Robert Schuller's legacy

At the end of last week Robert Schuller graduated from this world to eternity. I paused to thank God for him and to remember the influence he had on my life. Recently I had the privilege of traveling to Garden Grove, CA, and visiting the Crystal Cathedral. I spent the morning praying on the grounds. I had a memorable encounter with God in the prayer room.

I sat in the first worship space where he had simultaneously spoken to a parking lot full of people sitting in their cars and those siting inside. You kind of have to see it to appreciate it. He started what became a world renowned church and that space was his way of staying connected to the unchurched who would drive up.  When they outgrew that space he and his congregation built the enormous glass sanctuary which the television ministry made the ministry well known globally. 

I pray that I would have the kind of faith and drive he had. I used to listen and learn even if he said things I would say differently or believed differently than I do doctrinally. God used him in a great way. He influenced some of my mentors Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and John Maxwell in very direct ways. 

While some would criticize the last decade of his ministry I choose to say, you’ll never know what it is like until you’ve walked in his shoes–and I haven’t. I’m not upset with the fact that the Crystal Cathedral is being renovated into a Catholic Church. I think it will be used of God once again just in a different way.

I came across a blog by Mark O. Wilson who writes under the title: Revitalize Your Church. These are some of the thoughts he shared:

The news of Dr. Robert Schuller’s passing leaves me reflecting on his life and legacy.  I marvel at this man’s powerful influence on the world, and specifically the landscape of Christianity in America.  I’ve heard several great pastors, such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, express a debt of gratitude for Dr. Schuller’s influence in their early days of ministry.   He taught us that churches need to think outside the box in order to reach non-believers.  He also demonstrated the power of possibility thinking and inspiration.   If there was no Schuller, they may not have been a Willow Creek or Saddleback Church.

Robert Schuller was willing to go the extra mile and reach out to people who didn’t understand church culture.  As a result, he led the actor, John Wayne and stunt man, Evel Knieval to Christ.  He also was invited to preach an unprecedented Christmas Eve sermon on national television in Communist Russia.  Only heaven will tell the multitudes who embraced faith in Jesus Christ as a result of Dr. Schuller’s witness.

Although we certainly had major theological differences, Dr. Robert Schuller personally impacted my life, attitude and ministry.

Back in 1991, as rookie, preparing to take my first pastorate, I wrote Dr. Schuller a letter, asking if I could meet with him for a few minutes to glean some insights on effective ministry.  He graciously agreed and invited me to his office in the Crystal Cathedral tower.

At first, he misunderstood what I wanted, thinking it was just a photo op.  But once he saw my heart and realized I was on a genuine quest for wisdom, he smiled warmly, invited me to sit,  and offered refreshments along with sage advice.

During the course of our conversation, which went a half hour longer than was scheduled, he shared the following suggestions:

1.  “If there are enough people in your community to keep you going strong, invest your whole ministry in the same place.  Try to imagine what your church could be in 40 years, and then start chipping away towards that goal.  Inch by inch, anything’s a cinch.”

2.  “Work with Jesus to build a better church than anyone in your community could ever imagine.  Don’t let small thinkers dictate your dreams.  Operate from the perspective of what God can do rather than what we’ve done before.”

3.  “Some congregations run on positive energy.  Others run on negative energy.  You can grow a church with either kind — but positive energy attracts positive people and negative energy attracts negative people.  If you want a bunch of negative people, all you have to do is run the church on negative energy. You’ll get plenty of them.”

4.  “Knock ’em alive!  Give ’em heaven!”  I swiped these phrases from Dr. Schuller and say them frequently to those who will be speaking or singing at our church.

5.  “Make a list of ten options.  When faced with a difficult decision, force yourself to write down ten possible solutions.  Then, review the list, choose the best one and try it first. If it doesn’t work, you still have nine good ideas to go.  Your answer will be somewhere on that list.”

6.  Look at what you have left.  Never look at what you have left.”

This is great advice and a wonderful legacy from a man who was not afraid to fail or die trying to change the world for God and for God. My favorite phrase was, “find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it.” If you can dream it you can do it was another. I’m grateful to Dr. Schuller and I thank God our lives have crossed.