Disney turns out performers left and right. But I wonder how many former Disney performers have turned into pastors. Billy Brath is a friend of mine who is the pastor of the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Central Florida, the second largest university in the United States. Billy worked at the creative capital of the world, and has now translated that creativity into an active ministry.
How did you become a performer at Disney?
I was a singer at the University of Florida. I moved to Orlando to audition to sing at Disney. I ended up in the entertainment department doing everything but sing. Through the process of auditions I learned how the different levels of entertainment work. I went from equity singing auditions to the general entertainment auditions and was hired into the general entertainment department which is where you find most performers at Disney. I went from Disney entertainment for a year-and-a-half and ended up dancing on stilts for Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom.
What did you learn about creativity by working at Disney?
Disney’s creativity has a billion dollars behind it, which translates to dream as big as you want in order to achieve the goal. And their goal is to entertain you. And for them, the word entertainment means “to hold your attention.” Their purpose statement is to make people happy. In order to do that, they need to entertain you…”hold your attention.” So they dream “theme park big” in order to achieve their performance. So, “Don’t do anything to distract from anything that keeps people from being entertained.” You have to hold people’s attention.
How did this translate into the church?
I’m always thinking of how to hold people’s attention, i.e., “entertain” them, so I can accomplish my purpose to share Jesus and love them as a member of the body of Christ.
How is that transition difficult?
Working for a billion dollar company, the number one entertainment company of the world, and living in the shadow of that, I see the distractions in the church that exist that most of us skip over. At Disney you never see things that are intended to be back stage, like garbage or clutter. Every single day is supposed to be like your home on Christmas Eve when your family’s coming over for the perfect evening. And our churches who have the greatest “product” to deliver don’t facilitate the environment that we would expect to have at Disney. The church which is the only largest entity in the world larger than Disney, with more resources than they have, should be the best at “entertainment,” holding people’s attention, because our purpose is way more important than just making people happy.
What’s the practical application of that?
Disney isn’t great because they have billions of dollars to throw around on products. They’re great because they help you forget the “junk” of life. The church is great because it doesn’t just help you forget the junk, it removes it and frees you to live, and we need to embrace that.
What’s one thing that would surprise people about Disney if you told them?
Workers will be on break sitting in the Magic Kingdom complaining about their job like anyone else.
How has working at Disney made you a better pastor?
The ability to work with a vast array of people, both co-workers and guests. And understanding what “entertainment” really means. The true work of the church is to hold people’s attention for the sake of Jesus Christ.
What do you learn about creativity in your everyday work?