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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10 Lessons for the Church from Pixar

book

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. Here are the first 10:

  1. If we made something that we wanted to see, others would want to see it too. This was the standard in how they decided on when they made Toy Story and has stuck with Pixar as they have made other movies. This is crucial for churches. Pastors need to lead churches they would want to attend and we need to create churches we want to go to. Otherwise, no one will bring anyone. Also, when a guest comes, they will feel our lack of excitement and enthusiasm. It is like going on a trip with someone who doesn’t want to be there.  
  2. Leaders of companies that go off the rails focus on the competition, not looking at themselves. Churches are notorious for this. We complain about culture, how no one cares about church anymore, the culture is shut off and hardened toward the gospel, there is more competing against church attendance today, on and on we go. We try to out market the church down the road. When we put up road signs for our church in front of where we meet, the megachurch 1/4 mile down the road put signs up near ours. Churches tend to fight and target the Christians. Instead of being the best, most healthy church God has called them to be, we settle for something less because of a focus on the wrong things.
  3. Protect the culture of Pixar. One of the most important roles of a leader of a church or ministry is keeping it focused on the main thing. The lead pastor is the primary vision caster and primary vision protector. It cannot be delegated, it cannot be relegated to the back burner. If it is not protected, anything can happen, anything can be important, anything can be the win.
  4. Pixar starts from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. Too many pastors think they are more committed than their people or other leaders. A church planter can easily get distracted and fearful of another talented leader and keep them from leading. A lot changes when a pastor believes everyone is bought in and wants to contribute.
  5. Turn down opportunities that are a diversion from your goal. 
  6. Devote your life to a goal. For Ed Catmull, his life goal was to create an animated movie strictly with computer technology. Too many leaders and churches do not have a goal they are devoted to. They give credence to the great commission, but their budget and actions do not back up their supposed passion for this. For me and Revolution, we dream of planting churches so that everyone in Tucson lives within 10 miles of a church we’ve planted. I pray I see that before I die.
  7. Have total confidence in the people you hire and let them do what you hired them to do. Many pastors are micromanagers, church planters can be even worse. I understand the tension: you started the church, put your livelihood on the line, you have the most skin in the game. Consequently, you don’t trust others, you have a hard time believing someone can do something as well as you can, let alone better than you. This thinking though is shortsighted and keeps a church from growing and keeps people from using their gifts to their full potential.
  8. Fear is groundless. Christians are fearful people. We are afraid of culture, afraid of what politicians are doing, the left-wing lobby, Satan, the economy, you name it. Yet, we serve a God who conquered sin and death. Pastors are fearful of elder boards, powerful lay leaders and influential church members. We don’t say what we should, we don’t preach what we should, we don’t take the risks that we should, all because we fear failure or make a god out of someone else. Fear is groundless, it has not power over you because of the God you serve.
  9. Hire people smarter than you. This is closely related to #7 and if you don’t believe #7, you won’t hire smart people. I am blown away at the caliber of leaders that God has assembled at Revolution. All of them are smarter than me at something. I’m good at a few things, but need others who are great at many things for us to reach the goals God has given to us.
  10. Any hard problem should have many good minds simultaneously trying to solve it. In many Christian circles, the leaders attend conferences, read books, visit churches, follow blogs of people they agree with. This is shortsighted. You should read people who don’t think like you. Read business books, if you preach, read books by vocal coaches. In theology, you should be pushing yourself in your reading. Look outside of your camp for good ideas. Be willing to learn from anybody on how to do church the best way you can.

I’ll share more lessons as I continue working my way through the book. Highly recommend it so far.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Dave Kraft on 3 ways to have longevity as a leader.

Bobby Clinton has come to the conclusion that only 30% of leaders finish well. That is very disconcerting, to say the least!

Joe Carter on Is sexual orientation analogous to race?

The argument to make this comparison takes the following form:

Major Premise: A sexual orientation is analogous to the category of race.

Minor Premise: Race is a category protected by anti-discrimination laws.

Conclusion: Therefore, sexual orientation should have the same civil-rights protections as those afforded to race.

The question we will examine is whether the major premise is true. Is sexual orientation analogous to race?

Eddie Becker on 5 things you should never say to your spouse.

Christine Hoover on What to not say (and what to say) to a pastor’s wife.

Don’t say: Oh, I didn’t ask/invite you/initiate with you because I know you’re so busy/have tons of friends/know everyone. One of the most frustrating things about being pastor’s wives is that very few people initiate friendship or include us in social activities, because they make assumptions about our schedule or our relationships. This is why many pastor’s wives are extremely lonely; they initiate constantly and receive little in return.

Jon Negroni on How all the Pixar movies exist in the same universe.

Tim Elmore on 5 signs your kids are entitled.

Why work when it can be given to you? It fosters a cycle of laziness and poor work ethic when we constantly give to our children without requiring any work. We need to create entry points starting at a young age for our children to contribute to household chores and jobs.

Owl City – “In Christ Alone”

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