What I Learned from Bob Schuller.
He’s been controversial over many years and it is true that the landing years of his retirement/transition out of ministry have been incredibly rough. There’s no doubt that his ministry has gotten off course in later years and letting go has not been easy but then it seldom is.
There has been no lack of negative criticism, some of which is based on condemning the man, some is based on misunderstanding, or envy, or the need to resist what he has done so the critic doesn’t have to explain why he or she doesn’t do the same things as Bob did. Yet the fact remains that Bob Schuller had remarkable success with a very simple strategy.
In his earlier years, whenever an idea for ministry was discussed, he required the first comments from every person to be what was great about the idea. No one could lead with negative criticism; they had to start with seeing the possibilities an idea presented. That might have led to some quiet meetings at times but it also led to some significant ministry advances. You may not have an appetite for glass cathedrals and all that goes with them but you can’t deny that he made his presence felt in his city. People knew where he was and they noticed what he was doing. He started with nothing and at his peak had around 10,000 members along with a significant world-wide television ministry accessible by millions of viewers. Only a few years ago his Christmas pageant attracted an audience totaling 27,000!
All that success in reaching people didn’t just happen; it was a result of something very important that he also did (and this one rankles with his naysayers): he listened to the people in his community, tried to understand where they were coming from and spoke directly to their needs. He didn’t condemn them for being vile sinners; he took the opposite approach of reaching out to meet their needs, demonstrating that he cared for them and understood them, knowing that they would then be open to the other things they needed to hear. He realized that no one wants to hear what you have to say when you lead with how bad their behavior is and how messed up their lives are – they mostly know that but will simply and strongly resist such a personal attack.
Was he “soft on sin?” Maybe but even today his website declares: “We must ask the question, “What does God want me to do?” It is not enough just to have peace of mind knowing that in Christ we are forgiven, that our guilt is gone. But we also need to leave church with a God-given dream. It is time to focus more on the sins of omission, to listen to the dreams that God sends into our imagination. For not to listen to them and not to try to turn them into achievements, could be the worst sin many people will ever commit.”
That sort of view is not understood at all by some Christians but he has a point and there’s no doubt that his ministry was strong on building people up instead of grinding them down, on waking people up to the possibility of relationship with God rather than driving them into immobilizing guilt. This blog is not intended to be a defense of Bob Schuller – he’s quite capable of doing that for himself – but the point remains that because he listened to the people he was trying to reach he had significant success. They weren’t despised outcasts to him, they were people in need of help, and he tried to give it to them.
Building cathedrals may not be on our bucket lists and that’s okay, but changing our world needs to be top of the list and it all begins with training ourselves to drop the negative mindset, replacing it with the habit of seeing the possibilities and opportunities in our lives. When the angel appeared to Mary she learned some impossible things were about to happen to her. She responded with, “How can that happen?” and she raised a solid objection. She was told, “. . . For nothing is impossible with God.” Her response was to give the smartest answer of all time, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you have said.” Game on!
To become what God has called his people of faith to be we have to break out of the, “No!” mindset. That’s a choice WE have to make. It’s a discipline we need to be trained in. Too often we sit and do nothing because of our fear of the unknown, personal insecurity, laziness, or self-centered narcissism. Before we resort to, “No!” we need to learn to say, “Yes!” to open our minds to the possibilities God has place around us. If our faith declares that nothing is too hard for the Lord, the challenge to us is to agree and behave accordingly. “I believe, take away my unbelief!” Let me focus on the possibilities of my choices and what each day brings to me.
How are we doing?
So here’s the challenge to try for a day: before you say anything negative, stop and focus on the positive possibilities first – maybe you’ll see the negatives aren’t as important as you initially thought and you’ll make this challenge a life habit..
See below for some Schuller quotes.
Footnote: Today the Crystal Cathedral ministry is in crisis mode. The issues seem to revolve around ministry succession and management and they are far from simple. Whatever the outcome will be, it is better for us to pray for them than to criticize them. There is no glory in seeing a ministry struggle. Change is happening and our highest response is to pray that good will come to them. It’s not right to shoot the wounded.
According to Bob Schuller:
Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost.
Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.
Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure it just means you haven’t succeeded yet.
I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.
If there exists no possibility of failure, then victory is meaningless.
If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been.
It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.
It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.
Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.
Never bring the problem solving stage into the decision making stage. Otherwise, you surrender yourself to the problem rather than the solution.
Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.
Never underestimate your problem or your ability to deal with it.
Press on. Obstacles are seldom the same size tomorrow as they are today.
Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.
The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is.
The only place where your dream becomes impossible is in your own thinking.
Today’s accomplishments were yesterday’s impossibilities.
What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?
When you can’t solve the problem, manage it.
Winning starts with beginning.
You can often measure a person by the size of his dream.
You never suffer from a money problem, you always suffer from an idea problem.
Posted on January 18, 2012, in Active faith, Communicating faith, Leadership and tagged Christian, confidence and transformation, Crystal Cathedral, doing the impossible, Lord, positive, positive mindset, possibility thinking, Robert H. Schuller. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.