Written by Steven Barr / a Pastor & 24-7 Prayer Coordinator over the cities known as Disney.
I have spent my entire life looking forward. I’m pretty sure you have too. It’s not entirely our fault. We’ve been encouraged to be future-focused. I think it starts when our age is still in the single digits, and people start asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Everything becomes about tomorrow.
Those of us who are ministry pioneers thrive on this thinking. We have stacks of books that talk about vision and strategy. If you’re like me, you can become quite adept at envisioning the future & developing a plan to get there. By the way, I’m not bragging. As you will soon see, this is more of a confession.
I get excited about a great vision. I should. Vision is what moves us forward. It’s what keeps us pointed in the right direction. But let’s be honest: God’s plan is never a straight line forward. It looks more like a kindergartener’s scribble. To God, it is perfect. To us, it seems wholly disorganized and in disarray.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” - Jesus (Matthew 6:34)
He (Jesus) told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. - Luke 9:3
I 've come to the hard realization that vision & strategy are helpful but NOT necessary.
“WHAT? Steven, that contradicts almost every leadership bestseller on Amazon today.”
I know but stay with me. When we launched Cast Member Church at Walt Disney World, I had the most impressive strategy. I had labored almost a year, putting it together. I had researched the culture. I had a plan that was certain to work. Two weeks in, I had to throw it away.
It is here where I would love to tell you that I learned my lesson, but it’s not. I didn’t learn hardly anything from that experience. I was disappointed, but I figured that I just needed a better strategy. So I went back to the drawing board. This cycle continued over & over again for about four years. I reimagined, rethought, reworked, restructured to the point that I began to feel like I was running on a hamster wheel.
Our strategies attracted Christians, but that is not the vision God had given to Lucia and me for Cast Member Church. We were sure of three things He had told us:
1.) Grow something out of those who didn’t know Jesus.
2.) Never own a building.
3.) Make and multiply disciples.
Every time we re-strategized our approach, we would end up dealing with the same issues. We were attracting Christians who were looking for an extension of their youth group back home (pizza parties, movie nights, etc.), rather than seeking to have a Kingdom Influence at Disney. Lucia and I were feeling less like disciple-makers & more like babysitters of young Christian consumers. That hamster wheel kept spinning faster & faster.
Then everything changed.
Lucia and I read a book together called, “Red Moon Rising,” by Pete Greig. It recounted the story of the 24-7 Prayer movement that exploded across Europe, & continues to expand around the world. We read story after story of how God did amazing, miraculous, crazy things in cultures where it seemed impossible for the Gospel to penetrate. The one thing that connected every single move of God was intentional, focused prayer. In fact, throughout Church history, EVERY revival & recorded move of God has been preceded by intentional, focused prayer.
I realized that Cast Member Church didn’t have a vision or strategy problem. It (or maybe I should say “I”) had an empowerment problem. Cast Member Church was like a shiny new car. It looked good, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I realized that all I had been doing was buffing the chrome, waxing the fenders, & wiping down the windows & headlights. BUT… there was no gas in the tank.
God wasn’t interested in a shiny, impressive strategy for a church at Disney. He wanted a church that was utterly dependent upon His presence, power, & provision. All this time, I had been looking toward a vision and strategy and not to Him. (Yes, I know that weight of what I just said).
Lucia & I committed to God that we would not focus on anything strategic other than to pray strategically. We began to prayer-walk the four theme parks of Walt Disney World. Lucia decided to start waking up every morning at 5:30 am to intercede for those we felt called to reach. All I can say is that the more we laid our strategies aside & focused on praying for our mission field, the more doors began to open; the more we began to see God move in ways we could never have imagined.
Disney Cast Members who once seemed unreachable were now interacting with us on a level that no strategy could ever have penetrated. Muslims, atheists, & others began expressing curiosity about us & our faith. We had conversations that missional-minded people dream of having. Cast Member Church is now a beautiful mess of people (most of whom have never been part of a church before) trying to figure out this life of faith & meaning. It’s not perfect. It’s not shiny. But it has a full tank of gas, & it has more power than we know what to do with.
Looking back, I’ve realized that I used to see prayer as more of a first option or a last resort. When in reality, it is an ongoing conversation with the only One who can bring all that is needed for any circumstance we face. I’m not anti-vision or anti-strategy. There’s a place for both. But if we rely solely upon our apostolic imagination to carry us into the mission field, we will be impotent and ineffective. When we seek God’s purpose and plan for THIS day, He will not disappoint. He will provide more than enough. The more we see God doing what only He can do, the more we pray. The more we pray, the more we see God doing what only He can do. Now that’s a strategy that can never fail.
This post is a blog that Steve wrote for CreoCollective.org.