What Would Walt Do?

Forty years before the “What Would Jesus Do” fad, Disney executives were asking “What Would Walt Do?”

I’ve been hanging out this week with an old engineer friend of mine in Orlando who’s teaching me ProTools (I’m thinking of switching from Sonar – a topic for an upcoming article.)

Whenever I’m in Orlando I enjoy taking Disney backstage tours. I’m fascinated with any person who’s built an empire and I always learn something valuable from a behind the scenes look at this amazing company.

I took the “Inspiration: Through Walt’s Eyes” tour which tells about Walt’s humble beginnings in the Midwest, his many career defeats that would have sidelined a lesser man, and the unbelievable growth of the Disney company into the cultural force it is today. All this was started from Mickey Mouse, a character created by a dejected Walt on a train ride home after his wildly popular Oswald the Rabbit character was ripped from his ownership by the evil Universal studios. (Last year Disney finally bought back the rights to Oswald and he’s made his first appearance in decades in a new Disney video game.)

At one point the tour guide said “Walt’s vision for the company was to have one foot firmly planted in tradition while having the other foot firmly planted in the future and innovation.” I nearly Laughed Out Loud – that was a lesson for churches if I’ve ever heard one,

Problem is, many churches are operating in one of these extremes or the other. I heard about one evangelical church the other day who, in 2011, staunchly sings only hymns and classics – and by classics I’m talking Bach and songs in Latin. Can you seriously imagine an evangelical church these days singing Latin? Both feet here are firmly planted in tradition. (It’s not a small church, either. Remember that cranky old lady who tried to get you fired because the drums are too loud and you sing those repetitive praise songs? She probably goes to this church along with hundreds of other disgruntled traditionalists.)

Then you have the cool and hip Rob Bell, mega church pastor and star of the popular NOOMA videos, who has been in a swirl of controversy this past week regarding his apparent lapse into Universalism. If this turns out to be true (his upcoming book will tell the full story,) then his feet are firmly planted in the future and innovation – and he’s innovated his way right out of historic Christianity. The seeker driven churches who perform a steady diet of secular top forty songs and preach from the Reader’s Digest also come to mind.

Let’s take Walt’s advice – what would having one foot in tradition and one foot in the future look like for your church?

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