SBC Life Articles

A Loving Challenge — in Disney’s Backyard

First Baptist Church, Kissimmee, Fla., is seven miles from the front gates of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. More than 100 Disney employees are members of the growing church near the epicenter of the world's most popular tourist destination.

Yet the church's pastor, Tim Wilder, didn't hesitate to vote in favor of the resolution on moral stewardship addressing The Disney Company during the Southern Baptist Convention this past June.

Wilder said it's a matter of "tough love."

"Out of my love for them, I just can't ignore them and turn my back on them," said Wilder, who has served on First Baptist's staff more than sixteen years, the last year and a half as senior pastor.

"The Bible teaches when you truly love somebody, you don't ignore them when you see them going down the wrong road; out of love you try to bring them back."

Wilder, who grew up in the central Florida area, was a frequent visitor to the Disney theme parks. He and his wife even celebrated their honeymoon there.

He said he yearns for the day the entertainment giant will heed the call to return to its traditional roots.

"I don't want them to destroy themselves, I want to go back out there again and take my kids and watch their movies," he said, noting that the Disney empire was built on family values. "Out of my love for them, I have to reach out to them and bring them back."

Upon his return from the SBC annual meeting in Dallas, Wilder met with church members who were also Disney employees to assure them he wanted only the best for them and their employer, telling them he wanted them to stay at Disney.

The church went so far as to hold a special commissioning service to recognize and encourage members who work at the area's Disney theme parks and studios – including animators, bus drivers, and theme park employees.

"We want to encourage more believers to work out there," the pastor said, noting at age twelve his vocational goal was to be a monorail driver at the Magic Kingdom.

"We want Christians there; we do want to make a difference from the inside out," Wilder reiterated, calling the Disney employees "our missionaries."

Concerns about the resolution were calmed, he said, by taking the time to meet with church members so they could better understand his decision was not out of anger but out of love for a company he "grew up with."

"You can take a stand for truth based upon your convictions and not do it in an ugly or judgmental way and also encourage your people to aid in the change from the inside out," Wilder explained. "Pastors don't need to be afraid to stand up for the issues. We've been quiet for too long, that's why we're in the mess we are in.

"Sometimes we have been guilty of screaming and being ugly about some issues," Wilder reflected, saying there is a healthy balance of speaking the truth in love.

Wilder said he was careful about respecting individual church members' consciences on the matter: "I didn't come across telling them they had to follow my lead. This is my stance; I asked them to pray about their response."

Despite some fears the issue would disrupt the fellowship of the church, Wilder said summer attendance was stronger than ever and the church is ahead on its annual budget.

Yet First Baptist is accustomed to being at the forefront. The church operates the Osceola Pregnancy Center on its property and provides shepherding homes for women who are pregnant and need a place to stay.

The church also is finalizing plans for the construction of a building in downtown Kissimmee, where in cooperation with area hunger ministries the church will provide food for the homeless and a clothes closet, as well as free medical care and Bible studies.

"We want to do more than just stand up and speak out; we want to minister,"
Wilder said, also telling of plans to develop a ministry to the homosexual community in cooperation with the Exodus organization. "I want homosexuals here in our church, visiting with us, so they can hear the gospel," the pastor said. "We can't say just let them live in that hurtful lifestyle; that's not a loving approach."

The world wants to justify its behavior by what feels good rather than what the Bible says, Wilder said. "I'm not politically correct; I'm striving to be biblically correct."

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  • Dwayne Hastings