Magazines 2023 Mar - Apr Your church should be a cartoon company

Your church should be a cartoon company

01 March 2023 By John Stackhouse

Or at least a good volleyball team

john g. stackhouse jr

Successful organizations demonstrate two kinds of strength. And those strengths have been abundantly obvious in one of the great success stories of film animation – Pixar Studios.

Success requires both commitment to the mission and creativity in the process. And the challenge here is that the first strength, commitment, can either hinder or drive the second, creativity.

Commitment to the mission too often stifles creativity. Worry that new ideas mean jettisoning old values weighs down like a leaden blanket on all committee meetings, all conversations, even the minds of each individual member. Censorship crushes all new thought.

Pixar, however, fosters creativity precisely because creativity is essential to the mission – which is not just to produce animated motion pictures, but to produce the best possible movies. And Pixar executives in their several books have stated that, in a word, creativity requires a culture.

Does your church have a mission so compelling that it fosters co-operation and innovation?

In such a culture ideas are given a chance to grow. Every great Pixar movie started as a bad Pixar movie. Then it became a not-bad Pixar movie. And only with sustained effort did it became Toy Story, Finding Nemo or Up.

In such a culture flaws are not dark surprises. They are expected. In fact they are ruthlessly sought out, everyone digging into everything to find what’s wrong, or even what’s merely ordinary, to make everything better.

In such a culture conflict is not the enemy. Conflict comes with the territory – or better, with the creative enterprise – as creative people who truly care about the project generate different ideas as to the best way forward (1 Corinthians 14:26). Conflict simply needs to be brought out into the open, channelled by mutually agreed rules of engagement, and focused not on who will win, but on what we can do. Together.

In such a culture criticism is not resisted. Feedback must be offered courteously, of course. But it must be offered and received candidly and clearly, or it will be misunderstood and even misleading. What exactly do you object to in my idea? What exactly makes you uncomfortable with this proposal? I must know or I can’t benefit from your perspective.

In such a culture feelings are not despised, but honoured and encouraged. Iain McGilchrist’s striking work on our "two brains" – the left side of our brain that is our rational and verbal centre, and the right side that trades in intuitions and images – reminds us to pay attention to people’s vague misgivings.

Just because they can’t yet fully articulate their concerns doesn’t mean they aren’t intuitively onto something important. See McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary (2nd ed., Yale University Press, 2019) or the convenient YouTube summaries.

Finally, in such a culture the mission drives everything. We aim to do good things and we want to do them as well as we can. Faithfulness to our calling must not prompt us to defend our church or other organization so intensely that we lock it into stasis.a mission so compelling

Volleyball thus comes to mind.

A youth conference brought together nervous teenagers from churches across the province. They were mixing in a big gymnasium on several parallel volleyball courts. As they began to warm up in circles on their respective courts, each young person’s personality was on display.

Some were instantly super-serious about the game. Others were mortified and tried to avoid any contact with the ball. Still others displayed an amused indifference, cracking jokes and goofing around when the ball came their way.

The super-serious began to chide the goofballs and criticize the shy. Responses came speedily and sharply. Each little team was quickly in a Hobbesian state of nature – a war of "all against all." Then the whistle blew, and the teams had to get ready to play. Suddenly the focus shifted from each other’s faults to the threat of the new enemy across the net. Suddenly the athletes became instructors – and everybody listened. Suddenly the comedians became encouragers – and everybody smiled. Suddenly they had a mission, they came together, and they helped each other get better.

Does your church have a mission so compelling that it fosters co-operation and innovation? Creativity requires a culture. What is your culture set up to produce?

John Stackhouse is professor of religious studies at Crandall University. Find more of these columns at Volleyball photo by

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