Once one of the nation's most popular televangelists, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller is watching his life's work crumble.Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University, said that the crisis facing the Crystal Cathedral is a problem common “to personality driven ministries.” According to Ammerman, most personality driven ministries have collapsed after their founders left the pulpit or died. When asked about the problems of the Crystal Cathedral, Ammerman said:
His son and recent successor, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, has abruptly resigned as senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. The shimmering, glass-walled megachurch is home to the "Hour of Power" broadcast, an evangelism staple that's been on the air for more than three decades.
The church is in financial turmoil: It plans to sell more than $65 million worth of its Orange County property to pay off debt. Revenue dropped by nearly $5 million last year, according to a recent letter from the elder Schuller to elite donors. In the letter, Schuller Sr. implored the Eagle's Club members - who supply 30 percent of the church's revenue - for donations and hinted that the show might go off the air without their support.
"The final months of 2008 were devastating for our ministry," the 82-year-old pastor wrote.
One of the reasons for the problems faced by the Crystal Cathedral is because the church was built on the popularity of its founder, Robert H. Schuller. His son was unable to continue the work of his father and as a result, many people left or stopped contributing to the church.
Members often tie their donations to the pastor, not the institution. Schuller, with a style that blends pop psychology and theology, has a particularly devoted following. Viewers are probably much less likely to give when it’s not their preacher they’re giving to. There’s something about these televised programs where people develop a certain loyalty.
The problems of the Crystal Cathedral remind us of a great truth of the Bible: The church of Jesus Christ is built on Christ and not on the popularity of a charismatic leader. When a church is built of the popularity of a leader, an evangelist, or a charismatic personality, the foundation of that church eventually will crack.
I hope the ministry of the Crystal Cathedral will continue because it is still the church of Jesus Christ.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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