Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Greatest Church Builder Has Died

I was planning on waiting until Monday to write this blogpost, but I am compelled on a Thursday evening (this Maundy Thursday), to write a few words about the person that is probably as responsible for my entrance into the ministry, and becoming a pastor, as any other.

Robert Schuller has died, at the age of 88.

I can still remember the evening in December of 1988, as if it were yesterday, when I headed out into the winter packed avenues of Salt Lake City, Utah, for an evening run, with my Sony Walkman headset (for those younger than me, that is a cassette player system that had actual wrap around head phones), on a crisp weekend evening, as the moon was casting a glistening sheen on the crystals of newly fallen snow, and listening to Robert Schuller's message about his ministry.  Schuller talked about how the, "greatest churches in the history of the world haven't even been started yet."  He talked about, "the power of possibility thinking."  He said that God could turn your, "scars into stars."

I was transfixed.  As a 16 year old, I knew instantly what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to be like Schuller.  (Let me qualify that).  I wanted to have a life and a ministry that was as expansive as Robert Schuller's.  (Let me qualify that even further).  I wanted to have a ministry that had the same heart as Shuller's.  I wanted to try to reach unchurched, dechurched people.  I wanted to do something new, like Schuller.  I craved a significant life that was out of the box, like Schuller's.  Schuller began something that was revolutionary for it's time.  Rather than focus his ministry on "in the box", "pre-existing relationship with God" people, Schuller focussed on those who did not know God and definitely did not like church.

Whether Bill Hybels, of Willow Creek Community Church, or Rick Warren,  of Saddleback Community Church, will admit it (the two glacial movements of ministry that stemmed from Robert Schuller, and the Crystal Cathedral), their ministries were deeply influenced by Robert Schuller.

Schuller helped to usher in so many great musicians.  The Waldowskis, a couple in ministry and in song, were such compelling artists.  Ken Medema, one of the great Christian musicians of all time, was a product of Robert Schuller's ministry.

The first new church that I had the opportunity of starting was Highlands Church, in Paso Robles.  Highlands continues to be a great and thriving church in so many ways!  The very first elder of that church was a woman that is such a capable and remarkable leader, Nancy Richardson.  Nancy has gone on to bigger and better things from her days in Paso Robles.  However, Nancy's father was the founding elder of the Crystal Cathedral.  I met him a few times.  He was such a remarkable man, full of faith, and hope and charm and humor and grace.  Schuller knew how to pick great leaders.

When I was 21 years old, and very much confused as to what I was going to do with my life, I had the opportunity to meet Robert Schuller.  Schuller was doing a pastor's preaching conference for a few select pastors (my father being one of them), and don't ask me why, but I was a part of the group.  At this point, I was very lost, very confused, very unsure about what my future would hold, if any.  Schuller spent about ten minutes with me.  He asked me what I wanted to do with my life.  I said, "I want to be a politician."  He said, "Don't do that, that 's a waste of time."  I said, "why?"  He said, "Graham, a politician is only an effective leader for a few years, and then you have to term out.  But a pastor, a pastor, you can do that for life, and have an impact on a million people.  Don't waste your life in politics.  Be a pastor," he said, with a wide brimming grin, "like me!"

I'm soo grateful for the life of Robert Schuller.  I don't care what the critiques say.  He helped me pastorally and personally.  I am a pastor because of him.

All For Now,
On this Maundy Thursday Evening,


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