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People in Crystal Houses…

October 24, 2010

Photo by Gary Scott,

Rough week for the folks at the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California, but probably well-earned. When televangelists get a feature article in the New York Times, it is rarely because of the great work they are doing to spread the Good News.

I tend to think a lot of this is self-inflicted, and I also believe it is a big part of what happens when churches get too darn big to be churches anymore. You can of course level the charge that as a pastor of a well-under-two-hundred-on-a-Sunday protestant church in New England of course I prefer smaller churches. But this was the case even when I was part of the (relatively) large Riverside Church in New York City, easily one of the largest UCC/ABC federated congregations in the United States. They were very connectional and committed on our way to becoming members, but then once we were in, folks stopped calling. It got harder to get in touch with the minister we were in care with. I don’t blame that minister at all. How do you minister to the hundreds and hundreds of families each clergy person could be assigned? I have a fraction of that at Franklin Federated, and I have a blessed hard time keeping up with who’s going through what and how.

I have come to believe that when you make growth your sole priority, physical and numerical growth, you will eventually pay the highest cost. I am part of the set of folks that is not remotely surprised that the children of Schuller cannot agree on the best way forward in their mutual ministries. This is the same dilemma that endowed churches face every day: if we don’t have to grow anymore, then why on earth should we? Especially when it means inviting people in who will change the character of what we have and do around here.

I have sat through the Hour of Power. Not a pleasant thing. It embodies all the things that I find most offensive about televangelism (that would be a separate post). Suffice to say, the message was clear throughout: I got a word from the Lord, and it’s time for you to get in line and believe the way we believe and you might be saved. And we’ll repeat that seven times, and you send a check. God wants you to. GOD wants you to. God WANTS you to. The oddest part? I think they honestly believe it.

I think they have bought into the idea that they are fully blessed and sanctioned by God through Jesus Christ to continue to grow this vast empire of ostentatious wealth. I can only imagine Jesus Christ standing before that Palace, his frame silhouetted against the bulk of it, and someone telling him it was in His honor. I think you would be able to knock him over with a feather. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus ministry as a homeless man confounds people like this. They miss the pilgrimage because they are so busy making more space for more pledging units.

This excellent article in the Times was the genesis for this post. I think Laurie Goodstein does a fine job of summing up the current situation with Schuller’s family. It is sad, but I think it’s the crows coming home to roost.

Don’t think numbers will solve any of your church’s problems. They will only compound them. I know I just posted that folks pursue interior growth to avoid dealing with exterior growth, so I’m wary of how this comes off, but I tell you now: if you don’t feed your souls, you cannot just find new ones to replace them. Focus on the teachings of our barefoot Christ and on following them with your whole heart. I wish folks would stop making empires in His name, and get on with the humble work of being Christians. I hope the Schullers can put aside their difference and focus on having more positive impact. I bear them no ill will as children of God. I just think they got stuck on building exteriors.


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