Church Pixar’s Way

I am currently reading Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground in my spare time.

Pixar has always fascinated me because it is a company that really should not have succeeded. Even the people who worked at the company doubted their ability to become the powerhouse studio they have become. They literally broke all the corporate rules and did things completely wrong. By all known business principles (in 1986), they should have failed miserably.

Instead, they are an enormously popular animation studio, now part of the Disney corporations, which is responsible for some of the most memorable films of all times. They have created iconic characters, produced brilliant stories, broken technological barriers, and entertained an entire generation of children (and their parents).

What makes Pixar great? They play. The artists and employees of Pixar are the Peter Pans of the animation business – not focused on profits and bottom lines or limitations to their ideas. They play, and in the process they create beautiful things.

There are many ways to “do” church, but most of them are built around structures and systems. We tend to think that a church of a certain name must behave a certain way, must have a certain polity, must employ a certain type of minister. The tried and true methodologies rule. Church becomes an institution. It is solid and reliable, even if that makes it predictable and boring.

True innovators – truly creative people who are willing to play and celebrate and engage on a child-like level – are not considered acceptable leaders for the church. We do not tolerate whimsy and dreaming. There can be no joyful imagination because we already know how to be successful. We already know what works, and if you try new things, they might NOT work; and that would be a great sin.

That is the state of the church world, and to be frank, it is dead wrong. Churches are dying – churches of all denominations and worship styles – because they are failing to engage people on a level buried deep beneath the “adult” surface. They substitute programs, methodology and organizations schemes for true creativity.

Recently, I watched a video of an artist doing a painting at a megachurch. He worked with the canvas, splashing paint and making massive strokes with the brush. Then assistants came and flipped it over, and it was an image of Jesus on the cross. The crowd applauded.

Then I turned on Daystar (a Christian network I swear I will never watch every time I watch it), and I saw another megachurch doing the same thing in their service. I checked Youtube and sure enough, there were dozens of these “wildly innovative” megachurches doing the exact same presentation and getting the exact same responses from the crowds.

That is not innovation. That is not creativity. It is following the fad, doing the “thing that works” because it worked somewhere else. It is doing the same thing in a different place.

True creativity is rare because it is hard to find people who have not had their child-like creativity and imagination beaten out of them. Even among artists, their creativity tends to be formed more by their adulthood than by their childhood.

The church tends to gravitate toward adult and mature forms of art. The popularity of people like Thomas Kinkade (who seems to have painted the same scene about sixty billion times, in my opinion) is evidence enough for that. And if that isn’t enough, turn on a Christian radio station and listen to it for about an hour. All the speakers engage the same way. All the musicians play the same three or four styles.

We don’t do daring things. We do things that are expected of us, that are reliable and safe. We worship at the alter of adulthood.

But to build a congregation like Pixar? Where those with childlike wonder are driving the decisions? Where the power of the moment occurs deep in your being? Where the narrative of the Scriptures enlivens something buried deep inside of us?

In a supplemental audio interview at the end of the audio version of his book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, author Bill Bryson bemoaned the loss of our childhood as an “intensely experienced part of our lives” that we are told to discard entirely in adulthood.

Pixar taps into that intensely experienced part of our lives, those formative years when our minds are free to fly and our dreams transcend reality.

At its core, isn’t spirituality supposed to be about transcending reality? Isn’t there a necessity for imagination and true creativity in the church of Jesus Christ? Doesn’t the imagine allow us to transcend the mundane and expected to see beyond this plane?Shouldn’t there be a flexibility of our rigid rules of adulthood to allow for the work of the one who told us to come unto him as children?

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