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What Pastors Do That Make Their Members Cringe

“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).

Robert Schuller died last week. This founder of the Crystal Cathedral in California and founder/host of television’s Hour of Power broadcast was the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church. He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.

When I read of his passing, I posted this on my Facebook page:

My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano lessons. Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation. Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Honey, any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, always end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.” Schuller would say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life. But my friend, you can end with a flourish if you start now.”

It’s a great story and a fine sermon illustration.

In posting it, I suggested Facebook readers restrain themselves from giving us their judgments of the man. “He has One who will judge him, One who is far more qualified than either of us. And since I will be needing mercy when I stand before Him, I want to show mercy toward everyone I meet.”

The comments poured in quickly.

Most expressed appreciation for something Dr. Schuller had done or said, a few remembered visiting the Crystal Cathedral and gave us their lasting impressions, and several thanked me for the tone of my note.

None judged.

But this brought back a memory of the first time I told that story that I had picked up from a book of sermon illustrations.

In telling the story, I made the mistake of using Robert Schuller’s name with it. (In later tellings, I learned to say “a certain preacher” in order not to set off the alarms of the heresy hunters among us.)

I was the new pastor and some in the church were not sure about me, fearing I was not conservative enough for them. (In my previous church, some had accused me of being too conservative. So, I must have been doing something right.)

A woman rushed to me after the service. “Pastor, you clearly do not know what Robert Schuller believes or you would never quote him from the pulpit!”

I assured her I knew about the man. “But,” I said, “I simply told a story from him. I didn’t endorse his theology.”

That was not good enough for her. She now had something to use against her new pastor and would be sharing it with friends, that was sure. Before she walked off, I added, “I quote a lot of people. If I quote a Catholic priest, it only means I like something he said.” Since she was a former Catholic on a relentless tirade against that religion, that would never do.

A wise pastor will give advance thought to his congregation before endorsing or slamming another preacher, and do so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.