I heard a term the other day that made me stop and think: “Disney Princess Theology.” I raised two daughters and I am very familiar with the Disney Princess milieu. We had the dress-up clothes, the toys and, of course, the movies. I didn’t think we had a princess theology.
Erna Kim Hacketuses the term to describe how North American, White Evangelicals see themselves in every Biblical narrative as the “princess.” We are Esther, Ruth, Moses, Joseph, the Good Samaritan. Our default setting when reading Scripture is to see the story from the perspective of the hero and protagonist but never the villain or even a secondary character.
While there is nothing wrong with identifying with the heroine, the problem arises when we develop a hermeneutic of only seeing ourselves in the most positive light and focusing on a very individualistic way of interpreting Scripture. When you approach the Bible like a princess, you will inadvertently blind yourself to much of the message of Scripture.
I could not get this concept out of my head as I was reflecting on all the things pastors and church leaders are thinking about during this season. We are trying to figure out what “church” looks like moving forward. We want to know when and how we can get back to in-person services. We want to know if anyone will show up when we do.
I get the sense we feel like we are in the part of the Disney movie where the Princess is struggling to figure out who she is while it looks like the evil villain is going to win. Let’s be honest, every Disney Princess movie follows the same formula! Right now, pastors feel like they are wandering in the wilderness or stuck in a tower, wondering if things will ever get better, and struggling with who they are.
But for just a moment, ask yourself what you could learn from Scripture if you read it from the perspective of Joseph’s brothers as they were selling that arrogant brat into slavery. Ask yourself what was going through Pharoah’s mind as Moses, the baby whose life you saved, begins demanding you destroy your economy by releasing the Hebrew workforce.
Or maybe see yourself in the nice clothes and position of influence of the High Priest as this trouble maker is brought before you accused of disrupting the way you had been doing things for centuries. He was messing with the systems of worship and discipleship that had worked for so long (and had supplied you with a nice house, good standing in the community and job security). How might you rule on this uneducated carpenter from Nazareth?
Sometimes, in order to strengthen our churches, we need see where we are weak. No one enjoys finding their weaknesses - especially when you are supposed to be the Princess that is going to save the day and your only weakness is that you don’t know how powerful you really are! Our current situation is revealing some significant weak spots in the Church.
1. We have become used to being the majority culture without having to demonstrate why our faith is relevant to the people around us. I remember a time when everything was closed on Sundays (except the Kentucky Fried Chicken which happened to be our pastor’s favorite spot). you certainly couldn’t buy alcohol on a Sunday. People saw Sunday as sacred even if they didn’t attend church. Obviously, this is not the case now and so we must rethink how we approach our culture with the Gospel when we are not the ones controlling the narrative.
2. We have shifted the responsibility of evangelism to the professionals. If we can just create an event that our people can bring their friends to, the pastors will share the Gospel. The “regular people” aren’t shouldering the responsibility of the Great Commission. The last 4 months have demonstrated that we had become a one-trick pony as we floundered to get an online experience up and running that matched the experience of our Sunday services. All the while, our congregations had nothing to invite people to and were suddenly faced with scary reality that they might have to talk about Jesus with someone.
3. The one thing that matters is connection to Jesus and the Body of Christ, but when that connection is based around a program and not real life relationships, we will struggle. The programs that facilitated this connection had the rug pulled out from under them and now we are becoming keenly aware of how deep (or shallow) people’s connections were.
4. We struggle with pride. Maybe I’m preaching to myself on this one, but I have found it very difficult in these times to wrestle with how “essential” my role is in the lives of the people of my church. We have tried to become the experts on social media, digital discipleship, and live-streaming so that we can continue to be seen as needed. Honestly, I am tired of all the podcasts and blogs popping up trying to become the next big thing in church world. How about we acknowledge our need to be important, confess our pride, and seek to serve the people in our communities who are struggling with major economic and health issues?
Take some time this week to reflect on what God is teaching the Church (not just you) during this time. What does humility look like right now? What does discipleship look like right now? Where is God working and how can we join Him? How can we invite the people who call us Pastor to come with us?
Some passages for reflection:
1 Corinthians 1:27
1 Corinthians 4:10
1 Corinthians 9:22
The Converge MidAtlantic staff is here to support and resource you. If you would like to find out about any of our church strengthening resources, please contact Jason Allison at email@example.com.
Jason Allison, Church Strengthening Director
Jason is the pastor of Spiritual Formation at a new church plant, Press Church in Powell, Ohio. Originally conceived and operating as Terra Nova Community Church, Pastor Jason led this community for over a decade at various locations throughout Delaware County. Also, he serves as the Director of Church Strengthening for Converge MidAtlantic.