LentBooks #3: Me, Myself and Bob, by Phil Vischer

When was the last time you read a business book that ends with the author’s business going bankrupt and being sold off to the highest bidder? When was the last time you read a book about Christian ministry that ends with the ministry collapsing in disarray and being sold to a non-Christian company? In other words, when was the last time you read a really good book about failure?

Well, your wait has ended.  Phil Vischer’s Me, Myself and Bob is the book you’ve been waiting for.

If I ever make that list I’m always threatening to make — the list of people whose writing, testimony and ministry has most nurtured my spiritual life — there’s no doubt Phil Vischer will make the list.  I would have put him on there anyway, just for all I’ve learned from Veggie Tales over the years, but this book sealed the deal.  It’s a heart-rendingly honest and personal story of a spectacular success and even more spectacular failure in business and in ministry … oh, and it’s funny, too.

If you’re at all familiar with the world of Christian media — or if you, you know, have kids at all — then you probably know a little of the story of how the Veggie Tales videos produced by Phil’s company, Big Idea, grew from very humble beginnings in 1993 to a huge, vastly popular (even by secular-world standards) entertainment business by 2000.  You may be less familiar with the story of Big Idea’s fall, because to the average consumer, there appears to have been no change.  Veggie Tales videos keep coming out a few times a year, the quality is still high and the stories are still great and God-centred.  So you might have missed the fact that somewhere in there (in 2003), after the release of the big-screen Veggie adventure Jonah, Big Idea ceased to be an independent company and was bought out by Classic Media.

Just how did that happen?

Well, the book tells the story and I’m not going to spoiler it for you, but in a nutshell: Phil Vischer was a kid with a dream that he believed God had given him. And God appeared to bless that dream in amazing and incredible ways.  All Phil’s dreams for Big Idea came true, and he started dreaming bigger and bigger.  And the company grew quickly — too quickly — and began to run into financial trouble, and the trouble snowballed, and then they got sued over a dispute with their distribution company, and then … they went bankrupt. And Classic Media bought Big Idea, and they have continued to produce Veggie Tales using a tiny fraction of the old Big Idea creative team, and employing the services of Phil Vischer on a contract basis.  So Phil went, basically, from being CEO of a wildly successful company to being a freelancer working for a company owned by someone else, and a lot of good people lost their jobs, and a lot of dreams came crashing to the ground.

I’ve read some Amazon reviews of this book that suggested that Phil Vischer blames others people at Big Idea for the company’s failure. As Jason (who read the book before me) said when I told him this, “Did they read the same book I just read?” Yes, Phil does talk honestly about disagreements he had with executives in the company (without naming them), but in the end, he squarely takes full blame for the company’s downfall, citing his own lack of managerial skills and financial savvy, and his fatal tendency to substitute his own dreams for God’s leading.

Let me be clear: this is not the all-too-familiar story of a Christian leader who fell into spectacular sin. As Big Idea grew, Phil Vischer did not become obsessed with buildinng multi-million dollar mansions for himself and sleeping with his office staff.  No, his goal throughout was the same as it had always been: to make Christian family entertainment that was of good enough quality to rival anything the secular media had to offer.  He wanted to do it all to the glory of God. But as time went on he became more engrossed in his own picture of how to accomplish that, all of which was tied in to the American dream of bigger-is-better.  He ignored both sound financial advice and the quiet voice of God.

Out of this experience, Phil has written a wise, funny, insightful and powerful book about finding God in success and in failure.  It should be a must-read for anyone involved in any kind of Christian ministry.  Especially for people like me, who tend far more to the active life than the contemplative. The kind of Christians who believe that, sure, we’re saved by grace not by works — but once we’re saved, we’d better get out there and starting working as hard as possible for the Lord. 

Stories of failure are not uncommon in Christian biographies — but failure usually occurs at the beginning or in the middle of the book, when the protagonist is lost in sin.  With salvation comes success, and such stories often end with our hero sitting on top of the world again, blessed by God with worldly success.  Though Phil Vischer is busy today with new projects and still involved with the Veggies, the main impression at the end of Me, Myself and Bob is not of someone back on top, but someone sitting quietly in the valley, humbled and wiser, learning to listen to the still, small voice of God leading him through.

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6 Comments

Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- memoir

6 responses to “LentBooks #3: Me, Myself and Bob, by Phil Vischer

  1. I hadn’t even heard of this book! I can’t wait to read it! I was very aware of what happened at the time…I was a big fan myself (as an adult without children!) plus I received a lot of resumes from Big Idea all of a sudden. 🙂

  2. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it. Let me know what you think when you do read it.

  3. J. Scott

    As mentioned in Scrabulous, I’m sold on this book even more after your review has been read. Nicely put, TJ! You haven’t lost your ability to entice people to read. I look forward to reading this book over my summer hiatus (or when my final lit course book is completed – whichever comes first). Keep on reviewing!

  4. Rye

    You’ve got me interested in reading this book, which I never would have noticed otherwise. I’ve long been baffled by the impetus towards “bigger-is-better”, and it will be interesting to read this, because usually the need for “managerial skills and financial savvy” seems to be linked only to how to get bigger. I also look forward to reading about a businessman’s (as opposed to professional religious person’s) take on the “tendency to substitute his own dreams for God’s leading” which is a big puzzle for me too. It seems so very hard to take the time to listen for that quiet voice, and to lay down my own preconceptions as I do so.

  5. I read an interview with Phil Vischer in Christianity Today and I was taken aback – almost embarrassed – by his humility. I think that it is rare to find this phenomenon outside of Christianity, that ability to be joyful, even radiant, in failure.

  6. Sadly, I don’t think it’s all that common INSIDE Christianity either, but the ideal is certainly a Christian one. In fact, Phil Vischer’s attitude at the end of this book (and in interviews and on his website) reminds me of the line from the hymn: “While I am waiting, yielded and still.” Not “still” in the sense of inactive, but that idea of waiting on God’s leading rather than rushing ahead with one’s own plans.

    Rye and Scott, thanks for your comments — I think you both will enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it.

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