Thinking Out Loud

May 27, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Needn’t Be Seen as Problematic

In the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for the other one, I do want to share these here from time to time. This one appeared earlier this month…

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

 

September 10, 2017

Charts: Ten Largest Churches in America

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus is quoted as saying, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
But you’d never know that by the American obsession with church size.
Image: Journey Online, Australia (click to link)

The Outreach Magazine list is always considered the most authoritative, but only includes participating churches. Nonetheless, here’s how it looked in 2016:

  1. North Point (Atlanta) 39,056 (Andy Stanley)
  2. Church of the Highlands (Birmingham) 38,346 (Chris Hodges)
  3. NewSpring (Anderson) 33,761 (vacant)
  4. Gateway (South Lake) 28,399 (Robert Morris)
  5. Saddleback (Orange County) 25,612 (Rick Warren)
  6. Willow Creek (NW Chicago) 25,371 (Bill Hybels/Steve Carter)
  7. Christ’s Church of the Valley (Peoria, AZ) 24,108 (Donald J. Wilson)
  8. Christ Fellowship (Palm Beach) 23,845 (Todd Mullins)
  9. Southeast Christian (Louisville) 23,799 (Dave Stone/Kyle Idleman)
  10. Crossroads (Cincinnati) 22,458 (Brian Tome)

So right away many of you noticed that Lakewood (Joel Osteen) and LifeChurch (Craig Groeschel) are missing. That’s the problem with this list. It only lists churches that completed Outreach’s full survey. They charge money for their reports, and that’s disturbing because almost by definition, the lists are incomplete.

Go to The Christian Post and you’ll find what might be a better list, but it doesn’t have the data:

  1. Lakewood
  2. Willow Creek
  3. LifeChurch (North Oklahama City; Craig Groeschel)
  4. North Point
  5. Saddleback
  6. Gateway
  7. Shadow Mountain (San Diego; David Jeremiah)
  8. New Season (Sacramento; Samuel Rodriguez)
  9. Prestonwood Baptist (Plano, TX; Jack Graham)
  10. The Rock (San Diego; Miles McPherson)

Regular readers here will notice that there are many churches I would consider to be presently more influential that don’t make these attendance-based lists.

Some readers here would be able to rattle off a list like this off the top of their heads. What I thought would be really interesting would be to list the Top Ten Catholic Churches in the US by attendance. Such a list proved elusive. At least one branch of Christianity isn’t focused on numbers.  Other churches on similar lists include Woodlands (Kerry Shook),  Potter’s House (T.D. Jakes) and Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale (Bob Coy).

If you want to sort by denomination, or state, this list at the Hartford Institute is a good one to know about. They also have an alphabetical Canadian list, but I’m not sure when it was last updated.

Image: Christianity Today (click to link)

 

September 13, 2016

Pete Wilson Resigns Cross Point Pastorate

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

As reported on various websites yesterday, Pete Wilson resigned on the weekend from Cross Point, the Nashville church he founded in 2003.

Pete Wilson 3.25.12Part of the reason you’re reading this today is because in late 2007, I decided I wanted to get closer to a fraternity of writers, pastors and Christian leaders that were doing this “blogging” thing. One of them was Pete.

I began watching Cross Point services, and made a point to get my hands on review copies of his books, Plan B, Empty Promises, and Let Hope In.  It was through him that I met Justin and Tricia Davis, whose Eight Things That Destroyed Our Marriage is the all-time most visited page here at Thinking Out Loud. Brandi and the boys — Jett, Gage and Brewer — were like family.

The thing that impresses me most about Pete is his raw transparency. So for him to step down now is a bit of surprise, but not out of character.

I’m also possibly one of a small percentage who know why Pete’s blog URL is Without Wax:

The word sincere comes from the Latin sine cera, which means ‘without wax.’ The phrase comes from a practice where people would hide the cracks in cheap pottery with wax in order to pass the pottery off as being worth more than it actually was. Quality products were often stamped with sine cera to show that it had not been doctored, that it was authentic.

To repeat, this kind of transparency is Pete Wilson. I’ve loved tracking with his ministry and believe that we will cross paths again….

without wax

…We’ve run this a few times here, but it seems timely to do so again. I know this is Pete’s wish for his church… and yours.

Pastors, I pray you’ll preach the hope of Jesus Christ like never before. Preach as if you were there the day it happened and is if this were the last message you are ever going to give!

Worship Leaders, I pray you’ll lead worship with the same awe and amazement as if you just watched the stone roll away. Whether you have lights or no lights, production or no production may they see the wonder and awe in your eyes and voice that you actually believe what it is you’re singing.

Kids’ Teachers,  I pray you look your kids in the eyes and use every bit of passion, energy, and excitement you have to tell them a story that can and will impact their life forever.

Volunteers, I pray you’ll serve, sing, hand out programs, park cars, turn knobs, and make coffee as if eternities were on the line, because they are!

Worshipers, I pray you’ll open your heart and raise your voice and pour out all you have and all you are in honor of a God who has defeated death so you may have life.

I pray [each] weekend we’ll all drop our cynicism, egos, and agendas and will stand amazed and marvel at the wonder of  a God who has set us free from the penalty and the power of sin!        

~ Pete Wilson

Watch Pete’s announcement to his church on this 9-minute video at Relevant.  Though I’d heard this story before, I was struck by the story he tells at 00:45 to 3:22. A bittersweet motivation to start something new.

January 28, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Jesus is my Coach

First, we’ll look at what PARSE readers are seeing today, and then we’ll add a few bonus links:

  • Work Out Your Salvation in Fear and Publishing – Philip Yancey sits down with World Magazine: “I tell people I write my books for myself, and that’s true. I grew up in an unhealthy church. I’ve talked about that very openly in my books. It was almost a toxic church. I went through a period of time where I threw out that whole church background because I realized there were some things they had lied to me about… [W]hen I started writing, I realized I had the opportunity to pick up pieces, one-by-one, of things that I had learned in church, and examine them, kind of, dust them off, and see what the truth was. You can almost tell from the titles of my books…what interests me.”
  • Up in the Sky, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Super Apostles – An excerpt from a new book appears in a review by Tim Challies: “Some readers may suspect that the authors are anti-charismatic. They may expect us to argue that the miraculous gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12—including the gifts of prophesying, healing, and speaking in tongues—are no longer active in the church today. This is not our objective. Many Christians around the world, including charismatics and classic Pentecostals, believe that the miraculous gifts are still active, and we do not dispute their belief. We’ve tried to show that [New Apostolic Reformation] teachings do not represent the views of most charismatics or classic Pentecostals, but are, rather, entirely different.” Read the review of God’s Super Apostles.
  • Three Things Megachurch Leaders Get Right – With 300 members, you may not feel you’re playing in the big leagues, but you can borrow their strategies. “In our experience, it is common for churches to accumulate a variety of ministries over time. Some of them get the attention of senior leadership while others seem to float along under the radar. If you’re looking to lead a church toward a unified vision, build accountability by keeping everything tied to your senior leadership team.”  Which brings us to…
  • A Liberal Gay Jewish Man Walks Into a Baptist Megachurch – After constantly driving by Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, curiosity gets the better of him: “First, these churches deliver powerful, personal spiritual experiences — which is a primary reason they’re winning over lapsed Catholics and mainline Protestants. The pastors talk directly about their conversion experiences. The service that I went to was a carefully, skillfully choreographed crescendo designed to inspire (and, judging by the enthusiasm of the congregants, successful at doing so). The theology is personal and experiential; you’re meant to talk to God, and hear God talking back…
  • Academic Avenue: The Role of Oral Tradition in the Synoptics – I thought we’d toss in some meat in the middle of the snack food: “But why can all three synoptics sometimes provide different wording regarding either the story or quotation of Jesus, yet some quotations will be exactly the same in all three synoptics? Scholars call these similarities and differences the Synoptic Problem.” Later on, “[E]xperts now tell us that ancient oral tradition was not only formed but performed. That is, early church communities further remembered Jesus by performing plays about these remembered incidents in his life.”
  • The Things Educators Believe Matter – Despite having high academic test score averages, a Christian school in the UK is in danger of losing its certification and having to shut down because inspectors felt the school reflected homophobic attitudes. Parents have rallied to fight the assessment carried out by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, a government agency. A ten year old girl was put on the spot by the question, “What is a lesbian?” and was asked “if she felt trapped in someone else’s body?” Worse, the girl now feels the school’s rating by Ofsted is her fault.
  • Why We Won’t Lose the War – Author Anne Marie Miller doesn’t ignore the statistics, in fact she loves stats. And she knows that many under-35s are leaving the church. “Some leave and go to the church down the road. And then to the other church farther down the road. We commit just long enough to wonder why we haven’t found community only to start all over again.” Yet, despite all this, she remains wholly optimistic; “…quietly hoping, seeking, praying, pleading, trusting and living out the Gospel that the numbers and statistics don’t matter.”
  • Sorry, It’s In Your Contract – I knew a youth pastor once who worked in a megachurch that can only be described as a “sweatshop.” The week after his father died he asked if he could be exempted from having to be part of the platform party — it was the type of church where all the ministers sat on the stage during the whole service — and they refused him. And so he sat there, in full view of everyone, in tears.  I think of him whenever I see this healthy contrast:  The annual list of the Best Christian Workplaces.
  • Short Essay of the Week – A Michigan pastor escapes the frozen north to Cancun only to come face-to-face with with his own susceptibility to consumerism. As a member of the resort staff leads him into temptation: “It’s ironic, but our ‘all inclusive resort’ turned out to have some exclusions after all. Now here’s the thing: I was completely happy with my little corner of paradise until Shakira (yes, that was really her name) told me that there was more, and that – for only $70 more per day – we could have it all.” Did he purchase the upgrade?
  • Why Speak in Tongues When There’s Christianese? – “The Sea of Forgetfulness. Partaking in Christ’s body and blood. Dying to yourself. The mark of the beast. Getting caught up in the air. Out of context, some of the language used regularly in church sounds more like it belongs in some sort of weird horror movie…Some strange church sayings are direct quotes from the Bible, but to someone not familiar with the whole story of the Bible, they’re mind-boggling.” And speaking of our family dialect, the most recent post at The Dictionary of Christianese concerns the word televangelism
  • She’s Back! –  After a long absence, former co-host Sheila Walsh returns to The 700 Club for a 9-minute interview, speaking of her battle with clinical depression.

The family in the UK school story has the same last name but is no relation.

Now on to some bonus links for readers here:

Finally, one of the great products to come out of the Emergent Church movement, Emerjeans:

Emerjeans

 

October 8, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Okay, so this was everywhere online this past week, but if you missed it here’s an explanation of the Biblical phrase Gird Your Loins. (click image to link)

Gird-Up-Your-Loins-2

Here are the news and opinion pieces from the past week that stood out. You can also read today’s links at PARSE by clicking here.

Because this is Blogger Appreciation Month, you can catch Paul Wilkinson at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, or @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter.

Hotline to God

 

February 26, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Chocolate Pope - NBC News Photo

The link list knows no borders, so you won’t find any gloating about Canada’s Olympic hockey wins here. Click anything below and you’ll be redirected to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, a ministry of Christianity Today; then click each link there.

If you’re not busy this week snapping up Son of God movie tickets, you can check out Paul Wilkinson’s other writing at Thinking Out Loud.

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

“Jonah Leaving the Whale” by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

October 9, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Christ the Redeemer Statue

 

A big shout out this week to the people who track me down and submit link suggestions. Weekly deadline is 6:00 PM Eastern on Mondays.  To view clickable links for all that follows, read the Wednesday Link List at Out of Ur.

  • Although this movie trailer was posted in May, it was new to me: Coming in January, 2014 a movie about singer/songwriter Rich Mullins, aptly titled Ragamuffin…
  • …and a more recently posted trailer for a documentary exploring “the promise of evolutionary Christian spirituality,” with interviews with “a dozen leading theologians and progressive thinkers.” The 7-part DVD series is titled Painting The Stars.
  • It’s not just a Catholic problem; a group is actively protesting to push for the ordination of Mormon women.
  • Just weeks before his formal installation, the President of the American Bible Society announces that the Board of Trustees has “brought [his] service to a close.”
  • “Christians in the Middle East are hostages in the hands of Islamic forces.” “Many of Israel’s Christians feel that their history, culture and heritage have been hijacked by Muslim Arabs in the region.” Read more at this report from a recent conference.
  • Sometimes in the quest to free ourselves from the constraints of religion, we discover we’ve simply immersed ourselves in a different form of religion.
  • Thanks to Canadian blogger Michael Bell, I was finally able to track down data on megachurches in Canada, a much shorter list than its U.S. counterpart.
  • 1-Source, a collaboration of four Christian publishing companies will offer titles by established authors like Bill Myers and Brandilyn Collins, as well as self-publishing.
  • David and Goliath becomes the theme of a TED Talk, but this explanation of the story is a little different from the one we know.
  • Essay of the Week: From right here at Christianity Today, Andy Crouch on the power we confer to those in church leadership and why it matters.
  • Find of the Week: Christian cartoonist Wes Molebash whose adventures with JP and Miles at the fictional Paper City Church make up the comic Insert Image.
  • Retort of the Week: Russell D. Moore responds to Pope Francis’ recent interview with an Italian journalist and the danger severing the love of God from the holiness of God…
  • …while Shane Claiborne remembers the original Francis.
  • There is so much to read at the blog of Samantha Field that it’s hard to just link to one post, but here’s 15 things you shouldn’t say to a recovering Fundamentalist.
  • Apologetics in part involves responding to Christianity’s critics, and these are some interesting responses.
  • One year ago at this time, I was crusading to get a classic book on the history of teaching about the Holy Spirit put back in print.
  • Typology: “So [Mommy/Daddy], [was/is] [name of prominent figure] a good guy or a bad guy?” Sometimes the answer is a bit of both. (Tangent: Check out the blogroll on this one.)
  • Not only does a portrait of Jesus have to be removed, but an Ohio school district has to pay the ACLU’s $80,000 in legal costs.
  • Ecclesia Church in Houston, Texas is producing a number of quality videos to go along with a dramatic reading of chapters in Genesis.
  • I think this was more common in a previous generation, but why not today? Praying for your children’s future spouses.
  • In some conservative Christian circles, the phrase “Guard your heart,” has an entirely different spin with consequences the writer of Proverbs never intended.
  • Jamie The Very Worst Goodwill Ambassador articulates her ambivalence after a tour with World Vision.
  • In the spirit of what’s termed Paul-Timothy relationships, Donald Miller suggests you should take your cues from people notably older than yourself, not your peers.
  • She “is a girl, just like you and me, who made a mistake. She knows when you are talking about her. She knows when you are looking at her and judging her.” An insider look at birth-mothers.
  • Don’t roll your eyes, but it’s one more Arminianism vs. Calvinism comparison.
  • For Italians, the name Simone Saltarelli denotes both a well known motorcyclist and a figure in Catholic church history.
  • The 2013 Catalyst Conference, as covered by the hometown newspaper, or more relevant details at Christianity Today.
  • Lost Song of the Week: Standin’ in the Need of Prayer by Deitrick Haddon and the Voices of Unity; a flashback to 2004.
  • Christianity Meets Culture: A blog featuring “reviews and news on the board gaming industry from a ministry point of view.” Not surprisingly, it’s called Theology of Games.
  • And then there’s this graphic which I’m sure you have use for, but I wasn’t sure how to introduce it. (What’s an .svg file anyway?)
  • Back on the comic front, nearly seven years and more than 1,100 panels later, the UK’s Jon Birch is still cartooning at ASBO Jesus.
  • Finally, a story for which I’ll quote the entire first paragraph, so you know I’m not making this up: “The Robertson clan from A&E’s reality show Duck Dynasty, will release a Christmas album called “Duck The Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas” on October 29, featuring several top country stars.”

Link curator Paul Wilkinson blogs daily here and Tweets as inspiration strikes at @PaulW1lk1nson (or is “at @” a redundancy?)

Peace - Rob Bell

March 13, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Romans 8

Let there be links.

In a week that is overshadowed by developments at The Vatican it’s hard to find other religious news stories, but we tried.

  • Two Afghan children that Shane Claiborne met a few weeks ago were killed by NATO troops.
  • N.T. Wright comes at an old issue in a new way, and offers his reasons why women should be in pastoral ministry
  • An Australian TV outlet does a 14-minute exposé of Hillsong Church with a particular axe to grind concerning the church’s tax free status.
  • Is the way forward in church planting that the pastors will have other jobs; be bi-vocational?  Well, yes and no.
  • Francis Chan talks to Canadian interviewer Moira Brown about leaving his church and starting up again in Northern California. (This is a part two of two-part interview; 15 minutes each.)
  • Want more transparency in the church? How about this Belgian church constructed in 2011 out of transparent steel?
  • And a church that treated its former pastors like trash held a service of apology and reconciliation.
  • If you tell people you don’t smoke because your body is “a temple,” then you need to know that in 2013, sitting is the new smoking.
  • A new digital edition of “the quad” the four books of Mormon scriptures includes some editorial changes reflecting “shifting official view on issues like polygamy, the Church’s history of racism, and the historicity of LDS scripture.”
  • It’s not too late to send a gift: Benny Hinn and former wife Suzanne were scheduled to be remarried last week. And since that link was older — but detailed — the answer is yes, it happened.
  • Mark Burnett tells Inside TV that “weird things” happened as they filmed The Bible miniseries. You’ll like the snake handler’s report.
  • Have trouble starting a spiritual conversation? Start by asking questions
  • “Teenage girls aging out of foster care and/or orphanages are known as the highest ‘at risk’ group in our nation. It’s estimated that a teenage girl on the streets will be approached within 48 hours by a pimp…” Read the stats and one city’s game plan.
  • Christian rapper Lecrae is performing along side his mainstream music counterparts at SXSW, the South by Southwest festival… 
  • …And Canadian Christian rapper Manafest is writing a book.
  • Found a great devotional site this week… Here’s a piece about following Jesus versus walking ahead of Him
  • …And the updated list of the Top 200 Calvinist Christian blogs is now online; or at least one person’s version of it.
  • The offbeat  ‘gay worship band’ story got way too much coverage last week which is why I would never link to it.
  • Here’s how Religion News Service was handicapping the race to be Pope on the weekend. Even though this final four may be old news by the time you read this, I left it here for comparison (if RNS keeps it online). 
  • A greater concern for the cardinals during a conclave week is if it goes into overtime and finds them running out of clean laundry.
  • Graham Kendrick has greatly reconstructed an old hymn into something new; check out Oh The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.
  • People from five religious ‘tribes’ will try to convert Catalina an atheist — who looks slightly like Tina Fey — on the latest contest from The Drew Marshall Show titled Soul Survivor.

 

November 7, 2012

Wednesday Link List


It’s Wednesday again. Did they settle that election thing last night?

Pastor Gene Appel stands in the brand new auditorium at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, California; which opened this weekend. (See item 5 above).

March 15, 2012

Sheila Schuller Coleman Lauches Hope Center of Christ

It was, after all, the United States’ first true megachurch. So when things at the Crystal Cathedral began to unravel a few years ago, this blogger thought it all worth mentioning even when others didn’t or wouldn’t, which resulted in much unexpected traffic.

But then, in the last few days, as the whole saga seemed to reach the final chapter, it all seemed rather anticlimactic. First there was the resignation of Robert H. and wife Arvella, widely reported. Then, on Sunday, the rather sudden announcement at the second service by daughter and pastor Sheila Coleman that it was her final service at the iconic Southern California church.

The Orange County Register story linked above chose to headline the story, “Schuller Coleman leaving; Crystal Cathedral congregation faces split;” but indeed, with only 700 in attendance at both services — many of them tourists — how do you split a congregation so small and still leave much left?

But out of the ashes, something new begins.

First, the word, that Sheila and brother-in-law Jim Penner would begin a new work, Hope Center OC — with the “OC” standing for “of Christ” while of course also intoning “Orange County.”  Another detail nested in the story:

She indicated she had received a $50,000 donation from a supporter to help with the move – “a heck of a lot more than what mom and dad” had when they started, she said.

But the location is still TBA, as in “to be acquired.” The elder Schullers announced that they would neither be going with Sheila nor continuing to attend whatever takes place at the famed church on Lewis St. in Garden Grove.

“How we will express ourselves in worship remains up in the air,” Robert H. and Arvella Schuller stated in the release.

Schuller: The Next Generation

At this rate, grandson (Robert A.’s son; pictured right) Bobby Schuller’s church, The Gathering (aka Tree of Life Community) might have more people in attendance next Sunday than either iteration of what met last Sunday, a concept that would have been unthinkable just a few short months ago.

Terry Mattingly at Get Religion finds the reporting on the story “hollow,” and suggests that even knowing more about the contents of the sermon that Coleman delivered, or what music was sung that day would give us a better picture of Sunday’s events. Whereas I’m somewhat relieved that the story is over, he finds so much more waiting to be told.

Like, for example, Robert Anthony’s take on the whole thing. The younger R.S. has been wisely silent throughout this process, but I’m sure he has both substantive ideas and strong emotions about all that’s taken place. Would the Crystal Cathedral ministry still be intact if the original succession had lasted? We’ll never know.

Perhaps Terry Mattingly is right. This is a continuing drama. The same day that Sheila Coleman and Jim Penner posted their video, this video appeared:

Favorite quotation from the video, “…Many have told me that I redefined the Christian message.  I had to…”

Had to? Yes, the gospel that the church preached for centuries was wholly inadequate. It needed, apparently, new possibilities.

And apparently it still does. Stay tuned. This story is not over.

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