While it is easy to cast stones at the Schuller family, especially when we are safely removed from the day-to-day decision making that goes into an international ministry like the Crystal Cathedral and the Hour of Power, there are some general lessons that are worth our consideration when we read a story like the one I told yesterday.
1. The governing structure of the Crystal Cathedral is not one that clearly resembles the standard polity of the Reformed Church. Instead of "shared" governance and real accountability to the classis, the Crystal Cathedral stands out as unique in so many ways. Some of this is understandable given the unusual nature, and remarkable size, of this church. But sharing the leadership with the elders and deacons, as well as with the classis and synod, would have gone a long way toward preventing the tragic division that took place in Garden Grove over the last ten months.
2. While it is sometimes possible for a son to succeed his father in a ministry it is not generally advisable. I know there are exceptions but that is my point—they are exceptions! Nepotism is a real problem here. Whether fathers like it or not if they pass along appointments, especially in the form of paid staff positions, this problem will arise. Everything may be up-and-up but the "appearance" of impropriety will always be there. Even in business, where a father-son combination often works well, a wise father will generally allow his son to work outside the family social context for a time so he can see what it is like to work in a different environment than that of the family. The thing that made the appointment of Robert A. Schuller so natural was that he had been involved in the ministry since his mid-20s and he is not a young man at age 54.
I can think of dozens of lesser known family breakdowns related to inheriting ministry from one's father. A number of these have been in the news in the last few years. Surely all of these should provide a warning to us all.
3. Great pressures will come to bear on ministries when financial stress arises. It is sometimes said that stress will reveal (stress) fractures that are already beneath the surface. In the case of the Schuller family tragedy I am guessing that this was true. There is really no fracture greater than that which family pressure brings when siblings attempt to share power and the legacy of their father and mother. Have you ever been involved in a family dispute over inheritance? I have been spared this trial personally but I have seen more than my share of it over my years in pastoral ministry. It is a terrible thing. Good siblings, who were sometimes the best of friends, turn on each other and the tragedy that follows reveals how deep pride, envy and jealousy can really be. I am not saying I know that all of this was behind the Schuller tragedy but everything points in this direction, all things being equal. I hope I am wrong here and that the real story is that there was a simple disagreement over style. It sure seems otherwise given what the family reports of the crisis.
4. Finally, as a father whose son is in Christian ministry, I can tell you that the pressure one feels to include a son, or a daughter, in their ministry is great. I encouraged my own son to not work for me and to seek for a context in which he could use his gifts to the fullest without any pressure from me or my leadership. At first it seemed like he would be a natural fit for me. He knew me, he understood the ministry better than anyone else and he was very able. On top of that I completely trusted him. We didn't need to get acquainted. But my board strongly advised him and me that the kingdom would be best served if he developed his own gifts and calling without my direct involvement in that process. It was not easy for me to agree. Time has proven, now thirteen years later, that this choice was right. Now Matt and I meet once a month to talk about ministry, our relationship, the Lord's grace, etc. It is natural, sweet and effective for us both.
My daughter, on the other hand, wanted to work for me. Her role was not to be a public one but rather one of administration and serving. She was trained to do this and even earned a college degree in business management. Her skills were honed for the work she does and she had been with me form the beginning of ACT 3. Ours is not a large ministry, since the two of us are the only full-time staff. Stacy handles our day-to-day business and accounts to our treasurer on a regular basis. She is hired by, and accountable to, our board. She works out of her home. We do not have an office and she is most definitely not on the board of ACT 3, nor is my wife. This is the way I wanted it and the board has always agreed. I feel that it has worked well and that the potential problems have been adequately addressed. There is no possibility that Stacy would follow me in the public ministry and the family does not control this direction.
It is not fair for me to compare my very simple and easy context with the Schuller ministry, thus I assure you that I am not taking aim at this family. As I noted yesterday this story moves me to deep sadness. I continue to pray for the Schuller family and hope the day will soon come when this family will find unity in Christ among all five of these siblings. I can't think of a sadder way to come to the end of one's long public ministry than to have this kind of division among those you love the most in this world.
urge you to pray for the Schuller family. Pray for the ministry
of the Crystal Cathedral and the international broadcast of the Hour of
Power. Pray for Robert A. and Robert H. Schuller, that they be one
again before the Lord calls either of them home. By this I believe Christ would be honored in private and in public.
Comments are closed.
My Latest Book!
Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!
You’ve done a fantastic job of sketching out the silver lining here. I particularly liked your second point, on nepotism. It’s a hard message to hear, but it’s absolutely true. Families which try and turn themselves into the Aaronic line of their particular church all too often are met with disaster.
As a Catholic, we’re partly shielded, in that most Catholic priests can’t marry. Canon law used to go further, prohibiting illegitimate sons from becoming priests, but eventually repealed it: for good reason, of course – there are surely plenty of sons concieved out of wedlock who are called to the priesthood, and we’re not at a real risk of father-son clericalism these days.
The more popular way of getting around these rules was to secure a prestigious job for one’s nephew, instead. He became a sort of surrogate son. In fact, the word nepotism, if you’re not familiar, comes from the Latin word nepos (“nephew”), because this phenomenon was so widespread.
We certainly learned our lesson about that and other practices the hard way. Let’s hope this is the wake-up call it takes Crystal Cathedral, and the Reformed church broadly.