by John Hailes/ July 12, 2018
My children’s ministry team and I have watched the recently released documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? This film was an excellent overview of the life and lessons of the children’s television presenter, Mr. Rogers.
Before I dive into this article, I have a confession. I never grew up watching Mr. Rogers. In fact, I hadn’t heard of him until a year ago. His influence didn’t extend to England, and if it had, I would probably have been too young to have seen his shows when they aired. Despite this, I’m glad I watched this documentary, because I was inspired by his method and message, and it left me desperate to write.
It could be argued that Mr. Rogers was many things, but the role that stood out to me was that he was a minister to children. Sure, his platform was different to mine, and he didn’t just speak to kids on Sunday, but his purpose and message were not so different. As I watched the documentary, my mind raced, thinking of the lessons children’s leaders could learn from this incredible man.
Mr. Rogers’ passion stemmed from his frustration at the way other children’s shows lost any message in their method. In fact, he felt like lots of shows were giving the wrong message because of their method. Sometimes in children’s ministry we tend to make the same mistake. We become so consumed in the method (our services and creative elements) that our message to children is muddled, and sometimes lost. His show was very different, and his methods were often slow and boring, yet his message captured kids’ hearts.
Someone remarked that when Mr. Rogers spoke, he communicated to children’s hearts. He didn’t just want to communicate information, but he wanted to see transformation in the way they viewed the world and others. As we attempt to disciple children, we shouldn’t just want them to know God’s Word, but we should also want them to be transformed by it. It is the difference between head knowledge and heart transformation. While we can’t change a child’s heart, we do have a responsibility to provide opportunities for the Holy Spirit to minister to them.
Mr. Rogers created a sense of relationship and community with the children. Many people commented that a child watching the TV program had a real relationship with Mr. Rogers. He cultivated that in the way he affirmed and spoke to the children. Hearts will forever be hardened to our message if we fail to prioritize relationship with our children. All our creativity and fun services will never compare to the impact that feeling known and loved can have.
One thing I noticed about Mr. Rogers from the clips I viewed was that he never shied away from the tough topics. Whether it was death, divorce, differences, or disabilities; he addressed the topics clearly and without lies or deception. As we minister to children, we must ask ourselves, “Are we preparing them for the world they will face?” We must help fill in the gaps in our children’s understanding of tough topics before their imagination does that for them. While we do not wish to bury our children with the worries of the world, we do need to help them face the difficulties and darkness.
I would suggest children’s ministry leaders take a similar approach to that of Mr. Rogers:
After all, aren’t these our primary goals?