I should say up front that I always liked Robert Schuller and the positive messages he brought and so I’m saddened by the recent troubles he’s been having.  That said, I wasn’t surprised when the headlines sprawled across the continent – “Crystal Cathedral Megachurch Files for Bankruptcy”

It seems that there were many factors that contributed to the problem: $38 million mortgage; $7.5 million debt to various smaller creditors (including suppliers of props for various church pageants); declining charitable giving due to the economy; ongoing leadership issues (he terminated his own son and passed leadership to his daughter).

Here’s the problem and the danger in one word … empire.  No, not the apple, but the human instinct to build places of power and control.  Kingdoms.  We all try to build our own empires – on our street, at work, in our families – where we can be respected and influential.  Churches, usually innocently, are just as likely to be places where empires are built.  What began as a well-intentioned desire to bring a relevant faith to the people of his community has over the years grown to be a drain and a burden on the very community and people who have been or should be benefited.

What is especially sad is that such a once progressive thinker still thinks the same tired ways will provide an answer.   This past Sunday, in a quivering, tearful voice, the 84 year old Dr. Schuller appeared in his familiar pulpit and pleaded with non tithers to become tithers, and tithers to become double tithers.  In other words, burden the faithful with more burdens because, obviously, God wants this church to continue to do what it is doing.  After all, what would the community and the world do without it?  Without our brand of religion?

Indeed. What could people do without having to support a crumbling, overextended  empire?  What good would those millions of dollars from the past and the future do if they could flow directly to hungry, sick, poor, empty, addicted, lonely and disabled people instead of paying down debt and maintaining elaborate buildings and self-important church programs?  What if the spiritual growth of people was done in small, relational settings rather than centralized in a shiny, glass headquarters?

Ironically, when I went to their website today, the daily Scripture verse was from Matthew 6:10 “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I hope and pray that the leadership at the Crystal Cathedral, and in our own lives and churches, can truly embrace that.