So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Believing that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was his way of “repairing creation,” Fred Rogers was intensely serious about his work. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, that sense of calling heavily influenced Rogers’s motives for his work as well as what he produced on-air. But his faith also influenced how he went about his work in three prominent ways.
First, before Rogers left for work each morning, he committed himself to the reading of Scripture. Without daily reminding himself of the gospel, Rogers would have been unable to effectively demonstrate the love of Christ on television. As one of Rogers’s former staffers once said, “I think [Fred] had very Christlike qualities, and that is part of what drew children. Children know a fraud more than anyone….He was one of the most authentic and Christlike people that I have ever known.”
Second, once Rogers arrived at the studio each day, he would pray over his work and that of his team’s. As Rogers once said, “I’m so convinced that the space between the television set and the viewer is holy ground. And what we put on the television can, by the Holy Spirit, be translated into what this person needs to hear and see, and without that translation it’s all dross as far as I’m concerned. When I walk in that studio door each day, I say, ‘Dear God, let some word that is heard be Yours.’” So, while Rogers worked hard at communicating the gospel through his work, he ultimately relied on the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of his audience.
Finally, Rogers’s faith compelled him to work with an “iron insistence upon meeting the highest standards without qualification.” But Fred Rogers’s definition of excellence was quite different from other children’s television producers at the time who focused on elaborate sets, flashy special effects, and the highest “production value.” None of these things were “essential” in Rogers’s eyes. As a quote on his desk constantly reminded him, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Fred Rogers’s exacting standards applied to how he and his staff loved people on and off-air and how well the show communicated difficult concepts to children. Rogers was known for scripting out every single word of Neighborhood and rewriting scripts in the middle of production to ensure they were speaking in the clearest and most loving terms to the show’s television neighbors. Fred Rogers believed that because we are called to do our work for the glory of God and the good of others, only our most excellent work will do.
Whether you’re called to create a TV show, a book, a business, or a new process at work, the fact is that all of us have been called to be “repairers of creation”—influencing culture for the sake of the gospel. I pray we can all learn from Fred Rogers’s example and allow our God-given calling to change the way we think about why we work, what we create, and how we live out our vocations.