The boring preacher in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood
One time I was talking to a friend and she mentioned that when she first started following Jesus, the Lord greatly used sermons from a certain TV preacher to help her grow in her faith. Personally, I wasn’t impressed with the televangelist.
Granted, I hadn’t actually listened to any of the preacher’s sermons, but that was beside the point. Everybody in my circle agreed that the preaching was little more than motivational speaking with scriptures thrown in.
After my friend mentioned that she still listened to the preacher, I shared my negative opinion (again, recall that I hadn’t actually listened to any of this person’s sermons). I didn’t anticipate the consequences of what I said.
My friend tried to defend the preacher at first but then she let it go. I could sense her disappointment: Maybe those sermons aren’t so great after all. After that, she stopped listening to the televangelist and I was quite proud of myself for pushing her to do so.
As time went by, my impact on her reminded me of this one time I had a song that God had used to show me how much He loved me. I had listened to it over and over again, and it never got old. One day I decided to play it for a friend who listened to it for 30 seconds before dismissing it as Christian contemporary garbage. I still liked the song, but I never appreciated it the same way again. Maybe it wasn’t that great after all.
I’m afraid I did that to my friend who was so blessed by the TV preacher — and for what?
Fred Rogers of the legendary children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood tells the story of another preacher who left him unimpressed:
“I remember so keenly one of the times I learned how individually the Spirit can work,” Rogers said. “It was years ago, and Joanne [the concert pianist who married Rogers in 1952] and I were worshipping in a little church with friends of ours, another husband and wife. We were on vacation, and I was in the middle of my homiletics course at the time.”
“During the sermon I kept ticking off every mistake I thought the preacher — he must have been 80 years old — was making,” he continued. “When this interminable sermon finally ended, I turned to my friend, intending to say something critical about the sermon. I stopped myself when I saw the tears running down her face.”
“She whispered to me, ‘He said exactly what I needed to hear.’ That was a seminal experience for me,” Rogers remembered. “I was judging and she was needing, and the Holy Spirit responded to need, not to judgment.”
I hate to admit the number of times I’ve put down certain Christian books, preachers, movies, or music that I deemed too shallow, too cheesy, or not quite in line with the finer points of my theology. I don’t recall ever feeling the Holy Spirit move through me in power when I was doing that. Instead, I usually just felt a strong sense of smugness.
Scripture tells us, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29). It also tells us to “let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).
I believe that we should humbly call out toxic ministries and frauds. But it’s hard to see how I’m building up anyone by putting down Christian ministry that leaves me unimpressed. Who am I to evaluate someone else’s offering?
We ought to tread very lightly when taking on critical attitudes towards other believers and their attempts to build others. The Holy Spirit may be responding to someone else’s need, and if so, we will inevitably grieve Him with our judgment.