Fleshing out underwritten characters

My newest pop culture obsession is the Gilmore Guys podcast, which features two men in their 20s discussing each episode of the now-defunct series Gilmore Girls. It is by turns hilarious (though I do need to slap a language warning on this endorsement) and deep with discussions about gender and race, entitlement and selflessness. The hosts, Kevin and Demi, are employed behind the scenes in the entertainment business, so they use some writing and production jargon.

At times Kevin and Demi have noted that some of the minor-but-recurring characters are “underwritten,” meaning the show’s creators missed an opportunity to give them a lot more dimension. That term caught my attention, and I began to wonder where the underwritten characters are in church life. Maybe they’re the folks we call on to help with one particular ministry, even though they have other gifts to share. Maybe they are our antagonists, the people we have trouble empathizing with because we haven’t grasped their deeper motives and backstory. Or maybe we as ministers seem underwritten to our parishioners because they can’t imagine us “out in the wild” (e.g., at a concert, or even in the grocery store).

How then do we flesh out our perceptions of underwritten characters, and how do we let the people in our care see our complexity?

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