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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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Not long ago, I heard about a church that held a members only meeting.  The leaders said that several members had engaged in serious sinful practices and had been placed under discipline in hopes that they would repent and eventually rejoin the fellowship.

The wayward members were named and their sins were specified.  But the leaders also took pains to delineate the process they had used in each case to try and win back their brothers and sisters.

The process they used was based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17, which begins:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” 

Sadly, since there wasn’t any repentance from the disciplined members, the leaders were engaging in Jesus’ last step: “tell it to the church.”

I was shocked when I heard about this meeting, not because the leaders did anything wrong, but because they did everything right.

In a nutshell, they handled matters spiritually … not politically.

But too often in our day, when a church board is upset with their pastor, they approach matters politically rather than spiritually … and in the process, devastate the pastor, his family, the congregation … and the leaders themselves.

Let me give you an example:

Chris has been the lead pastor of Harmony Church for seven years.  The church has grown under his leadership and become one of the most effective churches in their community.

In October, a group of fifteen people ask for a meeting with Martin, Harmony’s board chairman.  They agree to meet at the home of Carl, the group’s leader.

The Group of Fifteen recites a list of things they don’t like about Pastor Chris, including:

*the way he dresses when he preaches.

*occasional references to his favorite sports teams.

*the kind of car he drives.

*the haircut his fourth grade son sports.

*the fact that his wife doesn’t work outside the home, which all the women in the Group do.

And on and on and on …

Martin tries defending Pastor Chris several times, but finally, Carl throws down an ultimatum:

“Martin, we’re telling you right now: either Pastor Chris goes, or we go, and if we go, we’re going to form a new church nearby and take as many people as we can with us.”

Martin looks around at the fifteen people in Carl’s living room and feels sick inside.  The chairman feels that the ministry is going well … that Pastor Chris has been a solid leader and preacher … and that the Group is overreacting.

But he doesn’t tell them that.  Instead, Martin says, “Let me speak with the other board members and I’ll get back to you.”

Martin quickly decides to call a meeting of the nine-member board without Pastor Chris’ knowledge.  When Martin reveals the conversation he had with the Group, he’s disheartened to hear that four board members agree with Carl’s complaints … and add some of their own.

As the board talks into the night, Martin feels increasingly helpless.  He doesn’t want to fight.  He just wants peace.  But the more adamantly the four board members make their case against Chris, the more Martin senses that several other board members are now wilting.

After closing in prayer, Martin asks the board members to keep everything confidential and to meet again the following Saturday morning at a restaurant outside of town.

When Saturday rolls around, Martin discovers that the four board members who oppose Chris have successfully persuaded two more members to join their cause.  Only Martin and two other members support their pastor … and even then, their support seems tepid.

Several hours later, the board has agreed to ask Pastor Chris for his resignation and to give him a three-month severance package.  Because most board members don’t want to go on record against Chris, they ask that Martin and Jeff – the most outspoken member – deliver the bad news.  In the name of unity, Martin reluctantly agrees.

The following Monday night, Martin and Jeff meet with their pastor in his study.  They tell him:

*there are people in the church who are against you.

*some board members think your time at the church is up.

*the board is asking for your resignation.

*you will be given a three-month severance package if you resign tonight.

*if you don’t resign tonight, we will fire you without any severance.

Chris is both angry and devastated.  He feels betrayed.  He didn’t see this ambush coming.

He asks the two men, “Will you give me 48 hours to think and pray about this?”

They answer, “No.  Our proposal is final.  Take it or leave it.”

Not knowing how to support his family financially without any severance, Chris takes the deal, and promises his written resignation the following morning.

Having operated politically to force out Chris, the board continues to handle matters politically to cover up their involvement in Chris’ resignation.

Over the next three months:

*Attendance plunges nearly 50% while giving shrinks by 40%.

*The best people in the church leave while the malcontents remain.

*Parts of the children’s ministry and youth group are shut down due to lack of volunteers.

*Pastor Chris and his family move to another state and move in with Chris’ brother.  Chris takes a job as an overnight custodian to support his family.  His wife becomes suicidal.  His children vow they will never attend church again anywhere.

*The district minister intervenes and tries to get Burt – his oldest friend – a job as interim pastor.

*Watching the fallout, three of the board members and nine of the Fifteen leave the church anyway.

*The board becomes so overwhelmed without Pastor Chris’ leadership that they regret forcing him out.

But this sad story never had to happen.

Let me share five mistakes that Martin made because he operated politically rather than spiritually:

First, Martin should have stopped the Grievance Festival at Carl’s house after the first few complaints.  He should have told the Group:

“According to Scripture, a pastor should only be disqualified from ministry if he has committed a major offense without repentance.  Do you have any evidence that Pastor Chris has committed such a major offense?  Has he engaged in heretical teaching … sexual immorality … criminal behavior?”

Since the answer would be a reluctant “No,” Martin should have continued:

“Here’s our policy at Harmony Church.  According to Matthew 18:15, if you have a personal concern with anyone in the body, including the pastor, you need to speak with him directly or let it go.  This covers matters like the way he dresses and the car he drives.  I don’t tell you how to look or what to drive, and we aren’t going to do that to Pastor Chris.”

“Next, if you have a policy concern, you may speak with any board member (because we make policy together), and we will either answer you immediately or bring your concern to the next meeting.  Before I leave, I need assurance that you will do what I ask and not take this any further.  Agreed?”

If I were Martin, I’d go around the room and make sure that each person agreed.  If anyone refused, I’d let them know that I was bringing their name before the board, that Pastor Chris would be in that meeting, and if they caused any trouble, they would be brought before the board for discipline.

But because Martin let the complaining fester, he threw his pastor to the wolves.

Second, Martin should have disagreed with Carl’s assessment of Chris’ ministry on the spot.

The chairman should have said, “While I understand your concerns, Carl, I believe the ministry has been going very well, and that Pastor Chris is the right man at this time in our church’s history.  I support our pastor fully.”

Then he should add, “If you believe that God is leading you to leave the church, then leave quietly.  If you’re just frustrated, then stay and work things out.  If your children were having trouble at school or work, you would probably counsel them to stay and talk things out.  If you’re determined to leave, I won’t stop you, but if you’re determined to make trouble, then I recommend that you all leave … tomorrow.”

But by not speaking up for Pastor Chris, Martin’s silence emboldened the Group, who figured they were starting to turn the chairman their way.  Martin’s reluctance to stand up for Chris also later empowered them to recruit several board members to their line of thinking.

Third, Martin should have informed Pastor Chris of the meeting right away.  

But because he failed to inform his pastor about the plot, Martin deprived himself of Chris’ training, wisdom, experience, and resources in handling what was really a coup.

And because Martin kept things to himself, he felt overburdened and anxious.  By the time he met with the board, he just wanted the whole thing to go away.

I once pastored a church where a group of malcontents called a secret meeting to list various complaints against me.  The board chairman not only told me about the meeting, he found out the place and time and showed up for the meeting unannounced.  His presence was so disconcerting that the group cancelled their meeting.

In another church, the chairman called to let me know that an older woman was very angry with me.  He stood up for me and told her how to handle things but wanted me to know there might be trouble on the horizon.

When a board chairman stands up for his pastor, the bond between them grows stronger, and most of the time, with the chairman’s support, the pastor can withstand any coup.  But when the chairman goes silent – or wilts – one can sense the devil sneaking in the church’s back door.

Division has begun.

Fourth, Martin should have researched and presented to the board a process for handling the complaints against Pastor Chris. 

The issue is not, “Should Pastor Chris stay?”  It’s much too soon to even talk about that question.

The issue is instead, “What process will we use to evaluate the complaints against our pastor?”

When the discussion goes right to “should he stay or go?” the approach will be political.

But when the discussion launches into “what process will we use?” the approach will tend to be spiritual.

The political approach to charges against a pastor involves:

*hyper-scrutinizing his life, family, and ministry for petty offenses … then throwing all those offenses at the wall as if to say, “How can such a flawed person lead our church?”

*letting people pile complaint upon complaint without evaluating their veracity.

*allowing people to make charges behind the pastor’s back but not to his face.

*attacking his humanity as if he were pure evil.

*forcing him to quit, and if necessary, destroying his reputation and career.

The spiritual approach to charges against a pastor involves:

*only allowing immediate dismissal for a major offense such as heresy or sexual immorality.

*asking each person who makes a charge, “What evidence do you have that your charge is accurate?”

*letting the pastor meet his accusers and allowing him to respond directly to their complaints (most will never do this).

*reminding people that the pastor is a flawed sinner like everybody else and that he’s a pastor because God called and gifted him … not because he thinks he’s better than others.

*extending a pastor God’s love, mercy, and grace as Galatians 6:1,2 specifies.

Finally, Martin must make sure that both the pastor and his detractors operate out of the spiritual realm.

We expect pastors to operate spiritually.  We expect them to obey Scripture, pray through their decisions, admit when they’re wrong, love people rather than harm them, and seek restoration rather than destruction.

But 95% of the time, a pastor’s detractors operate politically.  They gather together, organize, list complaints, plot, agree on an action plan, and attack, attack, attack.

In other words, a pastor’s detractors use power and control to get the outcome they desire: his departure from their church.

But most pastors aren’t trained to operate politically, so they’re at a disadvantage … and God forbid that the pastor use that same power!

When a pastor is under attack, he can’t lay down the ground rules for the conflict.  He’s so wounded he can barely function.

So the church board – supposedly composed of godly individuals – has to make sure that the conflict is handled spiritually.

This means that the board members must:

*consult their Bibles for wisdom.

*spend time in prayer and listening to God.

*operate by their church’s governing documents.

*slow down rather than speed up the process.

*seek what is best for the congregation, not just their own group.

*do what is right before God rather than being intimidated by who or how many are complaining.

If the board operates politically rather than spiritually, they end up siding with the pastor’s detractors by default.

If the board operates spiritually, they may lose a few people, but they will protect and preserve their congregation …and hopefully, their pastor.

Now here’s the deal: God cannot and will not bless this church … or any church … until it stops operating politically and starts acting spiritually.

And in most cases, the church can’t operate spiritually until those who operated politically admit their wrongdoing and seek forgiveness from everyone … including their former pastor.

When I went through a severe church conflict nearly seven years ago, a pastor read me the following verses from James 3:15-18:

Such wisdom does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

There’s a lot to absorb here, but I have a single question for you:

When there is a conflict in your church, will your board act politically or spiritually?

The answer to that question may very well determine your church’s health and future.

But here’s an even more personal question:

When there is a conflict in your ministry, will you act politically or spiritually?

The answer may very well determine your health and future as well.

 

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Thirty-some years ago, I had a late-night discussion with a Christian leader outside my church office in Silicon Valley.

I don’t remember the leader’s name, but I’ve always recalled a story he told me late that evening.

This leader had a friend who was a former pastor, and his friend told him, “I served as pastors in various local churches over several decades, and looking back, it was all a waste of time.”

During a pastor’s more cynical times, he may feel that way, but the truth is that pastors do much more good than they’ll ever know.

Let me give you an example.

This past week, I read about a bill that is pending in the California legislature.  The bill seeks to strip all faith-based colleges and universities in California that interweave academics with religious doctrine of their exemptions.  According to World magazine, which reported on this story, this bill “would force Christian schools to relinquish their fidelity to Scripture as a distinguishing characteristic of their institutions or risk lawsuits for religious and sexual discrimination.”

If passed, only seminaries would be eligible for exemptions.

(My wife and I live in California for two primary reasons: first, our two adult children live here, along with our two grandsons; and second, we have a large network of friends here. Otherwise, we’d live somewhere else, especially with all the garbage that emanates from the capitol 500 miles to the north.)

What struck me most was not the bill, but a response from a Christian university official.  Here’s the quote from World:

“We are not willing to forego our biblical and covenantal convictions regardless of what laws are passed,” William Jessup University President John Jackson told me. “Jessup continues to believe we are to submit to Scripture and operate in accordance with the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights that includes the First Amendment providing for freedom of press, association, and religion.”

That was a clear and unequivocal response from a Christian college president.  Good for him!

Dr. Jackson also happened to be a kid in my youth group forty years ago.

He was only in the group less than a year, but I remember that he was smart, funny, and for a kid of fifteen, liked girls a lot!

Several years after I left that church, we had lunch, and although that time went well, I lost track of him … but later heard that he was the pastor of a megachurch in Nevada.

Didn’t surprise me one bit.

I don’t take any credit for Dr. Jackson’s ascension to the top spot in a Christian school.  That was due to his parenting, his professors and mentors, his own hard work, and the blessing of God upon his life.

In his case, I’m privileged to hear that he’s been placed in a position of trust in Christ’s kingdom.

There’s another person whose exploits I do follow.

Sheri was a girl in my last youth ministry.  Because we didn’t have anyone who was musically talented, Sheri secured a guitar, learned how to play, and led the youth group in singing praise songs.

I lost track of her more than thirty years ago, and wondered if she was still following the Lord, only to discover that she heads up the children’s ministry in her church, about which she shares Facebook posts several times a day.

Sheri recently wrote an article on Facebook mentioning different leaders who have influenced her life, and I was deeply touched to be included.

So often, pastoring is like watching a parade.  People come … stop for a moment … and then move on.

But on occasion, you hear that someone you taught or mentored is still following Christ, and making an impact … and there’s no greater feeling than that.

Because I am no longer a pastor, I don’t have an influence upon any Christian institution.

But just by being faithful, the Lord used me to touch the lives of people like John and Sheri … and they are now doing their best to advance Christ’s kingdom.

I don’t know why it is, but God often hides the good that His servants do from them.

Back in the late 1980s, I went through a time of doubt and darkness about my role as a pastor, and I clung tenaciously to one verse in particular: Galatians 6:9, where Paul writes:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

When you’re a pastor, you want to see lives changed instantly … you want to see your church grow steadily … and the slowness of ministry can be extremely frustrating.

In fact, that slowness can make you so weary that you’re tempted to give up … and even turn you a bit cynical.

But as J. I. Packer once wrote, spiritual work is slow work.

Instead, Paul advises, “There is a harvest of changed lives ahead, but it’s not going to happen when you want it to happen … it’s going to happen when God wants it to happen.  So keep leading … keep teaching … keep loving … because you never know whose lives God is going to change … and you don’t know when or how He’s going to bless.”

For all you know, someone you’re ministering to right now may just become a church staff member … a megachurch pastor … or a Christian university president.

Even if you’re in a ministry that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere very fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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