All I Really Need to Know About Ministry I Learned from Daniel Tiger


Post Author: Molly Field James

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two young girls sitting in car seats in the back seat of a car, smiling and watching a program on a screen mounted on the back of the front seats

Sofia and Nadia, daughters of the Rev. Angela Flanagan, enjoy educational programming on a long car ride.

One day in the preschool carpool, the kids asked to listen to Daniel Tiger. I found myself listening to the familiar tunes with new ears. I thought of the classic book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and wondered if perhaps we could say something like this for ministry. Perhaps those songs could apply to ministry and life in the Church too? So, dear fellow Christians, particularly those in positions of Church leadership, I invite you to consider some lessons from Mister Rogers and Daniel Tiger to enrich our life together:

What Do You Do with the Mad that you Feel?

Feelings. They come. Sometimes in the Church we try to deny that they are there, but then those big feelings rear their heads in ugly ways. When that happens, we have a tendency in Church to think that we just have to tolerate it, even when big feelings are expressed in inappropriate, hurtful, and harmful ways. Being Church does not mean we have to tolerate unjust or inappropriate behavior. It means that we speak truth in love and call each other to be our best selves. We need to learn how to recognize our feelings and then express them appropriately. This is where Daniel Tiger can help. When we’re facing challenging conversations or situations – when we feel like we’re about to roar – wouldn’t it help to take a deep breath and count to four?

Friends Help Each Other

No matter our age, our ordination status, or our place in the hierarchy, we are all in this together. We all want to have happy lives. We want to thrive. We want our children’s future to be better. How do we live this out? We realize that we are all in this together. Working together in Church isn’t always easy. When conflicts arise, do we assume the best of each other? How can we be even more generous, and build each other up, rather than fighting over resources, or affirmation? As the body of Christ, we have to recognize our reliance on each member, and Daniel reminds us that friends help each other.

Look a Little Closer . . .

It is a widely held principle among Sociologists and Psychologists that the way to undo stereotypes is to get to know someone in that group. When we are afraid, it is so tempting to back away and distance ourselves. What if instead we followed Daniel’s advice and engaged? What if we looked a little closer? Just like turning the light on to discover that the “monster” under the bed is just a stuffed animal, we can learn more about those things that initially make us fearful. What if we did this as a Church?

When We Do Something New, Let’s Talk About It

Change is often difficult to deal with in many ways, and especially so in the Church. We resist being taken out of our comfort zone. It can be easier to say no to new ideas, but that does not serve us. How can we grow if we do not learn? And in order to learn, we need to try new things. What if we talked about it together? Think about how much it helped when you were a kid to have that mentor or friend or big sister who told you what high school was going to be like. Or in our adult lives, consider how much it helps when people lay out clear expectations. Sometimes taking extra time to talk together can break down our fears and open us up to new ideas.

Everyone is Big Enough to Do Something

This isn’t just about height or physical ability. We are the Church. This means that everyone is welcome, and everyone has a place at the table. Beyond that, everyone can have a role in the community. No matter one’s age, physical or mental abilities, each person is of value and has something to contribute to the good of the community. What if we made more of an effort to make sure everyone was included? We need to go beyond saying “All are welcome!” to actually live out that welcome and inclusion in all aspects of our worship and community life.

There are Potties Everywhere!

Now, you may very well be wondering what a song about potty training has to do with ministry. Really this is a lesson about self-care. Daniel wants kids to be sure to stop and take care of their bodily needs. If your body is telling you something (you are thirsty, hungry, exhausted, or that you need to use the bathroom) respect that and take care of yourself. Like the flight attendants remind us, we have to put our own oxygen masks on first, before we can help someone else.

Saying You’re Sorry is the First Step. Then, “How can I help?”

It is inevitable that we will all fall short. Call it sin, call it failure, call it making mistakes – no one is perfect. We all make wrong choices sometimes, and sometimes our choices hurt others, even if we don’t mean to inflict any harm. The question is what we do when that happens. Daniel reminds us that first, we need to apologize, and then we need to make amends. May we be able to remember this even in the midst of our own anger and hurt

When Something Seems Bad Turn it Around

The temptation to give in to fear and anxiety is real. It’s all around us. And yet, we are an Easter people. We are a people of hope. We can trust that God is at work and that all is not lost. We can follow Daniel’s invitation to look for the good in a situation, and point to the hope that we see. As Mr. Rogers said, in the midst of scary or dark situations, “look for the helpers.”

While We Wait, We Can Imagine Anything

Waiting is such a big part of our lives. In the biggest sense, Christians believe that we are all waiting return of Christ, when there will be peace and reconciliation with God and with all of Creation. In the meantime, whether we are in line at a coffee shop, or holding hands to pray with someone as they wait for surgery, Daniel reminds us that we can be creative with the wait. We might as well find ways to make it enjoyable or meaningful. If we can find the gifts and the benefits of having some time to wait and reflect, we might even come to agree with Thomas Friedman and say to a friend, “Thank you for being late.


Seeds for this article were planted when the Rev. Dr. Molly Field James was driving the preschool carpool. As those seeds took root and continued to grow, other young clergy women mothers added to the list, resulting in this compilation.


Image by: Angela Flanagan
Used with permission
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