Rethink Church

Stop teaching spiritual gifts, watch Encanto instead

The Madrigal family from Disney's "Encanto"
The Madrigal family from Disney's "Encanto"

[Spoiler Warning for "Encanto"]

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. [1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (NRSV)]

There is not a shortage of material for discerning your purpose, calling or gifts for serving in the church. Several more resources are released each year. But we can finally call it quits on developing the latest, greatest look at spiritual gifts in the church. Step aside, Rick Warren - "Encanto" has perfectly shown us how to live a purpose-driven life as the Body of Christ. It reveals how we can release harmful expectations and release our true gifts. Oh, "Encanto’s" got bops, too.

TELLING THE STORY ABOUT THE STORY

"Encanto" pitched itself pretty poorly as the story about the only non-magical family member who lives in a magical house with her magical family. What the trailer didn’t show was that "Encanto" was going to present one of the most approachable and relatable family dramas ever put on-screen. Few have enough dolla-dolla bills to relate to Succession. And most families don’t have the comedic timing of [insert generic sitcom here]. But whether it’s by blood, bond, or Bible, I can’t imagine a more universal story of familial strife than in the family Madrigal of "Encanto".

The movie introduces us to Mirabel, the non-magical girl, as she figures out her place in the world. After a refugee situation  leaves  Abuela Alma widowed with triplets, a miraculous candle (Pentecost anyone?) blasts away her pursuers and imbues her and her three children (and their home) with magical gifts. As the family grows, each of the grandchildren go through a downright religious ceremony where they vow to use their powers for good. They then step through the threshold of a door in the home and are gifted with incredible talents. 

This goes fine until Mirabel is up for her ceremony and no power is given to her. Everyone, including Mirabel herself, wrap this moment up in time and move past it, pretending that everything is okay. Mirabel puts on a brave face and considers herself lucky to simply be in the family. But deep down she is harboring resentment and letting it fester. This growing doubt in her and in the family will eventually destroy their home and take away their powers with its divisive nature.

THE FRACTURES OF EXPECTATION

The more that I watched through "Encanto" and heard the lyrics to the songs, the more and more I saw echoes and reverberations of the local church. From the fact that the whole family doesn’t talk about an outcast member Bruno to the controlling but errant matriarch Abuela, this movie is simply the story of Christian community. From the outside looking in, the family appears to be perfect. But the truth within the walls is that things are not well. Feelings have been bottled. Favorites have been chosen. Humanity has been made clear.

The film gives us two looks into how these things can affect people. Mirabel’s two sisters, Luisa and Isabela, both have incredibly important songs that are worth their weight in gold. Ultimately the songs reveal the same thing: unbalanced expectations lead to destruction. 

Luisa is super strong and feels like she needs to constantly work to be valued by the family. In her song “Surface Pressure”, she laments, “I'm pretty sure I'm worthless if I can't be of service” and “Who am I if I can't carry it all?” Whoa. That’s some seriously heavy stuff to bear, no pun intended.

Isabela has the gift of making gorgeous flowers appear and feels that beauty is all that is permitted. She feels that she always has to be perfect and do what is expected of her in the most beautiful way. But when Mirabel forces her to make an ugly thorned vine appear, the truth is revealed that she doesn’t want to be perfect - she wants to be herself.

Even Mirabel is an example of unbalanced expectations. Powerless or not - the pressure of having a gift weighs on her shoulders and it ends up being a breaking point for her along with her sisters. 

As a lifelong church-goer, I’ve seen more Luisas, Isabelas, and Mirabels than I can count. I’ve honestly been in each of their roles, too. Some of them live under that pressure until the day they pass on to the Church Triumphant. Some of them break under that pressure and hate the church with a fiery passion. So… what can we do about it?

MAYBE THE HOUSE NEEDED TO BREAK

I’m not a very violent person, despite my affinity for video games. However, I think that the truth presented in "Encanto" is that sometimes the best thing to fix centuries of unbalanced expectations is destruction. In order for Abuela to come to her senses, the house had to be broken and crumble. In order for things to be fixed, they first had to be broken. 

Wait - hang on… that sounds familiar. Wasn’t there someone who told us that we would need to die to ourselves in order to follow Him? What if Paul’s ‘more excellent way’ in the scripture above isn’t about the spiritual gifts we’ve been given at all? Perhaps it’s less important what our spiritual gift is and more important that we first take up our own cross and live in community with the Body of Christ. 

It might be that the church has spent a lot of time building up practices, walls, and buildings, but not spent enough time reminding people of the gift that came before all the others: the community offered through Jesus Christ. Gifts are great - but the greatest gift is still and always will be Jesus. If we forget that, we’re begging for our foundation to give in to the pressure and tick, tick, tick til it’s ready to blow (whoa). 

So maybe, just maybe, the house needed to break in "Encanto". And maybe some destruction is necessary in order for us to get back to building upon the only true foundation: a relationship founded in Jesus. We can figure out the spiritual gifts stuff later, let’s break it down to the basics and remember whose we are first.


Rev. Nathan Webb of Checkpoint ChurchNathan Webb is a major nerd in just about every way. He loves video games, anime, cartoons, comic books, tech, and his fellow nerds. Hoping to provide a spiritual community for people with similar interests, he founded Checkpoint Church--"the church for nerds, geeks and gamers." Nathan can be found lurking on some visual novel subreddit, reading the latest sh┼Źnen entry, or playing the newest Farm Sim. Nathan is an ordained provisional elder in the United Methodist Church in the Western North Carolina Conference. He hosts a weekly newsletter podcast: To The Point.