Binding Members to the Church

Bored in Vernalconference, Devil, history, obedience, salvation 14 Comments

President Hinckley has reminded that we all need at least three things to remain firmly in the faith—a friend, a responsibility, and “[nourishing] by the good word of God.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Converts and Young Men,” Ensign, May 1997, 47)   Church leaders have recognized that these things are helpful in holding members to the Church, especially the new convert. 

In analyzing these aspects of retention in my personal activity, I feel that responsibility is the largest draw for me.  Social interaction is extremely important in my life, but it’s easy to have that need met by neighbors, family, and community members.  There have been times at Church when I have felt very ideologically isolated, and it hasn’t affected my desire to be active in the ward.  Likewise, spiritual education is a priority in my life, but on the whole, my needs have not been met at the ward level.  Classes, meetings and worship services at my local level have been boring and less challenging than I would like.  I meet my needs by personal reading and sometimes on the internet.  So in my case, it is my callings which bind me to the Church.

Mormons take their responsibilities seriously, and I am no exception.  Once I am called to a position, it becomes part of my identity.  I am a Primary teacher while acting in that position.  The choir director job is part of how I define myself, and so forth.  It would be hard to pull myself away from the Church while deeply immersed in a calling, although intellectually I realize that if I were gone, any given person could step forward to fill the spot quite adequately.  I’m afraid that if a long enough period went by without my having a calling, I might feel less tethered to my local congregation.

Additionally, I feel a responsibility to attend Church as a believer.  Since I am a member with a testimony, I am obliged to attend my meetings.

What about you?  Is one or more of President Hinckley’s three points important to you  in remaining active?  Or is it something completely different?  What would be necessary to keep you firmly bonded to your ward?

Comments 14

  1. First and foremost, it is my firm testimony in the Truthfulness of the Gospel that binds me to the Church. No one can take that from me. Not for poor leadership, stupid comments, lack of social life, nothing. Except as I choose. I try to enjoy my callings and appreciated the opportunity to serve, most of the time. In some cases, I have felt I’ve been under-utilized as I do now, but with my wife in a big calling, maybe that is OK. Ego needs to be shelved for now.

    To me, it is more important to be needed than to be liked and socially active with ward members. I like most of them personally, but we just aren’t that social.

    I try to remember the purpose of the institutional Church and try not to let the faults of the institution cloud my judgment about the Gospel.

  2. I attended my own ward yesterday for the first time in over a month. It was good to sit with my family, to substitute as a Sunday School teacher and to attend my own Priesthood group lesson. I love my current calling, but I do miss the much more informal interaction of attending my own ward.

    I love the emphasis on a responsibility – rather than a “calling”. There is so much that can be done outside the typical calling structure, and it is wonderful to watch a Bishop who understands that “responsibility” can mean many things and still be perfectly appropriate.

  3. To me, having a lay clergy is the genius of the church. JS could have done nothing more than that and been a religion-making savant, IMO. The only times I have been inactive, it was because I did not have a calling at the time combined with not feeling I was getting any real nourishment at church (e.g. it was boring in that ward) or I didn’t have friends (usually due to a socio-economic split in a specific ward where I felt I couldn’t relate). But if I had had a calling at those times, I would have been there doing that calling regardless of the other factors.

    It also seems fundamentally tied with the theosis/eternal progression doctrines. If we are God’s children, we should be able to be stewards of his flock. If we are just pets, not so much.

  4. I’m with Jeff and Ray. I like what they’ve said.

    I find my greatest joy in the gospel is knowing that the Lord is hearing my prayers and involved in my efforts as a follower of Christ, Husband, and father. I ask Him continually to allow me to see is His hand in my life. Nothing comes close to keeping me near to His church as allowing me to draw near to Him in prayer.

  5. Post

    Jeff, there are members all over creation with Testimonies of the Gospel who have left the Church. What is it specifically about your testimony that binds you to attending three hours of meetings every Sunday? Do you love what happens there each week so much that you want to go? Do you desire to hear the messages that are given? Do you feel an obligation to obey your leaders’ teachings that a faithful Mormon must attend all their meetings? Try to deconstruct it a little bit…

  6. I agree, hawkgrrrl, that the participatory nature of the church is brilliant. We can really learn something from anyone.

    As for whether it ties me to the church, I have to say it totally depends on the calling. When I am in primary, I am a really great teacher but no matter how hard I work at the calling, and how much I love it when I am there, I do not feel connected to the ward or the church really, instead I feel trapped and isolated. Given that we have 4 kids, I am obligated to serve there, plus I do enjoy the children. But I miss the participatory worship of SS and RS (I am never able to sit through SM given our youngest 2 and it is less participatory in style) and I am empty and exhausted at the end of church.

    So that leaves nourishment and socialization – I say that when I am most tied to a ward it is because I am nourished by the word in a social setting. Meaning, these same ward members, in a purely secular setting, would not tie me to them. And self study of the scriptures and doctrine is not the same to me as active discussion with fellow truth seekers. But when we are all giving something to a common end, the ties are strongest.

  7. Mel S, I feel for you. It’s rough sometimes when you have little ones.

    I really like the ward I am in right now. The people are very down-to-earth and real. It’s a great community. The lesson content doesn’t always excite me, but I feel it challenges me even in that regard. I always leave church feeling uplifted in some way.

    Church is a great place to get away from the rest of my life and focus on the spiritual side for a couple hours. I am nourished by someone else, or more often just on my own. I would not focus on this stuff if I just stayed at home and did the normal crap I always do on the weekend.

  8. I’m actually in Jeff’s boat. I participate in the “program” of the Church because I have a testimony that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet and the Book of Mormon is true. I believe the Church is an imperfect vessel, of course, but I can only put it this way: somehow, when I go to Church for three hours (despite the fact that I’m the most fidgety person on Earth) I feel better during the week. When I’m active in other activities in the Church I feel better. It improves my life. I’m happier, I feel more revelation coming into my life, I get answers to my problems, I am able to subdue a greater portion (not a great portion, a greater portion) of my totally sarcastic, abrasively blunt personality… call it socialization, call it a “construct”, post-modernize it as much as you like, but I can’t get away from those simple facts, so rather than buck it I’ve learned to enjoy it. Calling something a “construct” seems like it automatically invalidates it for most people. Well frankly I find comfort in constructs and feel that there’s a reason for them. It’s the foundation of a society that makes sense, and life is too absurd already with them… but take them away and things would go simply bananas.

    Sure every now and then I disagree with something at Church, or somebody offends me, or I feel left out, or I feel that a Church leader is being overbearing, or I feel that the Elders are too aggressive or use the wrong “tactics” or whatever. Sure people are idiots at Church sometimes and say stupid things. Well, I feel the same way about work and I still go BECAUSE I GET A PAYCHECK.

    Not a big one mind you, but that’s a whole different topic.

  9. BIV,

    I think the term “endure to the end” might have been specifically meant for our weekly church meetings! 🙂 In some cases, it is difficult. Part of the reason why I attend each week is out of obedience and the obligation I feel. Another reason, I do it is simple. I teach Gospel Doctrine once a month and HP once a month. so, as you stated in your post, I have a responsibility to be there. Sometimes, I don’t feel like it, but I go anyway and usually feel good as a result.

    The fact is that I encounter exactly the same things that everyone else does at our weekly meetings. Speakers who are not prepared, might be dry (especially on the 3rd Sunday!), testimonies shared that are not in keeping with the correct pattern,, children who are disruptive and noisy, Teachers who are not prepared, members who pontificate in Sunday school, etc. All the usual complaints. I also scrutinize the manner in which the Sacrament portion of the meeting is conducted. When I was a Bishopric Counselor and a YM leader, I felt it my responsibly to insure it was done right. I still watch how it is done, but I don’t do anything if it is not quite right.

    So, how do I personally endure? Well, for one, my children are well past the age where we need to “mind” them, so that is not an issue. So, firstly, I realize the reason i am really at the meetings.

    1. To worship Heavenly Father and the Savior. This is the most important reason. I partake of the Sacrament to renew my covenants and repent of my sins.
    2. To learn something. This isn’t always possible but I try to take something away from whatever I hear that day. Whether it is a thought or a scripture that gets me thinking or a profound idea that is uttered in the course of a talk or a lesson. There is usually something I can find. I typically benefit more when I have to prepare a lesson, but again, there is something of value sometime during that 3 hour time frame if I look for it.
    3. I like being around the Saints. I like the fellowship, the common bond that we share. Sure there are some people that I personally do not get along with, but I generally can’t talk to that many people during the breaks, so some can be avoided.

    I realize that this may sound very cliche to some and too simplistic for some of the “higher order” beings on the blog, but that is really what it is for me.

  10. Bored in Vernal,

    There has been many a Sunday as financial clerk where I’ve skipped the three hour block and shown up as it ends to “do my calling”. The sense of identity is strong enough to make me want to do it well, but my calling doesn’t always get me to church, especially when my toddler needs his afternoon nap.

  11. I remember from my political days the idea that, if you could get someone to commit to putting up a lawn sign or taking a bumper sticker, you could pretty much count on their vote. I think a calling is the same thing – – it makes your commitment tangible. Over the years, my callings in the church have bound me to the church and its mission. That said, the sense of community I feel with the members of my ward is also very important. I do not always feel like I have everything in common with those I worship with, but I feel like we are “friends” in the sense that we would willingly help and serve each other. Maybe the sense of community is some kind of synergy between “friend” and “responsibility.”

  12. When volunteerism works, it’s when the opportunity is rewarding, connects us meaningfully with others, provides growth and empowerment, gives us useful ways to serve and benefit others, proceeds out of our heart and passions, helps us draw closer to God, etc. When it doesn’t work it makes us feel underused, unknown and obligated; mistrust our gifting and passions as coming from selfish desires and not from God; can suck time away from higher or more important priorities; disconnects our heart from our outward behavior; takes meaningfulness out of our church community experience; makes us feel “sentenced” to doing the minimum required; can position “the church” as one’s arbiter to participation rather than one’s relationship with God as the driving force. Serving alone can productively or non-productively “bind” us to the church community. I think quality of service is what’s vital, but it is also very individual. I don’t see the LDS “way” particularly as genius. Sometimes it works great, sometimes it doesn’t. It has its strengths and its drawbacks.

    From my personal experience I think Jeff Spector hit appropriately on the need to keep our eye on our highest priorities. Sometimes you just have to say “no” to lesser priorities, even if they have some goodness in them. Our priorities turned out similar to his, but it took some big challenges in our life for us to realize it. Enjoyable callings that were a fit for our gifting and passions kept my wife and I involved in the LDS church for years when our hearts really weren’t into the fundamentals of the faith. Once we faced brutally tough times in our marriage, we realized service and a pleasant church community were not a substitute for a close relationship with God, belief and faith, and a more personally authentic interrelationship with other believers.

    I agree with Jeff that worship that is worshipful, nurturing and sustaining is paramount. I also think it is important to learn something. It is hard to connect meaningfully and intimately with God if there are barriers — either within ourself or outside of ourself — to a stimulating interrelationship with fellow believers and learning what God desires us to learn. We sought to meet our worship and learning goals better elsewhere, and interestingly, our service also became more meaningful. The approach to ministry, worship, leadership, volunteerism, and consensual liberty is a better fit and feels more authentic, and definitely makes us feel like we’re pursuing God better than we were. But I’m not sure I could describe it as the best fit for everyone. We ended up trading off some things. For example, our present church community feels less tight knit and not quite like “family” in the same way the best of our former wards have been. We feel like we have fewer friends but they are closer ones. Strengths and weaknesses aren’t really the point. It was finding the right “mix” for best seeking after our highest priorities.

  13. Before a friend, a responsibility and nourishment by the good word, I suggest trying Duct Tape. It works on everything else 🙂

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