I have recently been fixated on “Encanto,” the latest animated offering from Disney. It is, I believe, saturated in the gospel message—and contains at least one important lesson for ministry.
“Encanto” centres on the Madrigals, a family that lives in a remote community in Colombia. Each member of the family has a magical gift: one daughter can lift huge burdens, another can make flowers grow, the mother can heal people with her cooking. Presiding over it all is the grandmother, Abuela (apparently her name but also her position in the family). For Abuela, the magical gifts are to be used in service of the community. As she sings in the first song: “We swear to always / Help those around us / And earn the miracle, / That somehow found us.” In other words, the family needs to work to justify the magical gifts they’ve been given. They do this by unceasingly serving others.
The trouble is that this vision of service is putting tremendous pressure on members of the family. The daughter who can lift huge burdens sings, “Under the surface / I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service… / Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?” It’s not just this one daughter. Other family members are contorting themselves in ways that aren’t true to who they are so they can serve others. Their magical house begins to crack, a metaphor for the pressure placed on family members from the need to give, give, give all the time.
Without totally spoiling the movie, let me just say that this tension is resolved. And it’s resolved in a way that is strikingly obvious and yet which the family seems to have missed for many years. Rather than constantly giving to the community, the family needs to learn to receive from them as well. In the movie’s final song, the whole community comes marching up to the Madrigals singing, “Lay down your load / We are only down the road / We have no gifts, but we are many / And we’ll do anything for you.” Abuela affirms in that song a change in her view: “The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got / The miracle is you, not some gift, just you.” Family members can now be made right by the fullness of who they are, not by what they give to others.
I read this movie as a parable of salvation by grace and the ultimate frustration of any efforts to be made right by our deeds. But it is also a warning about ministry. There can be great pressure in ministry to constantly give—of our time, energy, focus, money, labour, health. The world is a bottomless pit of need and there is no shortage of opportunities to give. If we can serve others with our gifts, why not give? There is something deeply holy about this. But it’s also incomplete. The vision of the church in the New Testament is one in which people are constantly giving and receiving. That’s what Paul is talking about when he teaches the Corinthians about the body of Christ. And sometimes what we receive comes from an unexpected source: “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor. 12:22).
On days when the demands of ministry can seem overwhelming and burdensome, I try to ask myself, “In this situation or relationship, what is it that I have to receive?” And if I listen closely enough, I hear coming back, often from unexpected places, “Lay down your load. Let’s work together on this.”
This message was written by Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.