By Chris Hulshof
Those who know my family well, we’re a Disney family. Over the past 18 years, we’ve made numerous trips to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland (Spoiler alert: Disneyland is better!).
These parks can create truly magical experiences, and it was these experiences that fostered in me a desire to learn more about Walt Disney himself.
While I’m by no means a Walt scholar, what I’ve learned from reading about him has found its way into my everyday life.
Here are two things I learned from Walt Disney that consistently shows up in my approach to life and leadership.
Keep Moving Forward.
Walt once said,
Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious … and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
This is one of my favorite Walt Disney quotes. In fact, I have it framed and hanging in my office.
It’s a continual reminder that things in front of me can be better than the stuff behind me.
Often, if we’re not careful, the lure of nostalgia can trick us into viewing the past with rose-colored glasses, so that we make the past something it wasn’t.
In our minds, we recreate the past in such a beautifully spectacular fashion that the flaws and imperfections are photoshopped away. The seduction of nostalgia can be difficult to resist.
One overlooked Biblical example of the way nostalgia can be a sidelining force is in the book go Haggai.
In the opening verses of Haggai 2, the prophet delivers a message to the returned exiles to get their focus off of old Solomon’s temple and on to the new temple they’re building.
For Haggai, their preoccupation with the previous temple is sucking the life out of a return to the land of their inheritance and the hope and joy that comes with this new temple.
In a sense, these returners are spending so much time looking in the rearview mirror they can’t enjoy the view out the front window. Nostalgia can do that.
Commenting on the significance of this passage, Mark Boda points out, “It is easy to become trapped into evaluating the present experience of the church with past paradigms of spirituality rather than remaining open to the ways in which God is impacting the present generation in culturally relevant ways.“
Instead of hearing the illusionary siren song of the past, keep moving forward into the glorious opportunities God has placed in front of His church.
This two-word phrase was something Walt was known for. In fact, those who worked with him would say that Walt rarely said, “no.” Instead, he’d say, “Yes, if.”
Harrison “Buzz” Price was a lead economist for Walt Disney. Price was the man responsible for the research that led Walt to select Anaheim and Orlando as the locations for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
In his book “Walt’s Revolution: By the Numbers,” Price says this about Walt’s “Yes, if” strategy:
‘Yes if’ was the language of an enabler, pointing to what needed to be done to make the possible plausible. Walt liked this language. ‘No, because’ is the language of a deal killer. ‘Yes, if’ is the approach of a deal maker. Creative people thrive on ‘yes, if.’
I think we can see something of this “yes, if” strategy in the Scriptures as well. In Numbers 32, the tribal leaders for Gad and Reuben approach Moses with a big ask.
They want the land on the east side of the Jordan river as their inheritance. Moses’ response to this request is one of his most pointed speeches in the Torah. It’s not just a no. It’s a definite and emphatic no.
After Moses equates their request to some of the major disobedient events in Israelite history, you’d expect these tribal leaders to leave with their heads hung low, guilty, defeated, and ashamed.
But, instead of retreating from Moses, they push closer to Moses and suggest something of a “yes, if” strategy.
They propose they be the first troops into the promised land and be the “shock and awe” in the battle for Canaan. Once the land is secured, then they’ll return to the land east of the Jordan River.
Moses accepts this idea. Their “yes, if” suggestion is the perfect counter to what appears to be a strict and stern no.
In the classroom, employing the “yes, if” strategy allows me to help students tailor assignments so they pedagogically meet the assignment rationale but provides for an engaging learning experience.
“No, because,” says, “You’re going to do it this way because that’s the way I’ve always done it in this class.”
Too often, churches find themselves in a rut (a groove that got way too comfortable) because rather than engaging creativity with a “yes, if,” leadership responded with a “no, because.”
God has expertly equipped our congregations so the body-life experience of the church should be a healthy and growing one.
“Yes, if” encourages growth while “no, because” only ensures things will continue to be done the way they’ve always been done. “No, because” can be the death knell of a church.
Undoubtedly, you’ll face situations this week that’ll require you to make a leadership decision. It comes with the territory.
As you mull over that decision, consider how these two phrases; “Keep moving forward” and “Yes, if” might benefit your decision-making process.
CHRIS HULSHOF (@US_EH) is an associate professor and department chair for Liberty University’s School of Divinity where he teaches Old Testament Survey, Inductive Bible Study, and a Theology of Suffering and Disability. He also earned an Ed.D from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where his research focused on the intersection of disabilities, theology, and church ministry.