Pixar & the Future of the Church

I’ll admit it; I am a fan of all the Pixar movies from Toy Story to Cars 2. Yes, even Cars 2. I don’t believe every movie that comes from Pixar has to make me cry; I also love movies that are just action with a little character development (see my love for the Back to the Future movies). This past week I watched “The Pixar Story,” a documentary from 2007 that chronicled how they went from a tiny computer company to the behemoth that cranks out winning movies time after time after time.

John Lasseter had a passion for characters, for telling a great story and saw new possibilities in computers to tell those stories. He got his dream job working for Disney and, just after he makes his pitch to make a computer-animated cartoon, Lasseter is fired from Disney. Frankly they didn’t know what to do with this guy that was urgining them to try something new, to enter a new direction and it scared many of them.

I know way too many stories of pastors that have either left the United Methodist Church or gone into different denominations because they are just too far out there, too outside the way we have done things before, and they leave or are forced to leave. They get so disappointed with a church and a system that is incapable and/or unwilling to change despite the fact that these entrepreneurs (we’d call them prophets) are the way we return to the abudant life God calls us as the church to have.

Other people see in Lasseter some great potential, one of them being Steve Jobs of Apple fame. His expertise is computers and sales but believes & sees there is something to this idea of computer-animated films with great stories. Jobs invests a great deal of money into this vision to see a computer-animated film done well. He takes a risk on Lasseter and it is a bumpy road on a shoe-string budget for a long time.

Church, where is our risk-taking? Where are we making bold choices going into neighbors that need us, that need to know that God still loves them and cares for them? Where are we trying new things, new ways, new methods to reach people that feel further and further disconnected from the God who really does love them? Sometimes it requires us to step way outside what we’ve done before or ever thought of doing.

Jesus says “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins” (Mark 2:22). There are times God calls us to start new ways of doing church we never thought we would be doing; new wine, new methods, calls for new wineskins, new vehicles, for it. Have you taken any Pixar-sized risks lately?

Toy Story is a huge success and Pixar continues their streak of hit after hit movies that tell stories in amazingly creative ways. Down the line, Disney buys Pixar and puts John Lasseter, the man they fired, in charge of all animation. The student has now become the teacher.

In the church, we’ve already started learning from people that have been wildly successful after leaving the United Methodist Church. Why couldn’t our system have kept them? What is wrong with us that made them leave? We better fix the problem soon; otherwise there will not be any United Methodists around anywhere. They are leading amazing movements of God so why not keep them in our denomination to do it?

Perhaps the greatest lesson of Pixar is their ability to tell great stories. Church, we’ve got the best story ever and so many times we butcher the way we tell it. It doesn’t matter how great your story is; if your medium is awful, if the way you tell it is sub-par, if the way you communicate is in a language different than the people you serve, it will not be heard. The medium is the message. Make sure you are using mediums appropriate to the culture and people you are trying to speak to and to reach.

I love movies; I love Jesus more. Let’s do the story above all stories justice by telling it in a way that looks much more like Pixar tells stories and just watch how people respond.

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