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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:

http://www.interimpastors.com/

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.

Why?

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:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2016/04/15/removing-a-pastor-wisely/

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

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2015/01/12/telling-the-truth-after-a-pastoral-termination/

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

For years, AA was my friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He answered all five objections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had three options:

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

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

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

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

Fast forward ahead four years.

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

Only AA never told me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

In England, they call that a Shadow Government.

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, Andy.  I forgive you.

See you in glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have a theory about pastors, one that I’ve devised by listening to stories from pastors and church leaders, as well as by reflecting upon my own ministry.

Here’s the theory: I believe that churchgoers and church leaders – especially leaders – want a pastor who is largely predictable.

Because when a pastor is unpredictable, that results in heightened anxiety, and conflict surrounding the pastor may soon surface.

There may even be calls for his dismissal.

Let me give you an example.

Pastor Michael came to Hope Community Church four years ago.  He’s known for his solid character, family, and Bible teaching.

There is nothing about Michael that is spectacular, and the church knew that when they called him.

They called a solid senior pastor, not a spectacular one.

It’s kind of an unspoken contract.

But Michael has been enduring some physical and financial stresses recently, and at a recent staff meeting, Michael swore at the associate pastor in front of the rest of the staff and threatened to fire him if he didn’t change his attitude.

Predictable Michael has now become unpredictable.

Realizing what he had done was wrong – and might quickly spread throughout the church – Michael immediately apologized to the staff, and especially to the associate pastor.

In fact, after the staff meeting, Michael and the associate left the church campus and met privately at a nearby coffee shop.

Michael’s outburst will get around the church.  It won’t reach the ears of even half the people, but some will start looking for signs that Michael isn’t always the solid guy he seems to be.

And for Michael, his unplanned verbal explosion could be the beginning of the end of his ministry at Hope Church.

Many Christians know that Paul lays out the qualifications for spiritual leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

Most Bible teachers believe that Paul’s overarching qualification for spiritual leadership is that a man needs to be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2) or “blameless” (Titus 1:6,7).  Paul then expands upon what he means by those terms.

But in my mind, Paul is also saying that spiritual leaders need to be predictable in their character.

There was a man in my first church (I’ll call him Nathan) who was on the church board, and I was always anxious around him because of his temper.

He could explode at any time for any reason.

At a midweek Bible study, he once disagreed with something I said, yelled at me, stood up, left the room and slammed the door behind him.

Another time, he stood up in a public meeting and reamed out a woman, the wife of a fellow leader.

Nathan was anything but predictable … and that carried over to his home life as well, because just a few months after I came to the church, Nathan’s wife announced that she was divorcing him … and I had to ask him to step down from the board.

It was his second divorce.

Who was going to approach Nathan for counseling or prayer?  He was too volatile.

And what’s sad is that for much of his life, Nathan had been a pastor.

Paul told Timothy that an overseer must be “temperate, self-controlled … not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome …”

Yet I have never believed that the qualifications Paul mentions refers to a person’s past history.

Who hasn’t been out of control on occasion?  Who hasn’t been less than gentle?  Who hasn’t loved money a little too much?

But I do believe these qualities refer to a person’s present character, which means that God wants spiritual leaders to be consistent, dependable, yes, and predictable.

Let me make five quick observations about pastors and predictability:

First, the way a pastor acts, speaks, and responds during his first few years sets the template for the rest of his ministry.

If the pastor responds to criticism with a calm spirit his first few years, people will expect that same spirit for the remainder of his tenure.

If the pastor responds to emails within an hour of receiving them, people will expect that practice will continue.

If the pastor works hard his first few years, people will expect that same work ethic.

I became a youth pastor at age nineteen.  My pastor … who later became my father-in-law … told me that if I worked hard my first year at the church, no one would ever question how hard I worked again.

He was right.

People want a pastor whose responses they can predict.  They will be more likely to listen to his sermons … follow his leadership … and ask for his counsel if they know what kind of person they’re dealing with upfront.

Second, even though churchgoers may prefer a predictable pastor, it’s wise for a pastor to be unpredictable at times.

In my last church, I carefully scripted my sermons because I had a few critics who were ready to pounce on anything I said that deviated from their norm.

After several critics eventually left the church, I felt more freedom to be myself, and on occasion, I would engage in an unplanned rant … and those little rants were often the best part of the sermon.

As Presbyterian pastor Stephen Brown used to say, “When in doubt … say it.”  It was his belief that the ideas that popped into a pastor’s head during the sermon would be the ones the congregation remembered best.

They can also get you into trouble … believe me, I know … but at least you’re being interesting.

In other words, even though people prefer a predictable pastor, the pastor shouldn’t allow himself to be put in a box or he’ll never be able to lead the church forward.

Third, only a pastor’s character need be predictable.

Those verses in 1 Timothy and Titus refer to a leader’s inner being.

They don’t say anything about a pastor’s appearance … education … leadership style … or sermons.

Sometime after my daughter Sarah was born, I started growing a beard.  It was the fashion in the early 1980s, and even though I’m usually years behind the trends, it was as simple as not shaving.

One Sunday, a woman stopped me after the service and asked me, “You’re not growing a beard, are you?”

Because my appearance was becoming unpredictable … thus making her anxious … she felt she had a right to vote on the matter.

And yet, several years later, when I shaved off that beard, Sarah cried and cried.  She only knew her dad with a beard!  (Sarah stuck a photo of me and her on Facebook for Father’s Day … and there was that beard again.)

As pastors grow spiritually … as they take continuing education … as they read more extensively … as they take risks as leaders … and as they change the structure of their sermons … they will become less predictable, and cause some people anxiety.

What’s important is to acknowledge any changes and explain them to the congregation so that calm believers can help the nervous ones to cope.

Fourth, when a pastor’s character becomes less predictable, he may be headed for termination.

When people think they know who a pastor is deep inside … and he acts in ways that throw them off balance … some may call for his removal.

One of America’s best-known pastors once bought a second house in a resort community.  He had a steady income from his writings and probably felt it was a good investment.

But when some people in the church heard about that home, they turned on him, and he began to receive an increasing amount of criticism.

Although I’m not aware that anyone called for his dismissal, the criticism was a factor in his leaving the church after a long and successful tenure.

Let’s say that a pastor has some financial difficulties in the first year of his ministry.  If he has financial difficulties in his fifth and ninth years as well, it won’t be a shock to key leaders because he’s already set a pattern.

But if his finances have been pristine for eight years, and he gets into financial trouble in his ninth year, some leaders may be shocked … and disappointed … and begin talking about getting a new pastor.

Finally, our Savior could be jarringly unpredictable.

Jesus was anything but predictable. While His character was God-honoring, His methodology, language, and style were always changing.

For example, if you read the Gospels with fresh eyes, you won’t be able to guess what Jesus says or does in any given situation.

Mark Galli wrote a book a few years ago called Jesus Mean and Wild.  I thought it was a great book and that it explodes many of the inaccurate ways we view Jesus today.

Jesus never healed people with the same methods.  One time, He would speak a word, and a sick person would be made well.  Another time, He would touch someone and they’d be whole.

Jesus’ words weren’t predictable, either.  He said the most memorable things … easy to recall … yet His pithy sayings were full of meaning.  Love your enemies?  No man can serve two masters?  Don’t cast your pearls before swine?

While Jesus’ unpredictability makes for fascinating reading, few Christians today would want Him as their pastor!

They’d rather have someone they can control.

But I believe that pastors need to have characters that are predictable but ministries that are unpredictable.

Just like Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Probably the worst ministry nightmare that a pastor can experience is to be either fired or forced to resign.

You lose so much: your position … your income … your reputation … most of your church friends … your sense of self-worth … and more than you ever feared.

Having been through this experience more than seven years ago, I’d like to share some events that helped me to heal.  Maybe my situation can help someone who wonders, “Will I ever get better?”

Each of the following events contributed in some way to my healing:

First, I chose to leave the area where the church was located.

My wife and I loved our house so much!

It took us thirty seconds to walk to the shores of the San Francisco Bay.  When I looked to the right, I saw the Oakland Coliseum where the A’s play.  When I looked to the left, I saw AT&T Park where the Giants play.

I saw the Bay Bridge … and the San Francisco skyline … nearly every day.

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There was a bench on a small bluff facing the water.  Sometimes I would sit there and study for sermons while the wind blew the water crazy at high tide.  (Although it’s at low tide in the next photo.)

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The entire seven years we lived in that house, I knew that in a moment, it could all be gone.  That knowledge gave me a profound sense of gratitude for every day we lived in that beautiful place.

But when I was attacked by a small but vocal group within the church, I could not envision staying, much as we loved where we lived.  My wife suffered greatly, and we were constantly on guard that we would run into our antagonists and melt down emotionally.

We had to go.

Seeing the church … and the community … in the rear view mirror was necessary for survival.  We didn’t have kids in school, and though the economy was leaking, we chose to sell our house in a short sale (neighborhood comps were dreadful at the time) rather than stay or rent it out.

Had we stayed in that community, our healing would have been stalled.

But many pastors lack the funds to move away, or they stay because their kids are entrenched in schools, and I believe this delays their ability to heal.  The sooner a forced-out pastor can leave a community, the better.

Why stay where you’re not wanted?

Second, I only stayed in contact with churchgoers who were truly my friends.

If I even suspected someone of colluding against me, I unfriended them on Facebook.  And in almost every case, my instincts were right.

I remember a man who invited me to attend some sporting events with him.  We enjoyed our times together, and before I moved away, he told me that he had contact with a leader who was instrumental in pushing me out.  This man called that leader “nasty.”

But several months later, when I attempted to converse with him online, my sports friend had turned on me.

Why stay in contact anymore?  He had chosen sides.  It would have taken several hours of meetings to bring him around, and I was nearly 800 miles away.

Unfriend.

I need more rather than fewer friends, but when someone clearly stands against you, you’re not really unfriending them.  You’re just accepting the truth … and that’s healing.

Third, I spent a lot of time reading the Psalms.

David knew how it felt to be attacked as a leader.  He also knew how to articulate and universalize his pain.

For months, I only read authors who understood that same pain.

I was depressed.  I didn’t feel like praising the Lord.  I didn’t want to evangelize the world.  I didn’t want to become a church member or use my spiritual gifts.

But I found great comfort in the ancient wisdom of Israel’s Psalter.

Because I found it difficult to pray, I sometimes let David do the praying for me.

I also sensed God’s touch when I read 2 Corinthians.  Paul defends his apostolic ministry throughout the entire book, and lets us know that sharing our raw emotions is sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do.

I needed to know that I was not alone, that I was suffering as many other saints had done in time past.

And that insight helped a great deal.

Fourth, I found a church home.

My wife and I moved to Arizona after we left our last church, and we visited a new church nearly every Sunday for six months.

We ended up at Christ’s Church of the Valley – or CCV – which became one of the largest churches in the US while we were there.

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I always thought that megachurches were cold and impersonal, but I didn’t find CCV that way at all.  It’s the closest to a perfect church that I’ve ever seen.

The church was outreach-oriented.  They served their community well.  During playoff season, they broadcast NFL games outside on monitors after services so men could stay at church while watching football.  They served breakfast before services, pizza after services.  They even gave guests a free meal.

I tried to use my gifts to serve there, but I found out the hard way there’s only one teacher in most churches these days – the lead pastor.

But I looked forward to every service, and found the people at the church both joyful and grounded.

One of the hardest things about moving from Arizona back to California was leaving CCV.

Although I believe that a forced-out pastor needs to attend church, I found serving problematic.  Most churches don’t welcome ex-pastors with open arms.

But attending a good, solid church helped me heal.

Fifth, I forgave those who attacked me. 

It took a few months to do this.  If someone had told me, “You have to forgave those who hurt you right now,” I would have replied, “I am simply not ready.”

I’m always amazed at those who claim that they instantly forgave the murderer who killed their husband or child.  The words sound good, and play well in the media, but three months later, do they still feel the same way?

There were people who joined the “Crucify him!” mob that I didn’t need to forgive.  I didn’t hold them responsible for what happened to me.

But three Christian leaders in particular knew exactly what they were doing: a former pastor, a staff member, and a board member.

I forgave them all a few months after I left my last position … but then I would hear new revelations of their collusion, and have to forgive them all over again.

I don’t think forgiveness is always an event.  Sometimes it’s a process.

In all honesty, I wish those well who plotted against me, and I don’t hope they die of the plague or rot in a prison somewhere.

The Lord will take care of things.  He always does.

But I wish that someone wise and fair could have set up a process for real reconciliation.

When I forgive someone from a distance, that’s unilateral forgiveness.

When I forgive someone to their face – and we become friends again – that’s bilateral forgiveness, or reconciliation.

That’s the kind I long for, but I’ve given up hope it’s ever going to happen.

Maybe accepting that fact is just as essential for ultimate healing.

Sixth, I largely blocked out my previous ministry whenever I did any teaching.

For many years, I’ve led workshops on church conflict at the Christian Leaders Training Association Convention in Pasadena, California.

I’m excited whenever I lead workshops because I’m doing what I believe God has called me to do.

But those conventions only last for a couple of days.

Five years ago, I became the interim pastor of a wonderful church in New Hampshire, and most of my time there, I reveled in the history of the area and formed friendships that I enjoy to this day.

And during that time, the pain of my previous ministry was largely forgotten.

It’s very healing to preach or teach others.  You’re focused on the present, not the past, and you can use your former experiences to enrich your hearers.

But because those opportunities aren’t common, I now teach the best way I know how.

I write.

Seventh, I could tell I was healing when I didn’t want to tell my story anymore.

For a few years after leaving my last church, whenever I met someone, I wanted to tell them, “I used to be a pastor, but I no longer am.  Since I don’t want you to think I left ministry due to a major offense, here’s why I did leave.”

Then I’d launch into my story … even when I didn’t mean to.

Several months after our departure, my wife and I attended an Amy Grant concert nearly 250 miles from our house.  Amy is my wife’s favorite artist.

We waited after the concert to meet her … there were only three of us … and when Amy signed a photo for me, I told her that I used to be a pastor, but I wasn’t one anymore …

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Why in the world did I do that?

I can’t remember the exact date, but when I started telling people “I’m a retired pastor” and that my wife and I work together in our own business … that was a day of great healing.

If anybody wants to talk about what happened at my last church, I’m always willing, and I don’t feel much … if any … pain in doing so.

But I’d rather talk about something else.

A very good sign.

Finally, I felt the greatest sense of healing when my wife and I finally made enough money to pay our own expenses.

It took me 25 years to make a decent wage in church ministry.  My family did without so many things … as my wife often reminds me.

Early in my first church, I drove a car worth $200 and had large holes in the bottom of my dress shoes.

In our last ministry, we finally made enough to save money and take some trips overseas … things my best friends do routinely.

Before I left my last ministry, I negotiated a separation package with the new church board, and those funds carried us for many months.

My wife then got a job with a charter school, but we had to withdraw funds from my retirement account to supplement our needs … funds that disappeared all too quickly.

For the past several years, the Lord has blessed us with our own business – one that we run from our house – and we just purchased a new home … more than seven years after losing the last one.

The day I went into a store and paid for food based on what we earned in the present rather than what we had accumulated in the past was a day of great liberation.

That’s why I tell pastors, “The day you can pay your bills from a new job is the day your healing really begins.”

I hope sharing my experiences have been helpful.

What else helps former pastors to heal?

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Pastor Henry felt all alone.

Along with his wife and two sons, Henry had just received an invitation to become the next pastor of Grace Church, a thousand miles from his last ministry.

Henry and his wife Mary surveyed the congregation when they initially visited the church but couldn’t seem to find anyone they might want as personal friends.

But one morning during his first week, Henry received a call from Bret, a longtime member who told Henry he’d come by the church at 11:30 to take his new pastor out to lunch.

Exhausted from the move, Henry was glad that someone was taking the initiative to get to know him.

Bret took Henry to an expensive restaurant, telling his pastor all about the community, the church … and the previous pastor.

In fact, Bret told Henry a lot about the previous pastor.  Pastor Mark was a good preacher who led the church through a time of unparalleled growth.  This information made Henry feel insecure.  How could he hope to compare favorably with a predecessor he didn’t know and might never meet?

But Bret didn’t just recite the previous pastor’s virtues.  Bret also slammed Pastor Mark’s leadership in many aspects of ministry, and told Henry that Mark was pushed out of office due to his shortcomings.

Henry felt better as he realized that Pastor Mark wasn’t perfect, but had his own issues.

And then Bret told Henry, “You know, I’m so glad you’re here.  You’re just what this church needs at this time.  And whatever you need, I’ll be glad to help.”

As Bret drove Henry back to the church, the new pastor felt a bond developing with his new friend.  “Finally, somebody believes in me” he thought.

Over the next several months, Bret and his wife Hope invited Henry and Mary to their home for dinner.  The two couples quickly hit it off and became best friends.  They went to movies together, ate in each other’s homes, and saw each other nearly every week.

Six months later, when it came time to suggest names for elders, Henry recommended that Bret be considered.  The others on the nominating team remained strangely silent, not saying yes or no.  Henry backed off.  Two others were selected instead.

For the next several years, the two families got along famously … and everybody at church knew it.

One Tuesday night, Hope called Henry and asked him to come over right away.  When Henry arrived, he found Bret in a foul mood.  According to Hope, Bret had been drinking and had verbally and physically abused his wife.

Henry did not like what he was hearing.

An hour before the next meeting of the official board, Henry met with Jeff, the board chairman, and asked Jeff what he knew about Bret and Hope.

Jeff was reluctant to say anything.  After all, everybody knew that the two families were tight.

But Henry insisted, and Jeff finally said, “Bret has a drinking problem, and he refuses to get help for it.  Bret wants to be on the church board, but we can’t let him because, in Paul’s words, he is ‘given to drunkenness,’ ‘violent,’ and ‘quarrelsome.'”

Henry suddenly felt very foolish.

Jeff went on, “Pastor, I don’t know how to say this right, but your relationship with Bret and Hope is causing some people in this church to question your judgment.”

After the board meeting, Henry went home and told Mary what Jeff had said.  Mary and Hope had become very close, but Hope had never shared with Mary anything about Bret’s drinking … or any other weaknesses they had.

Several weeks after visiting Bret’s house, Henry started noticing that Bret and Hope were no longer attending services.  Henry thought about contacting Bret, but he knew such a conversation would drain him of much-needed energy to run the church.

A couple months later, chairman Jeff called Henry and told him that a campaign was underway to remove Henry from office.  When Henry asked Jeff who was behind the campaign, he was told, “Bret and his wife Hope.”

Henry’s heart sank.

As a longtime member, Bret had developed friendships with many people in the church over the years, and he had a good idea who he could influence to join his “throw out the pastor” team.

Henry decided to ask Jeff a question that he had never asked before: “When Pastor Mark was forced to leave this church, who was most responsible for his departure?”

Without hesitation, Jeff answered, “Bret and Hope.”

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Insecure pastors … and there are thousands of them around … often compare themselves to other pastors … especially their predecessors.

A wise pastor quietly gets to know the previous pastor so he can (a) form his own opinions about his personality and ministry; (b) learn about that pastor’s influence and tenure firsthand; and (c) tap into that pastor’s wisdom concerning key junctures in that church’s past.

A foolish pastor rejoices when the previous pastor is denigrated, thinking it makes him look good by comparison.

But the same person who criticizes the previous pastor will eventually criticize the current one.

And the same person who supported the previous pastor will eventually support the current one as well.

Many years ago, I learned the wisdom of Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

Pastors need to choose their church friends carefully, or the friends they latch onto early in their ministry make turn to bite them later on.

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I once met a man (I’ll call him Peter) who had served as the senior pastor of a church I had known my entire life.  That church’s first pastor lived two houses down from my house, and I went to school … and later church … with his children.

My uncle, aunt, and cousins had attended that church as well.

Years later, I made many friends in that church.

And eventually, I was called to be on their staff.

While Peter and I were talking, I shared with him some conflicts that occurred during my time in that church … conflicts that became so embedded in that church’s culture that they later affected Peter’s ministry.

I could tell that Peter had an enlightened understanding of what happened to him in that church.

Why don’t more new pastors contact their predecessors and gain that wisdom and understanding up front?

Could it be because of people like Bret and Hope?

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

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

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

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

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

Seventh, Sandy Koufax.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Koufax being mobbed by fans:

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

Eighth, Mickey Mantle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here are a few Mantle stories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ninth, Juan Marichal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenth, Willie Mays.

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

And he was my brother John’s favorite player.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Willie.

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

Eleventh, Willie McCovey.

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

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

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

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

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

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I took this picture of my son Ryan with McCovey:

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

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

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

McCovey said no.

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

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

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Finally, Frank Robinson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting autographs was much simpler back then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the first six:

First, Hank Aaron.

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

And I wake up in a cold sweat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, Ernie Banks.

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

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

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

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

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

Third, Roberto Clemente.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth, Reggie Jackson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish I had been there!

Fifth, Al Kaline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaline always did.

Sixth, Harmon Killebrew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he had a long name.

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

And the Mantle and Mays stories are the best.

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