January 2011


Aware of my fascination with Walt Disney mythology, my wife presented me with three DVDs that chronicle events that have been significant in the company’s history: Waking Sleeping Beauty, The Sherman Brothers’ Story, and Walt & El Grupo.

Over the holidays I was able to watch Waking Sleeping Beauty, a documentary that tells the story of how Disney’s animation studio rose the brink of collapse—can you imagine the Disney animation studio going out of business?— to go on an unprecedented run that began with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and continued with The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin.

The general situation and overall economic forecast for the Walt Disney Animation Studio in the early-to-mid 1980s was bleak. A string of box-office and critical failures combined with stiffer competition had culminated when the story begins. After bringing in Michael Eisner the next step was finding the right person to lead the animation studio out of the pits and into a new era of prosperity. That person was Jeffrey Katzenberg. Early in the movie Katzenberg makes this statement: “You’ve got 90 days to change culture before it starts changing  you.” So Katzenberg, Eisner, and a few other key figures took the reins and charged out into the vast and unpredictable future with the not-so-small goal of re-directing the course of one of the most storied companies in American business and popular culture history.

Because it’s January and many of you are beginning new groups or starting campaigns or even looking at beginning a small-group ministry in your church, I thought it would be a good time to reiterate the broad strokes of culture and organizational change that Waking Sleeping Beauty brings to light.

Sense of Urgency – A friend of mine used to say, “It always takes longer than it does.” I have no idea what that means, but somehow it makes sense in that we must be intentional and persistent. That is, nothing manages to “just get get done.” At least in the early stages, a leader must stay on top of the details and be sure that the process remains in motion. There’s a line in the movie Elizabethtown that I love: “All forward motion is progress.” Something to keep in mind when things aren’t moving as fast as you’d like.

Cast the Vision – Included in this aspect of culture change is building consensus. In order to cast the vision you, of course, need a vision. This is accomplished through prayer and careful, diligent planning. Invite a couple of people along for the journey. Remember that change begins and infects from from the center, but also from the edges. So work from the center, casting the vision from within the inner circle. But also be strategic in working from the periphery back to the middle. There’s a multiplying effect in using this strategy.

Permeate – To change a culture the vision must run throughout the community and permeate the DNA of the organization. “Of course,” you say, “but that’s easier said than done.” I won’t dispute that. A mentor of mine put it best on the subject: “You know the message is beginning to stick when it becomes a punch line at the water cooler, in the hallways, and during meetings.” I realize that the last thing anyone wants is to be a punch line, but the point is to have the new message so top-of-mind that it becomes like “It’s a Small World”—a message with a peculiar yet endearing staying power. Take every opportunity to drill a slogan, message, key word, or visual image deeper into the cultural ethos.

Push – According to Waking Sleeping Beauty, the studio had grown soft. They were a bunch of kids with a lot of talent but lacking a force—or motivation—sufficient enough to forge them into a cohesive team with a sense of purpose. The leadership team that came in included Eisner, Katzenberg, and John Lasseter. They combined with the already-present Roy E. Disney (imagine that) and Frank Wells. Where this team was putting out only a handful of films, most of them bad, every few years, the new leadership instituted a production pipeline of one animated feature per year—a demanding schedule. Changing culture means … wait for it … change. It means pushing people. What athlete doesn’t appreciate the coach that makes him the best he can be? What teachers do you tend to admire most? The truth is we like to see what we’re made of. Change leaders can’t shy away from expectation.

Inertia – It has always fun to watch how an event can take on a life on its own when I’ve been responsible for the planning, executing, and managing events. There’s so much going on in the days and weeks and even hours right before an event begins, but once it does it is almost like it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The same thing is going to happen when you implement new groups or a new small-group ministry. At this point you’ll want to pay very close attention to the nuances of what is happening.

I don’t know if Katzenberg is accurate with his 90-day mandate, but at some point a leader endeavoring to change culture will be, as my grandmother would often say, “swallowed whole.” For sure this is an incomplete list. There are entire books on the subject. I would recommend the Waking Sleeping Beauty documentary for any leader, though. Not only is it entertaining, but there are some great lessons for changing culture. Being a change agent or change-leader certainly not for the feint of heart—but it always makes for a good story.

“Oh yeah, that’s gonna have to come out.”

Now there’s a phrase no one wants to hear coming from a surgeon’s mouth. But those were the words spoken to me a couple of years ago.

Turns out that experience continues to be a truly defining moment for me. And as I wrap up one year and press the start button on the next, my reflections keep turning to how that major surgery affected my life. Bottom line, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I value most.

You know how that works — something comes up that you didn’t anticipate and it challenges all your assumptions of how you thought life should go. And if you’re not careful it can knock the wind out of you.

Well, that experience did knock the wind out of me and still does from time to time. But the reality is that life is messy and we’re never going to have all the answers. So as Christians we’re left with little more to do than trust the One who knows what’s best for us and will settle for nothing less for our lives. And that’s where I’m trying to put my focus.

I’ve decided to put the kibosh on the drop-two-dress-sizes-in-a-month resolution and the get-out-of-debt-quick resolution and adjust my focus to things a little more eternal.

I read an article recently about some great ways to kick-start your spiritual life in the new year, but one seemed to fit my circumstances especially well — it’s about sharing your own unique story.

God can use what I’m going through to help others if I allow Him to. I like how that sounds. And that’s what I want to do differently this year — I want to be more open, more accessible, and even more vulnerable.

As you walk into 2011 and encounter things along the road that you had no way to anticipate, ask yourself if you’re willing to let God use the messy stuff of your life to help others clean up theirs.

You never know when someone else is walking a road similar to one you’ve already been down.

Nobody else has your story. Dare to tell it.

Until next time,
Signe

Here is a small-group study based on Luke 17-11:19 that you can use if you find yourself between studies, waiting on books to deliver, or … whatever. This is a sample of the transformation model and discovery Bible study that you’ll encounter in many Serendipity House or LifeWay Small Group Bible studies. I’ve both been in a group that used this text with these questions as well as led a group conversation rooted in this same material. It’s a great entree into the heart of spiritual transformation and formation:

11 While traveling to Jerusalem, He passed between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, 10 men with serious skin diseases met Him. They stood at a distance 13 and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And while they were going, they were healed. 15 But one of them, seeing that he was healed, returned and, with a loud voice, gave glory to God. 16 He fell facedown at His feet, thanking Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus said, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Didn’t any return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And He told him, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19 HCSB

1. What is our modern day leprosy? Point out the ways these groups and individuals are isolated, ostracized, and walled off by mainstream culture. Or maybe you’ll decide that some are actually embraced by the mainstream thus making the need for healing and salvation more difficult for them to acknowledge.
2. How does Luke describe the level of communication with Jesus (v.13)? There is both the acknowledgment of a need only Jesus can meet as well as the sense of desperation. Although it may appear to be more obvious with certain demographics, we’re all desperate for the sort of transformation only Jesus can offer.
3. Why do you think only one returned to thank Jesus? What’s up with the other nine? A great discussion question. Don’t let the group settle into simple “black and white” or “right and wrong” positions. This scenario is more about “good” and “greater good.”
4. What was the added benefit of the one that did return? What do you think is the difference between “well” and “healed”?
5. Read vv. 15-16. What steps to wellness and fullness emerge through an examination of this passage? I allowed a great deal of latitude here, but for the most part we landed at (1) acknowledgment (2) repentance (3) Giving glory (demonstration) (4) Worship (inner transformation)

Consider wrapping up with an application question that asks members you consider the “So what?” aspect of your conclusions. It’s not a difficult assignment to identify those most the desperate of our culture. But for others that have learned how to manage their greatest needs else medicate these needs through various methods—not as easy. For more on leading a small-group Bible study or small-group principles and practices download the free Small Group Life Ministry Manual by clicking here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.