By Joani Schultz
Our team recently traveled to watch the surprise summer box-office hit, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? We set out on a community-building afternoon to see the story of Fred Rogers and his 50-year-old TV show. (I’d already seen the film at a documentary film fest. I just knew I had to share it with my co-workers.) I wanted my ministry-minded friends to experience this documentary and visit about our revelations.
Ministry leaders or not, millions are brought to tears by this film.
I wondered why. What is Mr. Rogers’ message?
In a time riddled with vitriol and divisiveness, Mr. Rogers’ gentle, relentless approach to kindness touched viewers. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, used television to deliver messages that touched our hearts. Deeply.
(Idea: Take your ministry team to this movie for a team-building event. We went out to lunch, watched the film, then debriefed it for learnings that apply.)
So, what did Mr. Rogers teach us?
Love your neighbor as yourself.
“Won’t you be my neighbor?” Is a thinly veiled reference to the Bible and Jesus’ encounter when asked what’s the greatest commandment.
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind….and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
So, in loving God, Mr. Rogers demonstrated a profound love for others. Kindness. Authenticity. No judgment.
He dipped his tired feet in a kiddie pool. Then he invited his black friend to join him. At a time of extreme racial tension, where people were literally chasing blacks from swimming pools, Mr. Rogers quietly, kindly, showed acceptance and love.
He loved his neighbor as himself.
Loving others takes a strong sense of security, a love of self, and trust believing our identity in Christ.
Fred Rogers’ book You Are Special: Words of Wisdom for All Ages from a Beloved Neighbor:
“When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed in with the facade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”
Show deep respect to children (and any age!)
We watched Mr. Rogers look into children’s eyes—at their level—and listen. He didn’t mock. He didn’t demean. He showed respect.
What does this look like in our ministries? Respect can happen any time—if we let it. The week after seeing the film, one of our team members had a great opportunity to show respect. She asked her fourth- and fifth-graders if there was anything in their lives that made them feel powerless. (The Sunday school lesson point was “God is powerful.”)
Kids glanced nervously. Would their church be a safe place to share? A courageous child spoke up. He shared his dad got injured defending his mom against a stranger in an altercation.
The teacher stopped right then and there. She prayed for the child. Powerful.
Once the kids realized they were respected—and they could draw upon Jesus’ powers—tons of hands flew up. “My friend had a seizure and hit her head.” “My friend’s mom is being abused by her dad.” “My dog is getting old and dying.”
Our team member said, “My kids were so eager to share, so eager to be prayed for, they listened so well to each other. It was awesome!”
That’s the power of respect.
Mr. Rogers didn’t shy away from difficult issues. He dealt directly with assassination. Illness. War. Death. Mr. Rogers was fearless. He respected children’s ability to handle hard things. His honesty and direct approach worked.
He knew in the face of tough stuff, Jesus is there for us. Be not afraid!
I couldn’t resist sharing this video from someone who used our Shipwrecked VBS this summer. Speaking of respect and fearless, this 2 1/2-year-old had emergency brain surgery to remove a softball-size brain tumor. He sings along with a VBS song:
“Through every storm of life, I know you’re by my side.
So, I’m holding on to your promises.
You are the God who holds my future, all my dreams,
So, I am holding on. You’ll never let go of me.”
(Please pray for little Axton.)
Let’s show respect and love for our neighbor as ourselves.
Let’s take to heart what Mr. Rogers taught us.