Bobby Schuller

Bobby Schuller On The Crystal Cathedral Exodus

Robert Schuller’s grandson talks about the lasting parts of his family’s ministry.

When Bobby Schuller’s grandfather, Robert Schuller, founded Garden Grove Community Church in Southern California in 1955, he immediately attracted attention. The church met in a drive-in theater, and the novelty of it generated both local and national news coverage. Schuller’s church grew, as did his radio and television ministry. By 1980, he had moved into the famous Crystal Cathedral, an iconic structure designed by world famous architect Philip Johnson. But all was not well in the Schuller empire.

The elder Schuller was often at odds with leaders in his own denomination, the Reformed Church in America, as well as leaders in mainstream evangelicalism. In the mid 2000s, a power struggle ensued within the family. The chaos drove away church members and viewers of the church’s TV program, Hour of Power. In 2012, the ministry filed for bankruptcy protection. Into this chaotic situation entered young Bobby Schuller, then barely 30 years old. His theology, temperament, and leadership style are far less flamboyant than his grandfather’s. Under his leadership, the finances and reach of the Hour of Power program have started on an upward trend again. The church also is growing, with attendance of about 1,500. I had this conversation with Bobby Schuller at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn., in early March.

You are the son of Robert Schuller and the grandson of Robert Schuller, the founder of the Crystal Cathedral. Does that mantle weigh heavy on you? I think it weighed heavier on me when I was more of a kid going to Christian school in the ’80s. In the ’80s, Dr. Schuller was the biggest thing. The Crystal Cathedral had just been built, Hour of Power had massive influence. It, at the time, was probably the most watched Christian program in the world. Even though I would go by Bobby, I would be in school and people would say, “Robert Schuller, is that your real name? Did I get tricked?”

You say you went to Christian school. You were raised in a Christian home with this fairly significant spiritual legacy. When did you make the Christian faith your own? The irony about going to Christian school is that, for me, it actually almost pushed me away from the faith. … All of the bad guys, your teachers, they’re the Christian ones, and all of the good guys, your peers, the guys that play sports and stuff, well, they’re not. You build this false narrative in your head. The summer I left Christian school, I went to this convention, actually, and this guy I met played piano for me. There had to be 16,000-17,000 people there. … I don’t even remember what he said, but the act of love was so meaningful for me that as a 16- or 15-year-old I just said, “You know what? I’m done riding the fence. I’m really going to make faith my own.” Since then, my life was completely turned around. I started just devouring the Bible and any other material I could get, started sharing my faith with others. And so I’ve been on fire for the Lord ever since.

Who was the guy? What was the conference? I’m hesitant to say his name because he’s such a different tradition than me. It was actually Jesse Duplantis, who is this guy from Louisiana. He’s the prosperity gospel guy. … I met him in a hotel. We were just talking about piano. He was the nicest, warmest guy ever, and that was really what won me over. He said, “Come over to this convention I’m doing.” I went in there, and I saw all these people raising their hands and worshiping, and it was just a really powerful experience. I didn’t have any loyalties, any particular Christian traditions or denominations, and this guy just touched me deeply. I’ve actually never had the chance to share them, but it was actually someone in this Pentecostal, prosperity-gospel tradition that’s so different than the one I’m in that actually brought me to faith, which has actually taught me the value of respecting people that are not always in your exact camp.

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