Learning from Robert Schuller

I’ve never been a big fan of television pastors. In late college, I grew to appreciate T.D. Jakes, but that was mostly due to his preaching style and delivery. I may not have always agreed with his theology, but I was definitely convinced that he passionately believed in whatever message he was sharing.

Every so often, I would tune into the “Hour of Power” with Robert Schuller. As he aged, his increasingly gentle demeanor came across as sincere and trustworthy. However, I was mostly tuning in to find out what celebrity he would have as a guest on the program.

These days, I tune in from time to time to hear the choir and see what kind of message Schuller’s grandson, Bobby, is sharing.

As many of our churches have transitioned to online ministries, I’ve found myself thinking that maybe we all have something to learn from Schuller. And, as many of our churches begin to consider how to re-enter into the world of in-person gatherings, we also may have something to learn from Schuller.

Schuller (and others like Charles Stanley) always shared a broadcast from an actual church gathering. There was a physical congregation present to engage, respond and participate. For me, the temptation would be to primarily focus on the gathered community and just allow the digital community to peek into what we are doing. This sets the stage for a physical church with an online presence – we do things gathered together and broadcast it for others to observe.

However, Schuller always found ways to engage the virtual audience. He didn’t pretend that they were not recording. He would refer to the televised audience, offer ways they could participate and invite them to be fully involved and present in the gathering. It expresses the importance of those not able to be physically present. This sets the stage for a connected community – both digitally and physically present.

As we return to in-person gatherings, we need to take this lesson from Schuller and not proceed as if the digital congregation is not present. We need to find ways to interact and engage those digitally present. We simply cannot dismiss what has become an essential practice for our congregations.

Schuller also never hesitated to “make the ask.” He always invited the televised audience to fully participate in the ministry of the Crystal Cathedral through their financial gifts and prayers. Now, since the Crystal Cathedral did end up filing for bankruptcy, maybe he needed to ask for more! However, he always extended an invitation to partner in ministry.

Schuller didn’t stop with the ask. He also found ways to express gratitude. Most of the time, it was some kind of cheesy gift. Yet, it was a way to say, “we appreciate your support of the ministry.”

If we have a physical or email address, a note of appreciation goes a long way. Communicating words of gratitude for those physically present and those digitally present are very important. Telling stories of how those gifts are being utilized cannot be underestimated.

Schuller also would share paths for engagement. Whether it was an invitation to join together in prayer and praise, participating in a devotional study or some other way to be engaged beyond the worship gathering, there was always some kind of invitation.

As we begin to relaunch our in-person gatherings, finding ways to offer points of connection will be important. Whether it’s providing avenues to share prayers and praises, paths to connect with others via Zoom or other digital platforms, having weekly all-church studies or reading plans are ways those who cannot be physically present and still be holistically engaged.

So, while I have largely dismissed those TV preachers, they just might have something to teach all of us!

Orange County Register photo by Bruce Chambers – photo taken 1/1/06

Full Of…

Throughout the years, I’ve been accused of being full of many things.

Teachers, friends, family members, random strangers I encounter along the way have commented that I am full of…well, you know where this is going.

One mentor made the sarcastic observation that I am “full of sunshine and rainbows”!

“Warm and fuzzy” is something I’ve never been accused of being.

Typical descriptive words used in reference to me include, “sarcastic, cynical, overly-critical, harsh, cold.”

Yes, folks, I am a ray of hope in a dark world!

One of the things that my “less-than-warm and fuzzy” demeanor has produced is a pretty good BS meter. I can quickly cut through the nonsense. I don’t fall for the manipulative tricks of those in positions of power (political, religious, etc.). So, that’s a good thing, I think?

However, one of the downfalls is that I have a tendency to be an overly-harsh critic. I tend to focus in on the negative and rarely give people the benefit of the doubt. I quickly identify the BS, call it out and dismiss whomever happens to be spewing the BS.

Now, this overly-critical spirit is something I’ve been working on over the years. I’m in a much better place today than I was several years ago. I can thank my counselor, family and friends for that!

One of the things I’ve been working on during this coronavirus pandemic is having an open mind and spirit. Rather than “leaning into” my critical nature, I am trying to be open and look for the best. See, just with that statement, I’m growing. I can’t stand the overuse of that phrase, “leaning into”. It appears to be part of the new Christianese dictionary. But, I used it in my blog – so there you have it!

Each week, I probably watch up to 10 different virtual worship gatherings. I don’t make it through most of them. I fast-forward to catch the parts I want to see. Some are from churches I’ve followed over the years. Some are churches of friends. Some are links others have sent me. Some of it is to try and learn what others are doing and how we might be able to incorporate new things.

But, as I watch these virtual services, my first tendency is to go straight towards the negative.

  • Is that really the music they want to share?
  • Are they standing 6-feet apart?
  • Certainly that pastor doesn’t believe what he/she just said?
  • Do other people actually enjoy this?
  • What were they thinking?
  • How is this person in that position?
  • Do they really think that’s a good representation of their church?
  • Are you kidding me? Am I really watching this?

And, here’s the deal, I know there are plenty of people being just as overly-critical and negative in regard to the virtual offerings I provide. But, being sarcastic and cynical, I “lean into” that and put up my walls and find myself not caring about what others think. That’s helpful, right?

The thing is, I fully recognize my critical spirit is not helpful. It’s not helpful because, even when my assessments are accurate and my observations could be beneficial, it’s not coming from a good place.

So, I’m working on having open heart, mind and spirit. When I am open, I can look for the best. I can realize that, even though the music may not be what I’m looking for, these folks are trying their best. I can realize that, even though I may not agree with the theological perspective of the preaching pastor, I know that he/she is doing their best. When I have an open spirit, I just might learn something. When I have an open mind, I might see the best in others. When I have an open spirit, I just might be able to offer some helpful thoughts rather than hurtful/harmful criticism.

So, if you are like me and have a tendency to walk in (or log in) to a worship service with a negative/critical spirit, stop yourself and ask God for help, wisdom and to “create in me a pure heart”. Try to focus on the positives, the areas of hope, the places of potential. See if there is a way to turn your complaint into a compliment!

You know, there are appropriate, helpful and kind ways to correct, instruct, and share concerns. Then, there are ways that cause more harm than good. I know, as one who at times both shares and receives criticism, there are ways it can be offered that is well received – and ways it can be offered where it is dismissed and damages relationships.

So, if you can say something and maintain a positive relationship with others, go for it! However, if you have something to say but it is going to cause division, maybe find a different way to say it…or don’t say it at all.

It’s like my mother used to caution me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, maybe keep your mouth shut.”

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