Focus on the Family celebrates 25 years
James Dobson's Focus on the Family completed its 25th anniversary celebrations yesterday in a worship service with Prayer of Jabez author Bruce Wilkinson and Christian singers Matthew Ward and Kim Hill. The previous night, Chuck Colson, Michael W. Smith, Stephen Curtis Chapman—and about 15,000 Focus fans—joined the Dobsons at Denver's Pepsi Center for an anniversary service.

"Sometimes he can be a little controversial," Colson said. "If you're going to wrestle with principalities and powers and the forces of evil, of course you're going to be controversial."

But while a lot of planning went into the quarter-century celebration, even more is going into the organization's post-Dobson future, reports the Colorado Springs Gazette. "The transition to the post-Dobson era already has begun, though Dobson, 66, has been more active than ever on the talk-show circuit and says he has perhaps 10 years left in his career," writes Gazette religion reporter Eric Gorski. "The succession plan acknowledges one person cannot replace Dobson … [and] calls for a chief executive officer to handle business matters and a 'chief articulator' to be the voice of the ministry. The articulator job, Dobson and others say, will be much harder to fill. There's internal debate about whether one person can do it or if a team approach is best."

Already ruled out are Dobson's heirs, Danae and Ryan. Instead, Gorski reports, "During the past two years, the ministry has hired or given new duties to a handful of rising stars. A successor to Dobson could be among them." The main names floated are Walt Larimore and Bill Maier. Like Dobson, both have experience in both media and medicine—though Dobson says their increased prominence in the "Other Voices" program "was designed more to give a voice to those talented people than specifically to have a crash program to identify a successor. … We're not sitting around waiting for me to die."

Likewise, Larimore distances himself from speculation that he's being groomed to replace the Focus leader. ""If anyone could even think he could [be the heir apparent to Dobson], they disqualify themselves," he told Gorski.

In The New York Times, meanwhile, reporter Steve Rabey (who formerly had Gorski's job) focuses on Focus's more immediate challenges: "two consecutive years of flat income and a continuing inability to attract younger donors." Last year, income decreased for the organization's first time.

Dobson tells the Times he's worried that the profamily movement is losing its steam, but he thinks his organization is doing well, all things considered: "Our mission is to save some, and if we can help some families stay together and have a meaningful life and raise responsible children, we feel that we've fulfilled our obligation."

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In another interview with the Gazette, however, he's a bit more downcast:

I'm disappointed I have not been able to not prevent the continued deterioration of the family. It's in worse shape now than it was when I started. … We're one organization. You can't get your arms around 260 million people in this country. And of course, we're trying to deal with every nation on Earth. We recognize the limitations of that. If you measure yourself by the human family, there's no way you're going to feel good about yourself. On the other hand, we get 250,000 letters and phone calls a month and the response of the people who contact us gives us much more credit than we deserve.

Dobson's Focus on the Family broadcast has already had one episode examining its 25th anniversary, and another one (taped Saturday at the Pepsi Center) will air a week from today. Dobson's monthly letter also focuses on the anniversary, and the organization is offering an anniversary book for $49 (an autographed copy runs $249).

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