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.