November 2010

Last week I went in for my regularly scheduled water boarding session known as the dental checkup. I’ve written extensively about my loathing-love for the dentist before, so I won’t revisit the topic of spit vacuum repairmen or my wife’s behind-my-back calling of the dental receptionist on this post. But as you know, the dental chair is a great place to reflect on spiritual truths. Or watch your life flash before your squinted, pain-filled eyes. Whatever.

At my dentist’s office, I typically am paired up with a nice, calm hygienist. She initiates warm conversations. She doesn’t leave me sitting in the chair too long. And she’s gentle with my teeth. As you can imagine, I’m a big fan of Nice Calm Hygienist Lady.

But occasionally – as was the case last week – I am matched with Helga the Hygienist, who apparently had a huge fight with her husband before she left for work, and decided to take out her frustration on every man she encountered that day. And since I was Helga’s first victim, I received the full brunt of her wrath.

When Helga cleans your teeth, she spares nothing. She digs. She scrapes. She pokes. She prods. She presses down so hard I think my ancestor’s enamel gets clean through some weird time-space continuum thing. When Helga cleans your teeth, you know they’re clean. Yes, they’re probably bruised and bloody and you won’t be able to chew for a week, but by golly they’re clean.

While I was in the chair, it hit me that I view spiritual growth about the same way that I view a trip to the dentist’s office. I want Nice Calm Spiritual Growth…not Helga the Spiritual Growth Catalyst. I want scriptures that are warm and fuzzy. I want sermons that aren’t too terribly convicting. I want prayer times that focus more on God’s provision than my sin.

But I’ve noticed that real spiritual growth tends to look more like Helga’s dental chair. It’s painful sometimes. It makes your eyes tear up sometimes. It makes you want to skip a checkup sometimes. But in the end, you know that cleansing has taken place.

This week I’ve committed to digging a little deeper during my times with Jesus. I don’t want to just look at my actions, but the motivation behind the actions. I don’t want to just ask for what I want, but to ask God to highlight what I actually need. I want him to kick over a few rocks and help me to see the real me that’s underneath.

How about you? What Helgas are you avoiding?

Alright, Raleigh-Durham friends, I’ve got a fun opportunity to tell you about.  This Friday night I’m attending Play for Hope Silent Auction.  Play for Hope is a charity that uses sports like soccer and basketball as a platform to reach children in Rwanda with the gospel.  The kids in the program are street children, mostly orphaned by genocide and HIV/AIDS.  Play for Hope uses sports to put coaches in their lives as positive role models, gives them safe places to play and build relationships, and shows them gospel-centered love.

And no, they didn’t ask me to be a part of this evening because of my legendary sports skills.  I will not be doing soccer demos or letting you go one-on-one with me in a three pointer contest.  But I have been asked to emcee the event.  And if I can find a tuxedo, I might just cummerbund this sucka.

Here are the deets:

  • It’s Friday, December 3rd, from 7:00-10:00 PM (come when you can, stay as long as you like)
  • It’s in Suite 111 at the Summit’s Brier Creek Campus.
  • There will be music, dessert, coffee, and items that you can bid on or win.

Did I say “items”?  I meant to say, “products and experiences of a value beyond what you could ever afford but you should still come and bid on them anyway because they’re so ridiculously freakishly cool.”  This is a partial list of what we’re auctioning off, and no, I’m not making any of this stuff up (except what’s in the parenthesis).  It’s all the real deal…

  • North Carolina and Rwandan art.
  • Photo shoot packages (for an extra $10, I’ll pose with your family in my tux)
  • Durham Performing Arts Center VIP ticket packages, including VIP parking and access to the Presidential Lounge.
  • Personal training packages (I’ll pay you $10 if you don’t make me lift weights with you and the muscular people).
  • A guitar signed by the Rolling Stones (those guys look dead already, so this should be worth something).
  • An autographed Harry Potter cast photo (I should probably watch one of the movies so I can make witty comments).
  • A framed Thriller album signed by Michael Jackson (somebody was personal friends with Bubbles the Chimp).

Come hang out.  I’d love to see you there!

Want more info?  Check out Play For Hope’s website.

Finally, people.  This is the last in a series of blog posts.  You can catch up here.

Today we’re cranking out a two-fer.  That’s right: two Disney principles in one post, which is exactly what you need on the day that you’re in a tryptophan coma / Black Friday frenzy / dirty dishes up to your elbows.  Try to keep up.

Find something to celebrate.

Every year Disney parks have a big theme.  This year’s theme centers around celebration.  Every single day, I saw hundreds of people wearing Disney-issued buttons that had the name of their celebration.  It might have been a first visit, an anniversary, a honeymoon, or whatever, but Disney gave people the opportunity to celebrate something, and took the opportunity to celebrate with them.

As we were preparing for our trip, we were asked that question on multiple times: Are you celebrating something? And as I walked around the park, I saw cast members taking full advantage of the celebration.  A street sweeper yelled, “Happy birthday, Ben!” to a five year old kid.  He lit up like a Christmas tree.  A ride operator bantered with a couple about their honeymoon.  The entire atmosphere was geared towards celebration.

Does it work that way at our churches?  The way I see it, we have at least two things to celebrate every weekend:

  1. A guest’s attendance.  Max Lucado had a killer tweet a couple of weeks ago: “Make a big deal out of guests’ arrival. Swing open the door as they approach. One of God’s children is coming to your house!”
  2. A risen savior.  Face it: most of our worship services feel more like a funeral.  Dead songs.  Dead people. Dead sermons.  We forget that we don’t worship a dead guy, but one who was dead and rose.  That’s the ticket to celebration, right there.

You will make a memory.

Nobody walks away from a Disney trip empty-headed.  They’re thinking about the incredible meal, the first-class treatment, or the the incredible coasters.  Or, they’re thinking about the indifferent cast members, the overpriced hotel, or the favorite ride that was closed for repairs.

The truth is, we’re creating a memory every time someone walks into our church.  And we hold the power on whether that memory is good or bad.  Plan your weekend to celebrate Jesus and with people in mind.  Remember that every Sunday is somebody’s first Sunday.  And when people are replaying weekend memories around the Monday water cooler, make sure the things that they remember are the things you want them to advertise.

Thanks for hanging in during this series.  If you’re a Disney buff like me, you might want to check out the following resources that highlight their commitment to quality first impressions:

Other posts in this series:

No deep thoughts.  Just a funny video (and product placement) about a slippery turkey.

And if you’re in the mood for a walk down memory lane, you can check out “A Thanksgiving Parable” from a couple of years back.

Polish your people.

If there was one letdown of the Disney experience, it was this: not everybody who works there believes it is the happiest place on earth.

It wasn’t like that on past trips.  Everybody was cheerful.  Really cheerful.  Sickeningly cheerful.  Hey-that-kid-just-ate-too-much-funnel-cake-and-barfed-on-my-shoe-but-I’m-still-freakishly-happy-about-it-cheerful.

And after all, that’s the Disney Way.  It’s the role of the cast member to create a little magic and make somebody’s day.  And for the most part, that’s what I experienced.  Rafael was a blast.  Phil the concierge was incredibly helpful.  Joann the housekeeper twisted our towels into fun animal shapes.

But there were exceptions.  One notable exception was the Walt Disney Railroad lady.  This is an almost direct quote…

“Sir, I’m going to ask you to please swap seats with your son.  If the conductor sees a deer, he has to hit the brakes.  We have a lot of deer in the parks and we get fired if we hit one.  So he’s going to hit the brakes, and your son will go flying.”

Now, there are a couple of things I need to say here:

  1. She may not have said “fired.”  She may have said “fined.”  But either way, it was a negative impression.  She may as well have said, “If you don’t swap seats with your child, my child will be hungry, I will be homeless, I will pay no taxes and therefore Florida roads will go unpaved, and you don’t want that.”
  2. Of course there are deer in the park.  And of course it would be bad to hit one.  Bambi’s had a bad enough life.  I hold no ill will against deer.  That’s our student pastor’s job…to kill poor defenseless forest animals.

So what does the church learn from that?  Simply this: we polish our people.  True, we may not be giving people directions on how to ride a train (yet…but a guy can dream), but every weekend our volunteers interact with thousands of people.  That’s thousands of opportunities to design a great experience, and thousands of opportunities to turn someone away.

My friend Mark Waltz says it well in his book First Impressionsthere are five things we never want our guests to hear from our team:

  1. “That’s not my responsibility.”  If you’re asked about it, told about it, questioned about it, or informed about it, it becomes your responsibility.  Your issue to fix.  Your time to shine.  Don’t hand off and forget, embrace and wow ’em.
  2. “I don’t know.”  Volunteers are simply a representation and extension of the pastoral team.  If they don’t know, it’s likely my fault as a pastor.  Still, an “I don’t know” should always be followed by a “but I’ll find out.”
  3. “No.”  Figure out a way to say “yes” when you can.  Rather than dying by your policies, live by a spirit of generosity.  And if the answer really is no, cast some vision as to why the no is there.  People can accept “no” if the reason makes sense.
  4. “They,” “Them,” and “You Guys.”  The proverbial “they” will kill a volunteer team.  “They told me I had to.”  “You guys need to figure this out.”  A solid First Impressions team embraces the “we.”
  5. “I’m just a volunteer.”  No one is just a volunteer.  People either lead out of their giftings and passions, or they need to find another place to serve.  And besides, guests at our churches don’t see unpaid weekend-warrior volunteers…they see living, breathing people who hopefully hold the answers and the hope that they need.

What else?  What are some other ways we polish our people?  Comment below.

Other posts in this series:

Dear Austin,

It looks like you broke your foot after all.  I’m sorry that I questioned you.  You were right.  I was wr…  wrrrrr…

…I didn’t have all the facts.

You have to understand that your track record on potentially life-threatening injuries isn’t very good.  While you’ve never cried “wolf,” you have cried “I think I cracked my collarbone,” “I think my leg just amputated itself,” and “I think I deviated my septum.”  Thirteen years’ worth of every-three-day pleas to go to the emergency room finally took their toll.  I’m sorry that when it came to your first broken bone, we didn’t believe you.

Yes, yes, I understand that you were in a cut-throat game of basketball with one of your student leaders.  I know that you came down wrong on your foot.  But I also know that on the way home that night, you were in the back seat making up rap songs and laughing as hard as you could.  You’ll have to forgive my apprehension when you stepped out of the car and immediately looked like every wounded character in every wartime movie ever made (“Save yourselves!  LEAVE ME!”)

I’m also sorry that you came by your hypochondria honestly.  You learned from the very best.  I still remember the 9th grade mocking for showing up at school wearing an Ace bandage after I’d bumped my knee on the desk the day before.  I know what it’s like to examine every symptom.  And while I still maintain that the Dutch Elm Disease scare of ’08 was touch-and-go (I had scaly bark, dangit!), I’m sorry I passed my drama down the line to you.

However, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that you shouldn’t milk this situation more than you already have.  How you have roped your eight year old brother into waiting on you hand and foot, I’ll never know.  You have that kid making your lunch, fluffing your pillow, and bringing you more movies.  Enjoy it while it lasts, because I’m having a talk with him before he goes to bed tonight and liberating him from the tyranny.

And also, go easy on your mom.  The highlight of this incident will forever be remembered not for your broken foot, but for the “The H.S.A. Talk,” when I overheard her explaining to you how our insurance plan had changed and we couldn’t be running you willy nilly to every x-ray machine in the Triangle.  I love that woman.  The fact that she has survived thirteen years of E.R. trips with you is nothing short of amazing.

So Austin, enjoy your recovery period.  Grab all the sympathy you can from all the people you can.  Decorate your big ol’ boot with Christmas tree lights.  Moan about your chafing armpits.  But the next time that you suspect you have small pox, remember that it was eradicated a few decades ago.



*This open apology was pre-approved by Austin, who really wants you all to know that he broke his foot.  And that his father was wr… wrrrr…

…didn’t have all the facts.


Don’t start here. Back that mouse up.

For a long time now, I’ve been telling you that details matter.  It matters that your facility is clean.  It matters that there’s toilet paper on the roll.  It matters that what’s announced from the stage is communicated to volunteers.

But Disney takes that a step further and teaches us that unseen details matter, too.

Now when I say “unseen,” I don’t mean that nobody notices them.  I don’t mean that they’re invisible.  I mean that they are the smallish, insignificant, unnecessary things that – if you notice them – create some real “wow” moments.  They are the things that Disney’s Imagineers didn’t have to take the time to do, but because they did, you know that the overall experience is going to be a great one.

Here are just a few of my favorite “unseen” details…

  • Look down.  It’s rare to find a spot of ground that doesn’t have some meaning behind it.  That red-bordered pavement on Main Street U.S.A.? That’s there to signify the red carpet that’s been rolled out for you, the guest.  The brown gravel embedded in the pavement in Liberty Square? That’s supposed to look like the open sewers that would have been very present in colonial America.  The entry way to Disney’s Animal Kingdom? You can’t tell it from where you stand, but a quick Google Earth image will reveal that you’re standing on a massive tree-like mural leading to the park’s centerpiece, the Tree of Life.
  • Look up.  Nearly every shop window on Main Street U.S.A. is a tribute to a Disney Imagineer or Disney Legend.  Those folks were turned into “shopkeepers” and given roles to commemorate the influence they had on the park’s design and construction.
  • Listen.  You’re likely to hear a conversation from an upstairs room or a tap dance lesson in the next building or some grand soundtrack that signals the show that you’re a part of.  There’s hardly a spot in Walt Disney World’s parks that doesn’t have some sort of piped in sound effects.  You may not notice it over the noise of the crowd, but it’s there.
  • Look again.  Disney’s architecture is legendary, and you’re likely to find a surprise here and there.  In Sir Mickey’s shop in the Magic Kingdom, for example, you’ll see the giant ripping off the roof to catch Mickey as he heads down the beanstalk.  I don’t care who you are (unless you’re the random dude who thought I was taking a picture of him…settle down, random dude), that’s cool.

But perhaps one of my favorite unseen details has to do with something that I’ve never seen and probably never will.  The Walt Disney World Casting Center is the building where people go to apply and interview for positions with the Disney company.  The place is intentionally designed to be a meandering trip through Disney history.  The entry doorknobs are patterned after the knobs in Alice in Wonderland. The trip from the front door to the receptionists’ desk is intentionally long and winding (rabbit hole, anyone?), taking you past grand scenes from Disney films through the decades.  Project director Tim Johnson quoted architect Bob Stern as saying, “…you enter on the ground floor, and the first time you can ask for a job is at the other end of a hall on the second floor…Let them wander.  Let them get a taste of Disney before they get there.”

So what does all of this have to do with the church?  Unseen details really do matter.  The stuff we do from Monday through Friday has a direct impact on what happens here on the weekends.  The way we plan, the way we train, the way we clean and prepare and rehearse and study and pray…all of those things factor into the weekend experience.  Our weekday game plan affects our weekend game face. When we ignore the details that we think no one will ever see…they most certainly do.  They see our shoddy prep work, they see our inattention to detail, and their overall experience suffers.

What unseen details can you think of?


Other posts in this series:

Ten years later, I still remember eating hot Krispy Kremes while walking down a cold and windy sidewalk to Nashville’s Baptist Hospital.

Ten years later, I remember laughing when she said, “If Gore wins the recount, don’t wake me up.”

Ten years later, I remember praying for her just before her surgery.  I remember that her pain was worse that day than it had been in her short eleven month battle with cancer.  I remember the surgical team wheeling her out of the room.  I remember her looking at us and saying what would be her final words:

“Y’all be good.”

Ten years later, I remember a nurse asking us to come into the consultation room.  I remember a doctor in his scrubs, holding his khakis over his arm, explaining that there were complications…that they had done everything they could.  I remember my sister’s voice, trembling, shaking:

“Are you telling me my mother is dead?”

Ten years later, I still remember that detached, out-of-body experience, as if I was watching my family’s grief…my grief…from the corner of the room.  I remember the exact prayer that I prayed as I put my hand on my dad’s shoulder and held him tight:

“Father, nothing has happened today that didn’t first filter through your holy hand…”

Ten years later, I still cry sometimes.  I still laugh sometimes.  I still think about her every single day.  I still catch myself picking up the phone to tell her about something that she’d want to know about.  Something she’d want to pray about.  Something she’d want to laugh about.

Ten years later, I find it hard to believe that we’ve had two houses she’s never seen.  A seminary campus she never visited.  A church she’s never heard of.  A grandchild she’s never met.

Ten years later, I remember her infectious sense of humor.  I remember her love for my dad.  I remember her pride in her kids.  I remember her joy in her grandchildren.

Ten years later, I remember her passionate devotion to Jesus.  I remember her commitment to the gospel even as she suffered.  I remember her paraphrase of Philippians 1:21, something she repeated often:

“If I live, I win.  If I die, I win.”

Ten years later, I remember burying her the day before Thanksgiving.  I remember preaching her funeral, trying to narrow down 27 years worth of memories in 15 minutes.  I remember looking at the faces of nearly 600 friends and family, sharing the gospel with the people that had come to honor her.  People she’d prayed for.  Souls she’d begged God for.  Witnessing opportunities she’d labored for.

Ten years later, I remember standing in a freezing graveyard under a bright blue sky.  I remember her body being put into the crypt.  I remember the numbness.  The sorrow.  And the certain hope of seeing her again.

Ten years later, and it’s November 20, 2010.  She would have been 70 years and six months old today.  She and my dad would have celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary this past spring.  She would be planning a special dinner for my brother’s 50th birthday tomorrow.  She would be keeping tabs on nine grandchildren in two different states, and be gleefully anticipating Christmas, undoubtedly her favorite time of the year.

Ten years later, and I still miss her.  I still thank God for her.  I still talk to my kids about her.  I still love her.

Ten years later, and the legacy of a godly woman extends beyond her grave.

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:28-30)

Where there’s a three, there’s a one and two.  Catch up there first.

For the rest of our lives, when we look back on Disney 2010, we’ll remember Rafael.

Rafael is a waiter at Whispering Canyon Café, a theme restaurant at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.  We made lunch reservations there because we’d heard that the wait staff is legendary for having fun with their guests.  If you ask for a bottle of ketchup, you get ketchup from every table in the restaurant.  If you’re caught stealing your kids’ fries, the waitress will stand on a chair and yell at you to order your own dang fries.

When we checked in, I whispered to the three ladies at the hostess stand that I had some kids that needed to be royally embarrassed, and I needed their best person on the job.  They all grinned, looked at each other, and said in unison, “Rafael.”

Shortly after we were seated, a massive Puerto Rican came out of the kitchen and began to harass my kids.  Throughout the lunch, he made them bus tables, hand out cell phone numbers to teenage girls in the restaurant, stand in the corner, and spend some time in the Whispering Canyon Jail.  Merriem wasn’t exempt either.  She ended up with a head full of a drinking straw hair weaves, courtesy of Rafael.

Rafael swiped our camera and took pictures of himself and others around the restaurant (that’s him in the pic).  When I ran low on lemonade, he brought me a gallon jug with a foot long straw.  He joked and teased and provoked us throughout the entire meal.  We weren’t just a family of diners, we were the floor show.

And we loved every second of it.

Rafael is an example of what we learn from Disney: You can’t force an experience, but you can set the stage for it. He didn’t have to treat us the way he did (the other servers didn’t come close to his people skills and his brand of fun).  He didn’t have to spend the time with us that he did (he pulled up a chair – after kicking Jase out of it – and just hung out for a while).  He didn’t have to act like we were the only customers he’d have that day.  But he did.

Rafael had no way of knowing if we’d had a good morning or a lousy morning.  He didn’t know if we were a fun-loving family or straight-laced.  He didn’t know if we’d roll with the punches or take offense.  But he had one job, and that was to set the stage for a great experience.

Every weekend, we deal with people who arrive with stories.  Some are simple: they are looking for community, looking for truth, looking for meaning in life.  Some are complex: they’re in the middle of high drama, broken relationships, and self-sabotage.

But with every person, their story contributes to their experience.  And their previous experience with churches will contribute to their expected experience with us.

Just as a reminder, the primary experience the church should provide is an encounter with the gospel, and everything we do from the parking lot to the pews sets the table for the gospel experience.  If a guy has had to deal with a surly parking attendant…if a mom is worried that the nursery worker didn’t understand that her child has an allergy…if a person can’t find the restrooms or connect to a small group…that detracts from the gospel.

What Disney teaches us is that an experience (in their case, fun) can’t be forced.  But it can be planned for and aimed toward.  In the same way, we can’t force people to embrace the gospel.  It’s not our job to do so.  However, we can make sure that there’s not a single thing in their weekend experience that would distract them from the gospel.  That is something we can do.

That, and drinking straw hair weaves.  I hear it’s the next big thing.

Coming up Monday: Unseen details matter, too. (Be sure and check back tomorrow for a special Saturday post)


Other posts in this series:

It’s a series, yo. Start here.

Walt Disney envisioned that his theme parks would represent a grander “show,” a living movie, if you can imagine that.  As such, you are not just walking into a park, you’re entering into a grand show that has fun as it’s theme.  If you’ve been to Disney, you’ve experienced this, though you may not have realized it.  Walt once said, “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the park.  I want them to feel they’re in another world.”

When you cross out of the turnstiles and take one of the tunnels to go under the train depot, you’re hitting the “coming attractions” (note the movie-styled posters on the tunnel walls, highlighting park rides).  As you enter the park, you smell popcorn.  Those popcorn stands?  They’re located there more for the smell than the sales.

Once you’re inside the park, you walk down Main Street U.S.A.  Actually, you walk up Main Street U.S.A.  The park was designed so that you’d walk a slight elevation as you approach Cinderella Castle.  The lay of the land gives you the “wow” moment of anticipation as you exit the tunnels and see the massive castle in the distance.  (Disney Imagineers employed a purposeful architectural technique known as “forced perspective” in building the castle.  It appears farther away from the other end of Main Street U.S.A. than it actually is, and it appears much larger of a structure than it actually is.)

As you travel from the hub of the park (the castle) to each land (Adventureland, Tomorrowland, I Ate Too Much Cotton Candy And I’m Going to HurlLand), you’re entering into different scenes of the movie.  The setting helps you transition.  The foliage, the music, the architecture…even the texture of the pavement changes to signal that you’re about to do something different.

So what can the church learn from Disney?  Simply this: build anticipation.

We build anticipation when we create a buzz about the experience.  We build anticipation when we are able to deliver what we’ve promised.  We build anticipation when we present a clean campus and exterior music and friendly people and clear signage and an informative website.  All of those things combine to build the anticipation for our guests.  They give them subtle clues as to what lies ahead.  They take outsiders and make them insiders.

So what sort of anticipation does your church build?  Are you putting your best foot forward for guests?  Do you prepare for every weekend as if it’s someone’s first time?  Are you designing specific experiences with your guests in mind?

How do you – or how could you – build anticipation?  Comment below.

Tomorrow: You can’t force fun (but you can set the stage for it.)


Other posts in this series:

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