They Came My Way
“You can count the seeds in an apple,
but you can’t count the apples in a seed”
It was 1980. In a tense international dispute, the US broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in April. The US Supreme Court upheld limits on federal aid for abortions and made a historical ruling stating that genetically engineered organisms could be patented.
Janice Brown, a former teacher made the first long-distance, solar-powered flight in the Solar Challenger. The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to an American, Czeslaw Milosz while William Golding released Rites of Passage.
Kramer vs. Kramer won the Best Picture Oscar and the Doobie Brothers received the Record-of-the-Year Grammy for What A Fool Believes, written by songwriters Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.
Georgia went undefeated to win the NCAA Football Championship while Louisville defeated UCLA in March Madness to win the national title. Famed movie director, Alfred Hitchcock, died as did the 20th century’s most significant researcher and educator on the nature of child cognitive development, Frenchman Jean Piaget.
My work as Senior Minister at The Center for Positive Living in Santa Rosa, a community-based, non-denominational ministry, took a leap forward in connecting with the community with the creation of a Community Series of inspirational author-speakers. Dr. Robert Schuller…pastor, prolific author and founder of the Crystal Cathedral…was the first speaker.
In the last half of the 20th century, this one man exercised the greatest, singular influence on inspiring two generations of emerging leaders to expand the growth of Christian community-based evangelical and denominational protestant churches worldwide.
Robert Schuller’s Possibility Thinking message resonated not simply as hope-filled encouragement for millions who watched and listened weekly to his Hour of Power television broadcast, but, even more importantly, to the minds and hearts of young leaders who needed resources, tools and imaginative inspiration to dream locally while thinking globally about creating new ministries…a case in point…Rick Warren who translated his Schuller-Inspired education into the worldwide work of Saddleback Church.
How did Dr. Schuller craft this influence? Beginning in the early 1970s, he created a four-day Church Growth Leadership Conference held at the Garden Grove ministry campus. In a handful of years these conferences attracted a line-up of national and international church growth speakers who gathered annually in the Fall with hundreds and hundreds of young (and older!) pastors and their church leadership boards. Always, the major focal point of inspiration came from a daily morning message of leadership possibilities presented by Dr. Schuller.
By the mid-1970’s I was one of those young pastors who attended the annual conference to fuel and refuel my tank and think into the church work that had led me now to Santa Rosa,
Fast-forward to Spring, 1980, when 1500+ people piled into the largest available venue in Santa Rosa, the Veterans Memorial Building right near the Fair Grounds, to hear Dr. Schuller.
The timeliness of his message to the community was impeccable. The nation was in the duldrums with runaway inflation and unemployment at a high 7.1%. One major face of the economic turmoil was the Detroit auto industry. Dr. Schuller had been invited recently to Detroit to give a talk on possibility thinking to a large group of automobile executives and workers. During his speech, he blurted out a phrase that would become a 1983 run-away national best-selling book. And what was the phrase? Tough Times Never Last But Tough People Do. That phrase was symbolic of the countless Schullerisms that salt and peppered his creative, spirit filled messages throughout his career.
What happened for me that evening which became a memorable They Came My Way Moment? It did not occur during the program but instead on the hour-plus car drive to the airport after the program when he and I were one-on-one in conversation.
As with many of my remembrances of those who have come my way, it was a casual comment by Dr. Schuller that remains today a precious bit of life cargo I carry with me.
For reasons I cannot recall, he was telling me how he purposefully defined the street address of his Garden Grove Church when the ministry acquired several acres of land in the middle of a lightly populated OC. The church was on Lewis Street. The address he wanted for the property was 12141 Lewis Street.
“Why? “I asked, anticipating something good on the other side of my question.
“Russ, 12141 was more than numbers for me. It was a statement of mission for the work ahead in my life: One To One For One…working with others to serve the One, Christ.”
Over the years I have explored the question of what shapes legacy leadership. The answer may be embedded in his comment. Is significant work defined by the partnership of many offered as a gift in service to the One Life that lives in us and through us for purposes that outlive us? My life experience tells me Yes.
Let’s move thirty-two years from that conversation. It’s now the second decade of the 21st Century. The legacy work of the Crystal Cathedral and its primary voice, Dr. Schuller, has experienced great turbulence. As a result the local work shall be taking on new expression. For some, accusations of failure surround this season of the Schuller legacy and lifework. I understand why it might be interpreted as such.
But, I place my Legacy Bet as a possibility thinking optimist on the belief that this Iowa farm boy’s book of influence will continue to produce many new chapters of Good beyond his lifetime…written locally, nationally and internationally because he dreamed of infinite possibilities grounded in the many working together for the One.