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The Messengers: Sages of the Small Screen

By Belinda Elliott Daily Life Producer

CBN.comWhen American Idol producers first struck gold with their idea to allow audiences to choose America’s next great singer, the producers here at came up with our own idea for a hit reality show. What if someone created a show to find America’s next great preacher? Contestants from across the U.S. could gather, preach a sermon, and be voted on by America.

You have to understand that in a department filled with creative folks, our wheels are always turning. We may not have a lot of good ideas, but we definitely have a lot of ideas. We even had a great idea for the name of the new program. It could be called The Great American Preach Off. Okay, maybe the name needed some work, but the show could definitely be a winner!

It turns out that we aren’t the only ones who thought so. Fast forward three years to the present day. This weekend The Learning Channel (TLC) will debut its newest reality show, The Messengers. According to the show’s producers, their goal is “to find America’s next great inspirational speaker.”

The Messengers, which premieres Sunday night at 10 p.m. (ET/PT), will showcase 10 speakers with diverse backgrounds and belief systems. The ten finalists for the show were chosen from the 650 people who auditioned at try-outs held in four U.S. cities. A sampling of the roster includes an actress/apartment manager, a social worker, a poet, a minister, a filmmaker/Yogi, a Muslim youth lecturer, and a spiritual guide. Each week the group will be given a topic that will be the theme of their speeches. The way they are assigned these topics is quite interesting.

In each episode the group goes on what the show’s producers call a “field trip.”  Actually, it is an assignment to live in challenging circumstances and experience life in someone else’s shoes for a short time. For instance, in the first episode the speakers are driven to Los Angeles’ Skid Row and dropped off to live on the streets for 24 hours. The theme for their speeches that week is charity.

During some of the other field trips contestants will live as paraplegics in a wheelchair, navigate L.A.’s Union Station as a blind person, work on a family-owned farm as a migrant worker, and visit the L.A. County Coroner’s Office to observe what happens to deceased people who have no one to claim or identify them. After the trip to the coroner’s office the contestants will compose a eulogy for the “John Doe” that they observed.

Two panelists will judge each speaker and offer critiques of the speeches. Panelist Bobby Schuller is the Pastor of Emergent Ministries at the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California. Schuller said in a taped promotion for the show that he is excited about the new program because “it offers something that nothing else on TV offers and that is to be moved spiritually."

The other panelist, Richard Green, is a speech advisor and public speaking analyst. He is also the author of Words That Shook the World.

After the speakers are critiqued by the panelists, the studio audience votes to choose their favorite speaker. Each week one contestant will be eliminated from the show. The winner receives a book deal and a television special on TLC.

I will admit that some Christians may be turned off by the fact that the speakers represent worldviews that disagree with their own. Indeed, it should be interesting to hear from Iman Mafi, a financial advisor and Muslim youth lecturer, or Karen Michel, a yoga practitioner. But perhaps the show will offer something that Christians can find value in.

After watching a recent promo DVD for the show I was struck by what the contestants had to say. It seems that the field trips they took impacted them greatly. For some, it even changed their lives.

As they met with homeless people on the streets of L.A. they also met with their sense of hopelessness and despair. Later in their speeches, they recount these emotions explaining to the audience that a huge number of homeless people make their living on streets across America every day feeling abandoned by society. “It can happen to you,” they tell the audience as they plea with them to get involved in helping change their world.

The show’s producers also seem intent on helping people change their world. After each episode the show’s creators post “Take Action Resources” on their Web site for viewers to learn more about the topic and how they can help. The Web site lists books and films about the topic as well as organizations that viewers can partner with in their community.

Contestants said that their experiences on the show have made them become more loving, more aware of needs within society, and more willing to become involved in helping meet those needs.

One speaker commented, “I'm more than changed, I'm corrected.”

Another declared, "We have to become the messengers in our own community.”

A third speaker said the experience changed how she lives. "It's about living life at a higher level.”

Perhaps the comment that best expresses why I am excited about this show came from the speaker who said, “Being a messenger means standing up for what you believe in.” As Christians, that is a message that we can all take to heart. Each day we should consider what messages our words and actions are conveying to the world around us.

Is this column a ringing endorsement of the show? Definitely not. I haven’t even seen a complete episode yet. But I do plan to tune in on Sunday to see what lessons, if any, The Messengers may provide.

And who knows, perhaps “America’s next great inspirational speaker” may turn out to be one of the Christians on the show who can then turn around and proclaim God’s truth on their own TLC television special. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

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