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Business and Ministry (Pulling Back the Curtain – Part 2)

Some people consider “business” and “ministry” to be incompatible – opposites, even.  Business, they say, is inherently self-seeking, while ministry seeks the good of others.  While this can sometimes be true, it is not always true.  Many business ventures are, to be honest, entirely selfishly motivated.  Somebody somewhere just wants to make a buck.  These ventures often fail, though, because truly selfish people have a hard time meeting the needs of their customers.  Most good businesses, in fact, display the characteristics of ministries.  They strive to meet the needs of others.  They put their customers first.  Good businesses, just like ministries, are in the business of solving problems – of serving.

Big Idea was just such a business.  I wanted Big Idea to profit so we could continue to do good.  But my motivation in starting Big Idea wasn’t to profit.  My motivation was to solve a problem I had identified – the problem of Hollywood media and the impact it was having on kids.  (Okay, it was a BIG problem to tackle.  I was ambitious.)

So… if you’ve read my book, you know how that story ended.  Wipe out.  Bankruptcy court… wailing and gnashing of teeth.  I ended up sitting alone in Wheaton, IL, saying, “Good heavens – what just happened?”  After about six months of calming down, resting up and focusing on God (again, read the book), I stood up and wondered aloud, “So NOW what do I do?”  And after a while, God really impressed upon me that I wasn’t finished yet.  That there were more problems to solve – that everything that had happened to me through Big Idea and VeggieTales was, perhaps, preparation for what was going to happen next.

Before you start a business and/or ministry (and the two can actually be the same venture, as was the case with Big Idea Productions and now with Jellyfish), you need to have a clear sense of purpose – of mission.  You need a burden.  I don’t mean that in the negative sense – not a burden that will weigh you down and turn your hair grey from stress and worry, no, I mean ‘burden” in the sense of God laying something on your heart.  You could have a burden for the homeless or a burden for single moms or a burden for indigenous peoples in Western Australia or… you get the idea.  My burden is for kids.

Secondly, you need to have a clear sense of your gifting.  How has God wired you?  What can you do better than almost anyone else you know?  My primary gifts are in storytelling, creative use of technology, and, ignoring for the moment a certain bankruptcy, business strategy.  So I’m looking at the world and I’m looking for the intersection of my burden (for kids) and my gifting (that other stuff).  And in that intersection I will find the seed of my ministry.  My unique contribution to a hurting world.

So after the bankruptcy of Big Idea Productions I spent a lot of time looking at the world and praying.  And after a period of months, it was clear that God had laid on my heart two problems that needed solving.  Two problems that, it appeared, perfectly matched my gifting.  Suddenly, I knew what I was supposed to do next.

So what are they?  What are the two problems that are driving all our work here at Jellyfish Labs?  Today I’ll describe the first one:

In a nutshell, Christians in North America are failing.  We’re failing to positively engage our culture.  We’re failing to raise new generations of Christians who know their faith and what it means to live it out in our society.  For reasons having a great deal to do with the perceived moral decline of America in the 1960s, culminating with the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, we have come through a generation of Christian leaders who made it their primary focus to organize conservative Christians as a voting block.  Political activism has been the rallying cry of the church for the last 30 years.  As a result, we conservative Christians managed to remake congress, reshape the Supreme Court, and elect a President.  Twice.  We have engaged our culture in a war.  (We call it “the culture war.”)  And we have won many victories.

But there has been a price for this political focus.  Today, 80% of non-Christians in America have a negative view of Christianity.  When asked what word first sprang to mind when the term “Evangelical Christian” was mentioned, the number one answer from young adults in America was not “loving” or “self-sacrificing,” but rather, “homophobic.” 

For an entire generation of Americans, Christians have become defined by what we are against.  By what we hate.  By whom we oppose.  Jesus’ call that we would be known “by our love” has been lost in our generation.  Even more concerningly, this 30 year focus has left us very clear on how we are supposed to vote, but very unclear on how we are supposed to live.  And the results are striking.  Conservative Christians in America divorce at the same rate as the general population.  We use internet porn at the same rate as the general population.  We long for the same houses, the same cars, the same vacations.  We are, research has shown, statistically identical.

We hail a film like “The Passion of the Christ,” calling it “the biggest evangelism opportunity in 2000 years.”  And our neighbors watch the film, drawn by the celebrity of the filmmaker and, most likely, pure curiosity.  And while the story engages them, when they leave the theater and look at us – the Christians down the street – they see we are no happier than they are.  We’re pursuing the same materialistic fixes.  Going just as deeply into debt to inflate our lifestyle.  “Whatever they got from following this Jesus doesn’t seem to do any good.  They’re no happier than we are.”

So an amazing film about Jesus attracts everyone’s interest, and, research will later show, accomplishes nothing.  Why?  Because the world doesn’t learn about God by watching Christian movies.  The world learns about God by watching Christians.  And we Christians are failing to show the world the love of God.  We've failed to make an invisible God visible.  We’ve shown them cranky Christians.  Politically-savvy Christians.  Market-driven Christians.  Ambitous Christians.  What we haven’t shown them, are loving Christians.  And since Jesus said they would “know you by your love,” I think it’s safe to say the world doesn’t know what a Christian is.  And sometimes I suspect we don’t either.

One half of all adult Protestants can’t define the word “grace,” a concept that was pretty central to the Protestant Reformation.  “For by grace are we saved through faith….”  So here’s a question:  How exactly are we supposed to live out God’s saving grace in front of a watching world if we can’t even define the term?  George Gallup, the pollster who discovered this and many other points of ignorance within the American church, concluded that most pastors have no idea how little many American Christians know about their faith.  It isn’t that we know what we should do and are refusing to do it – it’s that we really don’t have a clue.

So… what do we do about this?  We need an education.  We need to know our faith, and the demands it makes on our lives.  We need to understand what we believe, and how those beliefs should manifest themselves every day of the week, in every arena of our lives.  We should know the incredible gift we’ve been given – what we’ve been “saved” from and the amazing life we have access to – so we can joyously live this truth in front of the world.  So they’ll say, “Oh – so that’s what this is about.  Is there room in there for me?”

So where do we start?  With our kids.  “Of course you’d say that!  You make children’s media!”  No, wait.  Hear me out.  I’m a middle-aged Christian.  (It’s true – I am.)  I was raised in the church.  Am I going to raise my hand and say, “Hi, I’m ignorant about my faith – please teach me”?  No, I’m not.  Because that would be really embarrassing.  I grew up in church!  Of course I know my faith!  But wait… my kids.  Do I want them to learn what it really means to be a Christian?  Absolutely.  I mean – they don't know yet!  They’re kids!  Is 20 minutes of Sunday School a week really teaching them everything they need to know about their faith?  Of course not.  And frankly, I’m not sure I’m such a hot teacher either.  I could really use some help with this – for the sake of my kids.

And so it plays out in millions of Christian homes across the country… “We want to teach you more about your faith.”  “No thank you, I'm a grown-up.  I already know it.”  “Okay… We want to help you teach your kids more about your faith.”  “Wonderful!  Come right in!”

The key to raising a generation of Christians who know what it means to live the Gospel in front of the eyes of a watching world is to work WITH parents to teach kids.  The opportunity lies with the next generation.  (Though, quite frankly, a lot of grown-ups will learn a thing or two along the way, if our experience with VeggieTales taught us anything.)

So there is the first problem we are hoping to help solve:  North American Christians are – through no fault of their own – failing to live the Gospel.  Our proposed solution is to help raise a generation that knows their faith, and knows how to live it.

That’s problem #1.  Next I’ll explain problem #2.

Click here to keep reading…

37 CommentsLeave a Comment


  • Reply

    Leslie Cardwell

    12 months ago

    I am eagerly awaiting more news. This sounds like exactly what we need!

  • Reply

    Jeramy

    12 months ago

    It’s amazing how we rag on teenagers because they “think they know everything.” The problem is when you become and adult and you still don’t know everything, “but you think you do because you’ve been around.”

  • Reply

    Nathan Bailey

    12 months ago

    I’m really enjoying this. Keep writing :-)

    Interestingly, it’s a bit like my passion – reaching the world with messages of value through the media they engage with (movies and music, and to a lesser extent, books). I don’t want to preach to people, I just want to ask them a question, make them think, uncover a dilemma. One step at a time, make them think more about their like, meaning, purpose and destiny. No answers, just questions :-)

    What about the ‘net, Web 2.0 and social media. How does a master storyteller like Phil Vischer use resources like facebook, myspace and Second Life to communicate with a new generation?

  • Reply

    Jonathan Parsons

    12 months ago

    Hi Phil,
    I’m a 20 year old Australian who spent almost 6 years of his formative life as a missionary kid in Istanbul Turkey. So I’m not a North American kid or adult. But I agree that, even growing up in a christian missionary community with parents in ministry, I am still learning what my faith in Jesus means. Heck, I hardly know Jesus and I have a bad understanding of who I am in him. But one thing know is that I’m saved by grace. And I can’t do Life without God and Jesus. I really think I’m gonna love what you are doing,, and I pray God will bless you work , ministry and business.

    Seeya,

    Jonathan

  • Reply

    Jonathan Parsons

    12 months ago

    Hi Phil,
    I’m a 20 year old Australian who spent almost 6 years of his formative life as a missionary kid in Istanbul Turkey. So I’m not a North American kid or adult. But I agree that, even growing up in a christian missionary community with parents in ministry, I am still learning what my faith in Jesus means. Heck, I hardly know Jesus and I have a bad understanding of who I am in him. But one thing know is that I’m saved by grace. And I can’t do Life without God and Jesus. I really think I’m gonna love what you are doing,, and I pray God will bless you work , ministry and business.

    Seeya,

    Jonathan

  • Reply

    Scott Mizée

    12 months ago

    Hi Phil,

    I have lived here in Portland, Oregon for five years now. …and my perspective on the ‘Culture War’ and what it means to love and engage in our culture has changed dramatically over the last 4 years. I finished reading your book about a month ago and have been sharing it with others because it seems to resonate so much with what I have been learning from my Pastor, Rick McKinnley, at Imago Dei Community. Although, my wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed Veggietales for the last 10 years, I’m excited to see this new focus of yours with Jellyfish. Thanks for communicating it this way through your blog and I look forward to more when you convey the solution to your burden to us.

    Scott

  • Reply

    Friend

    12 months ago

    Guys, like I said on the last forum, if you want as we go along say what phrase, scene, or character you like on veggie tales and tell us why if you want. ;)

  • Reply

    Richard Smith

    12 months ago

    Amen Phil, this is exciting, can’t wait for the next part, and also I don’t think it is just the North Americans, I see it here in the UK also!

  • Reply

    Melody

    12 months ago

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! And it struck me that I have heard from those who are “experts” that if you want to start getting your unruly children to shape up…you start with the littlest. If you concentrate on being firm and consistent and demand the best from the littlest, the older ones will pick up on it and begin to change as well. I think you’re right that by ministering to the children, you minister to the adults as well. In fact, most of us homeschooling parents will tell you that we are learning more by teaching our kids than we ever learned in school ourselves!

    I can’t wait to read more…and to start on your book!

  • Reply

    Booples.com

    12 months ago

    Hazzah! That’s a big part of why Booples came to be: a friend said her son repeated everything in his videos. I thought ‘let’s get some Bible in those videos.’ But w/ humor. Directly biblical, but not w/o fun. Of course, I’ve heard from as many parents as kids that they’ve learned a verse from the songs. ;)

    I’m trying to present life situations to kids and how the Bible can apply in everyday life… not just church.

    Keep it up!

  • Reply

    Lisa S.

    12 months ago

    You have made some really great points. I love the idea of teaching our faith to our children in a way that will engage us (the parents) as well. For some reason if we adults hear a message in children’s story we tend to become convicted without necessarily becoming prideful.

    Sadly, when I went to my 20 yr HS reunion a few years ago, I ran across an old friend who had actually left his Christian background to become a Buddhist. When I asked him why, his answer left me so sad. He said it was because throughout the last two decades most of the Christians he had come in contact with were angry, judgmental, sanctimonious fakes. While he knew the “stories” about Jesus, and the love that He shared, there was no evidence that Christians truly followed His message of love. Ouch!

    We Evangelicals have been living safely behind this wall…and created our own subculture. Not wanting to mingle with the world, or people who live in the world. But in living this way we have lost touch. We need to steer our children down a path that will enable them and future generations to live out Christ’s Great Commission. And do it in love. But first, they need to learn why we believe what we believe.

    As a parent I would welcome a trusted media source to use as a teaching and entertainment resource. I’m very eager to hear more!

  • Reply

    Friend

    12 months ago

    Phil I have a question, what’s “VT: lessons from the sock drawer”?

    I seen this title at http://videoeta.com/movie/103144

  • Reply

    Tiffany Beth

    12 months ago

    Let it not be said of our kids, “They are what they are because they were never taught any better.”

  • Reply

    Brigitte Rottman

    12 months ago

    I don’t know much, but I know what is intriguing me:

    The non-political Church in America (I think of this “dream-church” like this- the Bride of Christ, who is passionately demonstrating love, and her aroma and bright-shining light draws the world in to see what she lis living for)

    Immovable faith- our generation (the grown-ups) actually believing what we profess- no room for doubt, just sincerely walking out the obedience of our relationship with Jesus, trusting Him as we lay our lives down.

    Pouring our faith into the next generation- standing for them and saying, “You were made with a purpose!”. Showing them that God is good all of the time- not because of where we live, not because of what we have, not because of how we feel… but because He is faithful. His promises are real- He has been consistent and true from the beginning of time- He really is always with us, He really does LOVE us, even when we make miserable mistakes, or don’t understand everything.

    I love the ideas of working with the parents- I pray it will be blessed each step of the way. The creating of materials, the communication, the selling of the products…

    Thanks for your stories- especially Snoodle’s Tale and Wonderful Wizard of Ha’s. I don’t think families can hear enough about our identities in Christ and in the Kingdom- who we really are! How we are really loved.

    Oh, and way to go, declaring your gift of business strategy- it’s in the midst of our mistakes and “failings” that we get refined and our gifts just get better, eh? I think He’s really going to honor your vulnerability, your reflection, and especially your faith!

  • Reply

    Michael Jones

    12 months ago

    Phil… I know of two books that might interest you, if you haven’t read them already:

    Unchristian : what a new generation really thinks about Christianity– and why it matters by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons – contains a lot of hard statistical evidence of the kinds of things you talked about in this blog post, particularly the perception of the Church by the young adult set (both those outside of the Church and those inside it!)

    The culturally savvy Christian : a manifesto for deepening faith and enriching popular culture in an age of Christianity-lite by Dick Staub – talks a lot about the evangelical push to “engage culture” and the failure of that push

    You may well have read both of those… if you told me you were quoting from one or both in this post, I would have believed you. :)

  • Reply

    Kevin

    12 months ago

    Once again, God shows me that I’m on the right track. I couldn’t help reading this with out thinking of where I’m at, right now. Our church is currently going through a transition, from one pastor to the next. My wife and I are currently active in our children’s ministries and seeing many who are involved, burn out. The burn out comes, not from a lack of desire, but from ministry creep (could you help out in the nursery, and the praise team, and the children’s church, and…), and the lack of direction as to each person’s burden. My wife and I are sensing that God is calling us to train up the newer members in our church to 1) Recognize their gifts, 2) Recognize their burden, and 3) Recognize ministry creep before it happens. I guess I’m saying that this post helped me to recognize my burden in a way I hadn’t thought of it before. Not just for my children, but for God’s children. Thanks for letting me set this all out in writing anyway. I can’t wait to see the next post.

  • Reply

    Maegan

    12 months ago

    Hurray and hurrah!
    While I do think the political arena is one that Christians have to take back, I do not think this should be done at the expense of our families.
    It’s one of my favorite things about VT; it’s a family thing. Your ministry flair is one that engages and attracts the whole family. I’m 18 now and I love those movies just as much as I did when I was just a tot.
    I love that you’re putting your ministry focus (which was spot on, if I may say so) out there before you unveil the details…..but, you’re slayin’ me over here! This puppeting dweeb is quite anxious to get the scoop.

  • Reply

    Yorkali

    12 months ago

    On this topic…truer words were never said. I connect with that, immensely! I would love to meet you someday Phil. But if not in this world, I look forward to having jelly-loads of fun in heaven and the new earth with you!

    thanks for staying true despite being hauled through the coals,
    Yorkali

  • Reply

    Bethany

    12 months ago

    That was pretty much the best blog I’ve read in a while, Phil.
    Thanks.

    So how many more blogs til’ the new project is revealed?

  • Reply

    Amy Harder

    12 months ago

    After your post this week, I just had to share…

    Today our 7-year-old came downstairs and asked if she could go and find some new friends so she could share God’s love with them.

    Did my heart good. :)

    Ya’ know, as parents of young children, we continue to struggle with how to raise godly kids that embrace a biblical worldview. It’s a tough thing to do with today’s pervasive your-truth-my-truth-anything-goes-just-don’t-judge-me mindset. And you’re right… many parents have absolutely no clue what they believe or why they believe it. That’s kinda whatcha get when you seek out feel-good, self-help sermons in lieu of solid theology and doctrine. But I suppose I’m preachin’ to the choir. ;)

  • Reply

    mjg

    12 months ago

    Phil,
    For any setback you encountered with VT I think you are 100% the wiser and doing a great service to this generation of wanna be rock stars and movie makers. I set out to be a Christian indie filmmaker and the more I actually attempted the more I realized that focus was wrong and complicated. Yes, people needed to learn more of what being a Christian really means. Yes, movies are a great way to communicate to mass audiences. But somehow it wasn’t at all personal and the state of the buisness and market … Reminds me of a missionary to Mongolia. He told me that they had finished translating the Bible into the native language and that it was for sale in every bookstore in the country. He said that they sold it at a loss but would not freely distribute it becuase the locals would associate that with the propoganda they had lived with for so long and that was not the message they wanted to send.

    Phil, you really put into words and bring clarity to so much of what I feel on this subject. Can’t wait to see your latest opus!

  • Reply

    Kyla

    12 months ago

    Wow, so true. I don’t know if I agree with “by no fault of their own,” but I know the present situation was a mistake. It’s not what was supposed to happen, not what Christians in my parent’s generation meant to produce. It is probably a result of using political means for spiritual ends. It’s better to use spiritual means for spiritual ends, to let the inside change the outside rather than the other way around. Yet I know it is a mistake I could make. I hope you can make an impact, Phil, and soon.

  • Reply

    EJ Watson

    12 months ago

    Wow…

    OK, you (Mr. Lunt) recently quoted a Star Wars movie (A New Hope)…”Stay On Target.”

    Now, it’s my turn (Return of the Jedi)…”That Guy’s Wise!”

  • Reply

    Scott Eash

    12 months ago

    biblicalworldviewmedia.comGood blog post overall. I agree with Amy Harder (above) that we need to raise our children with a biblical worldview. This is vital to changing our culture!

    I want to suggest to you all that a biblical worldview does include a biblical view of politics. Sure, we shouldn’t blow things out of proportion and make politics our primary aim. That wouldn’t be biblical. But it’s also not biblical to disregard politics altogether.

    Mr. Vischer is right that we shouldn’t try to save the culture through politics. However, let’s not take that as a reason to abandon politics altogether. Let’s keep politics in its biblical place.

  • Reply

    sara

    12 months ago

    Thank you, Phil, for helping to restore my hope in this culture by defining what is not working! For so long, I just haven’t been able to put my finger on the source of the problem. It is like knowing there is a leak, but not knowing from where it is coming.
    I am a mommy of 3 lil boys and I am in tears after reading your blog. Your ministry already has meant so much to us, and I’m really excited to see the direction in which you are going.
    We want to leave a legacy for our children…..”Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

  • Reply

    Dan Larabee

    12 months ago

    You sold me on whatever your working on. I’m a Christian teacher and I feel Christianity thinks it is a political party more than about faith and love. We do condemn when we should show love to others. We need to remember that we have been saved even though none of us deserve the salvation that Jesus earned for us by his sacrifice. We should remember that jesus surrounded himself with taxcollectors and prostititutes and motivated them to leave their sinful life’s out of his love not his condemnation (note: He did not condone sin but did forgive it).
    I don’t know what your working on but I support you a hundred and ten percent, Phil. Your faith seems to be sincerely rooted in your heart and pointing in the right direction (and I’m sure you would agree guided by the Lord).
    I have to say that I find you and your work inspiring. I have had some days where I question my calling and when I read what you have to say I see that God is still in control, still working in our hearts, and still leading us where we need to go. Keep up the good work. Let us know how we can support you.

  • Reply

    Cedric Hohnstadt

    12 months ago

    This was an exciting post to read!

    I’m going to take a guess that Problem #2 has something to do with the unfortunate state of Christian education in modern America. It seems to me that the meaty content that was drilled into me in Sunday School has been watered down in much of today’s Sunday School curriculum. There aren’t a lot of quality products out there designed to help teach children and teens the fundamentals of the Bible and theology. I would LOVE to see someone (hopefully you, Phil) create something that uses multimedia to engage kids with rich Biblical and theological content in an entertaining way.

  • Reply

    Mike

    12 months ago

    Awesome stuff. Please keep writing. I’m going to buy your book.
    I’m learning a lot about an Industry I’m about to step into.

  • Reply

    Ori

    12 months ago

    Politics looks almost as if it is designed to take peoples’ attention away from more important things. It is composed of rare, dramatic events (elections, etc.). It makes very few demands, mostly to vote and campaign once every few years. Politicians tend to exaggerate the importance of government programs and therefore themselves to get more votes.

    I think Phil will do a really important job if he can reach kids and convince them to leave politics in its place and focus on what is truly important – the truly important things are usually composed of a lot of small events and require daily commitment.

  • Reply

    ron kerns

    12 months ago

    Been enjoying your posts…
    When you said, “We’ve shown them cranky Christians.”, you hit the nail on the HEAD!….my inlaws, and most others in the church are the MOST negative and “sad” people on the planet! There is absolutely NO JOY in their lives….(at least not from what I can tell)….just one complaint about this or that….

    This is a church, by the way, that has parents who refuse to let their kids watch VeggieTales, because the “biblical stories” are not accurate!….GEEZ! SO WHAT if it was historically impossible for Jerry to get sand in his contacts when the wall of Jericho fell down!

    And, you were correct about the ‘politics’ in Christianity, too. A BIG “turn off” for me…as I only became a christian 15 years ago at age 23…..

    Am going to go read “Episode #3″ of your posts….looking forward to it…

    BTW…LOVED the book!!!!!!

    RON
    Art Director/Graphic Designer

  • Reply

    Ted Kriesel

    11 months ago

    Thanks for the refreshing perspective Phil. I’ll keep reading.

  • Reply

    JC

    11 months ago

    Interesting points. Don’t forget, though, that the young generation is also just completely ignorant of just about everything. I walk into my secular college English classes and I teach them about _harmonia_ and teach very subtly about the role God should play in the arts, and the students just latch on to it. I never preach to them, but I show *in the texts* how the Christian worldview is so much superior to the post-modern worldview.
    “All the writers we read are nuts or commit suicide,” they say.
    And I say, “Yeah, except for Flannery O’Connor, T. S. Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Christians are the happy ones.” They see it themselves. I’ve had students who argued with me for secular worldviews at the beginning of the school year who are now complelely sold on my “deconstruction of deconstructionism.”

  • Reply

    JC

    11 months ago

    Oh, BTW, remember that Sam Walton went bankrupt on two stores before he started a certain discount retailer.

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