By Eddie Pipkin

This blog is about Charlie Brown ministry.  Charlie Brown ministry is when you take something that has been overlooked, ignored, discarded, rejected or otherwise not appreciated and instead make it the focus of your attention, thereby giving it beauty in the process.  This metaphor for ministry is based on the 1964 animated classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which the titular sad-sack character is tasked with finding the perfect Christmas tree to decorate for the kids’ Christmas pageant.  He selects a pitiful tree, so weak and scrawny that it leans precariously after the addition of just one, simple ornament.  Initially, the other kids make fun of Charlie and his sad, little choice, but remembering the true spirit of Christmas they return to decorate the tree, and in doing so with love and togetherness, the tree becomes beautiful.

It’s my favorite modern Christmas parable — a timeless classic, anchored by Linus’ famous reading of the Luke 2 nativity story.  And Charlie’s rediscovery of the “true meaning of Christmas” is a reminder of just how we’re supposed to do ministry.

Confession time: I love this story so much that for years I have foisted it on my family — literally.  Every year, we go together to get a live tree to decorate.  But we don’t spend a long time on the lot holding up dozens of candidates and analyzing them from every angle until we find the perfect specimen.  Oh, no . . . inspired by my hero, CB, I lead them all straight to the scrawniest, most awkward tree we can find –usually cast off to one side, lonely and abandoned — and that’s the tree we purchase.  Then we take it home, play carols, drink cocoa, and bedeck it with lights, garland, and our trove of family ornaments, and — behold! — it becomes a unique thing of beauty!

I don’t mean to imply that this tree is ever going to be featured in a decorating magazine — it’s not: we also hang the 3rd grade macaroni ornaments on the front of it — but it sure makes my heart happy every time I walk by it.  It reminds me of the power of intentionality to lead to transformation.  (After all, who but a profoundly creative God would make a teenage girl and a bunch of shepherds the centerpieces of a narrative that changed the world?)

We measure a lot of things in ministry — oh, how we love to count things!  But it is very, very difficult to measure “opportunity cost”: the impact of missed opportunities.

When we overlook people, we miss possibilities.  When we fail to take a chance on individuals because they don’t fit our expectations, fulfill our view of who can be successful, or meet the standard template for someone who is useful in ministry, we may be shortening the story prematurely.

If you’re striving to produce “decorator magazine” ministry, picture perfect in every way, this advice is probably not going to be very useful to you.  But if you want to see the glory of God shine in unexpected ways, it can be a path to unanticipated expressions of grace.  The only essential element in any potential candidate for ministry involvement is a heart to serve.  When we surround the servant-hearted with nurturing love and adorn them with the skills we can teach and the guidance of good leadership, they can shine.  This is the difference between slapping up a banner that says “All Are Valued” and living it out in a way that builds a culture of value.

And when we employ our Charlie Brown ministry radar and make it a point to gather up the awkward, the shy, and the misfits, some miraculous things can happen:

  • New perspectives shine through.
  • Unexpected talents are revealed.
  • We learn humility and are reminded of our core values.
  • People who are in our circles of worship and ministry who are struggling to find their way are reminded that they, too, are valued (because they see others like themselves being valued).
  • When we’re not all “ministry insiders,” we take more time to think about why and how we’re dong what we’re doing (and we’re better at explaining those things to others).
  • This is a harder model, so we are required lean more fully into God’s wisdom and grace to get the work done, growing more as disciples and leaders, ourselves, in the process.

Keep in mind that Charlie Brown’s depressed little tree is an analog for Charlie Brown, himself.  By doing the work of believing in the value of something that society has decided has no value, he awakens the sense of value within his own heart and inspires other to join him in that work, bringing a renewed sense of value and connection to the greater community.  If that’s not a model for ministry, I don’t know what is!

Even the secular world understands the perspective-shifting power of thinking the best of each individual we encounter.  I came across this article which touted the one “life-changing habit” that can radically boost your mood, keep your mind more positively focused, and make you stand out in the crowd!  Choosing to assume the best (rather than suspecting the worst) of everyone we meet!

This is, of course, as Luke 2 (and the story of the baby Jesus grown to adulthood) reminds us, how God sees us: uniquely valued and full of potential.  We understand that we should see each person through God’s eyes.  But don’t miss the other lesson for Charlie Brown ministry.  Charlie Brown doesn’t just see the potential in the little tree: he acts on it.

We are called not just to see the potential in people.  We are called to engage them.  To put them to work (and not just by slotting them according to our needs, but by helping them live out their own story).  Imagine how the world would be changed if we built an army of the awkward — because, after all, EVERYBODY is awkward in some way.

What are the ways you have been blessed by letting unlikely people take roles in your ministry?  How have you seen God’s grace surprisingly revealed when you were less focused on the perfection of plans and more focused on relationships with people — even awkward, struggling people?  Fill our stockings with some stories in the comments section!

Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Excellence in Ministry Coaching!