Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fifty years ago, Richard Nixon was once again running to become President of the United States.

And his campaign had planned a rally at the Anaheim Convention Center, across the street from Disneyland, one summer evening.

My friend Steve was going to be singing in a large youth choir, and he invited me to tag along … even though I didn’t know any of the songs.

When Steve and I first entered the Convention Center, we saw a woman that looked like Nixon’s wife Pat.  We followed her for maybe ten minutes before we found out it wasn’t her.

The choir was positioned directly above the stage where Nixon would be speaking.  After we sang our songs … which I had to learn quickly … Nixon spoke.

I can’t recall anything he said.

Two other remembrances from that evening:

*Steve and I ran into Burt Ward, who played Robin on the TV show “Batman,” and we both got his autograph.  I have never seen someone write so fast in my life.

*Nixon had a catchy campaign song.  The chorus went like this:

Nixon’s the one

Nixon’s the one

Nixon’s the one

For me

Ten year later, I was standing outside Anaheim (now Angel) Stadium after a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the California Angels.

The lights were turned off behind Gate 1 where various ballplayers sometimes came out after the game.  I was waiting to get the autographs of any player I could.

I remember getting the autograph of Brewer’s player Paul Molitor on his rookie card.  He went on to become a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And then former President Richard Nixon emerged from Gate One.

Nixon lived in nearby San Clemente, and he often visited the ballpark as a guest of Angels’ owner Gene Autry.

As I recall, he had two secret servicemen around him.

Three of us walked up to the ex-President and politely asked him for his signature.  Nixon signed for all of us and was very compliant.

Richard Nixon Signature 001

The Nixon Library, located in Yorba Linda, California, is probably fifty miles from my home.  While I’ve only been there once, I’m on their mailing list, and receive invitations constantly for book signings, lectures, and special events.

Trip to Buena Park - Nixon Library Nov. 17-20, 2011 059

President Nixon did far more good for his country than he’ll ever receive credit for, but most people will only remember him for Watergate.

But as former President Clinton once said:

Trip to Buena Park - Nixon Library Nov. 17-20, 2011 025


Back in 1966, actor Ronald Reagan ran for Governor of my home state of California.  He was elected for a four-year term.

Four years later, Reagan ran for re-election, and made many campaign stops.

One stop was at Loara High School in Anaheim … the school I attended.  (Famous Loara grads include three singers: Jeff and Tim Buckley and Gwen Stefani.)  Loara had won the AAA football championship two years before and had an award-winning band, so maybe that’s why the campaign stopped there.

Trip to Anaheim April 13-18, 2009 036

After school one day, Reagan’s campaign bus drove onto the athletic field where many of us played.

The governor emerged and a few of us quickly went up to him and asked him for his signature.

(Unless a public figure is doing a meet and greet somewhere, the only way to get someone’s autograph is to walk up to them assertively and ask them for it.)

Reagan whipped out his own felt pen from his suit pocket and signed several items … left-handed … including a 3×5 index card for me and another for my friend Steve.

Ronald Reagan Signature 001

I should have stayed for whatever event was planned that day, but I was so excited to get Reagan’s autograph that I went straight home.

Fourteen years later, Reagan was running for a second term as President, and he came to DeAnza College in Cupertino, California … near the current Apple Headquarters … and held a rally in their stadium.

I took my kids along and hoisted my son Ryan on my shoulders so he could see the President when he was speaking.

We waved at the motorcade after the event, and I never saw President Reagan again.  (Note the slogan on the Reagan poster below!)

Trip to Anaheim April 13-18, 2009 514

However, my brother John lived in San Bernardino for many years, and he lived across the street from a Secret Service agent who told John that Reagan and his wife Nancy were flying into March Air Force Base in Riverside.  Even though Reagan was no longer President, the agent asked John if he wanted to meet Reagan.

When the former President and his wife got off the plane, John and his wife Joy were the only two people there to greet them.  Reagan greeted them both by name and John had video taken of the event.

The Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, is really cool.  There’s a US government helicopter on display at the Nixon Library.

Trip to Buena Park - Nixon Library Nov. 17-20, 2011 080

The Reagan Library has Air Force One … which you can tour!

Trip to Anaheim April 13-18, 2009 541


There was a leader in my last church who was a lobbyist for a major corporation.  He often flew to Washington DC during the week for important meetings.

Knowing my interest in politics, my friend asked me if I wanted to attend Bush’s first public speech after 9/11 in Sacramento, California.

I said yes.

When George W. Bush was re-elected President in 2004, my friend asked me if I wanted to attend Bush’s Inauguration.

I said yes.

We stayed at a 5-star hotel … it was 16 degrees outside and snowing the day before the event … but going to the inauguration was a lot of fun.

Washington Pictures 2 Jan. 19-21 011

Washington Pictures 2 Jan. 19-21 055

Another time, Bush 45 was going to be speaking to a group of business people at a hotel near the San Francisco Airport, and my friend invited me to go along.

As I recall, it was a $2000 a plate luncheon.

I remember seeing … and hearing … the protesters across the frontage road … going through security … being forced to wear a suit … and being given very little edible food for lunch.

Comedian Dennis Miller warmed up the crowd and introduced 45, and when he was almost done speaking, my friend leaned over and said to me, “When he’s done speaking, go up and shake his hand.”

So I did.  There was a rope around the perimeter of the podium, but Bush came up to the rope afterward.  When he shook my hand, I blanked out, and said, “Thank you.”  He did a double take and then kept shaking hands.

“Thank you?”  That was the best I could say?


In November 2012, Mitt Romney was running for President against incumbent Barack Obama.

Romney’s last rally was in Manchester, New Hampshire … ten minutes down the hill from the apartment my wife and I were renting at the time.  (I was serving a church in New Hampshire as interim pastor.)

My wife was in California, and I had nothing else to do, so I drove downtown and walked to the Verizon Arena where Romney would eventually be speaking.

Mitt Romney Rally Manchester Nov. 5, 2012 023

It was cold outside … 30 degrees … but the place was packed.

I met a guy in line, and we hung out together, taking photos of each other while standing about thirty feet from Romney.

Kid Rock sang a few songs … I didn’t know any of them, but they were LOUD … and some other politicians showed up and spoke.

Romney and his wife finally emerged around 11:30 pm.  As rallies went, it was well-planned and exciting.

fff 010

Mitt Romney Rally Manchester Nov. 5, 2012 095

Romney lost New Hampshire anyway.


I’ve had brief encounters with three presidents … one before he took office, one while in office, and one after he left office.

I’ll always remember those brief encounters … and someday, tell my grandchildren about them.

However, the Gospels are full of brief encounters that various men and women, boys and girls had with Someone far greater.

And people not only remembered those encounters … those encounters changed their lives.

Thankfully, a few of those meetings were recorded for us in the pages of the New Testament.

I’d rather have an encounter with Jesus than anyone else.

As Billy Graham’s vocalist George Beverly Shea wrote and sang:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold

I’d rather be His than have riches untold

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands

I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain

Or be held in sin’s dread sway

I’d rather have Jesus than anything

This world affords today

And that includes ANY President you can name.



Read Full Post »

When I was in London with my wife last spring, one of my goals was to see the grave of Christian hymn writer Charles Wesley.

I came prepared.  I knew the area … the church … and its location before we started walking.

On a Sunday night, we finally found it in a little park behind St. Marylebone Parish Church.



A woman who lived across the street was sitting on a bench in the gardens reading.  When we asked her to take some photos of us with Wesley’s marker, she had no idea who he was.



But when I started rattling off some of the hymns he wrote, like “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” and “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” she at least knew the songs!

I’m not entirely sure why I get such a kick out of visiting the graves of famous people, but I do.

Maybe it’s my way of saying, “You still mean something to me.”  Maybe it’s a way of paying tribute to someone long forgotten.  Maybe it’s a way of being close to that person … just for a moment … since you’ll never be able to meet them in this life.

Or maybe it’s just a photo opportunity, knowing the subject can’t move and ruin your picture!

I wrote a blog called “Why I Visit Graveyards” nearly five years ago.  It’s here if you’re interested:


Today, I’d like to share the graves of ten famous people from all walks of life … and from various parts of the world:

First, Winston Churchill.

I have very few heroes, but Churchill is one of them.

And he’s a hero because he recognized the evil present in Nazi Germany and resolutely stood up to Hitler … and most members of his own government … to defeat the diabolical dictator.

I’ve been to Blenheim Palace, where he’s born … the Cabinet War Rooms in London, where he conducted the war … Chartwell, his home in Kent where he lived and painted for decades … 28 Hyde Park Gate in London, where he died … and Bladon Churchyard … just outside Blenheim Palace, where he’s buried.




Though I probably didn’t know who Churchill was at the time, I remember seeing his funeral on television 53 years ago.

I still maintain that when Time Magazine named their Person of the Century in 2000, they should have named Churchill rather than Albert Einstein.

Second, Louisa May Alcott.

Trip to Concord, MA September 23, 2012 068

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts is one of the oldest cemeteries I’ve ever visited.

Trip to Concord, MA September 23, 2012 065

Trip to Concord, MA September 23, 2012 040

It’s also one of the creepiest.

Trip to Concord, MA September 23, 2012 049

The author of Little Women is buried on Authors Ridge next to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.

Trip to Concord, MA September 23, 2012 041

My wife loves Little Women so we visited the Alcott home in Concord where you can see the actual writing desk that Louisa May Alcott used to write her famous works.

I’ll post the other graves another time.

Third, Walt Disney.

One day after visiting my dentist friend Ken in La Canada, I drove a few more miles to Forest Lawn Cemetery in nearby Glendale.

It’s one of the most famous cemeteries in the world.  The grounds are huge!



Michael Jackson is interred there, as are Clark Gable, L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz), and many other famous people.

Because Forest Lawn Glendale has a reputation for chasing away people who want to see the graves of famous people, I stepped lightly wherever I went.

What’s left of Walt Disney is preserved in this little garden.  If you look closely, you can see his name, “Walt Elias Disney,” on the plaque at the top.


Actor Spencer Tracy is buried nearby.

Walt Disney always means a lot to me because I grew up two miles from Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

I never saw him when I visited Disneyland (Disney died in 1966), but my brother and I did see Walter Knott at Knott’s Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park, and we got his autograph, which I still have.

Someone posted this on Facebook recently and I thought it was hilarious:

Disney on Ice

Fourth, Maria von Trapp.

Trip to Stowe Nov. 24, 2012 137

The entire von Trapp family is buried behind the family lodge in Stowe, Vermont.

Trip to Stowe Nov. 24, 2012 126

It was snowing that day in November when we visited, but trust me … this is where Maria was placed after she sang her final “Do-Re-Mi.”

Trip to Stowe Nov. 24, 2012 119

The captain is buried with her.

Our daughter Sarah was with us that day.  She knows every word to every song from The Sound of Music.

I love that movie, too!

Sound of Music Cast Reunion

Fifth, Marilyn Monroe.

Trip to Westwood Memorial Park July 10, 2012 035

Marilyn Monroe is buried at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village near UCLA in Southern California.

Pierce Brothers is the most fascinating cemetery I’ve ever visited.

It’s located behind some high-rises just off Wilshire Boulevard.  It took me a long time to find the place because it isn’t where you think.

Trip to Westwood Memorial Park July 10, 2012 162

Dean Martin is here.  So is Carroll O’Connor … and Peter Falk … and Merv Griffin … and Karl Malden … and Don Knotts … and Donna Reed … and Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys … and Roy Orbison … and especially Marilyn Monroe.

My friend John is the first person I ever led to faith in Christ.  John’s dad Henry grew up in the Los Angeles area and he loved to dance.  One night, he agreed to take out a young girl named Norma Jean to dance … only after one date, it was obvious she couldn’t dance.

Of course, Norma Jean Baker later became Marilyn Monroe.

After she died in 1962 … and I remember the headlines vividly … the Movieland Wax Museum in nearby Buena Park put up a giant-sized photo of Marilyn Monroe on a billboard on the Interstate 5 Freeway near Biola.

My mother used to say, “There are probably a lot of accidents around there.”

Sixth, Ricky Nelson.


There are several Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in the greater Los Angeles area, and this one is in Hollywood Hills.

I will never forget this cemetery because it’s where my wife’s 18-year-old brother Ian was buried after being hit by a drunk driver thirty years ago.  Six hundred people came to his memorial service.

Buried above Ian … on the same hillside … is Ricky Nelson, along with his parents Ozzie and Harriet.  They starred for nearly twenty years on the television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

But Ricky also became one of the earliest rock stars and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

For many years, the Nelson family lived a short distance from Hollywood Boulevard, and people could walk right up to their door without any problem.  One day, a teenage girl did just that, giving Ricky Nelson a song she wrote called “Poor Little Fool.”

That song … along with “Travelin’ Man” and “Garden Party” … are still favorites of mine.

Seventh, Pope John Paul II.

Thirteen years ago, my wife Kim, our son Ryan, and our daughter Sarah took a trip to several European countries.

One Saturday morning, we got up at 3 am in Venice so we could take the train and be in Rome in time to visit the Vatican Museum.

Only when we got there, the museum had closed early … because the assembled bigwigs were in the process of choosing a new pope because Pope John Paul II had just died.

Two days later, they chose Pope Benedict.

There were a lot of cardinals moving around that day …


Europe Vacation Photos April 2005 702

Europe Vacation Photos April 2005 659

We waited 45 minutes to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II.

Europe Vacation Photos April 2005 630

When we got there, Kim’s flash didn’t work properly, and she was hustled along, so she didn’t get a good photo.

Thank God for our daughter Sarah, who did.


There are a lot of dead popes hanging around St. Peter’s in Rome:

Europe Vacation Photos April 2005 674

Europe Vacation Photos April 2005 652

Peter the apostle is supposedly buried in the crypt of St. Peter’s.  I took his photo the first time I visited Rome in 1995 (no, he didn’t pose for me), but the crypt was closed this time around.

Eighth, Ty Cobb.

Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 047

Before Babe Ruth came on the scene, Ty Cobb was considered to be the greatest baseball player in the world.

Cobb won twelve batting championships and hit .367 lifetime.  Almost nobody in our day hits .367 in any given year, much less for their entire career!

When the Hall of Fame began in 1936, Ty Cobb received more votes than any other player … even more than Babe Ruth.

My son Ryan and I took a trip to the South eleven years ago, and we made a special stop in Royston, Georgia, Cobb’s boyhood home.

Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 038

There is a museum there as well as a hospital named after Cobb.

For many years, Cobb lived in Atherton, California, less than an hour from our Bay Area home.  One of my board members said he used to sell newspapers to Cobb on the street and that he was nasty.

But Cobb could also be very charming … his legacy has been undergoing a reassessment the past few years … and I’m glad we stopped in Royston.

Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 050

When we left the museum, Ryan and I didn’t know where Cobb’s final resting place was located, so I started driving outside of town … and came right to it.

Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 057

Ninth, Richard Nixon.

Trip to Buena Park - Nixon Library Nov. 17-20, 2011 151

Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974 as President of the United States.  I followed the entire Watergate saga very closely and twice read All the President’s Men and The Final Days by Woodward and Bernstein.

Nixon grew up and made his mark in Whittier, California, about a half hour from my home in Anaheim.  Before the 1968 election, my grandfather … who also lived in Whittier … said, “God help this country if Nixon isn’t elected president.”

Well, Nixon was elected … the final returns from Illinois came in just before I went to school one Wednesday in November 1968 … but Nixon’s reputation was severely tarnished by trying to cover up a third-rate burglary.

Nixon’s overall legacy is preserved at his presidential library in Yorba Linda, California.  I’m on the email mailing list for events at the library, and it’s amazing how many events are free and open to the public.

President Nixon is buried in a courtyard behind the museum itself:

Trip to Buena Park - Nixon Library Nov. 17-20, 2011 102

Trip to Buena Park - Nixon Library Nov. 17-20, 2011 066

In May 1978, I stayed after an Angels-Brewers game at Anaheim Stadium and after the lights were turned out, Richard Nixon came out of Gate 1.  He lived in nearby San Clemente and was a frequent guest of Angels’ owner Gene Autry.

Even though there were two secret servicemen protecting the former president, three of us went up and got his autograph, which I still have.  I handed Nixon a stack of index cards intending for him to sign just one, and he started to sign the second one as well when I told him “that’s fine.”

He was so nice that night that he probably would have signed them all!

I’ve met three presidents: Nixon, Ronald Reagan (while governor of California), and George W. Bush (while president).

I’ll save those stories for another time.

Finally, Mel Blanc.

Trip to Hollywood 2 June 28-29, 2012 330

Hollywood Forever Cemetery is located on Santa Monica Boulevard in the Los Angeles area.

I understand that when the weather is warmer, they set up chairs and show old movies outside in the cemetery itself.

Some old-time stars are buried at Hollywood Forever, like Tyrone Power and Douglas Fairbanks, along with producer Cecil DeMille and even musician Johnny Ramone.

Trip to Hollywood 2 June 28-29, 2012 301

But one of the best tombstones I’ve ever seen belongs to the great Mel Blanc, who did the voices for cartoon characters Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and even Barney Rubble of the Flintstones.

Remember how the old Warner Brothers cartoons ended?

Trip to Hollywood 2 June 28-29, 2012 320

I have many more photos of the final resting places of famous people that I’ll share sometime in the future.

Southern California is a great place to live for visiting the graves of people in the entertainment field … if you can brave the traffic.

There are still cemeteries I’d like to visit in the greater Los Angeles area, including the burial places of John Wayne (Corona Del Mar), Frank Sinatra (the Palm Springs area), Wahoo Sam Crawford and Lyman Bostock (baseball players buried in Inglewood) and Curly from The Three Stooges (in Whittier).

Until next time … that’s all, folks!








Read Full Post »

Christmas in Saudi Arabia

Today’s guest blogger is my wife Kim, who discusses how the words “Christmas” and “Arabia” could once be used in the same sentence when she lived in the Middle East more than 40 years ago.  This post has become a Christmas tradition on this blog.  Ah, the magic and romance of the desert …

Kenya May 2010 1 618

Kim in Arabia, May 2010

It seems so long ago.  The years were 1965-1970.  It was Christmas in Saudi Arabia, where my parents were missionaries to the Bedouin people in the desert.


Kenya May 2010 1 477

Photo at Oasis Hospital with Kim’s father in back row, 3rd from left, 1967

We lived about 100 miles from the now beautiful, modern city of Dubai.

Dubai, May 2011

52 years ago, we traveled by open land rover on non-existing roads surrounded by sand dunes.  It took about 10 hours to travel 100 miles.

Several years ago, I went back to visit where I lived.  I took a taxi to the hospital where we used to work and it only took 1 hour and 15 minutes.  What a difference!

Kenya May 2010 1 621

Kim and Taxi Outside Dubai, May 2010

When the Arabs asked me why I was visiting, I told them, “I lived here 46 years ago.”  With amazement, they said, “There was nothing here.”  I said, “You are exactly right.”

Kenya May 2010 1 568

In Front of Oasis Hospital, Where Her Father Worked in the 1960s

We would get together with friends on the compound.  We hiked, cooked, played games, played tricks on each other, and saw our pets (cats, dogs, gazelles, goats, a donkey, a fox, and a hedgehog).

Sometimes we slept outside up on high beds to keep snakes and scorpions away.  We would wake up in the morning hearing camels eating our dried palm leaf fence.

Kenya May 2010 1 596

Saudi Arabian Desert

Life was simple.  We would run around without shoes, help in the hospital, read books, listen to good music, and sit around and just talk.  I loved the simplicity.

When it came to getting a Christmas tree, we were creative.  We chose a thorn bush and brought it home to decorate.  We had fun adorning the tree with popcorn.  We wanted more decorations so we took Kotex and tore it apart to make snow with cotton.  I wasn’t sure my mom was very happy with us.

We learned to make taffy, pulling and pulling until we had a sweet, sticky treat.

But my best memory was camping in the desert.  I remember always having a sinus infection but I was determined to go – so I bundled up and went camping.  Being in the desert at night under a clear sky, you could see every star.  You could see the campfire for miles.  You were surrounded by sand dunes and the sound of nothing.  It was peaceful and quiet.

It must have been how the shepherds, Joseph, and Mary felt when Jesus was born.

Our Christmas service was held outside at night.  The glowing of candles and far off lights made the desert romantic and magical.  I was asked to play the organ and everyone from the compound came and sang Christmas carols.  This was my gift to Jesus.

Oh, the simplicity of Christmas!

Read Full Post »

Pastor Joel could barely breathe.

The pastor of Good News Church for six years, Joel had just received a phone call from Tim, the board chairman.  Tim informed Joel that a group in the church had just held a secret meeting intended to force Joel out of his position as pastor.

So many questions whizzed through Joel’s mind, among them:

*Who was in the group?

*What were they upset about?

*Why didn’t anyone share their concerns with Joel himself?

*How long had they been meeting?

*How much did the staff and board know about them?

Joel instantly became disoriented and confused.  He couldn’t think clearly.  He began having an anxiety attack … maybe even a full-blown panic attack.

He had been targeted before in his previous two ministries.

In his first pastorate, a group of former lay leaders organized and tried to push him out.  But the board backed Joel completely, and the malcontents all left.

In his next pastorate, two staff members and three board members conspired to get rid of Joel, but their plot also failed, and they all departed together.

So Joel had been attacked before, but even though he had survived both attempts, he prayed that he would never have to go through another one.

And now this.

While Joel knew a lot intellectually about how to handle such a coup attempt, he also knew that when he was threatened, his emotions tended to overwhelm his brain, and that he quickly went into “fight or flight” mode.

He needed divine support, so he paused to ask God for wisdom and strength.

He needed human support, so he asked himself, “Which leaders do I know are 100% behind me?”

He identified three: Tim, the board chairman; Ron, the outreach pastor; and Craig, a former board chairman.

Joel contacted each person and asked if they could meet that night at a restaurant four miles outside town.  All three agreed.

When everyone arrived, Joel asked Tim to tell the others about his phone call.  Then Joel … thinking a bit more clearly … asked the following questions which he had written on a napkin:

*Tim, who told you about the plot?

*Why do you think they told you?

*Who do we know that opposes my ministry?

*What are their charges?

*What do you think their strategy is?

*Which staff members or board members might be with them?

After some discussion, Joel told his three supporters, “Based on my experience and research, I want to share with you how we can beat back this opposition and preserve congregational unity … provided that no staff members or board members are in on the plot.”

Pastor Joel told the leaders:

First, realize that nearly every plot against an innocent pastor is fueled by hatred. 

Joel shared:

“Clear away the smoke, and you’ll find an individual who has contempt for his pastor.  This individual – sometimes in concert with his spouse – has made a unilateral decision: the pastor must go.”

Joel then stated:

“If we can discover ‘the hater,’ we will have a better idea of discerning what’s happening.”

Joel went on:

“The hater is almost always the ringleader of the opposition.  The pastor hasn’t recognized his brilliance … hasn’t paid him sufficient attention … hasn’t taken his ideas for the church seriously … hasn’t let his buddies be in charge … and hasn’t kept the church the way it was when I came in 2011 … so I must leave.”

Joel then said:

“When the hater is identified, his name probably won’t be a surprise to any of us.  But others may say, ‘He really loves this church.  He’s a fine man.  He is so misunderstood.  He’s just uncomfortable with all the changes.  Cut him some slack.'”

Joel then shared:

“But once a plot is uncovered, there are only three possible outcomes:

*The hater repents of his rebellious behavior.

*The hater leaves the church.

*The pastor leaves.

Sadly, by this stage, haters almost never repent.”

Joel and his three supporters need to realize that the probable outcome of this conflict is that either Joel will leave … sending the church into turmoil … or the hater and a few of his minions will leave instead … the optimal option for the church’s mission at this point.

Second, the hater will hold secret meetings and invite disgruntled churchgoers to pool their grievances against the pastor.

Joel told his three supporters:

“The hater has already determined my fate: he wants me gone.  But if he goes after me alone, he knows he won’t succeed.  He’ll be outnumbered.  He needs allies … as many as possible … so he calls a meeting … shares a few of his complaints … and then solicits complaints about the pastor from others … the more, the better.”

Someone will be asked to record the complaints.

If the pastor has committed a major offense (heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior) … and it can be documented … anyone who attends the secret meeting can take their evidence to the church board, and the pastor most likely will be dismissed.

But secret meetings aren’t intended to come up with serious charges, but many charges … any one of which are trivial and petty.

Pastor Joel told the men:

“This is what happened to me in my second pastorate.  A group of 15 people came up with a list of 22 offenses I had supposedly committed.  The list was then distributed via email all over the church as if to say, ‘Anyone so flawed should never be our pastor.'”

Pastor Joel went on:

“I was accused of not dressing appropriately for a church event … driving a car that’s too expensive … counseling women alone (even though there’s a window on my study door) … changing the worship order too often … letting my wife miss a Sunday when she was sick … and so on.  They were all that trivial … and many of my accusers were guilty of the very same things!”

Joel added:

“The problem with soliciting grievances is that everybody has a different set of complaints.  I might feel passionate about two complaints of my own, but I don’t feel as strongly about the complaints of others in the group.”

Joel went on:

“We need to find out who attended the secret meeting, and then send a message to the hater and his minions: ‘Select two people to present your complaints.  The board will select two leaders to hear those complaints.  That’s fair … a two-on-two meeting.'”

Joel then asked Tim:

“Has any list been distributed to the church yet?”  Tim said, “Not as far as I know.”  Joel replied, “Good.  Let’s put together this meeting before any list goes out.”

Third, the pastor’s opponents will assume that the sheer quantity of charges against him will be enough for him to be terminated.

Some charges might be incident-based: “We saw the pastor do this after a service … we heard his wife say this after a small group meeting … we know that the pastor’s son was sent to the principal’s office at school.”

Other charges will be pattern-based: “The pastor is too intellectual when he speaks … he never takes my phone calls … he doesn’t show up for workdays … he strikes me as being depressed.”

Joel shared:

“Once again, if my opponents can produce even one impeachable offense, they won’t need to create a list of offenses.  The list is their confession that they really don’t have anything substantive to use against me.  We could create such a list against anyone in this church.  Remember that.”

Joel then said:

“Most charges will be exaggerated to some extent.  Listen for the words ‘always’ and ‘never.’  And listen for complaints to be overstated: ‘When the pastor made that decision, fifty people left the church.'”

Joel then told his supporters:

“When two leaders meet with two others from the faction, ask them how many offenses they’ve recorded.  Then ask them to read each one … and you answer each one before they read the next one.  Do not let them read the whole list because you can’t answer the whole list at once!”

Joel continued:

“As you answer each complaint, they will begin to lose heart.  They may not even finish the list.  When their complaints have been exhausted, ask them what they expect to do next.  They will probably say, ‘We need to report to our group.'”

Joel advised:

“Ask them at that point, ‘Who is in your group?  Who is leading your group?’  They probably won’t share any information with you, but they’ll know you’re onto them.  By answering their charges, you will have exposed their plot … and their hearts.”

Joel then shared an insight from family systems theory:

“I have learned that when you can ‘peel off’ one or two of a pastor’s antagonists, the whole plot usually unravels.  Suddenly all the fun is taken out of attacking the pastor.”

Joel then shared one more step:

Finally, tell the group in writing what you expect from the pastor’s opponents … including them.

Joel explained:

“Tell them that we have a simple process for handling complaints at our church.  If you believe the pastor has wronged you personally, then set up a meeting with him and share your concern directly.  If you want, one of us can meet with you as an impartial witness.”

Joel then added:

“If you are upset about church policy, you are free to speak with anyone on the board because the board sets policy.  We will either ask you to make your complaint in writing or ask you to attend the next board meeting personally.  After we have heard your complaint, we will discuss it and make a decision, and ask you to abide by it.”

Joel then said:

“Ask them, ‘Do you understand our process?  Will you abide by it?’  Assuming they agree, then hold them to it.”

Joel then added:

“Then tell them, ‘We believe that our policy for handling complaints is consistent with Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 and Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 5:19-21.  We believe the Bible teaches that conflict should be handled above-ground (in the light, not in darkness) and that those who are accused of sin should be able to face their accusers.'”

Joel then said:

“It’s my belief that if you handle matters this way, the two individuals will either leave the church immediately (the more likely scenario) and take others with them, or they will slink away and lose their appetite for getting rid of their pastor.  And if they bow out of the ‘get the pastor campaign,’ others will probably follow suit.”

After some discussion, Joel concluded:

“If we as leaders take control of the process for resolving these differences, then we will likely take control of the results as well.”

What do you think about Joel’s strategy for beating back his opposition?

















Read Full Post »

One of the greatest injustices in Christian churches today is that when a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, he usually lacks any kind of meaningful forum for responding to the charges.

And when he doesn’t respond adequately or immediately, any accusations are assumed by the pastor’s detractors to be true.

But it’s likely that pastors don’t answer charges well because they don’t know how to go about it.

The following story is a composite of situations I’ve heard about or experienced.

Pastor Bill attended a worship planning meeting one Monday night on his church’s campus, and after the meeting concluded, Jill, a team member, wanted to speak with him.

Jill was very emotional, and Bill did his best to listen, but ten minutes later, they were the only people in the building.

As soon as Bill realized they were alone, he began walking the distressed Jill toward the exit while trying his best to listen to her sorrow.

They spoke for a few minutes more outside the worship center, and as Bill turned to leave, Jill gave him a big “thank you” hug … which was witnessed by Cindy, a team member who had returned to retrieve her phone in the worship planning room.

The next day, the news was circulating around the church that Pastor Bill and Jill were involved.

The board chairman found out about it on Wednesday.

The entire board heard the news by Friday … as did most of their wives.

Bill didn’t hear anything until Sunday morning … in an email sent by a friend at 1:45 am, which he didn’t read until right before he left for church the next morning.

Most of the staff knew by Sunday morning … as did Jill’s husband and Bill’s wife.

Bill didn’t have a “thing” for Jill.  She was a ministry team member and a longtime friend.  He was just trying to be a good pastor by lending Jill an ear for a few minutes.

But when Cindy reported the incident to a few of her friends, they read their own experiences into what they heard and blew matters out of proportion, and suddenly Bill was on the hot seat.

Once Bill knew that the “incident” had traveled throughout the church, how should he handle matters?

Here are seven steps toward resolution:

First, the pastor can’t act like nothing happened.

He can remain silent publicly.  He can preach his sermon … greet his people … and go home.  Refuse to feed the fire.  Hope it will all blow over soon.

That approach might work with many such incidents, but the church grapevine comes alive whenever the pastor and another woman might be involved.

While the pastor might choose not to say anything … at least initially … he has to stay calm … and that’s not easy.

But he has to take action and get out ahead of this one.

Second, the pastor must tell his wife, board chairman, and associate pastor his version of events … separately and quickly. 

The pastor can’t overreact.

He must patiently tell his story to those closest to him.  He needs to be as open and honest as possible.

He must ask them if they believe him.  If they do, they will defend him.  If even one isn’t sure, however, it could cause trouble down the road.

The sooner the pastor gets the board on his side, the better, so the chairman should inform the rest of the board immediately.

The associate should handle the rest of the staff.

But most of all, the pastor’s wife needs to stand by him … strongly.

It would be advisable for the board chairman to contact Jill and receive her version of events as well.

The quicker the board acts, the sooner matters will be resolved.

This might seem like overkill, but let me assure you … the alternative is far worse.

Third, the pastor should ask the board to have a plan for response ready.

If the pastor’s marriage is loving and healthy … and everyone knows it … then this crisis will probably pass pretty quickly.

And if the pastor has a reputation for integrity, most people will give him the benefit of the doubt.

However … if there are churchgoers who don’t like the pastor, and want to see him leave … they might very well add their own charges to this “mini-scandal.”

For some reason, when a single accusation against a pastor makes its way around a congregation, there are usually those who seize the opportunity to make their own accusations against him.

One charge becomes two … becomes four .. becomes seven … becomes ten.

And then someone will call for the pastor’s resignation.

The board cannot assume that because Bill and Jill say that “nothing happened” that everyone else will believe them.

The truth is that a distinct minority may not want to believe them.

So the board needs to meet with Pastor Bill quickly … either on Sunday or Monday evening.

They need to hear his story from his own lips, and if they stand behind him, they need to put a plan in place for addressing any further accusations.

Fourth, the pastor needs to be an active participant in this process.

A mistake that many pastors make at this juncture is to relinquish everything into the hands of the board.


Because without guidance, some boards will make things even worse.

On the one hand, it’s understandable why the pastor would want to leave matters in the board’s hands.

When a pastor is under attack, it’s difficult for him to defend himself sufficiently.

The attacks hurt him and wound his spirit.  Since most pastors are pretty sensitive, they would prefer to assume a fetal position and lock themselves in a closet until matters are resolved.

But on the other hand, unless board members have had a lot of experience and have been well-trained in conflict management, their default position may be to put the incident behind them as quickly as possible.

And in the process, they may sell out their pastor.

I don’t like to say this, but when it comes to church matters, the pastor is likely a professional, and the board members are likely amateurs.

So the professional needs to provide guidance and expertise for the amateurs.

True, the pastor cannot exonerate himself.  He needs the board to do that for him.

But he needs to steer the process so the board can make their best possible decisions.

Fifth, the pastor must challenge the board to identify and confront those who have been spreading charges against him.

This is where most church boards blow it.

Stand behind our pastor?  Sure.

That’s playing defense.

Confront those spreading rumors?  Pass.

That’s playing offense.

I don’t know why this is so hard.

When Paul dealt with troublemakers, he named names: Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19); Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17); Demas (2 Timothy 4:10); Alexander the metalworker (2 Timothy 4:14).

And John did the same thing when he singled out Diotrephes by name in 3 John 9-10.

These verses aren’t just taking up space in our Bibles:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.  Romans 16:17-18

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time.  After that, have nothing do with him.  You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.  Titus 3:10-11

A pastor once told me that he was under attack at his church.  He brought in a consultant who asked the board members, “Who is attacking your pastor?”

They knew who the individuals were.

The consultant then told them, “Go meet with them and tell them to stop what they’re doing.”

The board members replied, “But we can’t go.  Those people are our friends!”

The consultant responded, “Go … now!”

They got in their cars and went … around 9 pm, as I recall.

But most boards think that it’s somehow offensive to go on offense at this point … but it’s the best thing they can do.

The board is showing churchgoers that they take the Bible … church unity … truth … and their pastor seriously.

And believe me, word will get around the church … and people will think twice the next time they’re tempted to spread gossip about their pastor.

But if the board wilts at this point, they’re not only throwing their pastor to the wolves … they’re establishing a culture that says the board won’t stand behind their pastor.

I have known several good pastors who quit at this point … not because they did anything wrong, but because their boards actively or passively caved on supporting their shepherd.

Sixth, the pastor must wait patiently for the board to finish their work.

This is so difficult.

Many years ago, a church leader vocalized an accusation against me.  It was a spur-of-the-moment thing … and I didn’t react calmly.

I immediately contacted the board chairman and an attorney in the church.  The board launched an investigation.

The next day, they met with my accuser and with me separately.

Then they asked me to apologize to my accuser.  Although I didn’t think I had done anything wrong, I did apologize … the next morning.

Then the board asked my accuser how many people had been told about the incident.  After gathering their names, board members contacted each person and told them not to spread things any further.

I not only had to wait for the board to finish their work … I had to wait to see if there would be any fallout down the road.

Tom Petty is right … the waiting is the hardest part.

Several individuals eventually left the church over it, but what could have been a tragedy was averted because the board handled things patiently and quietly.

And I had to let them do it.

I had input on the process because I had written a policy handbook months before that addressed how to handle such incidents … and thankfully, the board not only approved it, they followed it.

Finally, the pastor needs to teach his church how to handle both interpersonal and institutional conflict.

Once board members confronted those who spread rumors about Pastor Bill, the rumors died a quick death.

But had the board members failed to confront the gossips, matters could have gotten worse … much worse.

In many ways, the board had a choice: either confront the talebearers privately in their homes or eventually address the issues publicly in a congregational meeting.

And if you’ve ever seen a pastor on trial in a public meeting, you’ll never forget it … and won’t ever want to see it again.

In a few months … after the church is at peace … Pastor Bill needs to do some teaching on how believers should address conflict with each other and how believers should address grievances with church leaders … including their pastor.

Whenever I spoke on conflict, I automatically ruled out relating any incidents from my current church … only churches from my past or those I heard about from others.

So the pastor should not connect his sermon to the incident several months before.

Instead of trying to rectify the past, the pastor should try and prevent such incidents in the future.

In fact, I believe a pastor should discuss “how we handle conflict around here” at least once or twice every year.

Because when people become emotional, they become irrational, and such people can cause a lot of damage in a church.

Biblical safeguards are the church’s … and the pastor’s … ultimate protection.


Today marks the 550th blog article that I have written and published.

As of today, I’ve had more than 202,000 views on the blog over the past six-and-a-half years.

Sometimes I’ll write an article … it will do well initially … and few people will ever view it again.

Other times, I’ll write an article … it seems to go nowhere … and yet several years later, it will receive a healthy viewership.

With today’s article, I started in one direction, and as I wrote, I sensed I needed to go another direction.  I trust this article will be just what someone needs.

Whether you’re a longtime reader, or have stumbled onto this blog, thanks for checking in.

If I can help you with a conflict situation, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we’ll make plans to talk.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18























Read Full Post »

This morning, I received an email from a PhD student at a Christian university.  He wants to interview me as to what happens in a congregation after a pastor is involuntarily terminated.

I’ve been hoping someone would do a study like this for some time.

During my second church staff experience, my pastor was voted out of office, so I have undergone such a scenario firsthand.  I have also heard from scores of churchgoers and leaders who have shared with me what happened in their church after their pastor left.

Most of these consequences are not matters that church leaders anticipated when they forced out their pastor.  There isn’t much in print on this issue, so most leaders are flying blind when they get rid of a pastor.

This is what God’s people have told me:

First, a few people – usually the pastor’s supporters – leave the church immediately.

When I was in my early twenties, my pastor was removed from office by the congregation.  I assumed there would be a mass exodus, but as I recall, only one family left the church, which still surprises me.

In my own case, after a horrendous congregational meeting – one that indicated that I needed to leave my church – a veteran Christian came up to me and expressed great sorrow at the way I was treated.  He told me that he had seen this kind of thing before, knew where it was going, and wanted no part of it.

After that meeting, he and his wife left for good, ending up at a friend’s church instead.

The more unfairly the termination is perceived by the congregation, the more people will leave … and among those will be some who can never be replaced.

Most staff members will stay … at least initially … because the church pays them, but if a key board member or leader leaves, their example might persuade others that they’re on a sinking ship and need to dive off … quickly.

Second, church leaders will feel overwhelmed as the pastor’s duties land on them.

If a senior pastor is forced out, and the church has an associate pastor, most of the ex-pastor’s duties may fall on him by default.

If the church has a larger staff, those duties may be spread out among staffers.

But if the church doesn’t have staff, the pastor’s duties will probably revert to the board, and the chances are high that they won’t know what to do … which is why many boards hire an interim prematurely.

My guess is that most board members don’t know all that their pastor does in a given week or month, and when they force him out … especially if it’s abrupt … they have no idea how much work won’t get done … and the pastor they just pushed out won’t be available to help them.

Without their pastor, many people won’t know where to go for counseling, either … and chances are poor that they’ll seek out the very board members who pushed out their beloved shepherd.

Third, the congregation craves stability.

For many people, a pastor is the father they never had … and the pastor’s wife is the mom they wish they had.

It’s tough enough in a family when either dad or mom leaves home, but can you imagine how hard it would be if they both left at once?

But that’s what happens when a pastor is forced out of office.  The church’s spiritual father and mother vanish overnight.

Some big sisters and brothers usually try and assure their church family that things will be okay, but to many in the congregation – especially new believers and newcomers – the church feels like a plane in free fall.

Sadly, some leaders and churchgoers become so desperate for normality that they will do almost anything to feel better again.

It’s at this point that many leaders make a foolish mistake.

Fourth, the church board hires an interim pastor too quickly.

When my pastor was removed many years ago, the district sent us an older man: J. Wilbur Bullard.  Dr. Bullard was a spiritual man … and a sweet man … but he was also an experienced pastor … and he righted the plane immediately.

Dr. Bullard happened to work out, but all too many church boards … feeling anxious and confused … fail to take the time to hire the right interim for their church.

Instead, they hire the first interim available … sometimes, a friend or colleague of someone in district leadership.

Of course, a district minister wants someone he knows to become interim pastor.  If the DM shows loyalty to the interim, he expects the interim will show loyalty in return and keep funds flowing from the church to district coffers.

But what’s most important is that a church hire the right interim … preferably an intentional interim … and not all interims recommended by districts know what they’re doing.

The average interim comes to a church and buys time while the search team looks for a new pastor.

An intentional interim comes with a structured plan and helps the congregation define who they are and what they want – and need – in a new pastor.

A church board or search team should interview multiple interim candidates and find the one who fits best in their situation.

In fact, it’s better to hire no one than the wrong person.

I trained with Interim Pastor Ministries led by Tom Harris.  I highly recommend Tom’s approach to interim ministry.  Tom gave me the opportunity to serve as an interim at a wonderful church in New Hampshire, and although I chose not to pursue any more opportunities after that, he runs a first-class organization.

If you’re a board member or church leader, and your pastor recently left, and you haven’t yet hired an interim, you owe it to yourself to contact Tom first.  Here’s his contact information:


Fifth, the church board says as little as it can about why the pastor left.

Not long ago, I spoke with the chairman of a church board that had fired their pastor … and for good reason.

The chairman spoke with an attorney who told him to say nothing about why the pastor left.

But I told the chairman that if the board said nothing, that might keep them out of legal trouble, but they would subsequently have problems with others in the church.


Because when a pastor is fired … especially if the whole process is abrupt … many churchgoers will be highly anxious, and need an explanation from church leaders to help them make sense of things … and to stay.

Churchgoers also want to trust their leaders, but if the only explanation they receive is, “We can’t say anything, but trust us,” I for one wouldn’t trust them at all.

Why not?

Because that’s not the reasoning of a board that rightly terminated their pastor … that’s the reasoning of a board that’s trying to cover up their part in their pastor’s departure.

I’m a firm believer that a church board needs to say as much as they can about why their pastor left … not as little as they can.

The board doesn’t need to say, “Pastor Smith committed adultery with Betty Lou, the head of women’s ministry.”

But they do need to say, “Pastor Smith was guilty of moral failure” … and if the board has a statement from Pastor Smith admitting that fact, so much the better.

There’s a fine line between harming a pastor’s reputation/future earning power and telling a church the truth … but church boards need to walk that line if they want to restore confidence in congregational leadership.

For the optimal way to remove a pastor from office, you might find this article beneficial:


And for more on sharing information with a congregation, I recommend this article:


Sixth, many of the church’s best people still may eventually leave.

Nobody attends a church because of the church board, which meets and makes policy in private.

No, most people attend a church because of personal relationships … and because they like their pastor.

In fact, many believers who end up choosing a particular church have visited other churches for months before finally settling down.

When I left my last church, I encouraged everyone I knew to stay.  A few left right away, but most gave it their best shot for as long as they could.

But over time, some contacted me and said, “I really tried to stay, but in the end, I had to go.”

For example, one friend stayed for a year but finally left when she saw someone who helped push me out sitting near her … and knew that his divisive actions and comments were never addressed by church leaders.

Over time … without solicitation … people told me, “I just left the church.”  Sometimes they told me why … sometimes not.

Some friends also told me on occasion, “So and So no longer attends.  They’re now going somewhere else.”

And I’d think to myself, “The church can’t thrive without these people unless many more like them are coming in the front door.  They’re solid believers … regular attenders … generous givers … and faithful volunteers.”

It’s my belief that when a good pastor – who was not guilty of any major offense – is forced out by the church board, most of the “good people” at the church will eventually leave.

And sadly, without those “good people,” the losers end up in church leadership, plunging the church into a downward spiral that’s nearly impossible to stop.

Finally, terminating an innocent pastor can have tragic consequences for a church for years to come.

By innocent, I mean a pastor who was not guilty of any major offense … only manufactured offenses.

When a church terminates such a pastor, they invite these results:

*Some churches that terminated a pastor find it easier to terminate the next pastor(s).  This is what happened in my father’s case.  Even though he was the founding pastor of a church, the board pushed him out … and then pushed out the next two pastors.

Some churches are “repeat offender” congregations, and most healthy pastors won’t even consider serving them.

*Some churches that terminated a pastor hire a new pastor who eventually takes the church down the tubes, but the congregation experienced such trauma after removing the first pastor that they give the next pastor immunity … even if he’s unqualified or incompetent.

This means that the church fired a pastor they should have kept while keeping a pastor they should have fired.

*Some churches – although a relatively small percentage – may thrive in the days ahead, but I don’t hear about these churches.  Nobody calls me up and says, “Hey, Jim, we fired our pastor a year ago, and now our church is doing better than ever!”

I’m sure this happens … just not very often.  (This would make another good study.)

*Some churches dissolve several years after terminating an innocent pastor.

This is what happened in my father’s case.  After pushing my dad to the sidelines, the church board terminated the next two pastors, and the church then dissolved.

Years after the congregation removed their pastor, the church I served as a staff member eventually dissolved as well.

A friend who reads this blog told me that after he was forced out, the board forced out the next pastor, and then the church disappeared.

Nothing kills a church’s morale like firing their divinely called shepherd.


When a church board believes they’re at an impasse with their pastor, they may very well want to engage in “fight or flight” … that is, either “the pastor goes or we go.”

Some board members tell their colleagues, “In my business, when I have an employee who isn’t working out, I just fire him and hire somebody new.  Let’s do that here.”

But a church isn’t strictly a business … it’s more like a family.

And although a small business owner or a supervisor might be able to control the consequences after firing an employee, no church board can control what happens after they force a pastor to leave.

One of my aims with this ministry is to say to boards who have issues with their pastor, “Think Christianly.  Think biblically.  Think broadly.  Think compassionately.”

I am not saying you can’t or shouldn’t terminate your pastor.  I am saying that unless he’s guilty of a major offense (heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior), don’t let your anxiety cause you to do something that will damage your church for years … or end its very life.

Seek God’s face … get professional counsel … take your time … do it right.

What are some other consequences you’ve seen after a pastor is terminated?
















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: