AG Legal Counsel Richard Hammar Retiring
In the world of church law, there is no name more respected than that of Richard R. Hammar. A prolific writer and often referred to as the leading authority on church law and tax issues in the United States, Hammar has served as the first and only legal counsel for the Assemblies of God since 1978. Recently, Hammar, 71, announced his retirement, effective March 31, 2022.
However, Hammar’s contributions to the Assemblies of God aren’t limited to his mastery of church law. According to AG General Superintendent Doug Clay, Hammar brought much more to the table.
“For over 43 years Rich has provided outstanding legal counsel for the Assemblies of God. His knowledge on church legal, financial, and risk management issues has significantly impacted the kingdom of God worldwide,” Clay states. “But what gives Rich such comprehensive effectiveness is not just his expertise on subject matters, but his dependency on the Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment. The Assemblies of God is a stronger fellowship today because of the life and ministry of Rich Hammar.
The path that originally brought Hammar to the position of AG Legal Counsel is remarkable in its representation of “divine appointments.” Hammar, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1976, was heavily courted by elite law firms and agencies offering elite monetary benefits.
However, just two years prior, Hammar, then an atheist, gave his life over to Christ (through the witness of his future wife, Christine), and now his focus was on God and family. As a result, he and Christine moved to Illinois where he took a job with the federal government.
“We attended Bethel Assembly in Rock Island,” Hammar says. “I was in attendance when former Evangel University president, Robert Spence, spoke on surrendering to God’s will — whatever it means. I felt like that message was for me, so that Sunday I told God that I surrender to His will . . ., but I had no idea what God had in mind.”
Hammar spoke to his pastor, Ken File, about the unknown calling. File felt compelled to drive Hammar 200 miles to meet with then Illinois District Superintendent Richard Dortch. After hearing Hammar’s testimony, Dortch asked for Hammar’s resumé, which he happened to take to the next Executive Presbytery (EP) meeting in Springfield, Missouri.
“Superintendent Dortch told me that at the EP meeting, then General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman began the business session by saying, ‘I believe we need to hire in-house legal counsel,’” Hammar recalls. “Superintendent Dortch then pulls out my resumé and hands it to General Superintendent Zimmerman and says, ‘I believe God might be in on this.’”
After bringing Hammar to Springfield to meet the EPs, he was unanimously offered the legal counsel position. Lawyers Hammar deeply respected, however, warned him against taking the job — calling it the biggest mistake of his life — but Hammar, committed to his promise to surrender to God’s will, accepted.
Was it the right decision? Hammar says God confirmed it a short time later.
After Hammar moved to Springfield in 1978, an executive presbyter referred to him as “Brother Zenas” — the only lawyer mentioned by name in the Bible (Titus 3:13). Returning to visit family in Illinois to tell them about his new job — though none of them were Christians — Hammar pulled an unused Bible from his mother’s bookshelf.
“I wanted to show my family that rare Bible verse,” he says. “And when I opened the Bible, I found that that verse, Titus 3:13, was underlined — the only verse in that entire Bible that was underlined! I took that as divine affirmation and I’ve never regretted my decision.”
ROAD TO EXCELLENCE
When Hammar began his position, he had no job description and no experience in church law. However, through voracious reading and self-education his expertise quickly grew.
“I read every court case that dealt with the church (U.S.),” Hammar says. “I have continued to read every court case involving the church from all 50 states, which is about 1,000 a month.”
Through immersing himself in the legal decisions taking place throughout the United States and closely monitoring tax codes for ministers and churches, others soon began recognizing Hammar’s expertise, seeking his advice and counsel.
Today, he is the author of dozens of books, including Pastor, Church & Law and the annual Church & Clergy Tax Guide, and has also written books covering issues such as copyright laws and reducing the risk of abuse within the church. Literally no one has written more on church law than he has.
To top it off, many times Hammar’s works are cited by courts in decisions and the IRS also relies upon them. Having the leading authority on church law and taxes as the Assemblies of God legal representative has come in quite useful.
Yet, Hammar readily admits that his expertise and rise in prominence are God-given gifts. He says once he became a Christian, he began praying daily for wisdom as the Bible instructed — he went from a 2.5 GPA student to setting the curve on every test — and God has multiplied that blessing in his life many times overs.
“I don’t rely on my own abilities,” he says. “I pray for God’s miraculous intervention in cases . . . God is our help and our resource. I’ve seen if happen over and over. It’s an amazing thing to see God work in cases.”
But it’s not that Hammar is ever unprepared. He explains that he has always approached his job through St. Augustine’s credo: Work as if the results depend entirely upon your efforts and pray as if the results depend entirely upon God.
“No one outworks me on cases,” Hammar says, “and no one out prays me. I view my position as a sacred trust. Every day, as I leave my office, I turn and I thank God for the privilege of working for Him . . . I never forget that there’s a spiritual component to this job.”
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
As Hammar reflects on his career, he notes that many of his ministry encounters, often didn’t involve his position as legal counsel. Yes, God revealed himself in many ways, working in and through Hammar to play key roles in protecting the Assemblies of God in times of litigation, using proper wording in official documents to avoid future potential litigation, and even playing an important role in seeing AG Financial come into existence. However, God didn’t just bring Hammar to Springfield and bless him with so many gifts just to be a lawyer.
Many people may not realize that Hammar, in addition to his work as legal counsel and authoring legal books and publications (along with being a popular speaker), has many other interests that some may find surprising.
For example, for decades he taught fourth and fifth graders about their faith in a Sunday School class at Central Assembly (which more recently advanced to high school students), he became a ranked chess player, he’s a nationally recognized astronomer and has taken and posted some of the world’s best photos of the universe on his website, Seetheglory.com. He’s also a certified diesel mechanic; a mentor of children, young people, and adults; a licensed private investigator; a sailor; a long-time college instructor on several subjects; is avid about exercise; and is one of only 270 professional registered parliamentarians in the United States. And in his youth, he was recruited by legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight.
It’s been through those incredibly varied experiences that Hammar has rubbed shoulders and spoken into the lives of countless thousands of people who, for the most part, have no interest whatsoever in church law . . . though they very might well talk about chess, astronomy, or even why their diesel engine keeps cutting out.
“I spoke at the Springfield Astronomy Club on the Star of Bethlehem one year,” Hammar recalls. “An older man, he was a local heart surgeon, was there. After the talk, he came up to me, introduced himself, and proceeded to set up a lunch with me. When I arrived at the lunch, there was no small talk. I sat down and the first thing he said to me was, ‘What’s the bottom line? How can you reconcile faith and science?’ It was a wide-open door. We developed a strong and deep relationship where God allowed me to nurture his faith.”
Hammar also has countless students from his Sunday School classes and collegiate classes who still contact him, thanking him for providing insights to life, faith, and the existence of God through his study of the universe — and a myriad of other topics.
Of course, Hammar has seen God impact lives through his work in the areas that encompass church law as well.
“I have received thousands of letters of appreciation over the years for my work,” Hammar notes. “But my all-time favorite came from Rabbi Joseph Glazier, executive secretary of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He wrote, ‘We here at the Central Conference of American Rabbis view your work with the same devotion as we do the Torah.’ How do you top that?”
Hammar also saw God step in to launch his career as an author almost immediately upon his arrival in Springfield. Al Phillips, the dean at Central Bible College, asked him to teach a course on church law.
“I agreed to do so, assuming that there would be several books from which to choose,” Hammar says. “I was stunned to discover that there were none. So, I began writing my own. I thought it would sell a few hundred copies per year to seminary and Bible college students, but to my amazement it quickly became the third-best-selling book in the history of Gospel Publishing House. The success of this book led to 30 more books, newsletters, videos, and other resources addressing legal and tax issues for churches.”
Hammar isn’t going to have any problems finding things to keep him busy, as he mentioned wanting to learn a few other languages and study calculus in his soon-to-be realized free time. But when asked about why he made the decision to retire now, he immediately points to two daughters, a son, and eight grandchildren that he wants to see on a much more frequent basis.
“Instead of only once every three or four months or even a year, we want to be around our children and grandchildren much more,” Hammar says.
“I speak to other lawyers about their jobs, and they just can’t understand how I have loved my job as the legal counsel for the Assemblies of God,” Hammar says, “as so many of them really don’t enjoy their jobs at all. But for me, it all goes back to that decision I made to surrender to God’s will. Yes, we all have challenges in life, but you simply can’t go wrong when you’re in God’s will!”