Murcer’s life.)

Anyway, in August 1968, as the Tigers were heading for the American League pennant (they beat the Cardinals in the World Series), Gary brought his cassette recorder to the Grand Hotel and asked Kaline if he could interview him.  They went to the parking lot where Gary asked Kaline some softball questions and Kaline … classy guy that he is … answered them all.

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Twelve years later, Kaline made an appearance before the 1980 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, and I had my picture taken with him at the Biltmore Hotel.

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Ten years later, Kaline appeared at a massive card convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, and after he signed some items for me, he shook my hand.

Few players … past or present … treat collectors like people.

Kaline always did.

Sixth, Harmon Killebrew.

The second time I went to the Grand Hotel for autographs at age 13, I walked into the lobby and saw Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew, and Jim Perry of the Minnesota Twins sitting on a couch.  They all signed, but Killebrew was especially pleasant.

Killebrew was nicknamed “The Killer.”  He was a great home run hitter and was the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1969.

The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, is built on the site of the original ballpark of the Minnesota Twins.  There is a sign on the wall … high above a flume ride … to mark where Killebrew once hit a baseball.

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But he was also one of the nicest ballplayers for autographs.  If he had time, he would sign whatever you gave him.

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I once asked him to sign a 1956 Topps card.  (It was his second card.)  He told me, “Are you sure you want me to sign that?  It’s worth some money.”  But I didn’t collect cards for their monetary value … I collected them so players would sign them … which he did happily.

When I was collecting, Killebrew was one of the two nicest players in the American League.

When Killebrew died, his memorial service was held at the church I was attending in Peoria, Arizona, and the public was invited.  The Minnesota Twins were in town to play the Arizona Diamondbacks, so that Friday morning, many of the Twins players attended.

They showed a video of Killebrew … who had been retired for about 35 years when the video was taken … signing autographs for a crowd of fans at Target Field in Minneapolis.

And he had a long name.

Next week, I’ll share more memories/impressions from players like Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

And the Mantle and Mays stories are the best.

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For many years, I struggled with jealousy toward those in ministry who seemed more successful than I was.

In my mid-twenties, I was a full-time youth/Christian education director at a church in Orange County, California.  A friend I’ll call Ben … the pastor’s son … was a youth pastor at a church I had admired all my life, and he was making plans to attend seminary outside California.

Ben recommended that the church hire me as his replacement, and since many people already knew me, that’s what happened.

But right off the bat, I ran into resistance.

One high school girl told me that she felt sorry for me because I didn’t compare to Ben.

The adult youth leaders openly resisted my leadership.

An adult youth leader once stared at me and finally said, “Jim, you’re just so different than Ben” … intimating that wasn’t a good thing.

The following Christmas, Ben returned to the church and spoke on Sunday to a packed house where I was forced to sit on the platform and watch the lovefest between him and the congregation.  It hurt … immensely.

When I left that church three-and-a-half years later, I tried to pave the way for the next youth pastor.

A few years later, the pastor retired, and who did the church hire as their new pastor?  That’s right … Ben.

When I left that church, I became pastor of a small church in Silicon Valley.  Pastor Joe led the largest church in the area, and one Sunday when I was on vacation, I took my family to that megachurch.

It was so crowded that we sat on the last row of the balcony.  It was a hot day … the a/c wasn’t working … and we could barely see the stage.

But boy, could Pastor Joe pack them in!

I served a church of less than 100 people, and Pastor Joe pastored 2000 … and had co-written a book with someone who had a study Bible named after him.

To me, Pastor Joe was the epitome of success … and I felt great jealousy toward Pastor Joe because he seemed wildly successful while I was not.

But then something happened that profoundly impacted those feelings.

I had started a Spiritual Leadership Retreat for pastors and their board members in our district the year before.

Pastors often attend conferences … return home … tell their board members what they learned … but meet resistance because the board didn’t hear what the pastor heard.

So, I thought … let’s get pastors and their boards together, bring in a speaker, let him do a few sessions, and then after each session, ask the pastors and their boards to discuss the speaker’s ideas immediately.

We needed a speaker for our second retreat, and someone suggested Pastor Joe, so I contacted him, and we met in a restaurant to talk.

Going into that luncheon, I was greatly intimidated by Pastor Joe.  After all, he was a SOMEBODY while I was a NOBODY.

But during our three hours together, he poured out his heart to me about all the problems he was having in his church.

The biggest problem involved a staff member who was single and had been caught having sex with another woman.

The pastor and his elders decided to remove this man from his position … keep him at the church … put him under an accountability group … and give him a job as a church custodian.

Pastor Joe could not have predicted the avalanche of criticism he would receive.  He had received 300 letters that he could not bear to answer about the decision he and the board had made.  Half the writers felt the decision was too strict, while half felt the decision was too lenient.

The pastor also shared some shocking news with me.  While he had a degree from a Bible college, he had never gone to seminary, and his lack of a master’s degree made him feel very insecure.

So he overstudied.  He spent 15 hours a week on his Sunday morning message … 15 hours on his Sunday evening message … and 20 hours on his Wednesday night message.

Why did he spent 20 hours on his midweek message, I wondered?

Because, he told me, on several occasions, he stood up to speak and John MacArthur was sitting in the congregation, and Joe didn’t want to say anything inaccurate.

The three hours I spent with that pastor did more to cure me of jealousy than anything I’ve ever experienced.

Here is what I’ve learned about jealousy over the years:

First, we should never compare ourselves to others because God has made us all so different.

Whitey Herzog was a Hall of Fame manager who led both the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals to World Series championships.

During his heyday in the 1980s, Herzog was often considered to be the best manager in baseball, an accolade he disputed.  He said the only way to tell the best manager was to give several managers the exact same players and see where they finished at the end of the year … an impossible feat.

In the same way, the only way to compare pastors would be to take a few of them … put them all in the same community … give them the same number of people … give them the same size campus and buildings … give them identical staffs and board members … give them the same income … and then see how they fared five years later.

But since that’s completely unrealistic, why even try to compare ourselves with others?

It may be human, but it’s ultimately counterproductive.

Second, jealousy often doesn’t start inside of us but within the followers of others.

Before Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, John’s ministry took people by storm, and his followers reveled in their access to this superstar and his fame.

But then Jesus came along and began baptizing as well.  The Baptism Wars were ready to start when John’s disciples said to him in John 3:26, “Rabbi, that man [notice they won’t name Jesus] who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

There wasn’t any problem between John and Jesus.  The problem was with John’s followers.

In the story I told above about Pastor Ben … the youth pastor I succeeded … there wasn’t any problem between us.  We often met for meals at denominational events and laughed about my perception of the way people adored him.

And years later, I served as his teaching pastor for sixteen months.

Since we can’t stop people from comparing us to others, we either have to plug our ears or realize that we have our admirers as well, even if they aren’t as numerous or vocal.

Third, our job isn’t to become famous or well-loved, but to carry out God’s unique assignment for us.

In John 3:27-29, John tells his followers that he knows his role very well.  Jesus is the bridegroom, and John’s assignment is to be Jesus’ friend, or best man.

In other words, John says, who cares what people think about me as long as Jesus receives the spotlight?

That’s what he meant when he said, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

During my second staff assignment, I occasionally preached from the church’s large pulpit.  There was a small plaque attached to it that only the preacher could view.  The plaque read, “Sir, we must see Jesus.”

I’ve heard guys preach who told story after story where they were the heroes … and those individuals often acquired a large following.

But like John, there comes a time when we all have to say, “I don’t even care if people remember my name as long as they see Jesus.”

And since He’s why we serve, there’s no reason to be jealous of Him.

Fourth, every pastor has his successes … but they only last for a season.

After a very slow start, I’ve had some successes in ministry:

*I once appeared with several other pastors on a live radio program in the Bay Area.  I was very nervous going in, but talked quite a lot, and when I drove back to my church for our midweek Bible study, the congregation gathered in the lobby to greet me.

While that was cool, nothing really happened because of it.

*I pastored the largest Protestant church in a city of 75,000 for years.

But it didn’t last.

*The starting quarterback of the Oakland Raiders attended my church one year right before the season started.

But he only came for three weeks … and went on to became the worst quarterback in the league.

*I earned a doctoral degree, and enjoyed my classwork immensely.

But two years after graduation, I was forced out as pastor.

*I wrote a book, which I never thought I’d do, and it’s fun to see it on Amazon.

But the paperback has stopped selling, and as of this writing, it’s number 2,176,901 on Amazon, although I did sell one today, which will probably help me jump over a million places.

Our perceived ministry successes often don’t last very long.  John the Baptist’s ministry came and went quickly.  Jesus’ ministry lasted less than four years.

Years ago, I became convinced that success in ministry can only be measured by faithfulness.  On occasion, God lets us taste greater success, but it rarely lasts forever, because …

Finally, great success is often followed by great suffering.

When Paul ascended to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12, he said he “heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”

Paul was tempted to say, “Wow!  I’ll bet nobody else has had this experience!  I am obviously someone very special!”

But, Paul writes, “to keep me from becoming conceited” he received “a thorn in my flesh,” some kind of nagging bodily ailment.

When I sat in that restaurant with Pastor Joe, and heard him tell me about the 300 critical letters he had received, I reminded myself of an adage I had often heard:

“Big churches have big problems … small churches have small problems.”

At that moment, I realized that if I were ever to pastor a large church, I would probably have to suffer greatly … and I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay the price.

And I was instantly cured of jealousy.

A year-and-a-half after our initial meeting, Pastor Joe died.  I never found out what killed him, but mean-spirited criticism, constant stress, and sitting in a chair studying fifty hours a week surely didn’t help.

Several years later, that church of 2000 had plunged to 400 … and was barely holding on.

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When I was in seminary, we had to attend chapel four times a week.  Because we had to leave for work after chapel, my friend Dave and I both sat together on the back row.

Today, Dave pastors a large church.  He’s on the radio every day in many US markets.  I often watch his service on Roku.  He has a lot of influence in the Calvary Chapel movement.  He wrote the notes for The Word for Today Study Bible.  He hosted Chuck Smith’s question and answer radio program with Chuck many times … especially at the end of Chuck’s life.

I don’t feel any jealousy toward Dave.  He’s been my friend for nearly 50 years.  I know how gifted he is and how hard he’s worked over the years.

In fact, I’m happy for him … and when the Lord takes me home, I want Dave to conduct my memorial service.

Dave has a very public ministry.  By contrast, mine is quite private.

I spent two hours on the phone yesterday with a leader who has been struggling with some issues in his church.  The situation is complex … without easy answers … but I know I was able to help him.

At this point in my life, I wouldn’t trade places with Dave for anything.  I am quite content with my small ministry and glad that the Lord has called me to it.

And in the end, isn’t the antidote to jealousy to be content with the place, people, status, and salary the Lord has given us?

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