When business books won’t solve your church’s problem

Leadership Journal has a powerful interview with Phil Vischer, former head of Big Idea Productions – creators of Veggie Tales. Due to a court decision, he had to declare bankruptcy and sell it all in 2003. He talks about what he thinks went wrong and what success should look like for a Christian ministry.

Looking back, when did Big Idea get off course? Was there a turning point?
Big Idea was growing, but I didn’t know how to manage it. It felt out of control. So, I turned to a popular business book, Built to Last by Jim Collins. I read through it like I had found Scripture. The book suggests a “big, hairy, audacious goal.” I didn’t think God had given me one, but the book said I should have one. So I made one up—one I thought God would like.

What was the BHAG?
I thought God would be pleased if Big Idea became one of the top four family media companies in the world. The goal came from my evangelical upbringing that said more impact is better. Better to impact millions at once than one at a time. Big Idea’s aggressive growth, which came from the big, hairy, audacious goal, was ultimately its undoing.

He goes on to say…

How has your understanding of success changed?
I used to think people like Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen were guilty of poor stewardship. God has given us limited time and resources and we have to help as many people as possible—not just one or two at a time. Mother Teresa should have franchised a system for feeding the poor on a massive scale. She needed an MBA.

Now I understand God has a unique journey for each of us with unique measures of success. Now I ask myself, Have I done what God has asked me to do? Am I walking with him daily? Success has very little to do with where I end up. It’s not about measurable impact.

Vischer’s words are a good counter to the push for more business concepts in ministry. There really isn’t a clear “right” answer in a lot of this conversation.

Churches began implementing business ideas to push back against stagnant church cultures where the church members and pastors just ‘existed’ without doing much. Measuring moved us forward. But it’s possible that sometimes the techniques cause us to lose sight of the point.

Can there be Godly wisdom in business practices? I think so. But we’ve got to seek God first – seek His call and what he’s doing where we are – before we place an external widget or external vision over a movement that’s God’s alone.

I appreciate hearing Phil’s story and willingness to share the lessons learned from his mistakes.

4 responses to “When business books won’t solve your church’s problem”

  1. This is good stuff. It’s a fine line between the two. It’s like the whole separation of Church vs. State debate. Question is, would Jesus have used today’s business principles to run his ministry? Well, all things come from Him. What do you think?

  2. Wow…jon, i’m glad you posted this story…

    this is an important post…i want you to write more and think more on this topic…even to provide counterpoint if you find it. I wrestle with these thoughts…especially in terms of setting huge goals, especially if God hasn’t given them to you.

  3. ok so weird – but google reader replaced your feed with some guy named jon udell. how very, very odd.

  4. Thanks for letting me know, Anne! Another person just told me the same thing – they’re also using Google reader. Hopefully the feedburner address I mention in the next post will help…

    Can I just say I have NO IDEA why it would ever confuse things like that? So strange.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: