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Q&A with Bobby Schuller

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) America has searched for the next pop idol, top model and ballroom dancer. Now, apparently, it is time to look for the next inspirational speaker. On July 23, The Learning Channel will launch a new reality series, “The Messengers,” in which 10 contestants compete for a book deal and […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) America has searched for the next pop idol, top model and ballroom dancer. Now, apparently, it is time to look for the next inspirational speaker.

On July 23, The Learning Channel will launch a new reality series, “The Messengers,” in which 10 contestants compete for a book deal and the opportunity to host a TV special.

Each episode revolves around a field trip. In the first episode, contenders spend 24 hours “homeless” on the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Then, they deliver speeches on the topic of charity. A studio audience votes for the best speakers and eliminates one.

But before the vote, two experts offer commentary. Speech coach Richard Greene critiques the delivery. And Bobby Schuller, a 25-year-old pastor, analyzes the content. Schuller is the grandson of the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, well-known founder of Crystal Cathedral, a 10,000-member megachurch. Since 2004, Bobby Schuller has run the church’s Emergent Ministries.

In Crystal Cathedral’s visitors center, Bobby Schuller spoke with Religion News Service about the show, the secret to motivational speaking and his future at the church.

Q: In a trailer for the show, the speech expert Richard Greene calls inspirational speaking “a form of magic that is about to disappear from the planet.” Is that so?

A: That’s true. We have, as a country, lost a sense of leadership. Politicians and even preachers are giving shallow messages. They tell people what they want to hear. … What we value as a society is becoming more and more shallow. For some strange reason, the leaders in our communities are movie stars. But now, the culture is recognizing that a vacuum is there and we need to change our perspective.

Q: So what makes a good speaker?

A: Authenticity, passion and a clear message. Every great speaker is speaking about something greater than himself. Look at JFK; he wasn’t speaking from a Kennedy-family perspective. He was speaking from an epic, reform-America perspective. It was the same thing with Martin Luther King Jr. He wasn’t speaking just from his own personal experience; he was speaking for the greater injustice against the African-American community.

Q: Your grandfather’s preaching style is positive and uplifting. Others use fire-and-brimstone techniques. Which style works best?

A: The positive message. We’ve seen a major trend in religion: People are beginning to speak from the positive angle, wanting people to change instead of to feel shame and guilt.

Q: But megachurches have been accused of focusing on positive thinking at the expense of theology, of “watering down” Christianity. Isn’t “The Messengers,” after all, religion-lite?

A: If you’re (looking for) institutional religion, you’re not going to find that on the show. But I don’t think that makes the show religion-lite. It’s deep spiritually, because all (the contestants) come from different spiritual and religious worldviews. They’re not trying to convert people but are engaging in conversation. For me, that is a lot deeper than somebody just giving me hellfire and brimstone.

Q: You’re a pastor. Your father is a pastor, and your grandfather is a pastor. Are inspirational speakers born or made?

A: It’s a little of both. I believe my speaking (ability) came as a gift from God. But you grow, as well. In “The Messengers,” the speakers got better as the show went on. When they started, I thought, `Wow, I’m really surprised that out of some 900 speakers (who auditioned), we have these 10, and a couple of them just don’t seem like great speakers.’ But by the end, they were awesome.

Q: Your grandfather created the world’s longest running and most watched televised church service, the “Hour of Power.” How does what you’re doing compare?

A: (“The Messengers” was produced by) Original Productions and Thom Beers, who did “Monster Garage,” where he’s cutting up cars and turning them into hot rods. He’s just crazy and creative. You take a guy like this, and you take the sort of message that you get from the “Hour of Power,” and you get an incredible show.

Q: Is this a sign of where religious programming is going?

A: It could be. Most religious programming has been cheesy or shallow. The “Hour of Power” and “The Messengers” are working to help people change their lives, not from a selfish perspective, but (as a way of) responding to a bigger call.

Q: (In January), your father replaced your grandfather as senior pastor of Crystal Cathedral. Do you have any plans to become the next pastor of the church?

A: No. Maybe in the future, if the church (leaders) feel they want me to step into that role. But that’s a long, long ways away. I don’t think my father plans on retiring for another 30 years or so, and I don’t know if I’m going to be around here then.

DETAILS: “The Messengers” eight-part series kicks off with a 2-hour premiere on Sunday, July 23 from 10-11 PM (ET/PT); subsequent episodes air Sundays from 10-11 PM (ET/PT).

DSB/JL END BROWN