By Janetta Oni
Earlier this year, the soundtrack for the Disney movie Encanto dominated the Billboard charts and had people of all ages singing the hit songs. With the movie being set in Colombia and our three kids being quarter-Colombian, we have certainly watched the movie and listened to the soundtrack.
As I sang along, I noticed the musical truths were relevant to my experiences serving on a church staff. The movie is centered on familial pressures, but the lessons are applicable to church leaders, staff, and volunteers. In case you haven’t watched it, here’s a brief spoiler-filled synopsis.
The Madrigal family was blessed with a miracle (an encanto) generations ago when Abuela was given a candle that produced a magical home. Through the years, each member of the family is given a special “gift,” and they use that gift to bless the community of people that has grown around their home.
But Mirabel, the main character, never received a gift. Surrounded by her obviously special family members, she accepts the role of cheerleader and supporting cast. Until one day, Mirabel seemingly becomes a threat to the magic. The others’ gifts begin to wane. The magical house starts to crack. And the more Mirabel tries to fix things, the worse everything gets.
By the end of the movie, we find out that the “villain” threatening the family’s magic is not Mirabel, but the endemic pressure to protect the magic. Mirabel helps free her sisters from the pressures of performance, her uncle Bruno from the disgrace of exile, and her Abuela from the toxicity of control. And she herself is rescued from the shame of her seeming non-specialness.
Stars don’t shine; they burn
Let’s think about Encanto from the perspective of being on a church staff or in a leadership position. Research from Lifeway Research found what many pastors and church leaders already knew: pastors often feel overworked and overloaded as individuals and worry about the toll their work may take on their families.
Most pastors say they are on-call 24 hours a day (71%) and their role is frequently overwhelming (63%). Half of pastors (50%) say the demands of their jobs are often greater than they can handle. Many say they feel isolated (38%) and face unrealistic expectations from their churches (23%). One in 5 pastors (21%) admit they frequently feel irritated at their church members.
I’ve worked for the local church. I’ve studied human service counseling for Christian organizations. I’ve seen and experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of church work. I’ve talked with former church staffers who are traumatized, angry, cynical, or even antagonistic to the faith. When people leave ministry limping and wounded, there’s often one factor hovering nearby—burnout.When people leave ministry limping and wounded, there’s often one factor hovering nearby—burnout. — @janettaONI Click To Tweet
At its most basic, burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” Burnout is not just the result of long work hours. It’s made of the unhealthy routines we carry in our hearts, minds, and very soul.
Sure, there’s a solid group of people on at your church who have been blessed with extraordinary gifts. You have an all-star team who can inspire, lead, and shine. But, as Mirabel helped her family learn, “stars don’t shine, they burn.” And that means they can burn out.
Your ministry encanto
Years ago, God gave you, your lead pastor, your church, or your core launch group a “miracle.” He chose you to do something amazing. The church grew. People got saved. Small groups were launched. The community was served. You felt it: This is the stuff Luke was talking about in Acts—God adding to our number daily those being saved.
Over the years, more and more people joined the church family. With each generation, new, awe-inspiring gifts come into the fold. The gifts are strong. The community is thriving.
Until, one day, they aren’t.
Imperfect things start to happen, but you assure yourself you can’t mess up what God has entrusted you with. So, you stop talking about those things. People are tired? We don’t talk about that. Sex abuse? We don’t talk about that. Toxic leadership? Crazy work hours? If we don’t talk about it, surely it will go away.
But it doesn’t go away. It lives in the very walls, and every now and then, some of us can hear it. Still, we don’t bring it up.
And then come the Mirabels. They’ve shifted from being the most positive cheerleaders of our mission to being the most counterproductive. Some say they’re just negative, a “staff-infection” harming your otherwise healthy culture.
We start to suspect that they don’t have especially great gifts. We wonder if they’re just after more attention or a bigger job title. They’re bringing up things from the past. They’re questioning issues in the present. They’re asking why we do things the way we do. They know we don’t talk about those things, but they keep bringing it up.
Part of what frustrates us about Mirabel is that she seems onto something. Now that we think about it, we’ve seemed a little “down” lately. Attendance isn’t what it used to be. Giving is so-so. Is it Mirabel’s fault? But there’s no time to think about any of that. Sunday is coming. The church keeps growing. The world keeps turning. “But work and dedication will keep the miracle burning. And each new generation must keep the miracle burning,” as Abuela tell us at the beginning of the movie. But what if that’s wrong? What if all that work is only worsening the problems?
What if we talked about burnout?
Why don’t we talk about it—not Bruno, the kooky uncle living in the walls and the subject of the most popular Encanto song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” but burnout?
What if we stared down the consequences of our behaviors and attitudes and admitted that our gifts aren’t fine? What if we sat across the table from one another and made room for the things we don’t talk about? What if we refused to continue straining to make our house seem perfect, and instead accepted an imperfect one built on the perfect Rock?What if we refused to continue straining to make our house seem perfect, and instead accepted an imperfect one built on the perfect Rock? — @janettaONI Click To Tweet
What if we came out of hiding and let the church help us? Some of the lay people in our churches are echoing the townspeople in Encanto. “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.”
How do you save a miracle?
If you find yourself in a burnout spiral, how do you recover? As Mirabel would ask, “How do you save a miracle?”
Here are some biblical gems to start you down the road:
To the Luisas—the strong ones who feel the need to take on every burden, who never feel like they’ve done enough, who can never sit down and stop:
You don’t have to be strong enough for everyone. You’re not invincible. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28–30, CSB).
To the Isabels—those who are always on, who can’t show any hint of imperfection, can’t have an off day, or can’t show what’s really going on—at home or inside their souls:
God sees your rough edges—your not-so-graceful, not-so-perfect, not-so-polished self. Don’t pray them away; lay them down at the foot of Jesus. He says to you, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” And like Paul, say, “I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me,” (2 Corinthians 12:9, CSB).
To the Brunos—the prophets, the admonishers, the ones who see where the trends are heading and feel like they have to say something because they love those around them:
Truth telling is hard. But uncovering the truth in love, no matter how dark or tough, is not the sin or the cause. Be gentle, but be bold. “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,’” (John 8:31–32, CSB). “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed,” (James 5:16a, CSB).
To the Abuelas—the leaders, the called ones, the ones who know that to whom much is given, much is required, the ones who make tough decisions that no one sees:
God knows. God sees. You don’t have to hold on so tightly. You can never earn the miracle, but you can still receive it. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it,” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, CSB).
To the Mirabels—the ones comparing themselves to others, the ones wishing for the gifts of others, waiting on their turn to shine:
You are more than your gift. You—the Imago Dei, created and saved by God—are the miracle. “However, don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” (Luke 10:20, CSB).
And to the entire familia of faith: Remember, stars don’t shine, they burn. That means they can burn out. Let’s talk about it.
Janetta is the creative director of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina.