Even Walt Failed

Tim Balow
August 16th, 2018

One of the most magical things anyone can do is walk through the glorious streets of Main Street, U.S.A. As you stroll down, maybe you grab yourself a warm caffeinated beverage and browse through the shops. At the end of Main Street, you find yourself with the decision of embracing adventure, braving the frontier, entering fantasy, or peaking into tomorrow. No matter what you decide, there’s magic to be had at every turn.

I’m of course talking about Disneyland – the happiest place on earth!

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit a Disney park, you know just how special those trips can be. It’s no secret that the Disney company has mastered the art of creating immersive environments that transport people to new worlds and give them new experiences.

And yet…they seem to do it without any effort whatsoever.

The skill that Disney has cultivated at making sure everything is as it should be is one to marvel at. From the way they keep trash out of sight to the way they keep people safe, the Disney parks are incredibly well-oiled machines.

As a youth pastor (and an avid Disney fan), it’s hard not to wonder how to capture some of that magic Disney produces and bring it into my student ministry culture. I’m not saying I want my student ministry to be a copy of Disneyland. Rather, I often wonder how I can utilize the principles the Disney company uses to help make the ministry I’m a part of even stronger.

Truth be told, it’s not much different than when I visit the National Youth Workers Convention every Fall. Each year I meet new pastors and leaders who are doing amazingly inventive things, and I find myself mesmerized at the creativity of others. I always come home from the convention with a thousand new ideas to try, but when I go to implement them they simply don’t work.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say there have been times where I’ve felt inferior in my ability to lead a student ministry. I see so many people doing wonderful things and wonder why I can’t make them happen. Perhaps you’ve felt that, too.

That feeling of jealousy or inferiority or whatever you want to call it creeps in so effortlessly and plants itself in our minds and eventually finds its way into our hearts. It can easily lead to feelings of defeat and worthlessness.

We think others are just somehow better than us.

But is that really true?

When you look at people who have experience enormous success, they all had one major thing in common – they failed. 

They failed a lot.

Things often didn’t go as planned, and they had to keep tweaking and figuring out new ways to achieve their goals. Even something as massive and organized as Disneyland had its own share of troubles that easily could have discouraged Walt to the point of throwing in the towel. I mean, here are just SOME of the bad things that happened on opening day of Disneyland on July 17, 1955:

  • Only 15,000 people had been invited to the opening day ceremony, but more than 28,000 showed up (most with fake tickets). This caused quite the headache as they weren’t prepared for that amount of bodies.
  • The freeway that led to the park was backed up for 7 miles, and people were waiting hours to get to the parking lot. Some had to badly use the bathroom when they finally parked, and the lot was filled with people….ummm….you get the point.
  • Much of the paint in the park was still wet as they were painting up until the very last moment.
  • Weeds were everywhere, and they didn’t have time to pull any of them so Walt grabbed some signs and wrote some Latin plant names on them to place in front of the weeds so people thought they were something important.
  • All the food and drink was gone within hours of opening, leaving many hungry and thirsty.
  • Most of the rides actually broke down for the majority of the day.
  • The Mark Twain Riverboat never had a proper capacity inspection, and the first voyage was overfilled which caused the boat to begin to sink.
  • The concrete and asphalt were still wet, and many ladies in heels left the park shoeless at the end of their visit because their shoe got stuck in the ground.

You guys, this was JUST opening day. Disneyland would continue to have issues over the days, months, and years. In fact, they still do! Just because they’re as well oiled as they are today doesn’t mean they still don’t have room to learn and grow.

Disneyland’s magic didn’t just happen. It took time, energy, and lots of mistakes to get to where they are. The same goes for bands, speakers, churches, other youth ministries. No success happened without tremendous struggle. No one is immune to it.

Not even you.

I believe God wants to use you to create something beautiful to advance the Kingdom of God. However, that doesn’t mean overnight everything will simply fall into place. I’m always fascinated with the story of the Israelites. God promises for them, His people, to enter the Promised Land, but they had to first go through 40 years of wandering in the desert before they entered it.

Wherever it is God is taking us, remember that it’s a journey. Sometimes it’s not even about the destination because, like Disneyland, there’s always somewhere new to go.

Walt Disney once said…

“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

As we create environments and experiences for students, may we hold tight to the truth in that quote…that we’re never done. We can keep growing, keep trying, keep creating, and most importantly…

…keep failing.



Tim Balow

Youth Specialties exists to elevate the role of youth ministry and the youth worker to grow the faith of the next generation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.