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Myles MacBean: Disney, 'The 95' and collaboration

Our goal is to help ‘The 95’ discover a vibrant, personal faith in Jesus, says SU's Myles MacBean

Earlier this year Myles MacBean was appointed as national director of Scripture Union England and Wales. The appointment comes some seven years after God impressed upon the former Disney executive the desire to leave the commercial world for kingdom business.

Having a long-standing relationship with the Christian charity, Myles was pleased to see that SU still bravely seeks to actively reimagine what they do so they can continue to equip local churches and volunteers to speak effectively into the very different context of today’s young people in today’s world.

For He and his team are after the 95 per cent of children who don’t go to church, as they uphold their pledge to journey relationally with them right where they are. In this interview you’ll hear more about this commitment and how Myles’s experiences and qualities can help to bring about positive results.

There seems to be a point in your professional journey when you stopped working for commercial organisations and started working for Christian charities. What’s behind this transition?

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Looking back, I see God’s hand weaving together many strands of gifting, skills and experience in my life. He gave me a varied career in senior leadership within digital media, with a focus on cross-cultural family content. And He wove that together with a vocation as an elder, preacher, children’s worker, and trustee for various cross-cultural Christian charities. 

However, in 2012 God made it painfully clear it was time for a change when a succulent and fulfilling business career suddenly tasted like sand in my mouth. I took time to listen, did a theology degree while helping with a church revitalisation, and got involved in coaching church-planters in a couple of European countries. Then in 2014 my wife and I moved to spend three years as church development partners in Malawi. Scripture Union beckoned on our return. 

Why does Scripture Union stand out to you? And to what extent was your attraction to this charity influenced by your long-standing relationship with it?

Scripture Union is in my DNA. As a new Christian leading a group of boys at SU camp, my life was transformed by the authentic, unpretentious modelling by more mature leaders of what being a disciple means, and especially the way they humbly took prayer and the Bible seriously and allowed it to practically shape their lives. 

From leading worship to peeling potatoes to larking around on the sports field, everything they did was because they loved Jesus and longed for others to know Him too. As I talked with Scripture Union England and Wales in 2018, I was excited to see the same core values still being lived out by thousands of volunteers involved in mission, holidays and events. 

Importantly though, I did not find SU fossilised in nostalgia, but bravely seeking – as it has done every generation – to actively reimagine what they did so they could continue to equip local churches and volunteers to speak effectively into the very different context of today’s young people in today’s world.

Why do you think you’re a good fit for SU today?

Around the time of Scripture Union’s 150th anniversary in 2017, Tim Hastie-Smith (the national director at the time) and the wider leadership team of Scripture Union did an amazing job in refining and reshaping the vision of the movement in England and Wales. Bravely pivoting away from traditional Christian publishing, they led the movement to refocus on its historic mission to create opportunities for children and young people to explore the Bible, respond to Jesus and grow in faith. 

Most exciting for me was the clear priority on The 95’ – those children and young people who don’t go to church, estimated to be around 95 per cent of under 18s in England and Wales. I think the trustees of Scripture Union and Tim himself saw in me someone with the skills, experience and character to help the movement at this specific time as we look to discern how’ we go about fulfilling the what’ of that refined mission and, God willing, better help our partner churches, volunteers and local partner trusts to achieve our shared vision of a new generation of children and young people with a vibrant, personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

How might you draw on your work history to help SU get better at reaching children and young people and grow its support base?

Well, let me say that first and foremost it is not about me! Scripture Union’s God-given strength is the thousands of passionate volunteers and staff practitioners who, through their regular work with today’s children and young people, understand them, their challenges and their adventures in the modern world. That and the strength that comes from continuing to put prayer-filled, Bible-fuelled, spiritual discernment at the heart of our culture. 

In that context I see my job as helping the movement to recognise what we already know through our day-to-day work, to structure that insight into realisable plans, and to help us achieve what we discern God is asking us to do.

Having said that, yes, I do think my work history helps in many ways. For example, leading within Disney’s global digital business I gained valuable experience of helping multi-disciplinary teams across a wide range of creative, technical and business domains to come together to build contextually fine-tuned, sustainable and scalable content that touched the hearts of children and young people. I learned that if you consistently did this in a quality way against a core set of values then you could trust that the financial support would come. 

Is it reasonable to draw parallels between your work at The Walt Disney Co. (creator of entertainment for children and young people and families) and SU (a charity that seeks to help children and young people explore a life with Jesus)?

In many ways I think it is reasonable. For example, anyone who has been to a Disney theme park will tell you that Disney has a laser focus on the guest’ experience, and SU has always been passionate about creating experiences where children and young people can explore the difference Jesus wants to make in their lives. There has never been a generation of young people living in a culture changing faster than this one, nor under greater spiritual pressure. 

Disney knows the importance of understanding this generation, and SU continues to invest in truly understanding the spiritual dimensions of life for The 95’. Also, while committed to founding core values, Disney is an amazingly innovative organisation that has allowed it to adapt and remain relevant over many decades. So too Scripture Union, which continues to re-invent itself to apply ageless Biblical principles to today’s world. 

Disney is also a master at taking a core story and telling it across multiple media and we’re doing that at SU too, with resources like Diary of a Disciple available through the printed word, video, holidays and school clubs. And, like Disney, Scripture Union can be said to be a digital pioneer. We launched our first website in 1996 and are reaching todays digital-natives in five languages around the word with our Guardians of Ancora game. 

Of course, the exciting difference for me is that now, with my friends across the SU movement, I am helping The 95’ discover and explore the story of God’s righteous love revealed in Jesus Christ and the difference He wants to make to the realities of their lives, rather than looking to present an entertaining diversion from the realities of their lives.

You have been SU national director since January 2019. Is that long enough to have thought about (or devised) a strategy, even a rough outline? If so, what do you have in mind?

I joined SU because of the recently renewed mission and priority of the movement and have therefore focused on the how’ – on developing a clear, communicable and executable strategic plan that will fulfil the mission. Equally, as a volunteer-driven movement the views about our future of the movement as a whole are more important than mine. So, we have taken the time to involve selected staff, volunteers, mission partners and governing bodies to build a holistic perspective on our future direction. 

The new strategic plan is taking shape and we’re looking forward to outlining it at our movement-wide conference in June 2020. There is still much to do but I can foresee a renewed focus on inspiring, equipping and mentoring a generation of passionate volunteers, commissioned by local churches to reach out to the 95 per cent not attending church, and to journey relationally with them right where they are. We see ourselves doing this as collaboratively as possible with networks and organisations that share our passion and vision to help The 95’ discover a vibrant, personal faith in Jesus. 

About the author

Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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