Monday, September 07, 2009

Faith Works 9-12-09

Faith Works 9-12-09

Jeff Gill


Good and Evil and Disney



One thing I did not expect in going to Disney World was the overwhelmingly international nature of the experience.


I expected high humidity and hair drenching heat, but it had not occurred to me that you'd regularly go for long stretches of time not hearing a word of English . . . and when you did, it often had a strong accent of Liverpool or Bristol or even Sydney.


Families from around the world made every part of the Disney Parks empire feel like a bit of Epcot and the "World Showcase" (where you find the little enclaves of global culture strung around a lagoon reflecting the faux Eiffel Tower and Venice campanile, etc.).


Conversations with some of the Disney "cast members," the title held by all employees from trashcan cleaner to costumed character, indicated that more Americans like to come in the winter and during spring break, so my perception that international guests were noticeably dominant seems accurate. A few cast members said, smiling broadly at me, that Midwesterners are usually smarter than coming in August.


Some are, some aren't.


What I also did not expect was to see and feel that Disney really does have some lessons that the smallest church can learn from and adopt. First and foremost, as I mentioned last week, there is training.


Training means simply this: that no one goes out on any task without making sure that the employee has been taught the basic story and values of the organization, knows how their task fits into the larger goals and themes at work around them, and are prepared to step to help with anything that goes on in their immediate vicinity, even when it is just knowing how to find an answer.


Can faith communities do this? Could we all do a better job of making sure that anyone who has a ministry function of any sort knows how their task – nursery attendant, kitchen helper, morning greeter – fits into the work going on around them, and how that all is part of the core mission and themes of that particular congregation?


Or to put it a little more awkwardly: is it better to fill a slot with someone who has tunnel vision and no interest in anything other than their own particular efforts, or another less adept person who sees their work as part of a whole? Is it even better, sometimes, to leave slots open until the right fit and training can be found?


In Christian churches, we sometimes confuse "everyone has a gift" to "anyone can do whatever they want." Not the same. Identifying a person's giftedness is a ministry itself, and making sure that gift serves the larger purpose is leadership's heavy lifting.


Right behind training is applying a comprehensive vision, to the point where not only is every part of an environment part of the experience, but even the participants start to deliver, let alone shape, the experience they came for. In Disney Parks, I'm learning, you will often find yourself pausing to figure out where you are – and get asked sometimes by people on either side of you "Can I help you find where you're going?"


There's something about the immersive experience they create that makes people start to act like staff, but in a good way. For the opposite, put into a search engine "starbucks marketed like church" and watch the video that comes up. And cringe.


Can your parking area, your restrooms, your gathering space preach your message? Well, here's the newsflash: they already do. The question is whether they're preaching the message you want them to.


Your problem may be that your Sunday message says one thing, and your locked front door, dingy bathroom, and cheerless nursery attendant says another. Or it could be as simple as trying to say too many things, when "one dish is sufficient," as one of Walt Disney's inspirations once said. A simple, one word, or short phrase message can come across in many ways, while a longer, more complex theme can so easily misfire or be misheard as to create more confusion . . . than not even trying.


There's one more week I want to put into this look from the Magic Kingdom back into our worship centers and sanctuaries. And it has a little to do with the Devil and Hell, Evil afoot, and Goodness triumphant. Doesn't get much simpler than that!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; why yes, he does have 1,200 Disney photos on his Facebook page, why do you ask? Ask him why at or follow Knapsack

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