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."
A day before the meeting with Robert Schuller, my father was hospitalized in Ohio with a blood clot. I immediately purchased a ticket to fly home. My meeting with Dr. Schuller occurred between the phone call and the flight. When I shared this concern with Dr. Schuller, tears came to his eyes, and he told me his daughter suffered an amputation as the result of an accident. He had written about this in his book, Tough Times Never Last But Tough People Do.
He opened it and wrote these words, "Dear Andrew, look at what you have left. Never look at what you have left. p.s. Your son, Mark, is great!"
Sadly, another blood clot hit Dad's heart, and he died before I was able to give him the book. However, Dr. Schuller's inscription was a great comfort and help to me in my hour of grief. I decided to treasure the memories, count the blessings and to "look at what I have left."
Dr. Schuller suffered several sad losses towards the end of his life, including the bankruptcy of his beloved Crystal Cathedral. But today, as we remember this great Christian ambassador, let us look at what he has left. As the poet Longfellow said, "Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time."