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Lessons From Walt

Dale Hudson

Dreaming, risk-taking, and diligence -- here's what you can learn from the man who pioneered family entertainment experiences with passion and purpose.

A few weeks ago I revisited one of my favorite places -- Walt Disney World. It was a working vacation (honestly!), as I looked for ideas I could use in my ministry from the masters of connecting with kids and families. I even did my homework, picking up a biography of the mouse mastermind himself: Walt Disney: an American Original (Disney Editions) by Bob Thomas. I read the book. I scrutinized the park. And I realized that not only can children's ministries learn from Disneyland's success, but leaders too can learn from the man behind the vision, the man who effectively touched the hearts of millions of children and families for generations. 

Walt Disney lived to bring joy to others -- but he was also an incredibly driven, principled, precise, and visionary leader. It was Disney's principles that helped make him one of the 20th century's greatest pioneers and most effective leaders. Let's look at how his principles can impact us as leaders, dreamers, and ministers.  

Work diligently.

Friends, family, and colleagues say Disney was the driving force behind the creative genius of his company. He regularly worked late at the studio, investing himself and his time into what he believed in.

Consider this:

•  Do you have a go-the-extra-mile attitude?

•  Are you dedicated to your ministry?

•  Are you and your team known as hard workers?

Don't rest on past accomplishments.

Keep your eye on the future.

Disney rarely engaged in retrospection. He was focused on the future, preferring to explore new mediums and dream new dreams. Once he'd mastered one medium, he was on to the next, more challenging one.

Consider this:

• Have you grown content with past successes?

• What's the next mountaintop you're climbing?

• Where do you want your ministry to be three years from now?

Maintain a radical commitment to excellence.

Disney wasn't a man who showered praise on people; he simply expected excellence -- and received it.

As a result of Disney's commitment to excellence, Disney parks have a worldwide reputation for cleanliness and friendliness.

Consider this:

• What qualifies as "excellent" in your ministry? What doesn't? 

• Are you content with "good enough"?

• Do people associate excellence with your ministry?

Gather talent that'll make the vision a reality.

Disney's dreams were on a grand scale, and to accomplish his dreams he took pains to assemble the right talent.

Consider this:

• Do you attract quality people to your team? 

• Can your current team make your ministry's dreams a reality?

• Who do you need on your team? 

Gather positive people around you.

Disney once witnessed a staff member treat park guests curtly. Frustrated, he told an assistant, "See if you can't give that fellow a better understanding of the business we're in. Try to cheer him up. If you can't, then he shouldn't be working here. We're selling happiness. We don't want sourpusses around."

Consider this:

• Is your ministry known as a positive, happy place?

• Are you willing to deal with negative team members and attitudes?

• Do you and your team spend more time dwelling on the positive or negative aspects of your ministry?

Create a place families can experience together.

Disney's dream for his first park was ultimately simple. He wanted it to be a place where children and their parents could find "happiness and knowledge"-a place where families could share good times.

Consider this:

• Does your ministry provide experiences families can enjoy together?

• How do you equip parents to explore faith with their children outside church walls?

• How can you make your church a more welcoming environment for families with children?

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