Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Troubles in ministry

Sunday mornings, as we are getting ready for church, Lynda and I usually have the television tuned to the Hour Of Power broadcast. This is the ministry begun by Robert H. Schuller, an outgrowth of his church in Garden Grove, California. It has been on the air continuously for 38 years. We have watched it sporadically through the years, and somewhat regularly since 2002.

I am no fan of Schuller. Back in the 1970s our pastor gave each church board member a copy of Schuller's Your Church Has Real Possibilities. I found this to have much good in it, but I was uncomfortable with the overall message, which was a watered-down gospel. Still, for a few minutes on a busy Sunday morning, the program gives good music and interesting interviews. Usually I am ready by the time the sermon comes on and am in another part of the house reviewing Life Group class materials.

In January 2006, the elder Schuller semi-retired, and his son, Robert A. Schuller, was installed as senior pastor of the church and thus speaker for the television ministry. Lynda and I liked his sermons and overall demeanor considerably better than the old man--at least I know I did. He seemed more a pastor, less a showman. Overall, though, it seemed little had changed under the son. Possibility thinking was still the order of the day, with a little gospel sprinkled here and there.

Recently we have noticed the son was not on the program. We thought little of it, figuring he was off on a Sabbatical or a mission trip. This last Sunday, however, when we heard they were going to have a series of guest speakers from now on (didn't hear if this was to be permanent or for a set duration), we wondered what was going on. Easy research revealed that on October 25th Robert A. was removed from the television ministry by the ministry board. Of course, that means he can't speak in church, since the TV feed comes from the church services. How can a man be senior pastor of a church if the board keeps him out of the pulpit? Press releases indicate the board did this because Robert H and Robert A don't have the same vision for the church--or mission as Robert H calls it--and that this lack of shared vision would be bad for the ministry. Additional research reveals that the elder Schuller did not like the son using scripture in his sermons. Too much scripture, not enough psychology, I guess.

Various message boards are abuzz about this, though it seems to have garnered little attention from the nation at large. Few people seem to be supporting the removal of the younger man, as they thought the relatively minor changes he was making were the right way to go. Some on the message boards have been particularly critical of Robert H for not seeing the need to fully retire, not seeing the need to change with the times, not realizing that the vision he had for the ministry when it began may not be the correct vision for it now. They are castigating him for his lukewarm preaching (I won't even call it 'gospel').

This makes me think about trouble in ministry. While I prefer a robust sermon that gives the gospel to a sinful, hurting world, I also realize that the Sunday morning sermon is not synonymous with the church. Much more goes on, or should be going on, apart from the sermon to reach the lost with the gospel and disciple converts. Should the message be a little bit "feel-good", and should this cause a few more people to attend services and put themselves in the place where other ministries of the church can reach and feed their souls, is that the worst thing in the world? I think not. Don't get me wrong. I'm not supporting either Schuller's type of preaching. I'm just saying that from the preaching alone we don't receive a full picture of the ministry of the church.

Why does this sort of problem develop? Why are there problems among God's servants? We should expect this type of individual to be able to work together easier than people in the secular world. However, it seems no better nor worse in than in secular employment. Strong-willed individuals grate on each other; weak-willed persons fail to take the lead. Ministries suffer, and the gospel is not advanced.

I'm not quite sure why I'm posting this, except to express sadness, for the specific problem, and for how it is symptomatic of a much wider problem.


Anonymous said...

I know that we are not to judge a servant of the Lord, so I am offering this as simply my opinion. I have never been a fan either. I don’t like the mannerisms. I watched the telecast very haphazardly. It’s strictly entertainment. When I saw the shift beginning was when the son stopped wearing the holy “Robe” and stopped talking like a clone of his father. When all the phraseology stopped, the tone of his voice and the ‘pausing and dramatics’ stopped. He just began to actually speak to the congregation as a pastor might. The grandson also spoke a time of two and I was even moe impressed when he actually gave a full meaningful message that left my heart where it should be, focused on the Lord.
In closing, it’s sadder still that with the world faltering right now, the church should be the truest most trustworthy place we know to go to. I have a feeling that it was also $$$ that had some influence in the moving out of the son. Probably some leading individuals had friends in for the weekend and wanted to take them to see the “ICON” the Crystal Cathedral and were disappointed when it turned out that all they were doing was having church. We need to keep praying for this land.


David A. Todd said...


I feel that the son, Robert A. Schuller, was making small changes in the direction of the local church and the television ministry that were in the right direction. The amazing thing was how small the changes were. These were not radical changes, rather sprinkling a little bit of gospel in with the possibility thinking.

Robert H. Schuller, the dad, should have retired and left the ministry to his son. His vision for the church he started may have been the right one at the time he started it. But times change, cultures change, and people change. The church--any church--has to adapt to the times and culter to effectively win the lost for the kingdom of God. The elder Schuller doesn't seem to understand how change is needed.

Thanks for commenting. We do indeed need to keep praying for this land.


Mark Hollingsworth said...

It's amazing how the church can sometimes act like the world. That's not good at all, is it? I think you are right that it was time for change and Robert A was headed in that direction for the good. When my dad retired and the church called me he resigned and left the church so the people wouldn't look to him instead of me for leaderhip.
Thanks for your post. It was informative and a good exhortation to us all (including preachers and leaders) to follow the Lord and not just a man.
Thanks again,

David A. Todd said...


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