After years of waiting, I found myself finally standing at the happiest place on earth last week. Thirty seven years of hearing stories and watching countless movies, I had finally arrived at Disney World. I can tell you that it was an amazing time with my family and something that I will never forget. Unfortunately, during our time there, I also found myself awaiting what many were claiming to be one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States. Upon discovering that Disney is rated by the NOAA as one of the safest places to be during a hurricane, we decided to ride it out there. Due to the approaching storm, Disney made the decision to close all parks on both Sunday and Monday, a first in their storied history. It was during those two days at the Boardwalk resort that I was reminded of some valuable lessons regarding church leadership.
Planning is Essential
Most churches have a desire to be successful for the Kingdom of God. They long to reach people, disciple men and women and make an eternal impact on this world. Unfortunately, few churches plan for such success. Most pastors and church leaders are dictated by their schedule, instead of dictating their schedules. The constant demand for emergencies, meetings and day to day administrative responsibility hinder most from being able to look ahead. It is essential that we make time weekly or at least monthly to get ahead of our schedule and plan for future change. One of the many responsibilities of being a shepherd is seeing approaching dangers and having a plan to navigate them. It was amazing to see the preparation taken by Disney as the storm grew stronger and closer. While the park has never been closed for multiple days, planning had been taken to ensure not just the safety of those visiting but a plan to maintain their enjoyment. One example of such planning was that every light fixture in Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios had been encased with mesh bags. Had the wind blown the glass globes off, they would not be damaged. The resorts went to great lengths to be prepared as well. How will thousands of guest be fed, entertained and protected? Buffets were set up for all major meals, characters were constantly seen throughout the storm lightening the mood and special events were planned to give kids structured activities during the 48 hours of lock down. The truth is, Disney could have gone with the track record and written off the storm as just another one that will miss, but they took time to plan and prepare for all scenarios. Church leaders need to do the same. I am a firm believer in being led by the Holy Spirit, but I also believe that it is wise to plan ahead for both growth and for challenges.
Kindness is Free
If you gather a group of pastors into a room with the open ended question of “what is the one thing you can do to improve your church?” You will hear many opinions on the matter ranging from music, to preaching, ministry to children and countless others. I would argue that the single greatest thing your church could do, is to work on being more kind. Every church I have attended believes that they are kind and welcoming. I would argue that most are welcoming but few are kind. The difference between the two is in regards to genuineness. Welcoming involves talking to people and thanking them for joining you in worship. Kindness seeks to invite them to eat, to sit with you and your family or to follow up on their visit. If you have ever been to Disney, you know that they take great lengths to show kindness. Daily I was confronted by smiles and congratulations upon our first visit. Everywhere I went people asked if they could help us in any way. After our first night, i received a text message from Ian curious if we had a good nights sleep. I assured him that we did but mentioned kindly that we had lukewarm water for showers. He immediately credited my account $200 and promised to have the issue fixed upon my return from the park that day. He didn’t have to do that, but I can assure you I was grateful for it. While you pay to enjoy Disney, it is sad that the church who holds the promise of a more wonderful story and experience can’t seem to match their kindness. I have been told by no less than 10 visitors in 2 years that people asked them to move out of their pew. The great news about being kind, is that it cost you nothing. So I would encourage you this Sunday to find someone visiting your church and go beyond welcoming them, but rather show them genuine kindness.
Excellence is Key
My staff will tell you that I expect things to be done with excellence. Whether it is an event, a song, a sermon or a publication we should give our absolute best to the Lord. I was reminded on the importance of excellence when walking into Epcot from our hotel on Friday. There on a construction zone fence was this quote from Walt Disney, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” If this such advice has created an institution like Disney, how much more should we heed such wisdom for the church. I’m not attempting to equate business practices of a secular company with the church, but am arguing that we too should take seriously every thing we do. Much of this goes back to planning, but I believe that it is time to lead by excellence. I want to do things in such a way that secular groups look to the church for advice and an example to follow. For example, if you are going to have a nursery, make sure that it is done with excellence. Don’t donate your used, broken toys for the church to have, but go buy new ones. I hate it when people want to donate their old furniture to the church. If you needed new furniture in your house, don’t you think it would be appropriate to expect the same of our Lord’s house?
Criticism is Guaranteed
No matter how kind, nor how much you attempt to plan for every potential situation, I promise you, someone will not like what you do. If your new to ministry allow me to offer one important piece of advice. Lead by conviction and not by consensus. If you try to make everyone happy, you will not last in ministry. I’m not advocating that you ignore completely people’s desires or wants, but rather that you weigh all things and then stand firmly on your decision. I promise you that no matter how biblical or true that decision is, someone will despise it. During our lockdown at the resort, the Disney staff was forced to accommodate feeding over 1000 people with no restaurant. They ultimately decided to open a banquet hall and offer a buffet with such options as prime rib, salmon, Hawaiian pork and more for $15 per adult. Unfortunately, people took advantage of the situation and upon arrival not only fixed their plates but stuffed to go boxes and bags with food to take back to their rooms. Within an hour 100’s of people were left with no choice but to purchase a simple box dinner. Given the raging hurricane and unique situation, you would have thought people would be appreciative of their hard work but instead people ranted and raved. The foolishness of some people was epic. They chastised the waiters, the greeters, and anyone who resembled an employee of disney. I sat back and marveled at the ingratitude of people. Then I was reminded of countless moments when the same thing happened at church. You see, criticism is a natural response of our flesh. Accept the fact now, that serving the Lord will be filled with criticism. Some justified, but most often is will not be. Our response should be like the employees I observed who graciously apologized and continued to treat them with kindness and help. I would encourage you to realize your church nor your church leaders are perfect. I can promise you that they are constantly criticized and questioned for the decisions they make. Therefore, make it a priority to thank them and encourage them instead. It only takes a moment to say thank you. You can even disagree while being an encouragement.
Joy is Optional
The final lesson I learned was that joy is optional. During our trip every precaution and planning had been taken to ensure our experience was memorable. However, at the end of the day it was our choice to find joy in the circumstances or instead find misery. I am grateful that we have the same choice in our churches. We can complain about all that is wrong or we can choose to be joyful for what is right. As the rain poured and the wind raged, I watched as my little girl danced her heart out with Goofy. Yes, it was her birthday and all our planning and hopes had been dashed by Irma. Yes, things could have been better, but my daughter didn’t care. She chose joy and I hope that when it comes to your church you will do the same.