Dr. Robert H. Schuller is clearly one of the most visible ministers in the world, like him or not. Since Schuller began his drive-in church in Garden Grove, California, in the 1950s, his possibility-thinking has established not only a well known mega-church but a world-wide television ministry. Schuller, now 82, retired from day-to-day leadership in 2006. He was succeeded by his son, Robert A. Schuller. Now the entire Schuller ministry and legacy has undergone a profound upheaval. The story is very, very sad.
Robert Anthony Schuller, 54, succeeded his famous father in January 2006. The hope was that a younger audience would become loyal to the broadcast that has billed itself as “America’s Television Church.” But in July, 2008, the father reversed course and formed a three-person Office of the President which removed the younger Schuller from the leadership of The Hour of Power. Then in October of 2008 the father announced that the son would remain the senior pastor of the church but he would no longer be featured on The Hour of Power. What is now seen as a major family feud thus became public. A month later, in late 2008, the son resigned as the senior pastor of the church.
Financial problems are clearly a major part of these decisions. A growing debt forced the removal of a number of staff members and the sale of $65 million in property. But the real story is much deeper than a budgetary crisis. And it is a story that should move any one with first-hand experience of family crisis and breakdown.
Robert H. and Arvella Schuller have five children. All five of them have been deeply involved in the ministry of the church as well as The Hour of Power. One daughter, Shelia, is married to Jim Coleman. Jim is president of the Hour of Power and Sheila is the education director at the church. Sheila's presence is very obvious when you visit the Web site of the ministry. Daughter Gretchen is married to Jim Penner. Jim is the CEO for The Hour of Power and a member of the Office of the President. Gretchen is programming producer for television and schedules the music. She also interviews the guests. Daughter Jeanne, married to Paul Dunn, writes and directs the church’s annual shows: “The Glory of Christmas” and “The Glory of Easter.” And grandson Robert (Bobby) Vernon, 27-year-old son of Robert A. Schuller, pastored an emergent style congregation called the Gathering, that once met on the Crystal Cathedral campus but moved away in the spring of this year.
The Church Herald, the magazine of the Reformed Church in America (Crystal Cathedral is a member congregation of the RCA), stated in an exclusive April 2009 story, “Cathedral in Conflict,” that “the organizational structures of the megachurch and the TV program are complex, driven primarily by Schuller family members and paid staff, with two separate ministries (congregation and TV broadcast) and two governing entities (Office of the President, plus an International Board).” The International Board is the only structure that includes significant outside voice. The Church Herald added, “The organizational structure has become less transparent in the course of Robert Anthony’s demotion and resignation.”
Robert A. Schuller had brought in several major leaders to work with him in his new role in early 2006. These leaders had a background in the RCA in Michigan. They were all casualties of the staff cuts in January of this year. Those who left the church staff have refused to comment. Personally, I find this an admirable response given the way many staff will speak against a church that once employed them.
The Hour of Power telecasts have featured a number of well-known guests over the last ten months. Officials say that their ratings are rising again and attendance has increased. I have not researched these claims so I can make no comment pro or con about them.
Robert A. Schuller has refused to get into a public debate over this family dispute. He maintains that his removal was not about preaching style or his vision for the church’s future. He says it has “a lot to do with the style of administration.” He declined, for the Church Herald, to comment any further but added that his removal was connected to the Cathedral’s president, his own brother-in-law Jim Coleman, and to several board members (most of whom are his own family). The elder Schuller has said that it was “no secret that Robert and I have been struggling as we each have different ideas as to the direction and the vision for this ministry as we move into the future. For this lack of shared vision and the jeopardy in which this is placing this entire ministry, it has become necessary for Robert and me to part ways in the Hour of Power television ministry.”
Robert H. and Robert A. Schuller has shared ministry for almost thirty years. People who know Robert A., within my circle of friends, have little to say about him that is negative. I almost never see the Hour of Power but when I did, since Robert A. became the ministry at the Crystal Cathedral, I appreciated his fresh approach to biblical exposition. While the interim senior pastor says his role is to prepare the church for a pastor who is not in the Schuller family the daughters and sons-in-laws will remain active in leadership.
When Robert A. was installed as senior pastor in 2006 several outside consultants had recommended that the oversight of the church and the television ministry needed to move away from being dominated by members of one family. They also recommended that the separation of the two ministries needed to end. Jim Case, a Crystal Cathedral member who served on a special transition consistory, said board members resisted these changes even though “a dream team” was sitting right in front of them at the time. Adds Case: “There has been a sibling rivalry at work.” And the decision to remove Robert A. was handled in what he calls “a secretive manner.” And a January quote from Sheila Coleman in the Orange County Register acknowledged “strained family relationships.”
The interim pastor of the Crystal Cathedral has appealed for the congregation to “heal as a family.” I find this statement the saddest of all, at least of those that appeared in the Church Herald account of the tragedy in Garden Grove. An appeal to the church to “heal as a family” has been made but I see not hear of an appeal to the Schuller family to “heal.” I do not say this with any sense of disparagement intended. I am heart-broken by this story. While many have criticized Robert H. Schuller for many years these criticisms should be put aside for a moment. What should break our hearts here is the sad story of how this family has been divided. We do not know what happened in private, and we have no idea what happens within this family now, but we know they have suffered incredible schism. This does not glorify God nor does it commend the gospel to those who watch such a story unfold from the outside. I have honestly made the Schuller family a matter of personal prayer since I read the account in the Church Herald back in April.