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When a husband and wife aren’t getting along … and they can’t seem to resolve their issues … they may seek out a third party: a counselor.

When an employee feels she’s been wronged by her employer … and she’s tried but can’t resolve the issues inside her company … she may seek redress from a third party: a judge.

But when people in a church are in conflict and they aren’t able to resolve matters, what do they do?

They usually choose up sides … exonerate themselves … demonize their opponents … put their heads down … and attempt to bulldoze their way to victory … even if it splits their church wide open.

There is a better way.

Church conflict expert Speed Leas, in his brilliant manual Moving Your Church Through Conflict, believes there are five levels of conflict in a local church.

Leas says that conflict at levels one through three can be resolved by God’s people within their local church.

But when a conflict escalates to levels four and five, the conflict cannot be resolved inside the church.  It’s gone too far.

The church needs outside intervention instead.

But in my experience, the great majority of Christians resist that idea.

Years ago, I served as pastor of a church where we were being cheated by a building contractor.  He was billing us for his work … we’d pay him … but then rather than pay his sub-contractors, he’d divert the funds to other projects he had.

The sub-contractors were naturally upset that they weren’t being paid and came to us for the money … but we’d already paid the contractor.

We held a board meeting, and it was a bit tense because I wanted us to go to an attorney, while someone else felt it would be a waste of time.

I understand the sentiment: “Look, this is our problem, so we need to be the ones to solve it.  All we’ll do is make the attorneys richer.”

But sometimes, the biggest barrier to resolving a conflict is our pride.  We just don’t want to admit that someone else knows how to handle matters better than we do.

According to Leas, a conflict at Level Four has the following characteristics:

*Each group stops talking with the other, even when they’re in the same room.

*Each group is convinced that the other party “won’t change.”

*Each group no longer wants to win … they want to hurt the other side.

*Each group takes on an air of self-righteousness: “We’re right … they’re wrong.”

*Each group uses threats and demands against the other.

*Each group takes the stance: “Either he/they leave(s) or we will.”

When a conflict reaches Level Five, one side wants to destroy their opponents.

At Level Four, a faction may want their pastor to leave.

At Level Five, they want his position … his health … his family … and his career decimated.

I have been on the receiving end of both Level Four and Level Five conflict, and in both cases, the opposing group left the church.  In the first case, the conflict died down.  In the second case, the conflict got worse.

If a church is having a conflict, the chances are great that the pastor has become involved somehow.  Either he’s perceived as “the problem” or he hasn’t yet “fixed the problem.”  And the anxiety around the church becomes so great that people begin to wonder, “If our pastor is this incompetent or this useless, why should he stay?”

So when a conflict hits Level Four … or if it quickly leapfrogs to Level Five … the church board needs to seek outside intervention as soon as possible.

Here are five reasons to seek outside help:

First, the current church leadership has been unable to resolve the conflict at Levels One, Two, or Three where it’s much more manageable.  If they can’t manage things at the lower levels, they’ll never be able to manage matters at the highest levels.  They need an outsider.

Second, many church leaders have either been in their church for many years, or their present church is the only one they’ve ever known.  They’re so immersed in their present church culture that they don’t know how pastors and boards in other churches handle conflict … but an outside interventionist almost assuredly does.  He will help them broaden their thinking.

Third, pastors and church leaders can become so anxious and stressed about a conflict that they think they’re going crazy.  They become so irrational that all they want to do is get the conflict over with.  An outside interventionist comes in with a clean slate … no emotional investment … and a neutral approach that seeks the good of the church as a whole, not just the pastor, board, or a vocal faction.

Fourth, pastors and church leaders usually lose control of the process when a conflict erupts in their congregation.  An outside interventionist can remind everyone of what Scripture says, what the church constitution/bylaws say, and what secular law says about how Christians are to treat one another.  The interventionist can set ground rules for behavior and remind people when they have crossed the line.

Finally, the interventionist can teach the leaders … and by extension, the congregation … new skills, processes, and resources for managing conflict in the future.

Let me share my story along this line.

Seven-and-a-half years ago, I found myself in the worst conflict of my 36-year ministry career.  I didn’t know which Christian leaders to contact, so I contacted everyone I knew outside my denomination.

The name of a Christian leader popped into my head … someone who had once commended me on an article I wrote in a Christian magazine … so I looked him up online and made a phone appointment with him.

He had been a pastor … a district executive … and a denominational president.  Later on, I found out he was considered to be the best-networked evangelical leader in Southern California.

We had a two-hour conversation.  He gave me more valuable counsel over the phone that day than the other sixteen leaders I contacted combined.

He later became my mentor … and my friend … giving me hours of his valuable time, and advising me at key times when I needed to make a major decision.

My conversation with that leader was free.  He recommended I speak with the head of the consulting firm that he worked for, so a few hours later, I did.

After about a 45-minute conversation, the consulting head told me, “Jim, we need to get someone to your church as soon as possible.”

The next day, our church had been assigned a top Christian leader.  The following weekend, he dropped everything to fly to our area and help facilitate the conflict.

How much did he cost?

Think $5,000 to $10,000.  The better the interventionist, the more they cost.  If someone says they’ll do it for free, they’re probably not very good.

What did he do?

*He met with me and heard my side of things.

*He met with the church staff and interviewed them.

*He met with a group of church leaders and helped formulate strategy for two congregational meetings.

*He later met with both my wife and me.

*He stayed in constant contact with a transitional leadership group.

*He attended the two public meetings and became so incensed that he stood up after the second meeting and scolded the congregation.

*He did investigative work and uncovered a plot originating outside the church designed to force me out of office.

*He wrote a report and gave one copy to me and one to each of the transitional leaders.

*He told me that I had a future in ministry and made recommendations to the transitional leaders for a realistic severance package.

And he did it all in five days.

Who should a church hire as an interventionist?

I recommend … along with many other Christian leaders … that you don’t seek outside help from your denomination, at least initially.

Most denominational leaders aren’t trained in conflict intervention.  Even though they’ll make a pretense of acting neutral, any decisions they make will most likely be political.

And they usually recommend that the pastor leave the church, even if he is innocent of any and all charges.

If you do use denominational services, only go to them if every other avenue fails.

Here are some ideas about hiring an interventionist:

*Contact Peacemaker Ministries.  They often have trained interventionists and mediators in many communities, including former pastors and attorneys.

*Contact the executive pastor of a megachurch.  It’s nearly impossible to make contact with the lead pastor of a huge church, but you can often contact other staff members, like the executive or an associate pastor.

*Contact the seminary your church knows best, or the one you graduated from.  I was able to speak with a professor from my seminary who had extensive knowledge of church transitions and was able to give me valuable feedback.

*Contact Christian leaders who do this for a living, like Peter Steinke with BridgeBuilder.  I’ve had training directly from Steinke, and he focuses on the process that congregations should use to resolve conflicts rather than resolving matters by himself.

*Contact someone like me … a former pastor who has credentials in conflict management.

Two additional ideas:

First, make sure that you allow representatives from both sides to interview a consultant before he’s hired.  Don’t hire someone and then try and impose that person on the other side.  That will create even more conflict!

Finally, do your best to follow the consultant’s recommendations.  I’m amazed when a church hires a conflict consultant and then completely ignores his report.  How arrogant … or stupid … is that?  This usually happens in situations where either the pastor or the board is faulted in some way by the consultant and those leaders refuse to believe that they might be the problem.

By the way, when my church hired an attorney many years ago, that attorney … and someone else from his firm … not only saved our church … they also helped us settle a lawsuit that was eventually filed against us … and we settled for pennies on the dollar.

That incident completely changed my outlook on attorneys.

And hiring that consultant in 2009 changed my outlook on hiring church outsiders as well.

Is it possible that your church needs an outside interventionist?

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I ran into a little incident outside my bank yesterday that illustrates why some Christians create conflict in their churches.

My wife and I are buying a house, and while it’s a joyful time in some respects, it’s also very stressful.

Suddenly, we have to meet other people’s deadlines: producing bank statements … scanning documents … signing disclosures … scheduling an inspection … paying for an assessment … and figuring out how to turn brown dirt in the front and back yards into something attractive yet low-maintenance.

Yesterday, after several days of waiting, I finally received the go-ahead I needed to complete a financial transaction involving the house.  I promised someone I would send her the money by a certain time in the late afternoon, and I drove to the bank to finish the task with a few minutes to spare.

Only when I got to the bank, the teller … whom I have never met … told me in a “you’re stupid” tone that the deadline for completing the transaction had passed several hours before, and that I would have to come back this morning instead.

I felt the stress level rise quickly inside me.

As calmly as I could, I went to my car … called the woman who expected the funds … apologized to her for not sending them … backed up slowly … and began driving out of the parking lot.

As you leave the bank, there’s a lane on the right just past the building where cars can appear out of nowhere.  I always approach that small intersection cautiously.

And it’s a good thing I did, because a lady (I use that term loosely) came flying around the corner and nearly hit my car.

I froze … and then got out of my vehicle.

The driver pulled into a space in front of the bank, saw me, pointed right at me, and yelled, “MOVE ON!”

I loudly said, “You almost hit me!”

Then she used a creative combination of vulgar terms and yelled again, “MOVE ON!”

I wanted to move on, but I had to make my point, and I was so upset that the words weren’t coming.

Finally, I blurted out, “When you’re driving through a parking lot, SLOW DOWN!”

She used the creative combination again, and then threatened to call the police on me.  I told her, “Go ahead.  I’ll tell them what a bad driver you are.”

I got back in my car and drove away, not feeling real good about the encounter I had just experienced.

As I drove toward home, I thought to myself, “That person (she wasn’t a lady) was driving recklessly, and she’s probably had similar near-misses before … and she’s trained herself to act like a bully when she violates other people’s rights.”

Okay, that bit of psychoanalysis made me feel a tiny bit better.

But then I reflected on my own behavior, and I asked myself, “Why did I feel it necessary to confront that bully in the parking lot?  Why didn’t I just move on?”

Most of the time, I do.  In fact, I’ve trained myself to let most things go on the road.  It’s just not worth it.

But I know why I did it: right now, I am on emotional overload … my stress level is super high … and I lack a measure of self-control.

Now let’s think about some Christians in your church.

Let’s take Frank.  Frank is in his mid-60s.  In the past four months, he has undergone the following experiences:

*He’s been outsized at work and realizes his career is probably over.

*His work problems drove up his blood pressure so he’s now taking medication for that … and the medication has some strong side effects.

*Frank’s wife has recently been having memory problems, and Frank is worried that she might have … you know.

*One of Frank’s daughters recently separated from her husband, and she’s been coming over a lot more … sometimes staying the night.

So when Frank comes to church on Sunday mornings, he longs for an encounter with God.  He comes with a spirit in turmoil.  He hopes to depart with a spirit of peace.

But what happens instead?

*The music is pounding and seems louder than ever before.

*The announcements drag on and on … and several events are coming that Frank would like to attend, but he doesn’t have the money.

*The pastor’s message contains references to current movies that Frank would never see because he believes they’re immoral … but the pastor seems to love them.

*After the service, Frank hears that two of his best friends have left the church because they don’t like the music or the pastor’s preaching.

And Frank suddenly feels very much alone … in his own congregation.

Frank came to church highly anxious, hoping that God and His people would calm him down … but just the opposite happened.

And right now, Frank can’t handle his emotions.  He needs to talk to somebody about how he’s feeling.

He’d like to talk with the pastor, but he hasn’t been there long.  Frank doesn’t know him very well, and he’s afraid he’ll blow his top and end up a sermon illustration someday.

He’d like to express his displeasure to the music director, but doesn’t think it would do any good.

He’d like to talk to his wife, but she’s struggling to remember anybody’s names right now.

So when Frank gets home from church, he calls his friends who just left the church.

His friends rattle off a list of complaints … mainly about the pastor … and then Frank shares his grievances with them.

And before anyone knows it, a campaign to force out the pastor has begun.

Because this is where division begins in a church: when people begin to pool their complaints with one another rather than speaking directly with the person they’re upset with.

I’ve never tried to get rid of a pastor before, and I wouldn’t want to be a part of any campaign that had that as its goal.  I’d leave the church before I tried to push anyone out.

Yes, like the woman in the bank parking lot, some professing Christians are bullies.  They want to run the church their way … or else … and they will use threats and demands (they work well in churches that pride themselves on how loving they are) to intimidate the pastor.

But many churchgoers who end up causing trouble aren’t bullies … or even immature believers … but are ordinary believers who have been undergoing extraordinary stress in their lives.

They bring that stress with them to church, and if something at church adds to their anxiety, they start complaining … usually the first indicator that conflict is about to erupt.

Rather than dealing directly with their behavior, the pastor and/or key leaders might ask such people about their personal, family, and work lives instead:

*How is your husband or wife doing right now?

*How are your children doing?

*How are things at work?  How does that affect your career?

*How are you doing spiritually right now?  Emotionally?  Financially?

*How can we pray for you specifically?

*How can our church family assist you right now?

Many believers who end up creating havoc come to church highly stressed … become even more anxious when church doesn’t alleviate their anxiety … and finally decide to eliminate the source of their “church anxiety” … their pastor.

I don’t excuse it.

I do understand it.

And maybe … just maybe … understanding such anxiety can help church leaders address the concerns of “the anxious among them” in a more caring and compassionate manner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the following article, I use myself as an example of a pastor who had many advantages, yet still suffered burnout.  Could this article describe you or someone you know?

While reviewing some computer files recently, I stumbled upon a note I wrote to myself in July 2005 … and I was startled.

Four years later, right before a major conflict broke out in my church, I went to a Christian counselor, who tested me and revealed that I was “severely burned out and headed for a breakdown.”

What startled me about that file from 2005 is that I had all the symptoms of burnout four years before.

At the time I wrote the note to myself, I had many advantages:

I had a great family (still do) … had a regular quiet time … exercised regularly and vigorously … lived in a place some might consider paradise, just off the San Francisco Bay … engaged in several fulfilling hobbies … finished the course work for my D.Min degree … enjoyed time off that past year to Europe, Hawaii, and Washington D.C. … and was coordinating the final stages of the construction of a new worship center.

The board chairman … the person I respected most in that fellowship … always supported me and told me, “You are a home run for this church.”

God had placed me in a church setting that seemed optimal given my training, experience, temperament, and giftedness.

And yet, I wrote to myself in 2005, after 32 years in church work, that I was unsure if I wanted to stay in ministry.

Here are my actual words:

*I am tired of all the “church crap” that I have to endure: people leaving over trivial issues, sniping remarks – without being able to “fight back” at all.

*I am hurt by people I love criticizing me with unkind and unjust statements, either to my face or behind my back.

*I am already overwhelmed with all the pastoral duties I have, which will only get worse when we grow in size – and we aren’t staffed for an outpouring!

*I love Jesus and the church and ministry but no longer love church ministry.

*I have a board that wants me to manage the staff better but won’t give me the power to fire anyone.

*I make less money than my son and far less than a new pastor would cost the church.

*Rather than spending 70% of my time in the area of my giftedness, I spend about 30% in the area of my giftedness and 70% in areas that frustrate me.

Then I wrote out a list of my current symptoms:

“My thinking is slow … my eyes hurt continually … I feel kind of numb … I’m kind of detached … I don’t feel very spiritual … I don’t seem to appreciate anything God does through me … I don’t want to be visible, but invisible … I can’t seem to remember names … I want to be home at night and not work a 50-hour week.”

And four years later, I felt exactly the same way … and it led to my exit from ministry.

Why was I feeling that way?

*Our office manager … the best I’ve ever worked with … had just moved away, leaving me with an interim office manager and thus a fresh pile of work.

*I had been dealing with a family for months where both husband and wife had affairs and the husband had twice tried to commit suicide … thankfully, failing both times.

*I had spent hours preparing a Father’s Day message … one of the best I ever wrote … which was widely criticized by two younger dads.

*The project manager for our new building – along with his wife – were continually sniping at me about our upgraded services.

*I had received a critical note from a long-time, trusted friend whom”I don’t believe I can trust anymore.”

*We’d had three deaths … one right after the other … with more looming ahead.

What was really happening?

I was dealing with the two issues that I struggled with most in ministry: management of my energy and my emotions.

Let me differentiate between them:

Energy management: I wanted to work a regular work week when I could predict when I’d have time for rest and relaxation.  It didn’t matter how long my “on” button was operating as long as I knew when I could switch it off.

My wife and I run a preschool in our house, and when 5:30 pm comes around, we’re done for the evening, and even though we both work weekends, we don’t have to.

But in church ministry, you’re never, ever done.  For example:

*the pastor has to work every Sunday, so he doesn’t get weekends off.

*he may not go out on Saturday night so he can be fresh for Sunday.

*he has to work several evenings a week because that’s when people are available.

*he may have a designated day off, but that can easily be interrupted, especially when important parishioners end up in the hospital … or die.

It’s not the number of hours that wore me down.  I often work 50+ hours a week right now but the work is enjoyable and appreciated.

No, it was the start-stop-start nature of the work that got to me.  I’d been doing it for years, but suddenly I couldn’t handle it anymore.

Maybe this is because I’m more introverted than extroverted, and introverts need time by themselves to recharge their energy.

After a long day of work, when I came home for dinner, I wanted to stay home and recharge for the next day, but I often had to go back out for a meeting… and I began to resent it.

I did good work.  I was always prepared.  God used me in many ways.  Our church grew steadily … and was the largest Protestant church in our city for years.

But for me … as with many pastors … the way I managed my energy was a key as to whether I felt like a success or a failure.

Emotional management: As a pastor, whenever I felt anger, pain, frustration, depression, anxiety, despair, or fear, I wasn’t always sure what to do with those feelings … especially if they overwhelmed me.

This is how I usually handled my feelings:

*I told the Lord how I felt.

But most of the time, He listened but didn’t respond.  (Wish the Lord gave hugs.)

*I told my wife how I felt … as we drove to and from church (she served on the staff) … when we went out to lunch or dinner … or when we walked or drove around together.

And she was usually very helpful, but sometimes she didn’t know what to do or say anymore.  I can be an emotional enigma.

*I told a Christian counselor friend periodically, and his counsel was always beneficial.  We’d go out to lunch and talk, and he could quickly name my issue and tell me how to handle things … and he was usually right.  But he was more than an hour away, so I could consult with him once or twice annually, but I couldn’t lean on him.

*I told some good friends who lived far away, and they were good listeners, but I always felt like I was bothering them.

Years before, I had received help from:

*A pastor friend.  We met for breakfast every week, and our friendship helped both of us cope with ministry pressures.  But in my last church, I reached out to several pastors, yet never found one that I clicked with.

*A small group of pastors.  I had formed such a group years before, and it lasted several years, but everyone had scattered, and I lacked the energy to start another group.

*Friends within the church, like a staff member, a board member, or a layman with whom I resonated … but most of my emotional issues involved people in that church, and I felt it was unethical to share how I truly felt about those they knew … and possibly liked.

As I’ve said many times, when a pastor is stressed out, he’s having physical issues, but when he’s burned out, he’s experiencing emotional issues.

And the body recovers much faster than the emotions do.

Let me conclude by sharing five lessons for pastors on managing energy and emotions:

First, a pastor can’t work for a church board and then tell them his problems.

By their very nature, boards are designed to maintain and advance the mission and vision of the church.  They are far more interested in a pastor’s performance than his dysfunctions.

They will pay attention to the pastor if he’s physically injured or needs an operation, but most of the time, they won’t show much concern about the pastor’s energy level or emotional management.

Years before, at another church, I once shared some deep feelings with the church board, and they just stared at me, as if to say, “We all have our problems, Jim.  Work it out yourself.”  That single incident … rightly or wrongly … affected me the rest of my ministry life.  I wasn’t willing to take the same risk after that.

Second, sometimes events converge that the pastor can’t control, but he has to do them anyway.

When a pastor is leading his church well, it usually takes everything out of him.  At the most, he can add one more project … temporarily.

But I added two: a Doctor of Ministry degree, and the construction of a new worship center … and I couldn’t delegate either one.

During the first six months of 2005, I attended my last D.Min class … had to write a paper for the class … started my final project, which ended up being 225 pages … and had to oversee the last few months of the worship center construction.

I had to finish my degree … which was a job requirement … by early 2007, and the worship center was dedicated in October 2005.  Both projects had deadlines, and I couldn’t renegotiate either one of them.

I was expected to complete them both, so I pushed ahead … and paid for it later.

Third, try and keep ministry from invading your time off.

When I first came to my last church, I proposed a sabbatical policy to the board, and they accepted it.  After six years of ministry, I was supposed to have three to six months off.

My sabbatical was due at the very time the worship center was going to be dedicated.  I couldn’t be gone during that period … or for months afterward … so I proposed that my sabbatical be delayed one year, which is what happened.

Then I made a big mistake.  I should have taken three months off, but since the church had never given the pastor a sabbatical before, I told the board, “I’ll just take six weeks off now, and more time in another six years.”

Only I never got that far.

I went to Europe with my daughter Sarah for the first leg of my sabbatical, but while I was there, the reader for my project kept emailing me about various corrections.  One time, I spent an hour using a computer at a library in Blackpool, England, working on those corrections while my daughter waited and waited for her dad.

I could never fully hit the “off” switch anywhere.

Fourth, every pastor needs a group from within the church that he can trust.

The church board can’t do this, and neither can the staff.  (If a conflict erupts, the pastor’s humanity can and will be used against him.)

Maybe the best way to do this is for the pastor to handpick several older, wiser saints … meet with them on a regular basis for prayer, counsel, and emotional support … and ask them to intervene for him with the board should the need arise.

Of all the things that bothered me, the one I wanted to change most was my job description.  Administration sapped my energy … leadership took much from me … but studying and teaching pumped me up.

But when I tried to make changes in my job description, they weren’t accepted.  Should I have been more forceful?

I once heard Chuck Swindoll say that if a pastor is out too many nights, the church won’t be able to keep him.  He’s right.

Finally, if a pastor burns out, the church should bear at least some responsibility for his recovery.

If I’m carrying a 100-pound box, and it falls and breaks my foot, my employer will pay my salary through workman’s comp until I’m well enough to return.

Why?  Because my injury happened on the job.

Ministry burnout happens on the job.  Yes, pastors are sometimes responsible for pushing too hard and failing to care for themselves, but much of the time, the pastor drops the box because he’s expected to carry too many loads.

When the pastor enters the burnout stage … and that requires a professional diagnosis … the board should work through a plan to help him recover … even if that takes extra time and money … and even if he eventually leaves the church.

But I never told my board about my burnout.  I couldn’t.  I remain convinced they would have asked for my resignation immediately.

And this is why so many pastors are either stressed out or burned out and don’t feel they can tell their boards … or anybody else in the church.

They’re afraid they will be quickly terminated.

It’s interesting to me, however, that God did not treat Moses that way.

While reading through the Book of Numbers, I’ve been noticing how many times Moses tells the Lord that leading Israel is just too much for him.

For example, in Numbers 11:11-15, Moses tells the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant?  What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?  … I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.  If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now … and do not let me face my own ruin.”

The Lord didn’t tell Moses, “Suck it up, Moses.  You need to have a longer quiet time.”

No, the Lord told Moses to gather seventy elders who could help him share the load.  The Lord recognized that Moses needed help emotionally and quickly moved to assist him.

The question that haunts me is this one:

If I took care of myself … and I did … and if I had a successful ministry … and I did … and if I had many advantages that other pastors don’t have … and I did … and yet I still burned out, why did that happen?

What is it about the nature of church ministry that causes so many pastors to fry emotionally?

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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.

sandy-koufax-1955-topps-001

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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I could not have published what you’re about to read when I was a pastor.

Over 36 years in church ministry, there were things I did that I hated doing … and things I loved doing.

If I hated an activity, it took me a while to start and finish it … and I’d count the minutes until it was done.

If I loved an activity, I’d clear my calendar, focus like a laser beam … and pay no attention to the clock.

My guess is that the longer a pastor is in ministry, the more things there are that he can’t stand doing.

When I was a kid, the great Bible teacher Wilbur J. Smith came to our church to preach.  My parents invited him over for dinner, but he declined, stating that he no longer accepted invitations for meals.

He loved preaching … and hated dinners.

I can relate!

Here are five things I hated doing as a pastor:

First, I hated editing church publications.

It’s my belief that everything that a church publishes for public consumption has to be perfect.

Just one misspelled word or a phrase with garbled syntax can lessen a church’s image in the eyes of some people.

Many years ago, the church I served as pastor spent $5000 on a full color brochure that we gave to our guests.

I was on the marketing team that designed the brochure and had reviewed it repeatedly for errors.

A prominent evangelical leader was so impressed with the brochure that he wanted to include it in a book he was writing.

I was thrilled … until I noticed that the word “activities” was spelled “activites” instead!

And that sunk our chance to have the brochure included in anybody’s book.

After that misstep, I was doubly conscious of only putting out perfect publications.

So every week, I reviewed the bulletin/program.

And every month, I proofread the church newsletter.

As a perfectionist, I’m a good proofreader.  I edited and proofread my book Church Coup and have discovered only two errors in the 289 pages of the paperback version.

I don’t mind proofreading my own writing, but I hate proofreading other people’s writing.  (One staff member had dyslexia and couldn’t write a decent sentence.  I had to rewrite everything he gave me, which ticked him off.)

Why didn’t I farm things out?

Because publications have to be read both for grammar and for content … and I could do both quicker than anyone else.

But after years of proofreading, I dreaded it more and more.

Second, I hated performing weddings.

I created four criteria for marrying a couple: they both had to be Christians; they had to attend our church while undergoing counseling; they had to agree to four to six counseling sessions with me; and they had to agree not to sleep together until their wedding day.

After reading those conditions, the majority of couples found someone else.

But if a couple met my conditions, I’d marry them even if I thought they were a mismatch.

The worst wedding I ever did involved a couple I can’t adequately describe.

They wanted to get married on a beach in Northern California.

I dressed up in my suit one summer day and drove 90 minutes to this small parking lot … then had to walk about a half mile over sand to the site of their wedding.

The guests sat on driftwood … all 15 of them.  The groom dressed like Sir Lancelot, and the bride dressed like Maid Marion.

I kept asking myself, “What am I doing here?”

After the ceremony, I waited a solid hour for my honorarium of $100, which didn’t come close to paying for my humiliation.

Another time, I married a couple at the chapel at The Presidio in San Francisco.  Before leaving home, my wife agreed to be in charge of my clothes.

When we arrived at The Presidio for the wedding, my wife had left my suit coat at home.

I had to borrow one from the chauffeur!

But those stories don’t reflect why I didn’t like weddings.

If the wedding was held inside our church, then I was in charge, and my anxiety lessened considerably.

But if the wedding was held away from church … and most were … then others were in charge … and my anxiety could go through the roof.

More times than not, I represented the spiritual part of things … and the rest of the festivities seemed to contradict the spiritual.

In addition, a wedding usually involved a rehearsal and dinner the day before, with the wedding itself the following day … which meant I’d invest anywhere from ten hours to more than a day … and sometimes, I’d never see the couple again.

The last wedding I did involved 32 hours on my part … and the couple stiffed me on the honorarium.

Just another reason why I came to hate most weddings.

Third, I hated the logistics of getting to a hospital.

Rather, I hated driving to hospitals and finding a parking place.

Once I found a patient’s room, I loved talking with them, and reading God’s Word, and praying with them.

But getting to the hospital was often another matter.

During my last ministry, the area hospitals I visited lacked reserved parking for clergy.

Whenever I had to go to Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, for example, I’d have to fight through all the signals and traffic, search ten or fifteen minutes for a parking space near the hospital, walk at least a quarter mile, ascend crammed elevators, and hunt for a patient’s room.

Once I got there, I was in my element.

But getting there could be maddening, and the entire round trip could take two hours.

In addition, most medical emergencies happened either on Thursdays (when I studied at home) or on Fridays (my day off) … and that time was precious.

And as pastors know, one emergency situation can throw your entire week’s schedule off kilter.

I loved being a pastor to people in the hospital.

I just wish I’d had a chauffeur.

Fourth, I hated board meetings.

Early in my ministry, board meetings made me anxious.

I never knew who was going to surprise me with criticism or a dumb suggestion or information about someone I didn’t care to know.

In my middle years, I loved board meetings, because that’s where I received approval for the agenda items that God had given me.

When I knew the board members personally, and I knew they stood behind me no matter what, I enjoyed attending them and found them productive.

But when I didn’t know the board members well, and they collapsed on me when I needed them most, those meetings became chores … and bores.

I once heard Bill Hybels say that the elders in his church held their meetings in homes.  They’d have dinner together, let him give a report, and then sometimes dismiss him and carry on without him.

You can do that if you trust the board.  You can’t if you don’t.

My last few months in ministry, I didn’t trust the board, and had to endure meetings long into the night … and wished I was home instead.

Finally, I hated staff confrontations.

I once spent several hours with a nationally-known church consultant.

He asked me some questions about my staff at the time, and then queried:

“Jim, are you a highly responsible person?”

I replied, “Yes.”

He continued, “Do you only have to be told to do something once?”

I replied, “Yes.”

He concluded, “But Jim, not everyone is like you.”

He was right.

I couldn’t understand staff members that came in late … left early … didn’t show up for events … left their offices a mess … were always disorganized … and never got their work done.

I couldn’t live with myself if I acted like that.

I was never a “helicopter pastor.”  If we hired someone, I expected them to do the job without constant reminders or warnings.

But if they weren’t doing the job, I had to intercept entropy and confront them … and I hate confrontation.

This is why I always liked Steve McGarrett on the original Hawaii Five-O TV show.  McGarrett had no problem confronting anybody, whether it was a two-bit thief, a local gangster, or an international agent like Wo Fat.

Chuck Swindoll once said that half the time he confronted someone, it worked out well, and half the time it didn’t.

Most of my confrontations seemed to fall in the latter category.

If I had to confront you about something, things had gotten really bad.

I always did it … I just hated doing it.

Pastors are all different.

Some hate administrative work … others hate social events.

Some hate preparing their sermon … others hate making small talk.

As time goes by, pastors are often able to rewrite their job descriptions so they’re doing what they love and avoiding what they hate.

If they can negotiate such changes, they can last many years in ministry.

If they can’t make such changes, they may burn out prematurely.

Because burnout isn’t about doing too much work … it’s about doing work that’s unpleasant and unproductive.

In one of my doctoral courses at Fuller, our professor told us that pastors should spend at least 70% of their time doing things they love and 30% doing things they don’t.

But if you’re spending 30% of your time doing what you love, and 70% doing what you hate, that’s a recipe for failure.

The problem many pastors have is that (a) we either view ourselves as indispensable, meaning we have to do everything and be everywhere, or (b) we believe that people expect us to do everything and be everywhere.

Both are common … but are recipes for disaster.

If you’re a pastor, which areas of ministry do you despise doing the most?

If you’re not a pastor, which areas of ministry do you think he dislikes the most?

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Sixty years ago, a young pastor lived across the street from my uncle and aunt in Garden Grove, California.

This pastor told them that he was starting a new church in the community and asked them to join it.

They declined.

That pastor’s name?

Robert Schuller.

Dr. Schuller believed that when a pastor was called to a church, he should be committed to that church for life.

Although Schuller’s story didn’t end well, he remained the pastor of Garden Grove Community Church … and then the Crystal Cathedral … for his entire ministry career.

I believe that most pastors take that attitude when they’re called to a church: “I’m going to stay here for the rest of my life … or until God takes me home … and that means I’m not going to run whenever trouble starts.”

My ministry is primarily focused on helping pastors and church board members who are struggling in their relationship to handle their disagreements in a biblical, just, and loving manner.

Yet pastors are being forced out of their positions – often by church bullies – at an ever-increasing rate … and I don’t think that pastors should automatically resign when that happens.

But I believe there are times when the best decision a pastor can make is to resign unilaterally and voluntarily.  In such cases, the pressure doesn’t necessarily come from outside the pastor, but often inside the pastor.

When should a pastor resign?

First, when he’s disqualified himself morally.

The first thing most of us think of when we read the above phrase is adultery.

I’m sure many pastors think to themselves, “If I was ever guilty of sleeping with someone other than my wife, I’d quit immediately.”

And yet it’s shocking how many pastors have fallen morally and yet continue on as if nothing ever happened.

Rather than leaving, they wait until they’re caught and then resign … sometimes years or even decades later.

And I always wonder, “How could they hold and preach from the Holy Bible … and serve holy communion … and do it all in Christ’s holy church … when they’re leading such unholy lives?”

More than twenty years ago, I remember a nationally known pastor who resigned from his church for “inappropriate behavior.”

Interviewed in front of his house by a television crew, this pastor stated that he had no business ever being a pastor again.

I thought to myself, “Wow.  You just don’t hear that anymore.”

After running the clip, the female host told her television audience, “The minister’s attitude is refreshing.”

But I have since discovered … from two reputable sources … that the pastor didn’t resign voluntarily but was caught doing things pastors shouldn’t do.

There are other sins that might disqualify a pastor from office as well, including stealing church funds, physical abuse, blatant lying, or even murder.

But for some reason, it’s relatively rare for a pastor to blow the whistle on himself.

Is that due to a pastor’s high commitment level, or his pride?

Second, when the congregation no longer responds to his preaching.

Many years ago, I had lunch with a former pastor who had led a megachurch for more than two decades.

This pastor was well-known in many circles and had written a book that still sold thousands every year.

He told me that for some reason, his people had stopped listening to his sermons.

In fact, he felt they needed to hear a fresh voice.

So he went to the church board and told them he wanted to negotiate a settlement so he could leave.

I can relate to this pastor’s story.

During my final pastorate, over my first few years, my sermons were very well received.

But over my last few months, I just wasn’t connecting as I once had.  Some of my humor fell flat … I started repeating myself … and I may have preached in a tone of frustration.

Looking back, maybe I was trying to work out solutions to my own problems through my preaching rather than dealing with the congregation’s issues.

Toward the end, there were Sundays where nobody told me they “liked my sermon.”

When a pastor receives positive feedback from a sermon, it provides much-needed fuel for his next message … but when he receives little to no feedback, it can become very demoralizing … and, in some cases, serve as a signal that the pastor needs to leave.

Third, when you’re hanging on for a paycheck.

I once worked with a pastor who had announced to the church that he was going to retire at a future date.

After he made his announcement, he didn’t do very much around the office.

He signed checks … came to my office and talked … and spent most of his time just killing time.

I never saw him read a book.  I never saw him study for a sermon.

He came to the office late, and left early.

There’s a sense in which we can understand a situation like this.  If a pastor has served a church faithfully for years, and wants to give them plenty of advance notice that he’s going to retire, maybe he shouldn’t be expected to be a ball of energy.

But what bothers me is that there are thousands of pastors around who aren’t nearing retirement and yet act just like they are.

Life’s too short to be unhappy and unfulfilled in your job.

My counsel to a pastor who is just putting in time would be, “Get out … as soon as you can … because your people deserve a more energetic and effective shepherd.”

Fourth, when attendance is in a death spiral.

Forgive me for the following cynical statement, but I believe that it’s true:

“Many churches exist to pay the pastor’s salary.”

This statement refers to churches that:

*were once growing and vibrant.

*have been in steady decline for years.

*struggle just to put on a service every Sunday.

*are wearing out their few remaining lay leaders.

*nobody wants to invite their friends to attend.

*allocate the overwhelming bulk of their income to the pastor’s salary.

*have no positive plan for turning the church around.

I wrote an article about this situation a while back because it’s so common:

When Should the Pastor of a Church in Steady Decline Leave?

After soliciting responses from some top Christian leaders, I synthesized their counsel and then wrote this article:

Turning Around a Declinling Church

Let me make this bold statement: unless the pastor of a church is willing to reinvent himself, the pastor who presided over a steady decline rarely presides over a turnaround.

It would be helpful for a church in steady decline to bring in an outside consultant to take an objective look at their situation as well as their future, but such a church usually needs a new pastor with fresh vision and energy.

Fifth, when the pastor can no longer endure personal and family attacks.

If a pastor is a strong individual, most people unhappy with his ministry will just leave the church … a few loudly, most quietly.

If a pastor is more passive or perceived to be weak, a bully may try to take him out … or organize a faction that starts making demands and threats.

Pastors know they’re going to be criticized: after sermons, on response cards, through emails, via anonymous letters, and worst of all, through messages relayed by others.  (“So and So is mad at you.”)

Much of this is par for the course, but when people threaten the pastor’s reputation or job, and add threats and demands, it can become a bit much … and sometimes, become abusive.

I believe that when a pastor is being abused, the church board needs to step in, calm down those making the threats, and encourage them to modify their behavior … or leave the church.

But if the board won’t do that … or the threats originate with board members … then most pastors can only take so much.

But what pushes most pastors over the edge is when professing Christians attack his wife and children.

This happened to me during my second pastorate.  The seniors class rebelled against me and drew up a list of all my faults … including those of my wife and kids.

My wife’s offense?  Her slip was showing one Sunday.

When the board unanimously stood with me, my attackers immediately left the church, but it was almost more than we could take.

We all have a different threshold for criticism.  Maybe you can take more than I can.

But when pastors are “mobbed” by a sizeable portion of the congregation, why put up with it?

And short of a heaven-sent revival, what can a pastor do to mollify such people?

Just leave ’em behind.

Sixth, when the pastor would rather be doing something else.

Years ago, I knew a pastor – a very godly man, in my view – who was being consistently attacked at church.

The pastor lived across the street from the church campus, and had some used refrigerators in his garage, which he loved to work on.

One Sunday night, after a terrible congregational meeting, my friend walked across the street to his home and decided to resign and fix refrigerators and appliances for a living.

I began serving in church ministry at age 19, and worked only for churches for nearly the following four decades.

So when I was forced out of my church, I couldn’t identify any transferable skills that I could use to start a business or land a decent secular job … unless flipping hamburgers and cooking fries counts for something.

But many pastors do have those skills, and if the day ever comes when they’d rather make a living in a previous profession, then maybe that’s what they should do.

My first seminary professor was the great Dr. Charles Feinberg.  He told my Old Testament class, “Gentlemen, if you can do anything other than being a pastor, do it!”

He was right.

Finally, when the church board asks for your resignation.

I sometimes hear stories about pastors who were fired by their elders or deacons.

Sometimes he’s fired after a Sunday service … or at a special/regular board meeting … or by two board members who meet with the pastor privately … or sometimes through an email or a letter in the mail.

In a perfect world, it would be preferable if the board asked the pastor for his resignation, and the pastor traded it – and a unifying letter – for a generous severance package.

But all too often, the pastor is fired unilaterally … without any explanation … without letting him ask questions or give feedback … and without any severance package.

However, if a board has prayed about it … consulted with outside experts … and every person on the board is in agreement, then the board should ask the pastor for his resignation rather than firing him outright.

This not only preserves the pastor’s dignity, but sounds much better on a resume.

However, if the board does ask the pastor for his resignation, they shouldn’t force him to quit right then and there.  (Some boards prepare a letter they want the pastor to sign ahead of time.)

The pastor needs time to think, pray, and speak with his family … and yes, giving him time runs the risk of his saying, “No, I’m staying” or even leading a counterattack.

But if the board unilaterally fires the pastor without notice or any good reason, many in the congregation may rebel, and the church may dwindle significantly, and require years to rebuild.

In almost every case … unless a board is composed of cruel and godless individuals … I believe that a pastor should resign if the board asks for his resignation.

Can you imagine other scenarios where a pastor should resign voluntarily?

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