Bobby Schuller

Bobby Schuller, grandson of Dr Robert H Schuller – builder of California’s famous Crystal Cathedral and founder of the Hour of Power TV show, now heads the ministry his grandfather started. In Australia recently, the 34-year-old father of two and lead pastor of Shepherd’s Grove Church spoke with DAVID ADAMS about the ministry - which has a growing reach around the world - as well as his own journey with God…

Bobby Schuller, grandson of Dr Robert H Schuller – builder of California’s famous Crystal Cathedral and founder of the Hour of Power TV show, now heads the ministry his grandfather started. In Australia recently, the 34-year-old father of two and lead pastor of Shepherd’s Grove Church spoke with DAVID ADAMS...

Welcome to Australia. Is it your first time here?
“Yeah, it’s my very first time. I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to be down here but I’m glad I’m here.”

What is it that’s brought you out here?
“The main reason that we came out here was we want to see...the next stage of our ministry in Australia. Just coming out here is important to understanding the culture – we have seven international offices and I try and keep it in mind when I’m preaching, teaching and writing...the culture of the people that I’m talking to. I don’t think you can really understand the culture until you go to the country. So, I think, one, is to preach better in Australia, and, two, to see that we continue to grow here...”

Bobby Schuller

CHRISTIAN LEGACY: Bobby Schuller now fronts the Hour of Power TV show, seen in countries around the world - a ministry founded by his grandfather Robert H Schuller.

“I think my grandpa changed church. I think churches in the West in particular were much more insular – they were kind of about protecting their traditions, they were about looking inwards. (M)y grandfather got pastors of churches to look outwards...to think ‘missionally’, which means to think about people who aren’t part of a church, and to create a church environment that people that weren’t familiar with the traditions and the music and so on could actually come and experience God and have a relationship with Him."

- Bobby Schuller

Our condolences for the passing of your grandfather, Robert H Schuller, last year. You’ve said you had a “special relationship” with him - can you tell us a little about that?
“My grandpa was always a great grandpa to all of us kids but when I was about 18 or 19, he heard me actually preach on a tour of Israel that we did. I wasn’t a preacher at the time, I was in business school, and he came to think I had something special and after that he really took me under his wing. We would still continue to fish and do things like that a lot but the conversations become more about what I thought about ministry, what I thought my dreams were, what I hoped to accomplish in my life – it was just a great relationship. So I ended up actually working in youth ministry at the Crystal Cathedral (and) most Thursdays I would spend with him asking him questions...and he really become like a mentor to me for a handful of years. It was great.”

How would you describe your grandfather’s legacy?

“I think my grandpa changed church. I think churches in the West in particular were much more insular – they were kind of about protecting their traditions, they were about looking inwards. (M)y grandfather got pastors of churches to look outwards...to think ‘missionally’, which means to think about people who aren’t part of a church, and to create a church environment that people that weren’t familiar with the traditions and the music and so on could actually come (to) and experience God and have a relationship with Him..."

You followed in the footsteps of both your grandfather and father into ministry. Was there a time you can pinpoint, having grown up in a Christian home, that you made a decision for yourself to follow Christ? 

“I did have a very personal, profound experience...I was about 16 and I was a bit of a ‘punk’. I might have said I was a Christian at the time but I really didn’t have much of a faith, I didn’t really practice my faith, I didn’t really go to church much, believe it or not, even though my dad was a pastor. My parents were divorced, so a lot of times I was with my mum and when I was at home, I tried to skip out on church. It wasn’t personal to me...(The change came when) I met a travelling evangelist in a hotel lobby and I ended up talking to this guy for a long time and he basically convinced me to become a Christian for myself and I did and it was a very personal decision for me at 16. And after that my faith continued to grow...”

At what point did you know you were called into ministry?
“I actually thought I would go into business – I went to business school and I got an undergraduate degree...but, as I was doing that, I was sharing my faith with others, I was volunteering at various ministries, I was a worship leader...I felt I was good at business but, for me, it wasn’t life giving. And when I did ministry, that was life-giving. And I actually had a conversation with my grandfather and I said my dream is to earn enough money in business that I can live the kind of life I want and then sort of, down the road, do ministry as a volunteer...And he basically said I wasn’t acting in faith, that if that’s what God was calling me to do (ministry), I needed to do it and that God would give me my daily bread and what I needed but that the most important thing was to find your calling, not to make money...(It was) a huge change and I dove right in: instead of going to get my MBA, I went to Fullers Theological Seminary and got my MDiv (my Master of Divinity) and I learned Greek and Hebrew and trained in pastoral counselling and here I am today.”

You’ve also inherited the mantle of hosting the world-renowned TV show your grandfather founded, Hour of Power. How have you approached the job and have you looked to do it differently to your grandfather?
“I think I took my grandfather’s heart – his heart and my heart were to bring dignity to people. So many people feel like they’re not good enough, they don’t have any value, that God doesn’t want them, that God is punishing them and people live in this (state) of constantly trying to prove themselves. The thing I shared (in Australia last) week is that every human being deserves dignity because every human being is loved by God. And the way my grandpa tried to really build that into people was by ‘possibility thinking’. And that’s where he and I are different – although I totally believe in ‘possibility thinking’, I think it’s wonderful…my big thing is really more discipleship...I always feel that if people can follow Jesus as the disciples followed Him, try to emulate Him and be like Him in everything they do ...then God will actually give them a deeper sense of dignity. So he focused a little more on ‘possibility thinking’ and I focus a little more on training people...in some of the ethics and morals of Christianity.”

Your grandfather had a very big international profile – he met prominent people from around the world and had huge audiences – do you feel the weight of that sometimes?
“No, not really. It’s quite the opposite. I hope that we can get back to that place - sometimes I feel he’s watching and rooting for us - because we’re sort of in a time of rebuilding. Since last year we’ve tripled our audience, so we’ve actually seen a tremendous amount of growth that’s been really encouraging because for a while there we didn’t really know if the ministry would succeed and it’s actually now starting to thrive which is wonderful. And my hope is to actually reach more than my grandfather...because that’s what he would have wanted me to do and I think it’s what God wants us to do...Right now we’re probably getting a little over two million people (watching Hour of Power around the world) and at the peak of Hour of Power we were getting just under four million. So I feel like we are actually getting closer to being back to the reach we were at – our dream is to actually reach 10 million so I think we can do that in 10 years.”

"At first when I came to preach at the Crystal Cathedral, it was already sold and there was hardly anybody there...and I just thought I would be shepherding it unto death...But (as) we started to pray and discern what the Holy Spirit was doing and ask whether it still has a future...we got different words from the Lord that felt like (He was saying) it’s time to show the world that we believe tough times never last but tough people do. And by the time we left the Crystal Cathedral, which we were now renting from the Catholic Church, the cathedral was full."

- Bobby Schuller

The family has obviously been through many ups and downs – including declaring Crystal Cathedral Ministries bankrupt in 2010. There’s been some tough moments for you - how have you coped with that and what lessons have you learned from that history?
“The cool thing about my position is I came in when everything was kind of over so I didn’t have really anything to lose, it was already lost (and) I had everything to gain...At first when I came to preach at the Crystal Cathedral, it was already sold and there was hardly anybody there...and I just thought I would be shepherding it unto death and just walk with these people as we kind of wrapped things up. But (as) we started to pray and discern what the Holy Spirit was doing and ask whether it still has a future...we got different words from the Lord that felt like (He was saying) it’s time to show the world that we believe tough times never last but tough people do. And by the time we left the Crystal Cathedral, which we were now renting from the Catholic Church, the cathedral was full. And we were able to launch in our new home at Shepherd’s Grove and people got behind it, and gave and supported it...and we now have a new home and its full and are reaching more people than we have in a long time.”

Your grandfather also came in for some criticism over the opulence of the cathedral and those sorts of issues. Are there any lessons you learnt from that and what would you say to those people today?
“My dream is to actually build another great building like that; my hope is that, when we cross that bridge, to remind people that art and beauty is something that God loves and appreciates. And if people give to see it built, then it’s their choice – people can give to what they want to give. People used to always criticise the cathedral and say what about the homeless, what about the needy? We had a humongous homeless ministry and one of the things I realized – I’ve always been a social worker, I’ve worked with the homeless – was that many, many of the people that were in the Crystal Cathedral were homeless. And what they were getting, that they wouldn’t have gotten from a soup kitchen, was an experience of beauty, of value, of encouragement. And so, for me, I think, the church should continue to build beautiful buildings (and) I think it also needs to think about (the fact) it does have a social obligation to help the poor and the needy. I think as long as you’re doing both that it’s good.”

Music has always been an important part of the Hour of Power and that’s still the case. Why is music so important?
“I believe that music was created to connect our hearts with Heaven. I think there is something magical about music that naturally draws us to spiritual things and I think making excellent music makes it so easy, especially for people that don’t know God, to get a look behind the curtain...There’s never been a movement in history that didn’t have it’s own music...and I just feel like music is the frame for the picture a lot of times for what’s happening in our movement or our organisation. So, for us, it’s not about the music, but the music is about what we do; it reflects what we love, what we believe, and it draws people to be a part of it.”

You’ve addressed some churches while you’re in Australia. What’s the message you’ve brought to churches here?
“The main thing I’m doing is just reinforcing the whole thing that drives us, trying to remind Christians that one of the most important things we can do is follow Jesus; to remember that God loves us, not for what we do, not for what we have, not because of what people say about us, but He loves us just the way we are...I believe that if people really believe in God’s love and grace, they’ll become decent people. A lot of times we get it backwards – you know, do this, do that. Instead, I think, there is an important part of the soul that when it feels loved by God, it naturally loves people. So that’s the message we’re teaching everybody: that everyone deserves dignity and love because God gave us that first in Jesus Christ.”

Hour of Power can be seen in Australia on Network Ten and regional affiliates at 5am on Sundays as well as on ACCTV (through the Foxtel network) on Sunday evenings and Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and listened to via the RPH Radio Network on Sundays.

www.hourofpower.org.au