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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 …

Amy Grant Concert - Trip to Alameda March 2-7, 2010 090

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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From time-to-time, I receive emails from churchgoers whose pastors resigned suddenly.  These concerned individuals want to know what, if anything, they can do about their pastor’s unexpected departure.

Someone wrote me recently asking that very question.  This is how I responded (with some slight modifications):

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Thank you for writing.  I’m sorry for what happened to your pastor.  It’s happening a lot these days.

I’m going to suggest some things you can do that are perfectly within your rights as a longtime church attendee.  More than anything, YOU WANT TO DETERMINE IF THE PASTOR RESIGNED VOLUNTARILY OR IF HE WAS FORCED TO RESIGN.

*Contact the pastor and/or his wife directly.  Ask them what happened.  Write down what they say for accuracy.  If the pastor signed a severance agreement, he may not be able to discuss anything until the agreement expires.  If he didn’t receive a severance agreement, he should be able to speak freely, although some pastors believe they’re being divisive if they say anything about their departure.  (I don’t hold that particular viewpoint.)

*Find a copy of your church’s governing documents: the constitution and bylaws.  Find the section on removing a pastor from office.  (Some churches don’t have any governing documents, while others don’t have a section on removing a pastor.)  Familiarize yourself with the key sections of those documents.

*Contact a member of the governing board of your church, whether they’re called elders, deacons, trustees, the church council, or something else.

*Ask the member you know best, “Which process did the board use that led to our pastor’s resignation?”  It’s not time to ask about any charges that might have led to the pastor’s exit.  Just focus on the process.

*Tell the board member you’ve contacted – or the entire board in writing – that you would like a written copy of the process that the board used to deal with the pastor.  My guess is that most boards won’t have one in writing, but you’re doing them a favor by asking them for it anyway.  They will be forced to think through the steps they used to secure the pastor’s departure.  Since board members are usually voted into office by the congregation, the board needs to account to the congregation for how they treated the pastor.  (And in congregationally-run churches, the pastor is voted on by the church as well.)

*If the board resists, don’t threaten or make demands.  Just tell them that you’d prefer not to take things further.  You just want a copy of the process.  If they can’t or won’t produce it, then they may be hiding something.

A couple I know well told me that the board in their previous church forced out their pastor.  Soon afterwards, due to feedback from the congregation, a board member stood up at the end of a Sunday service and told the body that the board wasn’t going to talk about why the pastor left and so people needed to stop talking about it.

My friends left that church soon afterwards … and I would have done the same thing.

A church board doesn’t need to tell their congregation everything about why their pastor left, but they do need to tell them enough.  Most parishioners love and trust their pastor, and if he suddenly leaves, the board needs to be as forthcoming as possible to keep people’s trust.  The quickest way to lose it is for them to say nothing.

This is why I recommend asking the board for a copy of the process they used.  It doesn’t ask them to violate any matter that is strictly confidential.  It just asks them to recite the steps they used.  However, if they won’t reveal the process, or you sense they operated by the law of the jungle instead, your board members may be trying to cover up their role in your pastor’s departure.

*Compare the process they used to (a) the governing documents; (b) Scripture; and (c) labor law in your state.  There are many articles on my blog that deal with the scriptural way to correct or remove a pastor.

*If a bully was involved in pushing out the pastor, and the board felt pressured by the bully, he/she won’t show up on the written process.  But even if that’s the case, the board is still responsible for their decisions and actions.

*Ask around discreetly.  Find people in the church’s inner circle who know what happened.  Contact them directly.  Ask them why the pastor resigned.  Make sure their information comes from a reliable source.

*Ask questions of the right people, but refrain from offering your own opinions.  If anyone wants to know what you’re doing, just say you’re trying to learn what happened.  Assume that when you offer your opinion, you will be quoted and whatever you say will get back to the board.  While no one can stop you from asking questions, they can and should stop you from forming a faction or making outrageous statements.

Sometimes a pastor may appear to be godly and gracious in public, but is nasty and mean in private.  Sometimes the board will ask such a pastor to change his behavior but he will refuse.  Sometimes a pastor resigns because he’s had an affair, or because he’s a tyrant.  It’s hard to know who a pastor really is when parishioners only see and hear from him for an hour or two every week.

The church board may act independently of the congregation, or they may have received complaints against the pastor from certain key members.  Board members can become incredibly anxious when important leaders or longtime friends threaten to leave the church unless the pastor is sacked.

Sometimes the pastor hasn’t been getting along with a staff member or a key leader and he’s pushed toward the exit as people choose sides.  Many years ago, I attended a church where the pastor fired a popular staff member and soon afterwards, the pastor himself was forced to quit.  In cases like these, the board doesn’t want to talk about the issues because they don’t want to reveal the names of those who weren’t getting along with the pastor.

Keep a written record of the questions you ask and the answers you receive.  It is not divisive to try and find out what happened.  It is divisive to form a faction, use it as a power base, and begin to issue threats and ultimatums.  You should be allowed to have your say but not your way.

Once you’ve absorbed what I’ve written, feel free to respond or ask questions.  I hope I’ve been helpful!

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Which two areas in a local church have the greatest potential to catapult a pastor out of ministry?

According to church conflict expert Dr. Peter Steinke, those two areas are money and sex.

When I first became a pastor, I was unprepared for the value placed on money in the local church.  In fact, I can’t recall even one word being devoted to the topic in seminary.

But the quickest way for a pastor to be pushed out the door is for him to mess up – even in a small way – on church finances.

Let me share with you seven brief thoughts I’ve learned about pastors and church finances:

First, the pastor’s personal finances need to be in pristine order.

A pastor needs to watch his spending and his indebtedness very carefully.

Although they shouldn’t, some people watch the kind of car the pastor drives and the kind of house in which he lives … and if they think he’s being excessive, they will rip into him behind his back.

One famous pastor bought a cabin in the mountains with income unrelated to his church ministry, but a vocal minority howled about it, and it became a factor in his eventual departure.

I remember hearing another time about a pastor who had a gambling problem.  As I recall, he finally gambled away his house … and soon afterwards, his career.

My wife and I have lived by a budget for most of our married life.  We both have set allowances every month, and we can spend those funds however we like, but each of us is accountable to the other for every other expenditure.

I check my bank accounts online nearly every day and balance my checkbook at the same time.  At any given moment, I know exactly how much money we have and how much we have to spend.

Because when it comes to personal finances, I hate being surprised.

In 36 years of ministry, I can’t recall a single time that anyone criticized me in the area of personal finances.  I’m sure some did, but their comments never got around to me.

But realize this: people assume that church funds are managed the way the pastor manages his own funds.

This area is crucial because of the next lesson:

Second, the pastor must give generously to his local church.

By generously, I mean at least a tithe, and preferably beyond a tithe.

I don’t know if he still does this, but for years, whenever he preached on giving, Pastor Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church would invite people up to the front after his message so they could view his checkbook and see how much he gave to the church.

Following his example, I did this for years, but my son Ryan was the only person who ever took me up on it!

If a pastor isn’t giving at least a tithe to his church, he can’t speak with integrity on the subject, and that will come through in his preaching.

The day after the conflict broke in my last church seven years ago, I preached on the story of the widow’s mite from Mark 12:41-44.  I was so rattled that I forgot my tithe check at home.  Between services, I drove home, wrote my usual check, returned to the church, and dropped the check in the offering … then shared that story during the second service.

I don’t believe that if a pastor tithes, his church will automatically do well financially, but I do believe that if a pastor doesn’t tithe, his church won’t do well financially.

And there are always a few people in the church who know the truth about the pastor’s giving, especially the money counters and the financial secretary.  During anxious times within the congregation, if even one financial person tells someone else about the pastor’s giving patterns … well, let your imagination run wild!

Third, the pastor should never handle people’s donations: period.

In my last ministry, people would sometimes come up to me after the service – especially people on the worship team – and tell me, “Hey, Jim, I wasn’t able to put my donation in the offering today.  Will you take care of this for me?”

I always told each person the same thing, “No, I don’t handle money, but let’s go together and you can put your donation in the drop safe.”

We had a slot carved out of the wall next to the church office where people could insert their donations.  They went down a chute and instantly fell into a safe.

I treated other people’s money like poison.  I didn’t want anything to do with it.

In that way, it would be difficult to accuse me of stealing someone’s donation, whether by cash or by check.

Years before, at another church, someone once slipped fifty dollars in cash under my door.  Whoever put the money there didn’t identify themselves or the purpose of their gift.

When I mentioned it to the finance team leader, I thought he’d hand me the money.  Instead, he immediately deposited it in the offering … and his actions protected my financial reputation.

Fourth, the pastor needs to make sure that people’s donations are protected by safeguards.

I once knew a married couple who scooped up the Sunday offerings, took them home, counted them together, and then deposited the funds in the bank the following day.

This practice was a carryover from the previous administration, and when I found out about it, I quickly put a stop to it.

Another time, a law enforcement officer in our congregation told me that after the offerings were taken in each service, a woman took the proceeds, walked several hundred feet by herself, and then locked the money away until after the service.  He told me, “It’s dangerous for her to carry those funds by herself.  What if someone knows her route, hits her on the head, and steals the money?”

I didn’t think about things like that because I was preaching when she made her walk, but his comment spurred me to make sure that she was accompanied by at least one other person … preferably a strong man.

We eventually devised a system that started with donations … ended with the bookkeeper writing checks … and covered everything in between.

For example, we always made sure to have three people counting money.  If one person counts the offerings, they might be tempted to embezzle funds.  Even two people working in concert could engage in embezzling.  But when there are three money counters, embezzlement almost never occurs.

Fifth, the pastor must communicate that the church budget is a servant, not a master.

Let’s say that you have a family budget, and that you have a category marked “household repairs.”  You just fixed your garbage disposal for $200 so you have little money left for other problems.

But then your refrigerator begins to leak water, and after calling out a friend, he tells you, “Your refrigerator is shot.  You need another one.”

Since the “household repairs” category has been depleted, are you going to wait months to buy a refrigerator?

No, you’ll move heaven and earth to buy one right away, regardless of the budget category.  Your family NEEDS a refrigerator.

Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with a handful of board/finance people who act like the church budget is a master.  If a category becomes depleted, they’ll say, “I’m sorry, but we just don’t have funds for that item until next year’s budget.”

Church budgets should be as flexible as possible.  Yes, God’s people need to learn to live within their means, and yes, some items and repairs can wait, but there are times when a church will limp along unless it replaces the copier or fixes that leaky toilet in the men’s room.

One of the great things about not being a pastor is that I don’t have to consult the bean counters anymore.

Sixth, the pastor needs to realize that money flows toward the most effective ministries.

In my last ministry, my wife was our church’s outreach director for nearly nine years, and she knew how to get things done.

One Saturday night early in her tenure, we had a big feast on the lawn outside the worship center.  The place was packed, we had gondola rides on the lagoon adjoining our property, and the mayor and his wife even stopped by for a visit.

My wife’s vision and passion to reach people became contagious.  One couple in particular began donating large amounts of money directly to her ministry through the offering.

Some on the board were very upset about this development.  They wanted to ask the couple to give to the general fund instead.

While I understood their viewpoint, I pointed out that if the couple was told where to give the funds, they might stop giving altogether.

During our entire time in that church, funds flowed easily toward the outreach and missions ministries because that was the primary area that God was blessing.

But there were other ministries that weren’t as well funded … mostly because nobody was very excited about them.

I still believe this basic principle: money flows toward the ministries … and churches … that God is blessing.

Finally, the pastor needs to monitor the financial systems privately but stay away from the money publicly.

If there’s a breach in the financial systems of a church, the pastor may very well be blamed, even if he had nothing directly to do with a violation.

For that reason, the pastor needs to make sure that his church does everything in the financial realm properly, because if he doesn’t, it may be his head that rolls.

About ten years ago, a prominent megachurch here in Southern California suspended the senior pastor because of financial irregularities involving a staff member.  The pastor knew nothing about the staff member’s sloppiness, yet the pastor was scapegoated and eventually forced to resign.

I believe that a pastor’s involvement … at least in a small or medium-sized church … extends even to who the money counters are.  Whenever my last ministry needed a new money counter, I would make a list of potential volunteers.  We needed someone who was committed to the ministry … had a lifestyle of integrity … and who would keep their mouth shut about who gave how much.

Those people aren’t always easy to find, but they are worth waiting for.

At home, I’m hands on with the money: budgeting … keeping records … transferring funds … paying bills online … the works.

But even though I could handle the funds directly inside a church, it’s crucial that I delegate those duties to others who are optimally qualified or else I will be viewed as a control freak.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I was pastoring a new church in Silicon Valley.  We had the location, the staff, and the ministry for growth, but in that resistant environment, the ministry was not growing as fast as I wanted … and that included the finances … which made me anxious and even fearful at times.

One night, during our midweek worship time, the Lord spoke to me in an audible voice … the only time I ever remember this happening.

His word was just for me.  The Lord said, “You take care of the ministry, and I will take care of the money.”

And He did.

The Lord wants all of His shepherds to know that taking care of the money is a huge part of taking care of the ministry.

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While cleaning out some boxes kept in storage yesterday, I ran across a photo taken of me at an event from my last church … and I instantly felt a twinge of pain inside.

Then I started to feel sadness behind my eyes … like I wanted to cry but couldn’t.  That feeling lasted for about half an hour.

I’ve had these feelings for years now, and I don’t like them.  They come upon me at unexpected times, especially when I focus too much on the conflict that propelled me out of church ministry seven years ago.

Even though I’ve written extensively about pastoral termination and church conflict over the past six years – having written nearly 525 articles – I haven’t written much about the feelings that a pastor has after he’s been forced out of office.

While I can’t speak for every pastor who goes through this horrendous experience, maybe it would be helpful to describe what’s healthy … and unhealthy … after a pastor undergoes termination.

So offering up my own experiences as a model, let me share five emotions that I experienced in the aftermath of my departure from ministry in 2009:

First, I was shocked by the viciousness some people demonstrated to get rid of me. 

Some people I served as pastor did everything in their power to destroy my position as pastor as well as my reputation.

And I mean destroy.

There is no way to sugarcoat what they did or said.  These professing Christians intended harm toward me, their pastor.

It was revenge … and personal.

Only I didn’t know then … and don’t know today … what I did or didn’t do to illicit such hatred from them.

That shock lasts a long time.  In many ways, I’m still not over it.

I never preached with a hateful tone nor a hateful manner, so those feelings did not originate with me.  They either came from an internal or external source.  My guess is that they came from someone outside the church who fanned the flames of anger inside the church.

The attitude of these people was not, “We disagree with your views on several subjects,” nor, “We think you’ve lost effectiveness and should go.”

No, their attitude was, “We hate you, Jim, and we want you to leave and never come back.”

These were people who professed to love Jesus, His Word, and His people … so how could they demonstrate such rage against their pastor who had served them faithfully for 10 1/2 years?

I have no idea.

When I was nineteen years old, I became a youth pastor.  One night, after finding out that two of my former Sunday School teachers were involved in sexual immorality, my pastor told me, “Jim, don’t ever be shocked by what Christians do.”

Over the years, I’ve tried not to be.

But sometimes, I still am.  Sometimes, the whole conflict invades my soul without warning, and I shake my head and say to myself, “I could never, ever treat a pastor the way I was treated.”

If I’m shocked at anything today, it’s that not even one person responsible for pushing me out has ever apologized for their actions.

Second, I engaged in a lot of self-reproach.

I have this really unhealthy habit of believing bad things people say about me while ignoring the good things.

It’s not so much a self-esteem issue as it is blaming myself for not being perfect.

So when the church board attacked me privately … and their allies attacked me publicly … I figured that I must be who they said I am: a horrible person and pastor.

Nearly every charge made against me was a partial or complete falsehood, and I knew that at the time, but I still blamed myself for not being everything they wanted in a pastor.

Whenever someone severely criticized me, I used to tell myself, “How arrogant of me to think that I can please all 400 adults in this church.  I can’t, and nobody else can, either.”

That’s a healthy way to view criticism.  But when your critics all align together, and pool their complaints, and fire them off into the ether, it’s natural to think, “They must be right.  I must be a colossal bozo.”

That’s why going to counseling was so important for both me and my wife.  We needed an outside, objective, different perspective.

We saw two counselors: one who practiced a few miles from that church, and another who practiced in another state.

Both told me the same thing: the way you were treated was wrong, and your critics failed to demonstrate any love or redemption, the tip-off that your opponents were not very spiritual.

Let me quote from Dennis Murray in his book Healing For Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack:

“The attack on you is not information about you.  It is information about the handful of ringleaders who organized the battle…. Healing begins by recognizing that you did the right thing.  You were blessed with an incredible ‘manure detector’ that allowed you to see exactly what was happening.  You have been blessed with a perceptive intelligence that allows you to distinguish truth from lies.  Your intuition is highly developed and you were able to separate fact from fiction.”

Although I still don’t know why my attackers hated me so much, I no longer blame myself for the conflict, and realize that while I made mistakes in ministry, nothing I did justified the way I was treated.

Third, I experienced a normal amount of depression.

Dr. Archibald Hart is the best teacher I’ve ever had.  He taught “The Pastor’s Personal Life” class in Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program.  (And he told me that he would put my book Church Coup on his reading list.)

Dr. Hart believes that whenever you’re depressed, you need to find the core loss, and only then will you start to recover.

My wife and I lost so much after my resignation: my position, my income, my reputation, our house (it was underwater and was sold in a short sale), our church family, our credit rating, and worst of all, most of our friends.

That’s a formula for depression.

When my wife and I attended a Wellness Retreat sponsored by The Ministering to Minister’s Foundation the month after our departure, Dr. Charles Chandler and his colleagues stressed the importance of both going to counseling and taking antidepressants to aid in recovery.

Fortunately, my wife and I were both already doing those things.

After we left our last ministry, we moved to another state 750 miles away.  For months, I could either explode in anger or break into tears at the drop of a hat.  I spent weeks just walking around the neighborhood where we lived, wondering how I could ever pastor a church again.

My core loss?  In my view, I had lost my identity as a person … and in a very real sense, was lost both vocationally and personally.

Which means that to go forward, I would have to reinvent myself vocationally.

Here’s what I’ve learned about depression after a forced departure:

*Whenever I returned to the community where my previous church was located, I would become increasingly anxious and afraid.  I can no longer get anywhere near it.  It’s poison to my soul.

*Whenever I took a trip out-of-state, my depression lifted, probably because I felt safe.

*Whenever I’ve talked about my situation in public – like in a workshop for Christian leaders – I feel fine.

*Whenever I write a blog, I rarely feel sad because I’m trying to help others by engaging in something redemptive.

*When I wrote my book Church Coup, and had to look at documents that were created during the conflict, I could feel my intestines tie into knots.  If it’s a difficult book to read, imagine how painful it was to write.  (This is probably why there are very few books written by pastors about their own forced terminations.)

*When I became an interim pastor three years after leaving my last ministry, I felt great most of the time … except when I was drawn into several conflicts.

I’ve been asked if I’m willing to do any more interim work, but right now, the answer is “no.”  Whenever I even imagine myself serving at a church, the pressure behind my eyes builds again, and I start feeling a large degree of anxiety.

For me, healing involves working, and being involved in ministry … just not church ministry.

Fourth, I am completely open about every aspect of the conflict.

Years ago, I determined that I would be a pastor who would express his humanity and describe his feelings if it would be redemptive.  I grew up with pastors who never let us know who they were or what they felt strongly about, and I didn’t want to be like them.

So when the Lord allowed me to go through a 50-day conflict of which I was the focus, I resolved that I was going to make things redemptive by sharing what happened to me so that I could help others.

Many pastors have who been pushed out of their churches don’t want to talk about what happened to them with anyone.  They keep it all inside … for whatever reason.

Maybe they don’t want to relive it.  Maybe they don’t want to dwell on the past.  Maybe they figure they can’t change what happened.

Or maybe it’s all just too painful.

My ministry mentors are leaders like Archibald Hart, Bill Hybels, and Stephen Brown … men who are authentic and transparent about their feelings and failures.

So if someone wants to talk about our conflict, I’m glad to engage.  If someone wants to steer away from the topic, I’ll follow their lead.

Several months ago, I learned that someone who had supported my ministry during the entire time I was at my last church turned against me after I left … and she surely wasn’t the only one.

It hurt me for a moment, but then I figured, “Why should this bother me?  I can’t straighten out everybody.  Besides, the next time we’ll see each other is in heaven, so she can only hurt me if I let her.”

But I felt that sadness behind the eyes again, and had to wait for it to subside.

To write my book, I had to engage in hours of personal ruminating as well as many interpersonal conversations.  My hope was that by writing a complete account of what happened … with commentary from conflict experts … I could put the entire situation behind me.

Writing the book did help a great deal.  I don’t have to revisit any major events mentally because I’ve already recorded them.

I would say this: being open about what happened to me probably wrecked any chance I have of returning to church ministry someday, but it’s made me much more empathetic and effective in helping pastors who have undergone this horrendous experience.

And I think that’s a great trade-off.

Finally, I have felt a strong sense of isolation.

I love Sherlock Holmes, whether it’s Doyle’s original stories, the episodes filmed for Masterpiece Theatre in the 1980s, or Benedict Cumberbatch’s current take on Holmes.

Holmes was a consulting detective which means that people who wanted help with a problem had to seek Holmes out directly.  They came to him … he didn’t go to them.

When I was a pastor, people emailed and called me for help during the week. They made appointments for my counsel.  They sought me before and after services.  As an introvert, I loved it when people came to me for help.

I was a somebody at church.

But when you’re no longer a pastor, you suddenly feel like a nobody at every church you visit.  And God help you if you tell the pastor that you’re an ex-pastor who would like to use his spiritual gifts to make a difference.  Most of the time, you will be perceived as a threat and shunned just for saying that much.

The Christian community simply does not know what to do with its former pastors.

My wife and I live in a desert community.  We have many business clients but no real friends in the area.  We are not only each other’s best friends … we are each other’s only friends.

We do have some family around: 60 miles away … 75 miles away … 330 miles away … and 490 miles away.

And we do have some good friends we see several times a year.

But it’s not the same as when you have church friends that you see several times a week because they live in your community.  We’ve tried going that route, but so far, it hasn’t worked.

In case you’re wondering, I love my life right now.  The Lord retired me early, and I enjoy working with my wife, seeing our grandsons, watching sports, and going to concerts and ballgames.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

This Monday marks seven years since the beginning of the conflict that pushed me out of church ministry.  As I do every year, I’ll be writing a special blog about that experience and including some things I’ve never shared before.

If I can help you or a loved one who has undergone a church attack, please let me know.  Either leave a comment on this blog or write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

Sometimes reaching out to someone who understands is the best way to start your recovery.

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