The best Christian ministry show on television today is not on a Christian network and does not star the head of a major media ministry. It will not be featured at the National Religious Broadcasters convention this February, and it has no product sales, call for prayer or Scripture references. No, for my money, the absolute best Christian ministry show on TV today is ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Surprised? Just think about it. What is ministry anyway? The dictionary defines it as “the act of serving or acting as an agent for the benefit of another.” The term assumes relevance and impact and problem solving.
Relevance is applicability to or connection with real-world issues, present-day events or the current state of society. Hmm … connection with real-world issues, present-day events or the state of society. ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition certainly comes through by this definition. They select a family each week that is suffering in some way, and even though the house is not usually the major issue in their lives, a new one certainly wouldn’t hurt. They connect with the issues of poverty and suffering and use their considerable influence (and bankroll) to solve at least some of those problems.
Many Christian programs today, by contrast, are not dealing with real-world issues, present-day events or the state of society unless you are willing to call “church” the society. These programs might talk about poverty and suffering, but you rarely see the talker doing much of anything. The programs are much too myopic to really, truly understand the audience or to be able to relate to them. Many Christian programs are caught in no-man’s land—too bent on ministry to be very entertaining and trying so hard to be entertaining that they rarely really minister. You throw in the clothes, the hairstyles, the jewelry, the language, the television sets—who in our society can really relate to these people except other television ministers?
Now let’s look at Extreme Makeover. They actually go into a situation and change lives. They completely design and build (in one week) a home tailored to the specific needs and desires of a needy family. It’s not just getting them a Habitat for Humanity home (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but they are building with excellence, top drawer and high quality.
Is it working? It’s one of ABC’s top programs right now in the highly sought after Sunday evening time slot. Sears signed on early as a high-visibility sponsor, but now with the show’s success, Ford, Dell and others are fighting for the chance to pour money into this program: “We like helping poor people too!”
Although my sense is that there is some Christian influence in the production of this program, it is definitely understated. They’re not trying to make some kind of religious statement here—they are out to change lives and entertain an audience at the same time. But what about the volunteers, the communities where the home is located, the sponsors, the viewers? Are their lives changed too? Maybe not all of them, but you can bet that this program is making an impact. I can’t be that different from most people; the program ends, I’ve got tears in my eyes, and I’m thinking, How can I make a difference in my neighborhood?
I believe that this is the absolute best use of the media—Christian or secular—to use the power of television to tell a story to make an impact and to change lives. Of course, the worst thing that could happen (and it probably will happen) is that some Christian network will try to make the “Christian” version of the program. God help us.
I recall watching the Extreme Makeover season premier and noticing an interesting thing. The program centered on a single mom and her three daughters in the Great Northwest. Evidently the mom was widowed and raising her three girls on her own. Their house burned down and not only would their homeowner’s insurance policy not cover the cost of replacing their home, it wouldn’t even cover the cost of razing the old burned-out home. So you’ve got this mom and her daughters living in a shell of a bed and breakfast facility that they had started building years before. There’s exposed wiring, little or no insulation, no oven, cooking on a hot plate, everyone sleeping in the same room and the only bathroom is an outhouse in the back yard!
Extreme Makeover and their sponsors not only built them a home equipped with all the latest and greatest, but included a beautiful section in the back of the house with its own entrance, two bedrooms and two bathrooms to be used as the bed and breakfast. But that’s not all, the contractor’s company donated money to the mom to pay off her existing mortgage on the burned-out home. And they worked with some other businesses and individuals in the community to raise more than $70,000. They presented the mom with the check to be used as the girls’ college fund. Just incredible—and this is from a secular station!
During a break in the program, I surfed to see what else was on. In Tulsa, Okla., where I live, a Christian station is right next to the ABC affiliate. Well, it just happened to be “fund-raising” time on this Christian network. So I watched in disbelief while a couple of “hired guns” proceeded to try to convince me that I ought to give my money to them/the network. They went on and on about how I would be blessed beyond measure if I could just turn loose of some coin and send it their way.
OK. What’s wrong with this picture? The non-Christian station is going into the community and changing the life of a desperate family. They build the family a brand new home, tear down the old home, pay off the old mortgage and set up a fund for the girls’ college. Secondarily, they bring the community together behind a common cause, make everyone feel good about reaching out and helping their fellow man, AND make an entertaining program that attracts a huge audience and has sponsors standing in line just wanting to get in on the feel good.
Meanwhile, the Christian station is spending money to try to get the audience to send THEM money. I suppose you could make the argument that the network helps people by broadcasting the Gospel message. I suppose you could say that the network sends out a message of hope to a desperate audience looking for answers. Yeah, I guess you could say that, but compared with the other program, you’d have to admit that argument doesn’t hold much water.