My kids grew up watching Veggie Tales. Many times as we gathered as a church planting team, the kids would gather around the tv to watch the latest adventures of Bob the tomato and Larry the cucumber.
I can still sing along with most of the “Silly Songs with Larry” and we have great memories of reinforcing the wonderful lessons taught by these cartoon vegetables. Right up next to the “Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” and “I Love My Lips“– I personally loved watching “The Toy That Saved Christmas.” Like I said – great memories!
I have to say that I was disappointed when I learned that Phil Vischer, co-creator of Veggie Tales, had sold his company Big Idea Productions and all the characters as a result of a law-suit that led to bankruptcy. I couldn’t imagine that Veggie Tales would ever be the same.
Recently I read an interview with Phil Vischer (from 2008) where he described some of the things he had learned in the rise and fall of Veggie Tales. As I read I realized that there was a lot of parallel lessons that church planters could benefit from. So, here are some of Phil’s words – followed by my commentary…
In a nutshell, we spent five years growing like crazy, everything working and getting bigger and bigger, hiring more and more. And then we spent five years falling apart. Early success is sometimes the worse thing that can happen to you because it expands your ambition and you begin to believe what people are writing about you. So I wanted to do more and more, all for good causes. I was on God’s team, helping kids, but I also wanted to catch up with Disney and Nickelodeon. I wanted to be the Christian Walt Disney. And you keep adding on these ambitions to what was once God’s simple call, which was simply,Tell the stories I lay on your heart. And that call got lost in all this ambition brought about by success.
What a powerful statement: “Early success is sometimes the worse thing that can happen to you because it expands your ambition and you begin to believe what people are writing about you.” This can happen to church planters too. It’s easy to get sucked into an arrogance that comes from success. You can believe that your success is based on you – your preaching, your leadership, your relational skills, your creative, etc. and forget that your success is a gift from God!
It’s actually a wonderful thing for a Christian to go through because it’s so humbling. Any pretense you had about your own ability to do great things under your own power [is gone], and you realize at the end of the day it starts and ends with God. I’ll do this as long as God wants me to with whatever resources He gives me to do it. It’s not how big it gets. It’s not about the outcome. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about obedience. Am I doing what He called me to do today? I remember asking God, “Why did you let this happen?” And He showed me that I had made it all about me. My ministry was all about me.
Isn’t that true with church planting? “It’s not how big it gets. It’s not about the outcome. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about obedience.” If you are planting a church – this is critical. Are you doing what God has called you to do? Or, are you trying to copy or imitate someone else. Or, are you just trying to build the biggest church in town? What’s your motivation? If it’s not loving obedience to the One who called you – repent!
You assume that because everything is working, that means you’re on the right track. We often confuse numerical success with God’s continued thumbs up. What He showed me was that His thumbs up had little to do with numerical success and everything to do with obedience. I was miserable, killing myself trying to be the next Walt Disney when He never called me to do that in the first place. He called me to be Phil. And, we don’t have the patience to say, “Okay, God, show me who Phil is.” He called Abraham and it would be 15 more years before He actually gave him the son that He promised him. And over those 15 years, He showed Abraham whoAbraham was. I ignored that, and we do that so often.
Church planters can often sacrifice an awful lot as they attempt to plant a church. You can work so hard to grow the church that you get confused on what really matters in the end. (I wrote about this before – One Thing Every Church Planter Must Acknowledge.) We can’t earn God’s favor by doing more. Ultimately, God’s not going to treat me special or be impressed by all that I think I do for Him. It’s really all about loving obedience.