Talking tomatoes and cucumbers and Southern Baptists. On the surface, they may not seem similar. However, I think I may have discovered some similarities.
A few weeks ago I attended a pastors leadership group in Jacksonville. The comaradarie was nice and the discussions were challenging. We weren't there to discuss church growth strategies or brag about new buildings, baptisms, finances, or any of the other things that often come up when pastors get together. (This was refreshing - a group of pastors who weren't gathering to brag on themselves or their churches. Does that make me prideful in that I'm proud I was in a group that wasn't prideful. Ah, the challenge of sanctification.) The purpose was to challenge and minister to each other as pastors, men and friends. We discussed our individual journeys of faith and calling and noticed some similarities. It seems that all of us have experienced a "wilderness" experience at some point early in ministry. Those times are terrible when experiencing them, but necessary as God refines us.
Anyway, as we finished up our gathering, the leaders handed each of us a book to read. We were to read it before our next gathering. I expected another Ed Stetzer or Reggie McNeal book or something else on missional growth (BTW - I like those books, so that's not a shot) but was surprised when we were handed a copy of Phil Vischer's 2006 story of the rise and fall of VeggieTales. The book is titled Me, Myself and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables. Honestly, I thought this would be about the worst book to read. Now, I like VeggieTales as much as the next guy. I am humming the theme song right now. I think of Larry every time I need a hairbrush, but seriously - this book for pastors?
Well, being a good team member, I took the book home and after a week or so, cracked it open to see what it was about. I was drawn in. I couldn't put it down. I read it quickly and found myself relating to much of what Vischer was talking about.
Since finishing the book, I've quoted it online and in sermons.
I even encouraged my associate pastors to read it. One of them called me today and said he started the book yesterday and had to finish it. He was amazed. He brought my attention to the following portion on page 220. It is the portion of the book regarding the lessons learned from the bankruptcy of Big Idea and the auction of all things Veggie to another company. I'll just print it here. . .
Then we attempted to launch our second series, 3-2-1 Penguins. We hired additional artists to build a dedicated team, keeping pay scales in line with the VeggieTales team, of course. As a result, 3-2-1 Penguins inherited the cost structure of the "hit" series VeggieTales. And it never had a chance.
Two years later, a new executive team arrived to save the bloated, sagging company. What did they immediately realize? Big Idea's animation studio was just too expensive for our business model. We could crut our production costs by a third, they estimated, by outsourcing our animation to any of a number of competent studios in Canada. And so the ax fell, and all those great animators lost their jobs. Some of them remarked on their way out that they would gladly work for less money if they could keep working on the shows they loved with the team they loved. But it was too late. The damage had been done.
It's a pretty eye-opening and sobering story. The characters in the story are not just characters, they are real people. People who had bought into a dream, a vision, a plan, but lost focus and somewhere along the way entered crisis mode. Consequently, jobs were lost, changes were made, a new team of advisors and leaders came in to clean it all out, but as Vischer said "It was too late. The damage had been done."
My associate pastor asked if that was the case with the SBC? I didn't know where he was going at first, but he continued to explain that with all that is coming with the Great Commission Resurgence and the Florida version (Imagine If. . .Great Commission Resurgence) being implemented, does it not look like what is being described in this story about VeggieTales.
We all know that numerous people have lost their jobs in an effort for agencies and conventions to cut costs. I do not think that these decisions have been easy. I feel for those who have had to make the hard decisions as well as those who are no longer employeed by either the denominational agency, Baptist convention or associaton.
Hard questions are having to be answered. In some cases, there are things that God has called the church to accomplish and the church just has not stepped up to the task. I believe wholeheartedly in the Cooperative Program and networking, cooperative churches and ministries. However, I do fear that just as some believers give their offerings to the church with the mentality that "I've given my money. It's the pastor's job to do all the evangelism, discipleship and ministry," that some of our churches have shirked the responsibilities given by God with the false justification of "I've given to CP, so it's the convention or NAMB, or the IMB or our association's job to do the task."
Don't hear what I'm not saying (thanks Reggie McNeal for that statement.) I am not for trashing all our denominational offices, convention roles, agencies or associations. However, as I shared with some pastors earlier this week - like it or not, change is coming. We had better prepare for the "new normal."
I go back to Vischer relating to something he said about vision. We all like the verse in Proverbs 29:18 where it says that where there is no vision the people perish. Have you noticed that in most every modern, English translation, the word "vision" is replaced by "revelation." That's not an editorial change for the sake of change. It's that the word "vision" meant something different in King James' day than it does today. Today it relates to something you or I can create in our mind and then, by following all the leadership gurus of our day, proclaim our "vision" and lead to reach this task.
However, in King James' day, the word meant something different. It meant "revelation." Guess that's why the newer translations use that term. What's the difference between a vision and a revelation in our modern language? Vision comes from our own creative minds. Revelation is given to us from God. So, what Big Idea and VeggieTales learned the hard way was that apart from a revelation from God, people are unrestrained and perish.
It's been made clear through numerous reports that our model is dated and some changes are needed. Messengers to the SBC and to the state convention have affirmed that changes must come. The question that all involved are asking is "Is it too late?"
I, for one, do not believe it's too late? Why, because the SBC is not just another company or organization. However, there is danger of acting like just another business.
As changes come, join with me in praying for the health of our denomination, but also, maybe more importantly, for the men and women impacted by changes.
Phil Vischer shares that he asks a lot of "What if?" questions. We don't want to find ourselves asking "What if we listened more closely to God's voice?"
We need revelation from God and total focus on Him as we seek to not just implement the changes recommended by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, but to live fully as men, women and churches of God.