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Today, I attended morning services at both Crystal Cathedral with Robert H. Schuller and Saddleback Church with Rick Warren, about 20 miles-but-worlds-apart in worship format. It was an interesting peek at different segments of evangelical Christianity.

Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California is best known for its distinctive glass architecture creating an impressive aesthetic experience both within and without the structure. Inside is a huge pipe organ which along with the facility’s acoustics made the 45 member choir sound like ten times that many. The choir sang traditional hymns and Dr. Schuller’s daughter, Rev. Dr. Sheila Schuller Coleman, emceed the program. The auditorium was maybe two-thirds full with seemingly one-half the women and some of the men dressed in bold Valentine’s Day red. More interestingly, I was close to being the youngest person in the service. While a few younger adults attended this was very much an older audience.

Dr. Schuller is 83 years of age and still preaches with a degree of energy. But he also evidenced his age today by making mistakes in three separate statements. The program was constructed around today’s celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Dr. Schuller’s television and radio program, “Hour of Power.” While the service had its high points, in particular the choir, the overall experience of the service seemed lethargic to me and even a bit forced. I found it uncomfortable and wondered if others did as well.

It wasn’t long ago, within a few months, Dr. Schuller installed then removed his son, Dr. Robert A. Schuller, from heading the ministry and the flagship program. According to press comments, attendance and donations had been dropping and the ministry was drifting. But this was happening before Jr took over and is apparently continuing because recent staff cuts and program airtime reductions have been implemented. Dr. Sheila Schuller is now heading the ministry and as I noted today’s service. She seems nice, but she is not an inspiring speaker and at times lost her place or her pace in the program sequence. I’m not sure I understand why she’s been anointed to step into leadership. Not because I have anything against a female leader, but because I believe the ministry would be better served by announcing and completing a search for the next qualified senior pastor of the church.

I mentioned the service seemed “forced,” meaning it felt like they had a brand they had to keep promoting. And they do, it’s Robert H. Schuller and Positive Thinking-Possibility Thinking, so every few minutes someone emphasized the word “positive” or “possible” in a way that didn’t work for me. God or Jesus was mentioned from time to time, and when they were it was done in a biblically appropriate manner. But Schuller’s legacy, which was mentioned, and being positive and having hope were the bold print part of the message.

Saddleback Church with Rick Warren was a substantially different experience. The service on the main campus, one of five now plus the online church, was packed into a relatively modest-number-of-seats auditorium with the feel of a black box theater, music was lively, the congregation was vibrantly engaged, and all but a couple of choruses focused upon Jesus by name, the blood, forgiveness, or God’s love. The service was amazingly diverse with every age represented from crowds of children and young families on the campus going to their own facilities to the elderly in wheelchairs or literally on oxygen in the worship center. The congregation was as racially or ethnically mixed as you’re likely to find anywhere including sports events.

Rick appeared twice on video—today was his day to visit the outlying campuses—and a guest pastor spoke. This was not a big disappointment to me because I’ve heard Rick before. The message by a guest speaker was thoroughly grounded in Scripture—people were encouraged to open Bibles—and focused upon God’s forgiving us, thus making it possible and essential for us to forgive others, i.e. “Jesus’ pattern should become our practice.”

If I had to guess which church ministry would survive the sudden loss of its senior pastor I’d say Saddleback, despite Rick Warren’s national persona. At Crystal Cathedral, you can find huge paintings of Dr. Schuller on the visitor center wall, his quotes scripted on those walls, and people in the program or even the ushers repeatedly mentioning his name or what he said. Nothing wrong with paintings or quotes per se, but again, it’s become the brand.

At Saddleback, you can find Rick’s books in the book store, but the only picture I saw of him was a small one-among-many in the bulletin. Same can be said of the respective websites. Saddleback isn’t marketing Rick Warren. It’s marketing life lived authentically in and for Jesus Christ.

There are at least two additional reasons I believe Saddleback would survive the unexpected loss of its senior pastor better than Crystal Cathedral: leadership and young families. Crystal is still struggling through a generational leadership change that has not yet really transitioned. The leader is in his 80s and either never really let go or had to come back because the ministry has been for 40 years heavily focused on his persona and program. It’s difficult to undue constituent loyalties in a quick or short time. Saddleback, on the other hand, has a long list of pastors on staff and it’s knee deep in deacons who can and do lead an incredible array and complexity of ministries. In other words, Saddleback has a leadership bench to draw from in a time of crisis or transition, and despite what critics have said, Saddleback isn’t of, by, and for Rick Warren. He’s an evangelical star, but at the church the spotlight isn’t on him, it’s on Jesus. The church’s future can also be seen and foretold in those hundreds of families and thousands of children bee-hiving the campus and finding spiritual niches in the programs Saddleback offers.

Visiting both churches in one day was a worthy experiment, and I’m glad I did it. And I should say, I didn’t write this piece to be critical of Dr. Schuller. I respect much of what he’s accomplished for the Lord. But I’m also concerned for the future of that ministry. Saddleback has its own challenges, but leaders and congregants are bent upon meeting those challenges as God directs, which is a great thing to see.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduce in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

Attending church without fear of your life or property is one of the greatest freedoms this free country affords us. Freedom of worship, the ability to honor God and apply his will in our lives, work, and culture, is a First Amendment guarantee, a continuing gift of our armed forces, and our great blessing.

According to Scripture, the Church is the Body of Christ, the “Church universal,” the gathering of all the Saints who name the name of Christ as Savior and Lord. The Church is a worldwide, trans-cultural, trans-racial/ethnic, even trans-historical phenomenon initiated by God in the Book of Acts. The local church is, according to Scripture, a gathering of believers, including the Lord who meets in the midst of them, that come together in a neighboring geographic community. The local church is a subset of the Church universal.

The local church is that place where believers may join hands in fellowship, worship together, pray together, evangelize the lost, celebrate weddings and new births, encourage the living, and honor Saints at their heavenly home going. The local church is where we are held accountable, encouraged, and edified. The local church is a platform from which we can launch a Christian influence upon local culture. It becomes our church home and church family.

Scripture says not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We can worship alone, but we must regularly worship together—because God designed us to need and enjoy the experience.

Church signs—marquees—were once a fairly trustworthy source of information about what happens inside the building (which can be any kind of structure…the church is the fellowship of believers, not the edifice). Unfortunately this is not so anymore. Now, whatever the denomination, you need to attend, to see what the pastor believes and preaches, and to evaluate whether the church really is a Bible-believing and teaching church. That’s the kind of church we all need to find and with which we need to identify.

At Cornerstone University we ask our personnel to be “faithfully involved in an evangelical and biblical church.” We believe in church membership, but we wrote this personnel policy statement emphasizing faithful involvement because that seems to be an even higher standard of commitment than simply attending or joining.

Attending church is a privilege. Praise God for his wisdom in ordaining the church and commanding us to participate.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

At the Michigan funeral of a slain Army Corporal, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas came to the military funeral to conduct a protest. They claim that American soldiers are being killed as a direct result of God’s judgment upon the United States for tolerating homosexuality.

The protesters stood outside the Grand Ledge Baptist Church holding signs denouncing homosexuality, including one that read “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Apparently the group has protested at three other military funerals in Michigan in the past week.

Several veterans responded to the soldier’s family’s request to protect them from the protesters. Many of the veterans carried American flags and turned their backs to the protesters, creating a parallel line through which family and friends could enter the church.

While I do not condone homosexuality, I cannot endorse this kind of in-your-face action to protest American culture’s acceptance of this lifestyle. I imagine these protesters claim to be Christians, which makes their behavior even more embarrassing. What purpose does their affront to this soldier’s family really serve? Do they expect people to listen to their point of view when they take such offensive actions? And how do they know that God is judging America by allowing its soldiers to die, much less this particular soldier?

I don’t like terms like “gay bashing” or “homophobic,” but if any bigoted behavior qualifies, this seems to be it. These people are not “speaking the truth in love.” They are simply acting hatefully.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow at