Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Personal Stories’ Category

The first time I interviewed to become the pastor of a church, I met a church crank.

He remained a thorn in my side for years.  Know anyone like that?

The deacons of a small church in Sunnyvale, California, received and reviewed my resume, and one Sunday night, the chairman called and asked me if I could preach at their church the following Sunday.

I said yes.

So my wife and I flew to San Jose and were picked up by the chairman, who drove us to the elementary school where the church met.

Inside a brown classroom, I met four deacons … all of them at least sixty years of age.  The chairman was 74.  The others were all over 60.

And I was just 27.

A deacon I’ll call Warren stood out because of his booming voice and his burly appearance … and as I would soon find out, he had quite a temper.

The sermon went well the following day … the people loved us … I preached a candidating sermon the following Sunday … and the church voted to issue me a call, which I accepted.

Little did I know it, but over the next few years, I would have many off balance encounters with Warren, even though his wife … twenty years his junior … was a delightful person.

For years, Warren had been a pastor in a small coastal town in Northern California.  He once told me that tapes of his sermons were circulating around the world.

But Warren wasn’t in church ministry anymore because he had been divorced.  I never learned the circumstances.

Every Sunday morning at our church, Warren made announcements before everyone went to Sunday School.  But one Sunday, Warren acted and spoke bizarrely … and I noticed his wife wasn’t with him.

When I got home from church, I called her … and she told me she was divorcing Warren … and shared with me some startling information.

When it became evident that Warren’s wife was serious about divorcing him, I couldn’t let him remain a deacon.  While I didn’t know why his first marriage had fallen apart, his second marriage was crumbling right before our eyes.

I spoke with the other deacons, and they reluctantly agreed with me: Warren had to step down from the board.

That was one of the hardest meetings of my life.  Warren was more than twice my age.  He had been a pastor for years.  And now I had to go to his house and tell him that he needed to step down from the board where he served with his friends.

To his credit, Warren seemed to understand.

But six months later, his deacon friends lobbied for me to reinstate him, telling me that he had “suffered enough.”

Although I didn’t want to, I reluctantly permitted Warren to return as a deacon … and lived to regret it.

Over the next few years, Warren did the following things:

*One Wednesday night, I taught on the resurrection of Jesus, and stated that it couldn’t be proven scientifically, which is true.  Warren stood up and yelled loudly, “Then we’re all wasting our time here!”  And he opened a heavy classroom door and slammed it … hard … and then left the school.  We all sat there in shock.  When we spoke later, he confessed that I was too good a theologian to make a reckless statement.

*Another time, I was reading a book on discipleship by British theologian David Watson, and included a quote from the book in a newsletter article.  Warren called me at home and lit into me about my use of that quote.  I had to calm him down before explaining what I meant.

*When our church rewrote our doctrinal statement, I included a section about the death and resurrection of Christ.  Warren angrily confronted me after a service because I had left out Christ’s burial!  (I left out the appearances as well … but only for brevity.)

*One Sunday night, our church held a business meeting, and Warren thought a certain woman had just criticized him publicly.  He stood up and yelled at the entire congregation when he was really upset with her.  Later that week, I had to tell him that if he didn’t apologize to the entire congregation the following Sunday night, he couldn’t be on the board anymore.  He apologized … sort of.

*The former deacon chairman was also the song leader on Sunday mornings and evenings.  He became angry with me over a petty issue and asked to come to a board meeting to complain about me.  He brought along a witness: Warren.  (The next day, the song leader left the church, but Warren stayed.)

*Although Warren eventually stopped being a board member, he did teach a Sunday School class for seniors.  One Sunday morning, I was sitting in the church office and could hear Warren teaching through the wall.  He was ripping things our church was doing … things I had full board approval to do … but Warren didn’t like them, and let his fellow seniors know what he really thought.

*Before I knew it, that seniors class began making demands … and their primary demand was that I should no longer be the pastor.  The board at that time all stood behind me, and the seniors left the church and started a new church in a school a mile away … with Warren as their pastor.  (He wasn’t their pastor for long, and the church disbanded within a year.)

But what Warren really wanted to do was return to some form of paid ministry, either as a pastor or a missionary.  He applied to many Christian organizations, but they all turned him down.  He married for the third time, but those two divorces, which he had to disclose on any application, killed his chances for employment.

Since he was out of options in the larger Christian community, I wonder if he wanted to take me out … hoping that somehow, people would turn to him as pastor.

Warren wasn’t necessarily a church bully, but he was a church crank.

And church cranks have the following characteristics, among others:

*They become known for their incessant, uncontrollable complaining.

*They become irritated over issues that don’t bother anyone else.

*They view themselves as leaders while few others do.  (Who wants to follow a crank?  You’ll just have more crankiness.)

*They have no idea how they sound or look to others.

*They make people anxious and even afraid.

*They sometimes make complaints that become contagious.

*They don’t intend to undermine their pastor but end up harming him anyway.

*They apologize enough to maintain their standing in the church.

Without doubt, Warren was a church crank.

What should pastors do with church cranks?

Let me share four ideas:

First, pastors should let cranks know how to register complaints.

Charles Spurgeon used to tell the cranks in his church to write down their complaints so he could better deal with them.  Of course, nobody wanted to do that!

Over the years, I devised a simple policy about complaints:

*If your complaint is about the pastor personally, then speak to him personally before you do anything else.

*If your complaint involves church policy, then speak to anyone who makes policy … usually members of the official board.

A pastor can’t command cranks not to complain, but pastors can insist that a crank’s complaints be directed to the right person.

And if the crank won’t follow the complaint policy, then he or she must be confronted and disciplined … or the crank may someday try and take out the pastor.

Second, pastors should encourage mature churchgoers to confront cranks about their behavior.

When I was in my late twenties, I was correcting a church leader twice my age … and it wasn’t easy or natural for me.

I needed church leaders and Warren’s friends to sit down and speak with him about his behavior … but either they were too afraid of him or they were afraid a confrontation might end their friendship with him.

So it fell to me as the pastor by default.

My father-in-law told me many times, “Jim, if there is any confrontation that needs to happen in your church, you’re going to have to do it.  Laymen won’t confront laymen.”

But they might … if their pastor asked them to do so.

When an older man keeps making a fool of himself inside his congregation, it may be because nobody had the courage to confront him earlier in his life.

But by the time a crank is in his sixties, how much he is really going to change?

Third, pastors need to watch their backs when cranks are around.

Because Warren usually came to me personally whenever he was upset about something, I never suspected that he would go underground and try to take me out as pastor.

But in the end, that’s exactly what he did.

Pastors can give cranks some attention, but you can’t give them too much because they’ll just want more … and because they’ll drain a pastor of energy.

Since a pastor can’t be omnipresent on a church campus, I should have asked a board member to monitor Warren’s behavior on Sundays.

We could have confronted him proactively from a position of strength rather than defending ourselves against him from a position of weakness.

Finally, church cranks usually leave a mixed legacy.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Warren recently, but while I can easily remember tough encounters with him, I can only recall a couple of times where we really got along.

I tried spending time with Warren.  One time, I visited the elementary school classroom where he served as teacher.  Another time, we drove to Mount Hermon together for a men’s retreat.

But I never knew when he would explode for no reason at all.

When Warren died, I was not asked to conduct his funeral, and I’m glad I wasn’t asked.  I don’t know what I would have said!

Maybe he said some encouraging words to me at times.  Maybe he told me that he was praying for me.  Maybe he told me, “That was a great sermon” after I preached.  Maybe he put his arm around me and said, “Jim, I’m so glad you’re our pastor.”

Maybe he did all those things … and more.

It’s just that I don’t have any recollection that he ever did.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

I once met the president of the San Francisco Giants while walking to my church.

Nearly twenty years ago, my wife and daughter and I moved from Glendale, Arizona to a city near Oakland, California.  I had been asked by a pastor friend to be his associate pastor with the idea that when he retired, I would become the senior/lead pastor.

The day we arrived in town, a vice president for Safeway, who attended the church, dropped dead of a heart attack.

The executive’s memorial service was scheduled in the early afternoon after Sunday services, and as I walked from home toward the church, I found myself walking parallel to Peter Magowan, the president and managing general partner of my favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, who was walking into the church.  (The following year, he would be named Sports Executive of the Year.)  Magowan was also the former CEO of Safeway and the current chairman of their board and had worked with the vice president.  At the time, Magowan’s group was putting the finishing touches on Pac Bell Park, the Giants’ new stadium, now termed At&T Park.

I greeted him by saying, “Hello, Mr. Magowan.”  I then told him that I had been at Candlestick Park the day before to watch the Giants play the Dodgers.  The Dodgers rallied in the ninth inning to beat the Giants, and I told Magowan that it was a tough loss.  He replied, “Tell me about it.  I didn’t sleep at all last night.”

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege … as just an average fan … of meeting many well-known people connected to baseball, mostly by asking for their autograph.  Intellectually, I know that baseball players are just ordinary individuals, but since I started collecting baseball cards in 1960 (at the age of six), I have admired baseball players, and secured the signatures of many players I first encountered on cards … and there is something magical about that experience.

_______________

I began collecting autographs at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim, California in 1967, when I was thirteen years old.  The visiting American League teams all stayed at the Grand … except for the Kansas City A’s, who stayed at the Jolly Roger Inn.  From 1967 through 1972, I usually went to the hotel at least once per series.

The Grand could be a tough place to get autographs because the bellhops didn’t want any collectors inside the lobby.  Most of the time, we’d have to wait outside for the players to emerge as they took a taxi or the bus to what was then called Anaheim Stadium.

Around 1971, I began going to hotels in Los Angeles with friends to get the autographs of National League Teams.  Most stayed at the famous Biltmore Hotel in Pershing Square (my parents both attended The Bible Institute of Los Angeles across the square from the Biltmore in the early 1950s), while the Atlanta Braves stayed at the Sheraton West near MacArthur Park and the Giants stayed at the Ambassador Hotel (where Robert Kennedy was shot).  On several occasions, after getting autographs at the Biltmore, my friend Steve and I would walk uphill to Dodger Stadium for that night’s game.

When I became a pastor, I always hoped that a current or former major league baseball player would attend my church, but in my last church, I did have the privilege of having Irv Eatman, former 11-year NFL veteran and an offensive line coach for the Oakland Raiders, in my church.  He was the only person who wore a suit every Sunday!

I have hundreds of stories about getting the autographs of baseball players, whether at hotels, the ballparks, spring training, a golf tournament, or a card show.  But most of the time, I’d hand the player some cards, he’d sign them, he’d hand them back, I’d say, “Thank you,” and that would be it.  Sometimes, I was too intimidated to say anything to the player at all.

But as the following stories indicate, on occasion, I’d have a more extended conversation with a current or former player, such as:

Steve Garvey, San Diego, 1972.

The Dodgers used to stay at the Town & Country Inn in San Diego.  It’s a sprawling complex (my wife and I stayed there for an anniversary several years ago).  The Dodgers stayed at the back of the complex in a large tower.  They would come down an elevator and either walk through the complex to get a taxi at the front or wait for the bus in the back parking lot.

One Saturday, my friends Steve and Terri accompanied me to the hotel, and early in the afternoon, we got the autograph of Steve Garvey, who was at the time a third baseman who couldn’t throw.  Garvey and his wife Cyndy were sitting by the pool, and after we got his autograph, they began talking with us … for about twenty minutes.  They were both so nice that we couldn’t believe it.  (By contrast that day, Dodger pitcher Al Downing yelled at us when we asked him for his autograph … and he was known as Gentleman Al.)

Garvey became the National League Most Valuable Player two years later, in 1974, and I watched him hit two home runs against the Pirates in the final League Championship Game at Dodger Stadium that same year.  Garvey was a fan favorite in Los Angeles, and often came through in the clutch, especially in All-Star games, playoff games, and the World Series.

Garvey worked hard at pleasing his fans and was always a great signer.

Many years later, I saw Garvey before an exhibition game at UC Berkeley, and I told him that I thought he should be in the Hall of Fame.  He smiled and said, “Thanks.”

Cyndy went on to become a TV hostess and actress.

Six years later, I took this photo at the same hotel:

Davey Lopes, San Diego, 1978.

I once had the pennant hopes for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the front seat of my car.

In 1978, the All-Star Game was held in San Diego, and my friends Steve and John went with me to the Sheraton Harbor Hotel to get autographs the day before the game.  (It was quite a day.  George Brett was actually nice … I told Willie Stargell a story … and I had my only encounter with Howard Cosell.)

Players from both leagues would emerge from the hotel and take taxis over to the ballpark, but when Davey Lopes – second baseman for the Dodgers – came out, all the cabs were gone.  Thinking quickly, I told Lopes, “I’ll take you to the ballpark,” and after sizing up me and my friends, he said, “Okay, let’s go.”

During the fifteen minutes it took to get to the ballpark, the three of us talked to Lopes about the Dodgers’ pennant chances.  Lopes initially asked if there was anything we wanted him to sign, and he was very gracious.  Since he was leading off for the National League the next day, I told him what kind of pitches Frank Tanana, the starting pitcher for the American League, threw.  (It didn’t help.  Tanana got Lopes out.)

The whole time I was driving Lopes to the ballpark, I kept thinking to myself, “Drive perfectly.  You have the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter in your passenger seat.”

When we got to the ballpark, there were thousands of cars already there for the Monday festivities, but because Lopes was a player, we were escorted right to the front, where I dropped him off.

The Dodgers went on to win the National League pennant in 1978, only to be defeated the second year in a row by the dreaded New York Yankees in the World Series.  Lopes hit three home runs and knocked in seven runs in that Series.  I attended the last game at Dodger Stadium – Goose Gossage got the save – but I got to see the little second baseman who had been in my car hit a home run.

Pete Falcone, San Francisco, 1984.

Pete Falcone was a left-handed pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, and the Atlanta Braves in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

At the time, I pastored a church in Santa Clara, California … in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Fridays were my day off, and that usually meant driving north to Daly City and taking BART to downtown San Francisco so I could get autographs of the visiting teams who stayed at the Westin St. Francis Hotel across from Union Square.

On this particular day, a fellow collector named Bob met me in the lobby of the St. Francis (it was a GREAT place to get autographs because nobody from the hotel ever bugged us) and we got Falcone’s autograph.  We started talking, Falcone found out I was a pastor, and he told me he was a Christian who attended a small church of thirty people in the Atlanta area.

The next thing we knew, Falcone invited both Bob and I to lunch at the restaurant in the back of the hotel.

I should have gone home and recorded as much of the conversation as I could remember, but I didn’t.  But Falcone treated us both very well … like men … and it was really cool.  At one point, we both lamented the passing of Keith Green, a Christian music artist who had died several years before in a plane crash.

After lunch, Falcone left us tickets for that night’s game.  After at least a 90-minute ride home, I loaded my brother-in-law Kevin and my four-year-old son Ryan in my 1963 Chevy Nova and headed up the 101 Freeway toward Candlestick Park.  Caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the fast lane, the three cars in front of me collided, and to avoid them, I quickly swerved my car to the left … and hit a chain link fence that served as a barrier.  When my head thrust forward, I chipped my two front teeth on the steering wheel.  (Those who were in the collision were all bloodied and walking around in a daze.)

I was in too much pain to proceed to the ballpark, so I turned around … found a dentist the next morning who capped my teeth temporarily … and called Falcone at the hotel and told him why I didn’t show up.

When the Braves next came to town, I said hi to him on the field.  That was the last time I ever saw him … but I’ve never forgotten his kindness.

Luke Appling and Minnie Minoso, Oakland, 1987/1988.

In the late 1980s, the Equitable Group sponsored a series of Old Timers games all over Major League Baseball.  I always looked forward to those games because it meant that former players would show up … and since some of them didn’t answer their mail, the only way to get their autographs was in person.

For example, Jack Smalling, who has compiled a list of current and former players’ addresses for years, once listed the top ten players he couldn’t find.  One of them was Jim Ray Hart, former third baseman for the San Francisco Giants.  Hart turned up before an Old Timers game at the Hyatt Hotel in Oakland, and he signed … and smeared … every card I gave him.  (He didn’t mean to smear the cards.  He probably hadn’t signed anything in so long that he didn’t know autograph protocol.)

Anyway, one Saturday afternoon, my son Ryan and I drove up to the Hyatt Hotel in Oakland to try and get the autographs of the Old Timers who were staying there.  (Fifteen years later, I would be the pastor of a church five minutes away from the site of that hotel … after it had been bulldozed down.)

That night, while waiting in the small lobby of the Hyatt, former White Sox greats Luke Appling and Minnie Minoso came into the lobby and sat down.  There were a few collectors there, and both men signed everything they were handed.  And then they started conversing with us … just like we were regular people.

Luke Appling, a shortstop with the Chicago White Sox his whole career, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964.  (I knew a pastor’s wife who babysat for Appling’s family when she was a teenager.)  Minnie Minoso was one of my father’s favorite players.

Minnie Minoso Signed Cards 2 001

Once again, I wish I had gone home and written down what these two men said, but the message I received from them was, “I like baseball fans, and you guys are fans, so let’s talk baseball.”  Few current or former players convey that attitude anymore.

Let me tell you about the camaraderie I once enjoyed with other collectors.  That night, I left the hotel without getting the autograph of Joe Black, a pitcher for the Dodgers from the early 1950s.  I asked a collector if he would get Black’s autograph for me if he saw him, and he said he would.  The next time I saw that collector, he gave me all six cards back … signed.

Alvin Dark, Garden Grove, California, 1980.

Alvin Dark was the shortstop for the famed 1951 New York Giants who beat the Dodgers in a three-game playoff under manager Leo Durocher, who named him team captain.  He was also the Giants’ shortstop when they swept the Indians in the 1954 World Series.

After his solid playing career was over, Dark became the manager of the San Francisco Giants in the early 1960s, managing Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Juan Marichal, among many others.

He also went on to manage the World Champion Oakland A’s in 1974 and the San Diego Padres a few years later.

Dark, who was a Christian, had just written a book called, When in Doubt, Fire the Manager.  The head of our church’s men’s group asked Dark … who was living about an hour south of our city near San Diego … to speak for our men’s group.

Fortunately, the head of the men’s group knew I was a huge baseball fan, and he arranged for me to sit by Dark for the evening.

Dark’s Oakland A’s beat my Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series in 1974, and I remembered watching player after player hit weak ground balls to Bert Campaneris (the A’s shortstop) or Sal Bando (their third baseman).  I asked Dark about it.

He told me, “I told our pitchers to throw the ball on the outside corner.  If a pitch was called a strike, I’d tell them to throw it another inch outside.”  Time after time, I watched as the Dodgers’ right-handed batters tried to pull those outside pitches and grounded out easily.  It was all part of a strategy!

Even though it was still painful to watch, we watched highlights of the 1974 World Series and received expert commentary from the A’s manager, who signed all the items I had … including his book … after the banquet.

That was a long time ago!

_______________

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I lived near Oakland, California during my last church ministry … and used to see the current manager of the Oakland A’s all the time.

Back in 2000, the A’s and Yankees were playing a best-of-five series in the American League Divisional Series for the right to go to the World Series.  The Yankees won Game 5 in Oakland and it was heartbreaking.

The Saturday after Game 5, my wife and I were working in our garage when I saw A’s manager Art Howe walking his two dogs across the street.  I had been told that he lived in the apartment complex across from us, and there he was.  My wife told me, “He looks so sad.”  I said, “He thought he was going to manage the A’s tonight in the World Series.  Instead, they’re at home and the Yankees are in the Series … again.”

After that, I saw Art Howe from time-to-time in our community.  I once passed an ice cream parlor and he was sitting next to the window.  One time, I was backing out of a parking place, turned around, and Howe was waiting to take my place.  He smiled and waved at me.

If you’re read the book Moneyball or seen the movie, Howe was the manager during that period in A’s history.

When I first started collecting autographs, it was like torture for me to overcome my introversion and ask a player to sign something.  Over time, I learned to become more extroverted while approaching players because that was the only way I was ever going to get anything signed.  I have always tended to defer to people who have a greater social status than I do, so I’m grateful for those few times that someone connected to baseball treated me like a human being.

I’ll share some other stories soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

One Friday night in winter … nearly twenty years ago … the Bay Area church I was pastoring advertised that we were going to have snow for the kiddies.

Since it never snowed in our area, the snow had to be imported on a truck.

My wife … who ordered the snow and was coordinating the event … was anxious.  She promised snow at 7:30 pm, but the truck got lost.

Finally, the driver found his way to our campus … almost an hour late.

A man from our church … who was in his eighties … was present that night and put things into perspective when he said, “Pastor, a good church is hard to find.”

Amen to that!

Until I was 56 years old, I never had to search for a church:

*During my childhood, my dad was a pastor, so I went to the churches he served, mostly in Orange County.

*For the next eight years, I attended where my family attended.

*From ages 19 through 27, I was a staff member in three churches.

*After that, I served as the solo or senior pastor of three churches.

So for most of my life, I didn’t have to search for a church home … but that all changed after we left our last church in 2009.

While living in Arizona, it took my wife and me a long six months to find a church home.

But when we moved to the Inland Empire in Southern California six years ago, finding a church home became a complicated and painful experience.

We’ve had three church homes over the past five-and-a-half years: a Baptist church, a Calvary Chapel, and a Reformed Church.

We left the Baptist church because it was too far away to become socially involved … and because they were much too ingrown.

We left the Calvary Chapel because their worship time was becoming weirder.

We left the Reformed Church because, while they didn’t do much that was wrong, they didn’t do much that was right, either.

So now … once again … my wife and I are searching for a church home.

What are we looking for in a home church?

Five things:

First, we want to hear a biblically based, intelligent sermon.

Most pastors in our area offer a sermon based in Scripture.  That’s the easy part.

But most pastors don’t offer a sermon with much, if any, intelligence.

As a former pastor, I want a pastor to:

*Give us evidence that you’ve immersed yourself in the text.

*Show us that the passage under study has passed through and touched you.

*Share with us a quote … a story … an application that is fresh and moving.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones … one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century … sometimes visited churches in America.  Pastors would get up to preach and be astounded to see the good doctor sitting in their congregation.

Lloyd-Jones said he looked for one primary thing in a sermon: evidence of the presence of God.

I’ve tried to apply that standard to the sermons I’ve heard, but I don’t always succeed.

Lloyd-Jones also summed up what a great sermon is in three words: “Logic on fire!”

I hear fire sometimes in the churches we visit.  Sadly, I don’t hear much logic.

On Sunday, April 1, my daughter and I attended an Easter service at All Souls Church in London, England, where John Stott had been the pastor years before.

The Minister of Evangelism gave the sermon that morning, and knocked it out of the park.

There was logic … and there was fire.

I loved it.

My longtime friend Dave Rolph preaches live on Roku every Sunday morning from his Orange County church.  (He’s also on the radio here in SoCal.)  I watch Dave’s sermon most Sunday mornings because while he’s thoroughly biblical, he’s also original, thinks broadly, and offers stories and applications that make me think.

With most sermons I hear, I forget them as soon as I hear them.  With Dave, his insights sometimes stay with me for days.

Second, we want the worship music to be singable and meaningful.

By singable, I mean that the band on stage isn’t playing too loud.  You can hear the people around you singing … not just the music … and you don’t have to strain to sing yourself.

By meaningful, I mean the songs are not selected because they’re currently popular, but because they say something significant about the Lord.  The words are both theologically accurate and touching.

Many churches in our area offer music that’s too loud for singing.  You can hear the band and singers on stage, but you can’t hear anyone around you.

And so many of the song lyrics are repetitious.  I refuse to sing the same words over and over for no reason.

The trend in many churches is to sing the same song for eight to ten minutes … like what you’ll hear at a Chris Tomlin concert.

That may work for some people, but it doesn’t work for me.  What is the point of singing the same words five and seven and nine times?

My son attends a Calvary Chapel that uses acoustic music.  You can hear the voices around you.  I enjoy their worship times.

My daughter attends a Reformed church that also uses acoustic music.  The words to the songs are elegant and deeply moving.

I’d attend either church in a heartbeat … but my son’s church is 60 miles away, and my daughter’s church is 500 miles away.

I’m sure there are churches out there that offer what we’re looking for.  I just don’t know where they are.

Third, we want to meet people who are in our socioeconomic background.

This is a big problem for us around here.

I grew up in suburban Anaheim, California.  Every church I pastored was located in a suburban area as well.

I don’t fit in an urban environment, and I don’t fit in a rural environment, either.

My wife and I spent 27 years ministering in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We fit best with the people in that region.  They are “our people.”

But we don’t live there … we live in the Inland Empire … and much of our community is rural … along with the communities ten miles north, west, and east of us.

This is really tough for us.  We don’t want to come off as snobs.  We aren’t better than the people around here … we’re just different.

There are churches around here where most of the people have tattoos or piercings.  Praise God that those people know the Lord … but it makes us feel very uncomfortable.

You can’t determine a “relational fit” from a church website.  You have to visit the church first.

And this is a major reason why we visit most churches only once.

Fourth, we want to be theologically compatible with the church’s faith and practice.

Two Sundays ago, my wife and I visited a church 15 miles south of us.

There was nothing on the church website that indicated the kind of church they were.

After a couple of worship songs, I turned to my wife and said, “This is a charismatic church.”

Now there is nothing wrong per se with a charismatic church … it’s just not our preference.

The pastor’s son spoke that morning … at a supersonic rate.  He spoke on the Lord’s appointing and anointing.

My wife wanted to walk out after a few minutes.  He was making us both highly anxious by his rapid-fire delivery.

I told her later that in some churches, when a pastor speaks fast, that’s an indication that he is anointed with the Holy Spirit.

After the sermon, the pastor asked everyone in the congregation to pray to receive Christ.  Everyone!

That, my friends, is manipulation, pure and simple … and I refuse to attend any church that uses manipulation.

We attended another church for a few months where a woman was on the staff.  That was okay.

But one Sunday, we came to church, and she delivered the sermon.

For us, that was not okay.

Churches aren’t going to tell you their peculiarities on their website.  You have to visit them first.

If you visit them a few times, they won’t hide their unique beliefs or practices very long.

And then you can decide if you want to stay or not.

Finally, we want to be able to use our spiritual gifts in service.

My top spiritual gift is teaching.

My wife’s passion is outreach.

I have tried to find a church that will let me use my teaching gift, but I keep hearing the same thing: the pastor is our only teacher.

And if the pastor shares his pulpit, he shares it with staff … or a visiting missionary … or an old pastor friend.

I’m not angling to preach.  I just want to teach God’s Word to God’s people.

In our community, my guess is that less than 10% of the churches even offer Sunday School or adult Bible classes.

And I don’t know where those churches are.

Instead, the churches offer small groups, which is good … but the whole idea of groups is that everyone participates … and no one teaches.

I suppose I could volunteer to clean toilets … or move chairs … or work in the nursery … or fill a slot somewhere.

Forgive me, but no thanks.

Since I can’t use my gifts inside a church, I write instead.

_______________

A couple weeks ago, my wife spent several hours looking for a church for us to visit.

She checked out dozens of websites … and only found a handful of churches that might appeal to us.

When I checked out the churches, I eliminated most of them for the reasons listed above.

I’ve decided to make a chart and rank the churches in priority order.

But my big concern is that we aren’t going to find a church where we fit.

Yes, we’ve visited several churches, and gone back two or three or more times … hoping that would become our church home.

But it just hasn’t worked out.

We’re not looking for a perfect church … just one where we fit.

There are many such churches in the Bay Area … and in Orange County.

There aren’t that many in the Inland Empire.

That older gentleman was right:

A good church is indeed hard to find.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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 …

DSCN3476

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 …

Trip to London May 15-21, 2009 2 599Trip to London May 15-21, 2009 2 601

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) …

DSCN6919DSCN0721DSCN0703

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.

Trip to London Oct. 6-13, 2008 089

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

BFCC Fall Fun Fest 2008 120

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.

IMG_1577

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.

DSCN5020

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).

DSCN6716

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: