No, Robert Schuller is not dead. Steve Jobs is dead, but not Robert Schuller. The minute that Schuller left the limelight, however, his legacy started to evaporate. Will the same thing happen to Apple now that Jobs has been uploaded to that eternal App store in the sky?
There is a cautionary tale here. Whenever the kingdom is exclusively built around the persona of a charismatic leader, their departure spells the beginning of the end.
This does not mean, however, that leadership, brilliance, creativity and vision are unnecessary. Quite to the contrary; of course they are. The Crystal Cathedral simply couldn’t have become what it was without Schuller. And Apple couldn’t become what it was without the rare gifts of Jobs. There is no doubting that.
What is instructive, though, is to watch what happens to an organization once a primary founder and visionary leaves the helm. Does it continue to flourish? More than one organization has been so leader dependent that it capsized and even sank with that one person leaves.
Continuing and thriving organizations don’t discourage strong leadership from the top, but rather distribute responsibility for it. This distribution has to do with several things.
The first has to do with the vision being carried by the whole group, not just the leader: “It’s ours, so no matter who is leading at present we are all part of the story.”
The second has to do with leadership development. Can the visionary leader actually encourage and facilitate a culture of leadership so that “all of us are always innovating, striving, reinventing, and succeeding?”
Those two pillars, among others, often tell the tale. As far as the Crystal Cathedral and Schuller are concerned it hasn’t panned out so well. The story is yet to be told at Apple.
Leadership remains a crucial factor. But the type and style of leadership – in relation to other leadership and the constituents – is the most telling aspect. If Jobs has delegated and distributed decision-making functions, creative license, and vision-carrying responsibility to others, it may turn out just fine. In death he could become iconic, a symbol of what the organization stands for.
For the church, especially in a free-church tradition like ours, leadership is also crucial. The congregation confers authority on ordained and lay leaders. And trust, tradition and common vision are the currency by which we live.
Congregations that survive and thrive encourage a shared visionary leadership, the body of Christ that carries our vision long after any particular preacher or parishioner has left the scene.