If you haven’t seen the recently released biopic about Fred Rogers, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, then don’t worry. I’m not going to spoil anything except to say that it’s wonderful, and also why the heck haven’t you seen it yet? The movie does a wonderful job of displaying Fred Rogers’ brand of thoughtfulness and intentionality. For all of his quiet and calm demeanor, he was a legitimate television star—the kind of star who could compel a train car full of strangers to burst into song. And yet he had an uncanny ability to see people. I mean, really see them. It happens all throughout the film. And it happened in real life.
And there’s a particular scene in the film (No Spoilers! Pinky promise) where Mr. Rogers has a brief but significant moment with another person, and in a handful of words and with an interesting request, Fred manages to call out the value and worth in this other person. And it’s a person you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see have this moment with THE Mister Rogers. But Fred, in a way that was uniquely his, was inclined to move past this person’s disqualifications and see a person deserving of dignity, grace, and value. It’s a beautiful moment, and it might be my favorite part of the film.
On their best days, the kids and students in our small groups may not feel like they amount to much. They’re too small. Too weak. Too without knowledge or understanding. Too busy.
And on their worst days, they may feel too incapable. Too irrelevant. Too weird. Too strange. Too quiet. Too loud. Too unlucky. Too poor. Too privileged. Too without hope. Too without purpose. Too guilty. Too far gone. Too unloveable.
To be a kid or a student means to be relegated to a kind of second-class citizen. You’re dependent on stronger, bigger, smarter people to take care of you. And when you’re young, learning about God, faith, integrity, and acting on what you believe can feel like such lofty ambitions. Being a “good Christian” can feel like the kind of thing that’s only meant for grownups. I mean, kids can’t remember all the stuff they’re supposed to remember like verses, and telling the truth, and sitting with the lonely kid at lunch. And students can’t make a difference in the world when they feel so helpless and tossed around in it. But here’s the thing.
Fred Rogers had the innate ability to look at a person—even a person who didn’t deserve it—and extend the gift of ‘I believe in you. And you are worth believing in.’ And that is a hugely powerful gift. It can change the course of a life. And at the end of the day, isn’t that the job of a small group leader?
To look at your few and see beyond their disqualifications to the heart of the matter.
You’re not too young. You can be kind to your friends.
You’re not too weak. You can stand up for what you believe in.
You’re not too guilty. God is bigger than your mess ups.
You’re not too weird. The things that make you different are your greatest strength.
You’re not too loud. Your boldness is a wonder, and God wants to use it.
You’re not too incapable. You’re right where you’re supposed to be for a special reason.
You’re not without purpose. Your life is a gift to the world and to the people who love you.
It’s easy to look at the life of Fred Rogers and assert that we can’t do the things he did. We can’t impact lives like he did, or instill hope like he did, or validate experiences like he did. But platform and influence don’t have to look the same to be effective. Yes, he had a television program, and he was loved by the world. But his connection was through a screen, and you get to look a kid in the eyes. He did for many what we get to do for a few. And you have the opportunity to look at someone, speak the kinds of words they so desperately long to hear, and call out the gold in people who may feel like they have no gold to speak of.
That isn’t a lesser impact than Fred Rogers. It’s exactly the kind of thing that he tried to empower all of us to do—make a difference in our own neighborhoods, our own schools, our own churches, and at the park down the road. I think Fred Rogers would have a lot of good to say about small group leaders and the impact they can have on the next generation. I think he might’ve even said something like ‘I believe in you. And you are worth believing in.’
This year, do your best to communicate that same beautiful notion to your few. Look at them—really look at them—and make sure they know that you believe in them and that they are worth believing in. Do like Mister Rogers. And like Mister Rogers, you may change the course of a life. Wouldn’t that be something.
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero.” – Fred Rogers