Robert Schuller And Me
I was saddened to hear of Robert Schuller's passing last week. In his heyday he was a preacher to the nation, including many of the nation's leaders. Politicians and Hollywood celebrities came to be interviewed by him on TV, and he was the minister the family called to visit John Wayne when he lay on his deathbed.
Schuller began his work in Southern California preaching at a drive-in theatre with the mantra, "Come as you are in the family car." Then he built the Crystal Cathedral--an all-glass worship center with no equal any place on earth.
But Schuller had some legacy issues in his later years. Sometimes a televangelist's legacy plans work well, as has the late Jerry Falwell's since the Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University are flourishing. But sometimes one's legacy goes awry as it did with Oral Roberts and Schuller. Schuller's son was tapped as his successor but left in disappointment. The church bankrupted and was purchased by a Roman Catholic parish.
Donna and I got to visit the Cathedral many years ago when the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting was in Los Angeles. We went to the crowded mid-morning service and saw people lined up to come in to the 11 a.m. worship as we left. And since the Cathedral was air-cooled with some windows motorized, flocks of birds flew overhead throughout the service!
Schuller was one of the most influential mentors I had as a young minister. His positive message always made sense as I found myself in church leadership.
For example, I was guest in a local church years ago when the pastor made an announcement about an upcoming youth rally. "If anybody wants to go, we'll have the van ready," he said. I thought of a more Schuller-esque way of saying this: "This will be a great event you'll not want to miss, so please meet us here to ride the van at 6:30."
Some of Schuller's critics said he didn't talk enough about sin. I heard him at a conference at Southern Seminary years ago where he explained his philosophy.
"Jesus never called a 'sinner' a 'sinner," he said. He explained that Jesus only called hypocritical religious leaders "sinners." Schuller said his job was to present Jesus in all his beauty and holiness, knowing, he said, that when people were ushered into the presence of Jesus, there was no question who the sinner was.
"It's like wearing muddy boots on white carpet," Schuller said. "It's obvious."
Schuller had some issues with his legacy, and also seemed to over overextend himself with unwise debt. But I'll always be grateful that he taught me the power of a positive message.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. and adjunct instructor of speech at Jefferson State Community College, Hoover.
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