Last week my family and I went on a Disney cruise thanks to my mother-in-law! We had the most wonderful time—eating unlimited desserts, watching the shows, sitting by the pool, taking in majestic ocean views, being surprised by the little towel figures at night, and an all-day child-center. In experiencing a Disney cruise for the first time, and having some down time on the boat, I jotted down some things that I think the church and Disney have in common—or at least should, to some degree, have in common. While I jotted down more, here are the top five.
- Disney has created a global brand.
Disney is not just a North American name or a Western name, but a global one. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Indiana or India, Colorado or Chile, South Dakota or South Africa, Kansas or Kenya, or Hawaii or Hong Kong, most people have heard of Mickey Mouse, and perhaps Walt Disney. And if they have the resources, they have experienced or plan to experience Disney in some way.
The global phenomena of the Disney brand means that its message along with its characters and stories cross-translate to the various cultures and peoples throughout the world. The message of “where dreams come true” and the characters of Mickey Mouse to Cinderella, coupled with each character’s story, resonate with every boy and girl throughout the world—not to mention every person regardless of age.
The universality of the inclusive branding of Disney is something that the church shares in common.
God is a universal and inclusive God who’s on mission to redeem a people for himself from all peoples of the world.
Thus the message of God along with his people and their stories should capture and resonate with the hearts of every people, regardless of age, throughout the globe.
- Disney makes it their aim to bring joy to others.
Now before you pushback on this one and say that they are in the “business” of bringing joy to others, I want you to think about how good they are at this aim compared to all the other “businesses” that aim to bring a joyful experience to others. Sure, with Disney, people pay to experience joy…happiness; however, while I am sure something exists that tops the Disney experience, I have not been to or experienced any other business that does a better job at excelling at bringing joy to others.
On the boat, kids lived in a state of joy, and parents and grandparents experienced the flood of happy and joyful feelings as they experienced the elated emotional wonderland of their children. To my chagrin, there were even newly weds and adults on the boat without children that seemed to be delighting in enjoyment. In short, when people come in the presence of Disney—be it a cruise, the parks, or its movies—joy fills their lives.
Think about this, Disney brings temporal joy to those who pay for an experience, but the church is to bring and be joy for the world through and by the free grace of Jesus Christ.
In other words, we bring and are joy for the world not because they pay for it, but because Christ has paid it and we just live in that joy.
- Disney has a diverse team that serves its mission.
One of the interesting things that I learned while on the boat is that there were over a thousand crew-members from 55 nations. That’s just on one boat! I think it would be safe to assume more nations are represented in the Disney universe—in its different venues and sectors. What does this suggest? That Disney has a mission that fosters unity even in diversity.
As it stands, it seems that Disney does a much better job than many churches in embodying a mission that fosters unity in diversity. Why? Because they have united around the mission of “where dreams come true” and being the happiest place on earth where customers/consumers leave having their joy-jars filled. In short, they come together to fulfill the Disney experience of which its customers anticipate.
On the other hand, the church has a difficult time with diversity because instead of coming together around the mission of glorifying God by sharing and showing the gospel of King Jesus in all spheres of life as God creates a people for himself, they, many times, get bogged down in the pseudo-mission of making it about themselves—their preferences, traditions, rituals, and goals—to the degree it isolates those who are different.
The more complex you make mission, the more fragmented and homogenous it becomes; the simpler you make mission, the more heterogeneity can flourish.
- Disney’s engagement with culture is multifaceted.
While I cruised with Disney, there are so many other cultural veins where Disney is present. They own TV networks (outside of their Disney networks, Disney also owns ESPN, ABC, A&E, and Lifetime), radio stations, music and book publishing companies, film companies (including Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel), and theme parks. Disney literally has its hands in the business, entertainment, sciences, arts, and education realms. Because of its cultural production in these different areas, Disney has helped shape and craft culture. The shaping and crafting of culture has given them a lot of cultural capital.
This notion of a multifaceted cultural engagement can be (needs to be) something that the church learns from Disney. And, for those of you who are unaware, the church has had a multifaceted cultural engagement in its history (think of hospitals, schools, and other organizations and institutions).
I’m not suggesting that the church create an alternative Disney with theme parks filled with Bible characters; but I am suggesting, as James Hunter and Andy Crouch have in their own way, that if the church wants to help shape, craft, reach, and/or speak into culture, it needs to, at the very least, contribute to it. This can be through the creation of ideas, businesses, arts, sciences, educational institutions, organizations (and NPOs), and entertainment.
I believe the mission of the church isn’t only reserved for the spiritual realm, but the material and cultural realm.
Thus, I believe the church is not just called to be convictional-prophets living in the cities sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and warning people to flee the wrath to come, but also culture-producers working in the cities showing the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom he inaugurated and will one day consummate.
When we share and show the gospel in its entirety, we become a movie-like trailer providing a glimpse of the soon coming, radiantly glorious consummated kingdom where everything [culturally] done in the city will orbit around and reflect the glory of King Jesus.
- Disney propagates happy endings and for dreams to come true
Disney is all about happy endings. Every Disney movie or story that I can remember (except for “Old Yeller”) has a happy ending. In fact, one of the Disney musical lines from “Pinocchio” is: “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…when you wish upon a star, your dreams comes true.” Disney has provided narratives where the prince shows up right on time to awake the sleeping princess, where the evil villain is finally defeated, where the family is reunited after a treacherous journey, where they find the treasure and live happily ever after, and where the world is saved from annihilation.
I think the notion of longing for happy endings and for our dreams to come true is theologically on point.
Scripture teaches that due to our sin, we have created the environment of unhappy endings and shattered dreams, and cannot do anything to reconcile that. However, we long for our happy ending, our lives to be made right, our world to be devoid of pain, evil, and suffering.
It’s in our doom that God promises our Deliverer; it’s in our recession in sin that God promises our Rescuer; it’s in our suffering God promises a Savior; it’s in our waywardness God promises the Way; and it’s in our chaos God promises a King. Given our plight, God sends his Son Jesus—the universal, rightful, Creator-God, King, and hero—to experience the ultimate unhappy ending so that he can give all those who call on his name the most incredible and eternal happy ending—where they truly live happily ever after in the New City.
In closing, I’m grateful for the things we can learn from all kinds of businesses, people, and experiences and apply them to our understanding of Scripture and church. I have great appreciation for Disney as a company and what they do. While they have a great product and provide a great experience, I believe we (the church) have a great Savior and if faithful provide an eternal foretaste of the glory divine.