Find out why Phil Vischer says that “none of the things that actually changed my life at my church cost anything at all.”
My church celebrated its 50th birthday recently, and it got me thinking. Thinking about a junior high boy who first walked through those doors on Easter Sunday in 1980. It was a smallish church in a dorky building in the middle of cornfields. We were new in town, and we were looking for a church home. A smashed marriage had driven us out of Iowa to Illinois, and now we were looking for warm faces and open arms—refugees fleeing a war no one else had witnessed, bearing deep wounds no one else could see.
We settled on that place. And those people. And 36 years later, we’re still there. Thirty-six years in the same place, with the same people. It’s so countercultural it’s practically un-American. But there we are still to this day.
Well, the only thing I can say is that this smallish church in the middle of cornfields played a huge role in my life. I was a needy kid when I walked in the door, still bearing shrapnel from the explosion of my family in Iowa. Deep wounds left me walking with a metaphorical limp. But I found community in the tiny kids’ group. I found warmth in the faces of volunteers who cared. I found lively conversations that helped me secure my faith in those crucial moments when a young man or woman must either own or reject his or her inherited beliefs.
I made films with the other kids in the youth group. We showed them to the whole church. After my first year of college a church friend, knowing my interest in filmmaking, mentioned an internship opportunity at a local video production company. That internship turned into my first job, as well as the laboratory for my early experiments in filmmaking and computer animation, effectively changing the course of my life.
What’s my point?
By the late 1990s, the cornfields around our little church had been replaced with subdivisions and shopping malls, Starbucks, and Whole Foods. The church expanded its building multiple times as the surrounding population grew larger and wealthier. But none of that was the case during my formative years. There was no paid children’s or youth minister. No video screens or highly produced worship. The basement leaked. The building was odd. There was no “show.” There was nothing that would attract a crowd or impress a stranger.
So what changed my life? Well, God, in a nutshell. But that’s not the whole answer. God changed my life—through relationships, my peers in the ministry group, and the volunteers (some barely older than we were). And he changed my life through the older folks in the church who encouraged us and applauded our films when we showed them. They pointed us toward God and knew us well enough to think of us when they heard about internships in our areas of interest.
As I look back, I realize none of the things that actually changed my life at my church cost anything at all. They required no money. No resources. No fancy buildings, fancy equipment, or fancy intentions. They simply required people showing up and being the body of Christ. Loving on a young boy with a limp.
It’s not about the show. It’s about you and me and God’s amazing ability to show up whenever we gather together in love.
Phil Vischer created VeggieTales to teach Christian values to kids in 1990 when he was 24, and he sold more than 50 million videos. Today, Vischer pursues innovative ways to integrate faith and storytelling through series such as Buck Denver Asks…What’s in the Bible? and the all-new Galaxy Buck (philvischer.com).