9 Lessons from Pixar for Churches and Pastors

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I recently read the new book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull on the story of Pixar and the culture of that company. The lessons churches and pastors can learn from them are numerous. There were so many, I’m actually going to share the lessons in multiple blog posts. You can read the first 10 here. Below are 10 more:

  1. The health of the team outweighs the results. Sadly, this is something churches and pastors can learn from Pixar. Catmull said, “The needs of a movie can never outweigh the needs of our people. We needed to do more than keep them healthy. A company must have strategies to prevent the deadlines from hurting their workers. What is usually considered a plus – a motivated, workaholic workforce pulling together to make a deadline – could destroy itself it left unchecked.” It is the leader’s job to put things into place to keep other leaders, volunteers and staff from burning out. Yes it is an individual’s job to keep themselves healthy, but they often get to a place of unhealth because of expectations or what they think are expectations. At Revolution, we require our MC’s to slow down in the summer time. It isn’t because we don’t value community, mission or want to see people get connected. We also run the risk of people not getting connected or losing momentum for things happening. We do it to help ensure our leaders slow down and not burnout. 
  2. For a senior leader to stay engaged, they must make new goals. At one point, when Toy Story came out Catmull had the empty feeling that he had reached his goal of producing a computer animated movie. When he did that, he had what all leaders have, the feeling of wondering if there is more to leadership and life. To stay engaged, a senior leader must continually set new goals, look to new heights personally and organizationally. They must look to new hills to climb or else they will quit or become disengaged.
  3. The team is more important than the ideas. This is surprising to come from Pixar since they are so focused on the story. But according to Catmull, “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.” I think many lead pastors and churches, in an effort to get things done or have people to take care of things, they don’t spend a great deal of time thinking through who is on the team. They have their requirements, whether that be schooling, experience, character, doctrine, agreed upon vision or a combination of the above, but they move too quickly and don’t hold out for the best team members, the best leaders.
  4. Any hard problem should have many good minds simultaneously trying to solve it. In churches, we often keep power to a few at the top. By doing this, we often miss how knowledge can be found everywhere and answers can be found everywhere. There is also a fear that many churches and pastors harbor and not having a willingness to learn from other pastors and churches that are not in their camp. Acts 29, my camp does this. We are fearful of seeker-sensitive churches and only read books by dead guys or a few pastors we respect. Why not read books by business leaders? Or pastors of churches that have a different viewpoint than we do?
  5. Whatever happens, we have to be loyal to each other. I’m sure loyalty is talked about in most churches and leadership teams, but I wonder how often it is held. Without loyalty, teams will fail, leaders will fail and churches will fail. If you teams aren’t able to continue working together when it gets hard, they won’t last. This is also seen when a lead pastor has someone come to him and say, “Did you hear what that leader did? Did you know this was happening?” I’ve often told our leaders, keep everyone up to date so that when a problem arises, we are able to have each other’s back.
  6. The first impression sticks. First impressions always stick, they are almost impossible to break. That’s why the first moments on a Sunday morning are the most important minutes. There is something else about this that churches miss and that is the idea of being thought well of by outsiders. Many churches and pastors seem to want to stir up controversy, say stupid things so their blog gets more hits or they get more RT’s on twitter. Nothing brings in people like a controversy. That’s true, but your church doesn’t want any of those people. It also makes those outside the church think poorly of us and the gospel. Yes, but what if it is true? It won’t matter if it is true because they won’t hear it. A church and its leaders should strive to be thought well of, while at the same time being faithful to the Bible. It is possible.
  7. Story Is King. For Revolution, the sermon is the most important piece of our gathering, but it is the thing that drives our gathering. Everything we do stems from the text and the theme for the day. The songs, videos, stories, readings, art, responses, next steps, etc. Everything stems from the passage and sermon. Start with that, start with what will be communicated and use everything to get that across. This is one of the things that sets Pixar apart, their stories are incredible and memorable.
  8. Trust the Process. This is hard for leaders to do, especially pastors. We often want to control people, outcomes or how things will go. We see a problem brewing or a person who isn’t making it and we want to step in and end it or make something happen. We need to trust the processes that we have put into place. If you have an assessment process to be a leader, trust it. If you have a membership process for people, trust it. Let the process weed people out.
  9. Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. One of the most important, if not most important, aspect of leadership is getting your leadership team right. All effort needs to be put into this because your church will rise and fall because of the caliber of leaders you have. The amount of time you spend developing leaders, finding leaders, hiring the right leaders needs to be more important than you probably make it.
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