Lyle Schaller, one of the most influential voices in the American church since the 1960s, passed away on March 18 at age 91.
Like many church leaders my age (57) Lyle Schaller was an early – and often – mentor via his writings. Although I was fortunate to hear him speak several times, it was his writing prowess that captured my mind.
After graduating from college with an accounting degree, but knowing I had been called into ministry, I began my theological studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1981. My calling was specific – and off the beaten path, at least at that time.
My calling was that of a support role, a second-chair leadership role, providing leadership and direction to churches in the area of business administration, facilities management, and communications. When I began my seminary studies, there wasn’t a track in that area, but I was able to link together combination of classes in my field of choice that laid a solid foundation for my continuing education – both on the field as a staff member for 23 years, and as a consultant for an additional 11 years to date.
Central to that foundation was the work that Lyle Schaller had been doing since the late 1960s, when he left a career in urban planning to go to seminary, pastoring for several years, but then moving to his true calling: that of a consultant to churches.
Schaller’s books were required reading for all my classes in administration and leadership. My first trip to the seminary bookstore included not only Old Testament, theology, and church history textbooks, but a healthy selection of small (compared to the others) books by Schaller. The first title in my growing collection of his books was “Parish Planning: How to Get Things Done in Your Church.”
With all my college business administration classes fresh in mind, Schaller’s writings were like a deep breath walking into my mother’s kitchen after being away for a while – the aroma of wonderful food bringing both a comfort of being “home” and the promise of good things to follow.
Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoyed my required Bible, theology, and church history classes (so much that my seminary minor was in Baptist History). But the way Schaller wrote about “business” stuff in a “church” world really resonated with me.
My advisor and primary professor, Dr. Ralph Hardee, introduced me to a whole new world of Schaller’s work, even that beyond his books. Columns from magazines and articles from newsletters soon joined my growing library of Schaller’s works (now numbering over 50 books, a portion you see below).
Almost as soon as I began my seminary studies, I also began serving on a church staff. As the newest of a 15-member vocational ministry staff, I was eager to accept the mentoring given to me by the other staff members. It didn’t take long to see that they, too, had been influenced by Lyle Schaller in their early formative years over the past decades. Many times I remember a conversation among our staff beginning with the words, “Lyle Schaller has this to say about…”
Following graduation from seminary I stayed on at that church staff, and my education began in earnest – you know, the “real world” that comes crashing in on newly graduated students!
Part of that real world also included connecting with other leaders in churches and organizations across the country – the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources), Leadership Network, NACBA, NACDB, NACFA – hundreds of peers.
It didn’t take long in our conversations for Schaller’s name to come up: “ We’re dealing with (insert problem here) and this is what Lyle Schaller wrote about it.” We would all nod, and add our own experience and Schaller connection to the conversation.
As my responsibilities soon outpaced my knowledge, I began to immerse myself not just in the works of Lyle Schaller, but in what I consider to be his most important gift to all church leaders – the importance of asking questions.
As Schaller interacted with church leaders, he sifted through their stories by asking, “What have you learned that I need to know?” He says that’s a much better question than, “What do you think we should do?”
– Warren Bird – Wisdom from Lyle Schaller
That quote above, for me, sums up the ongoing contribution that Lyle Schaller has made to my personal growth and development as a church leader.
Or, he stated it,
The moral is that you can learn more by listening than by talking, more by asking questions than offering answers.
In a small way to honor Lyle Schaller for the contributions he has made to the life and legacy of the American Church, many of our team will be writing, Tweeting, and posting to Facebook and Instagram today.
We’re using #LyleLearnings to connect the thoughts of not only our team but many others. If you haven’t already, do a quick search of that hashtag – #LyleLearnings – and you will become the next in a long line of eager learners impacted by Lyle E. Schaller.
I close with a Scripture that came to mind as soon as I learned of Schaller’s death:
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
– 2 Timothy 2:2
That’s four generations of learning – from Paul to Timothy to faithful men to others.
That was Lyle Schaller.
May his firm but graceful way of asking questions continue to be passed on for generations to come.
Lyle Schaller 1923-2015