The Proper Focus of Leadership: Organizational or Individual?

Ray church, General Authorities, Leaders, Mormon, religion 63 Comments

This perhaps will be the only post I write that simply is a series of questions, but these questions have enormous implication for the Church – and for how we view and discuss issues related to it. Honestly, these questions struck me as I read many of the comments on this very blog.

1) Are leaders of any organization primarily responsible for each and every individual within their organization, or are they primarily responsible for the well-being of the organization as a whole?

2) Are Mormon leaders (from Stake Presidents and Bishops and Relief Society Presidents and Sunday School teachers to The Prophet and apostles) different than leaders of secular organizations in this regard?

3) Is there a tension between these possible emphases?

4) If so, how can they be harmonized – or can they be harmonized?

5) How do these questions affect our understanding of accountability – both on a communal and individual level?

6) What other questions arise from the first three questions – and what do you feel the answers are to these other questions?

Comments

comments

Comments 63

  1. 1) Are leaders of any organization primarily responsible for each and every individual within their organization, or are they primarily responsible for the well-being of the organization as a whole?
    If I understand the question correctly, I believe leaders are primarily responsible for the organization as a whole. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to spend all our time helping one person while neglecting everyone else. Having said that, I don’t think this is an issue that would arise very often (unless you have a specific example I haven’t thought of), because generally, focusing on the individuals in the organization will strengthen the organization as a whole.

    2) Are Mormon leaders (from Stake Presidents and Bishops and Relief Society Presidents and Sunday School teachers to The Prophet and apostles) different than leaders of secular organizations in this regard?
    No. Mormon leaders are different from secular leaders in our mission, but our accountability is comparable to secular leaders. If God is the Board of Directors, then everything we do as we interact with the members of the organization is answerable to Him. If we destroy the organization as a whole, he’ll hold us accountable. Also, if we do not perform the mission of the organization-preparing members to return to Him-we will be accountable.

    3) Is there a tension between these possible emphases? Hypothetically, maybe; but I can’t think of a specific instance. The closest thing I can think of is a girl in our YW organization who was mean to the other girls and made them feel bad/cry/not want to come. The leaders confronted the “problem” girl and she started going to another ward. Some may say that it was best for the organization as a whole to let the Problem go; but I think-perhaps naively-that the best solution could have been found in better leadership. A leader could focus on each of the individual girls, including the Problem, and the organization could thrive even with the problem girl.

    But as mere mortals, we have our petty pride to gratify, we are often untrained in tact, and the ideal leader is hard or impossible to find.

    4) If so, how can they be harmonized – or can they be harmonized?
    If we focus on the individuals, the organization thrives.

    5) How do these questions affect our understanding of accountability – both on a communal and individual level?
    (See #2 above)

    6) What other questions arise from the first three questions – and what do you feel the answers are to these other questions?
    One question that arises from my example in #3 is whether it is OK to sacrifice an individual for the sake of the organization. I think it is usually unnecessary.

  2. My immediate, instinctive reaction is to say that a leader is responsible for the organization first and the individual second. If the organization isn’t preserved, there’s no point in having a leadership role in it.

    But then … a scripture popped into my mind:

    “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance”

    —Luke 15:4-7.

    Christ seemed to often engage individuals. He would heal a sick person (an individual). He would answer the question of an individual. An organization is a reified being (not actually real except in our mind). If the individuals in it are not whole, the sum of the parts will likewise be flawed.

  3. Excellent idea for a post! I think that Church leadership is an important topic. We have issues in our area and so my wife and I talk about this all the time as she has an important leadership position in the ward.

    The responsibility is two-fold, to the organization and to the individual, but I can’t helping agreeing totally with Valoel above that a good Shepard leaves the ninety and nine and goes after the one. Also, the higher up in the hierarchy you go, the less focus is on the individual and more on the organization. So in theory, the Stake President is less about individuals and more about the Stake as a whole. The bishop is less about individuals than say the EQP or RSP. Not neglectful of individuals, but a bit more focused on the org. Likewise, a HT is supposed to be more focused in his individual families than the EQP.

    But every Bishop ordination i have attended, the SP tells him in blessing that he is responsible for all people living in his ward boundaries. Now, how that get accomplished, I have yet to see. Being responsible for all members and the smooth running of the ward in general is more than a handful.

    But, in my opinion, you can never go wrong focusing on the needs of individual members rather than on the organization itself. Too many men and some women, for that matter have good secure organizational skills and lack caring enough for people as individuals.

  4. The organization, and its leaders, are not responsible in the sense of removing any accountability from an individual, but… the church organization only exists to serve the individual. The church has no value unto itself.

  5. I was always of the understanding that leaders of a church organization are responsible TO the members of the organization, but that they were responsible FOR the organization as a whole.

    I had a stake president who frequently explained to us that leaders of an organization do not represent the members of the organization before God, nor should they feel it their responsibility to deliver the concerns of their membership to the next higher level. Leaders of an organization represent God to the organization, but that they are not a “link” in a chain of communication going “up”, only down. Leaders, he said, stand facing their members, delivering God’s message to the members, they do not stand facing God, delivering the message of the members to God. He told us frequently that if we would keep this perspective in mind, we would understand church leadership better.

  6. Valoel-

    I agree completely with the principle that we should “leave the ninety and nine” to seek out the lost individual. But we do not leave the ninety and nine with the wolves. The ninety and nine parable doesn’t advocate serving people rather than a church organization, but serving people as a leader of the church organization.

    This may be just another way of saying what you said, but I believe your first paragraph is not in conflict with the rest of your post, rather it supplements it. The organization is strengthened by the reaching out to the individuals.

    Jeff Spector said “Also, the higher up in the hierarchy you go, the less focus is on the individual and more on the organization.”

    I agree completely. It seems that the higher up in leadership hierarchy you go, the more time you would spend on administration and extreme individual cases. I’ve never been a stake president (knock on wood) but I imagine one of the great challenges of leadership is not being consumed with only administration of the flock and chasing the lost sheep, but also taking time to get to know the ninety and nine.

  7. Andrew said, “Leaders, he said, stand facing their members, delivering God’s message to the members, they do not stand facing God, delivering the message of the members to God.”

    I agree. We do not necessarily answer to the members of Church organizations regarding how we lead (personal offenses excepted), but we are answerable to God for how we lead the members of the organization. Continuing the sheep analogy, we don’t try to do what either the lost sheep or the ninety and nine want; we try to do what God wants with the lost sheep and the ninety and nine.

  8. Thanks, everyone. I am in between meetings and have to run in two minutes, but I appreciate the distinctions everyone has drawn thus far.

    I won’t have a chance to check back in until this evening, but I look forward to reading the comments that will be made in the meantime.

  9. I am finding that the church administration is becoming very “corporate” in its approach. Perhaps some of that is dictated by the size and breadth of the Church worldwide. Other areas outside of the US require more attention. But, at the same time, it may mean less focus on people and more on organizational structure and command and control. In other words, too many lawyers are running the church and too few ministers. Apologies to the lawyers in the crowd (which are many).

  10. It seems to me the church needs to take a position on certain issues so they can best use their resources to fulfill their mission statement. For example, years ago the average member had great access to the brethren. President Hinckley talked on this in recent years. Nowadays, that isn’t allowed. They just don’t have the capacity to allow this anymore. This same approach applies to doctrine. We are a missionary church, the focus is on new members and helping them adapt to Mormon life. This is as it should be. Consequently, the emphasis doctrinally, is geared that way. Gone are the days when you can choose what you want to teach in priesthood and sacrament meeting. The “heavier” doctrines are not discussed but rarely, or not at all. If an individual wants to learn these things they need to do it on their own. This leads me to conclude we are “corporate”. See #9.

  11. When Jesus Christ called the twelve disciples from among the Nephites, he told the assembled crowd:

    “Blesses are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants…” (3 Nephi 12:1)

    I find this a very appealing directive to the leadership of the church. You have been chosen to minister and serve. As you read more of this chapter, it becomes clear (at least to me) that those leaders were there to help the membership connect with Christ. They were to officiate in the ordinance of baptism and teach the people what they needed to do to come unto Christ. It seems we have moved far away from this concept in today’s church. I agree it has become very corporate, focused on the financial bottom line more than it should be. We have brought in doctors, lawyers, and business men to run a multi-billion dollar enterprise rather than ministers and servants to bring the people to God.

    How does Christ define his Church? I have come to deeply appreciate the message in D&C 10:67-68:

    “Behold, this is my doctrine whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.”

    What would the leadership and the church look like if this dictate from the head of the Church were followed?

    I would think that the focus would be on teaching the individual member what it means to come unto Christ, and then get out of the way.

  12. Some of this has already been covered, but I’ll throw out my spin. The answer depends on the organization: church, area, stake, ward, quorum/auxiliary. The higher up, the more the needs tend toward the organization as a whole, simply because the organization is larger (more administering, less ministering) and messages are broadcast to a wider group.

    IMO, the proper focus of leadership for my EQ presidency is around 10-20% organization 80-90% individual. Organize HT, lessons, and activities, then go out and meet with the people. You take one step up and the percentages change pretty dramatically. At the ward level, leadership has to focus a larger share of time on planning meetings, extending callings, more meetings, etc.

    All that said, I think the individual is the most important work, just that the focus naturally shifts toward the organization as the flock gets bigger.

  13. “Leaders, he said, stand facing their members, delivering God’s message to the members, they do not stand facing God, delivering the message of the members to God.”

    This has also been a theme of President Harold B. Lee and Boyd K. Packer. http://www.zionsbest.com/face.html

    See also Elder James Hamula (“I also learned at that moment which way I should be facing as a leader. It was my job to face the people and tell them what the Lord wanted, not to face the other way, with the people behind me, telling the leaders ahead of me what the people wanted.”)
    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/cgi-bin/cqcgi/@cnews.env?CQ_SESSION_KEY=LVVZPSDEQXRW&CQ_CUR_DOCUMENT=3&CQ_TEXT_MAIN=YES (requires subscription)

    I personally think a mid-level leader in the Church should face both ways–conveying concerns of those whom he or she serves to those “above” and vice versa. At least one Old Testament prophet, Moses, was not afraid to represent his people in speaking to God. Exodus 32:

    7 ¶ And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:
    8 They have turned aside bquickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
    9 And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
    10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
    11 And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?
    12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.
    13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
    14 And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

  14. My bishop relies on his counselors and clerks to take care of most administrative tasks, to the point of calling additional clerks to free up counselors to do temple recommend interviews and watch over the organizations. He spends the bulk of his time counseling individuals, which no one else in the ward is allowed to do.

    The stake president, on the other hand, spends much more time with administration and calling individuals to various ward and stake callings.

    So, I’m drawn to the ninety and nine image of Christ with a lamb on his shoulders but I realize when you get to the stake level, that individual emphasis goes away in favor of programs.

  15. Any thoughts on how this plays out in disciplinary councils? It’s interesting to consider what everyone has said about individuality at the lowest institutional level and administration as the level rises, and I wonder if that plays a part in the disciplinary culture within the Church.

  16. Ray,

    Not exactly sure of that. For the most part, as you know, most people brought before a DC have met with their leader (Bishop or SP) a number of times before unless they, of course do not wish to. Most of the public folks tend to fall into the latter place.

    My own experience is that most of those involved in the DCs have been a priesthood leader at the lowest levels and do have an individual focus. The other point is that I find the SP or Bishop pretty much knows what the outcome is going to be unless the person says something in the DC or the other participants uncovers something to the contrary.

  17. In my experiences in disciplinary councils (at a ward level–I was the clerk taking notes, not an “official” member), the focus has been on the individual and helping him/her come back. Every one I was involved with was a positive experience at the time, although once we later felt we made the wrong decision because the member was not very truthful. In that case, we erred on the side of mercy/the individual.

  18. I guess what I’m asking is if the difference between ward and stake disciplinary councils is reflective of the role differences between the Bishop and Stake President in relationship to the questions I asked in this post. Iow, does the Bishop’s primary focus on the individual (minister) make him play a different role in most disciplinary councils than the Stake President’s primary focus on the organization (administrator) makes him take in his disciplinary councils.

    Likewise, does this explain why most of the decisions that make waves are reached at the stake level (or higher) – because they are taken to “protect the organization” rather than to “help the transgressor”. Is the opportunity to “help the transgressor repent” generally confined to the ward level, while the responsibility to “protect the organization” generally held by those above that level?

    Fwiw, most of the truly angry and loudly condemnatory statements I have heard from those who have been excommunicated have come from those whose decisions were reached at the stake level or beyond, while I am aware of quite a few ward level decisions that didn’t cause a stir at all – or were very positive experiences. That’s fascinating to me.

  19. Ray,

    In general I would agree with you about the difference between stake level and ward level DCs. let me say that the ward DCs I have done have all involved women, who tend to be humbler than men. They are generally more contrite and willing to accept the consequences. And, as a result, usually return to full fellowship faster.

    And I think there is a difference in the fact that at the ward level the four people sitting in room (bishopric and clerk) are more well known to the person and a greater sense of personal connection exists. On the Stake level, it is a whole different ballgame.

    First, it is generally MP brethren that are called to the council. In many cases, they lack humility, are unrepentant, hostile and sometimes argumentative. not always but sometimes. Typical a man will view his situation as having “a lot more to lose” from Church discipline since not only is his membership at risk, but his Priesthood as well. It is generally a much harder road back for an endowed MP holder. on top of that you have 16 men in the room, many you might not even know, who you think, are passing judgment against you.

    From what I understand from some friends of mine, there is new direction that gives the Bishops more discretion even with MP holder and discipline. This is being done for the very reason that once ex’d, it is harder to get them back. Any thoughts or experience with that?

  20. Jeff – “let me say that the ward DCs I have done have all involved women, who tend to be humbler than men. They are generally more contrite and willing to accept the consequences.” Is this really that they have more humility, or is it just that they have better social skills (e.g. are more aware of other people’s reactions and can adapt responses to suit, or are more susceptible to group influence due to this social awareness)? Or are they perhaps being cut some slack the men don’t get? I’m just asking from a curiosity standpoint. It seems that religion in general and the church in specific has a bias toward women at times.

  21. Ray and Jeff,
    My understanding is that a stake disciplinary council is required to excommunicate a MP holder, but that a ward disciplinary council can be held for a MP holder if the likely outcome is disfellowshipment or less.

    I really think the key difference between the two levels of church courts lies not in the role of the judge (minister v. administrator), but rather in the folks who are the subject of the court. Women, AP holders, girls, young children and MP holders who are not likely to be excommunicated are less likely to have committed as egregious sins as the MP men (a generalization, to be sure, but one I think holds up pretty well – especially in a church where we note the sisters are often more spiritual). Also, a higher standard is expected for example, of a 43-year old high priest who is an endowed member and serving on the high council, than is expected of a 18-year-old who has yet to be ordained an elder.

    And, I think Jeff is right in pointing out that the MP types are more likely to feel they have more to lose, but I never once witnessed anyone lash out or take a combative attitude. In several of the cases of excommunication (or rebaptism) of an adult endowed male, the subject of the court knew EVERYBODY in the room. That can help.

    Again, however, I do recognize that men are more likely to adopt the “I’m right” attitude toward those they see as their peers, (almost an “Up Yours”) whereas the sisters who might take that attitude toward their bishop, would likely never bother to show up for the court, because of the “imbalance” and not feeling she would be among her peers.

    But, I really don’t get the sense of difference between minister and administrator. And, for what it’s worth. I’ve know several stake presidents who passed off as many of the administrative things as they could to counselors, high council, clerks, etc. and did the ministering thing. They were “modeling” the behavior they wanted from their bishops. And, I’ve know some bishops who were more administrator than minister, so I really don’t think it is incumbent in the position.

    I’m waiting for Ray to be called as a stake president, then after a year or so, he can report from first-hand experience. 🙂

  22. Well, I think it is a little of both. Its not that the women get slack as they generally take a less confrontation stance. And besides, I knew the women at the DCs, i didn’t always know the men on the Stake DCs. Men tend to act like “little boys who got caught.”

    “It seems that religion in general and the church in specific has a bias toward women at times.”

    Wow, I can just see the flood of reaction to this. Many of the women we had on the blog making comments when we first started had a chip on their shoulder about how the church or some leader has wronged them. They would never accept this statement as true.

  23. Andrew,

    I think it is fair to say that married, endowed MP holder are likely to get less slack than anyone else. Especially for a pattern of morality related activities. One time events are dealt with differently.

  24. “I’m waiting for Ray to be called as a stake president, then after a year or so, he can report from first-hand experience.”

    I’m not holding my breath – but if that is what it took to avoid being a Bishop . . . 🙂

  25. Let me say, again, thanks for all of the comments. I have enjoyed them, even though my day has kept me away from the computer more than usual.

    I agree completely with the idea that we hear more about stake and above level councils because they are the ones that deal most often with the unrepentant, even though there are repentant members in those types of councils. Honestly, I had never thought about the ministering nature of the “ideal” disciplinary council for the penitent as directly opposed to the administering nature of a council held with the certainty that someone would be excommunicated – as the opposite sides of the same coin – and how that might relate to the level at which they are held. I’m still thinking about it, so I appreciate the input.

    I’m still interested in times when ministering to the one might actually be harmful to the ninety-and-nine, so if anyone has insight there I would like to hear it, as well.

  26. 1. Depends on the position, some set policy for all, others count 5 heads each week in class.

    2. In this regard not so much. Typical organizations have a CEO, VP’s, Directors, Managers, Supervisors etc..

    3. Always. With an organization of “any size” you can’t make everyone happy. Supervisors will fight for their individual people, upper management will have to set policy based on the whole.

    4. Everyone needs an avenue to be heard. If they have been heard and effectively communicated with, then they still have an opportunity to buy in. For harmony everyone must buy in.

    5. Without buy-in there is a lack of commitment. Without commitment there will be avoidance of accountability.

  27. “I’m still interested in times when ministering to the one might actually be harmful to the ninety-and-nine, so if anyone has insight there I would like to hear it, as well.”

    Ray–maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but it sounds like you are grasping for reasons to NOT minister to the ‘one’. What is the motivation for this? Or are you thinking that there isn’t a case where ministering to the ‘one’ would be harmful to the ninety-and-nine and you are just looking for feedback on this?

  28. Bill, believe me, I agree completely with the need to administer to the one. I believe in that fully. It struck me, however, as I was reading multiple threads here and on a couple of other blogs that some people were upset that their own individual takes on certain practices weren’t being validated by their leaders – that uniformity of the group was overriding individual wishes. That actually is what got me started about this post.

    The most obvious examples for me were discussions about the Word of Wisdom (for example, where some members felt like they could handle moderation in some areas and felt like the communal prohibitions were not necessary for them – and, by extension, for many) and discussions of sexual practices (again, where the communal standards for all excluded a minority of members whose individual standards were outside of the communal standards), but I didn’t want to narrow the discussion to only those topics – and I didn’t want it to appear AT ALL like I was getting back into the never-ending debate about gay marriage, because I don’t want that to happen. This post isn’t meant to be about any one topic; it’s more the meta perspective that struck me as I was reading about multiple topics.

    I have thought for a long time that the central tension in the Church is about defining the line between community and individual, and I also have believed for a long time that there is a real difference between the type of focus that (I believe) must distinguish leadership at “lower” (local) and “upper” (area and global) leadership. This post is the result of all of that percolating in my head.

  29. One more thing:

    I see a big difference in the kind of individualized messages we get in a ward setting, the slightly less individualized message in a stake setting and the much more universal messages we get in General Conference. At the ward level, there can be nuance and personally unique applications, but at the global level the messages can appear to be black and white directives that don’t allow for individual nuance – even when the speakers include multiple disclaimers. The tension inherent in hearing the globally standardized directive but not the disclaimers (or even of presenting the standard without disclaimers) fascinates me.

  30. Interesting view of this issue. You’d probably get much more tolerance for individualized interpretation of what’s permitted and what isn’t permitted at higher levels whereas you’d get more dogma and judgment at the ward/branch. ie WoW, sabbath day workshop, how to raise your family. Joseph Fielding Smith excepted, of course.

  31. “some people were upset that their own individual takes on certain practices weren’t being validated by their leaders – that uniformity of the group was overriding individual wishes.”

    The thing that needs to be carefully considered here is the definition of the ‘group’. Suppose that there are 100 people who are somewhat willing to be members of the church. 20 are the full fledged believe-it-all sort of people. Another 20 seem to believe it all, but aren’t willing to dedicate all of their time, talents to the cause. Another 20 have some belief in the doctrine, but believe that the church is wrong on particular issues (WOW, SSM, etc.) Another 20 think that the church is a good social organization, but don’t actually believe any of the doctrine. Another 20 would really prefer not to participate in the church, but may be willing to tag along with family/friends.

    If you exclude everyone from the group except the 20 most dedicated people, you would end up with excellent uniformity in the group. The group would be small, though. As you become more accomidating to the other groups, you may grow in size but lose uniformity. If you try to accomodate everyone, you will find that you may lose the original 20-40 that were your ‘base’.

    It is not uncommon to have wards where over 50% of the membership of the church is inactive. Is this because the church is focused on the minority and is not doing enough to work with the majority?

  32. Bill,

    As I think you know the reasons for less activity in the church vary with the stars in the sky. I think you could Pareto it out to 3 to 5 top reasons and then a plethora of individual reasons. But to start listing those reasons here would be an invitation for argument.

  33. Oh, i meant to add. If you analyze the reason, which I am sure the church has, you can begin to put in place a plan to assist those less active members who want to return to activity to do so. But, at the ward level, you have to care enough to want to find out the struggles of those individuals and then assist in whatever way you can.

  34. Jeff,

    ‘you can begin to put in place a plan to assist those less active members who want to return to activity to do so’.

    This view is at the root of the problem–these people do not need or want assistance. They are happy not being active in the church if the church isn’t going to accomodate their views.

    In order to get these people active in the church, the attitude needs to change to ‘you can begin to put in place a plan to change the policies of the church to be more inclusive of those less active members who are willing to return to activity.’

  35. #34 – BINGO!! (at least in identifying the tension about which I posted)

    Where is the line between acceptable compromise of communal standards in order to accommodate individuals? What can be compromised without hurting the community as a whole, and what needs to be held inviolable even if it means keeping the individual outside of “full fellowship”?

  36. Bill,

    “This view is at the root of the problem–these people do not need or want assistance. They are happy not being active in the church if the church isn’t going to accommodate their views.

    In order to get these people active in the church, the attitude needs to change to ‘you can begin to put in place a plan to change the policies of the church to be more inclusive of those less active members who are willing to return to activity.”

    Don’t be silly. As I stated there are many many reasons why people don’t participate. I have been involved with several where all we did is invite them to come to church and that was enough. There are some who feel offended that need to be apologized to. These folks didn’t have “views” that are incompatible with church attendance.

    So, I guess I’ll ask the musical question, Just what policies, in your opinion need to change to bring back all the inactives?

  37. Which policy changes would hurt the community as a whole?

    What if the FP came out with a statement that said that the WOW was optional (as stated in scripture). Would that hurt the community? How?

  38. #35 “Where is the line between acceptable compromise of communal standards in order to accommodate individuals?”

    I have heard many who had problems or issues with the church, or their own “non-standard” belief system, say that they were offered the opportunity to “stay” in the church as fully active members, as long as they didn’t actively try to recruit others to their own unique brand of belief or to buy in to their line of thinking. Some of them described this as a “gag order” which may or may not be a fair description, but some people can live with it, and others can’t.

    At least in this area, it seems to me that most are welcome, regardless of beliefs, as long as they don’t cross the line of publicly contradicting the leadership, or of trying to invite others into your particular “niche.”

    But, I know, and have known several active people in church who have SERIOUS disagreements or problems with some aspect of church. They just remain quiet about it at church, and around most church members, most of the time, and they are fine. And this is true even of several in leadership positions. There are limits to this, however, I think taking a third, fourth, and fifth wife would probably result in discipline, no matter how quietly a second counselor in the bishopric did it. But, for a counselor in a bishopric to personally think, for example, that doing family history work (or missionary work) is a waste of time, would probably lead to no action whatever unless he started sharing that view with others.

  39. #36–“Don’t be silly.”

    If you are implying that most people are inactive simply due to lacking an invitation, I think that you are the one being silly. Half of the membership of the church is inactive. There are lots of reasons, but a simple invitation isn’t going to bring them all back.

  40. Bill,

    I already stated there are many many reasons. I have found that doctrinal issues or “views” as you call them, are not that big a part of the reason.

    I think the majority of the reason people are inactive is that they have become secularized, don’t see a need for the Gospel in their lives and would rather do something other than attend Church. Many of them would claim to still have a testimony of sorts, but they are just not that interested.

    As for making the WoW optional. What’s the point, to keep and attract members? Why don’t we discount tithing while we are at it.

  41. #40–“Why don’t we discount tithing while we are at it.”

    Good idea.

    “I think the majority of the reason people are inactive is that they have become secularized, don’t see a need for the Gospel in their lives and would rather do something other than attend Church”

    This is what I call ‘views’. Their ‘views’ aren’t in line with the orthodox religious views of the church. What if the church was focused more on helping families–whether or not those families actually believed in God? Maybe these people would see value in the church, even if they had no interest in religion.

    For those who weren’t religiously inclined, maybe the church could sponsor a sunday afternoon activity for families. If you like the 3 hours of normal church, you can go that route. If you aren’t religious, go to the church sponsored picnic instead. There would be fun family time, community involvement, and a generally positive relationship with the church. And maybe some day these people would become interested in religion…

  42. Bill,

    I really don’t get why you are saying these things. There are plenty of outlets for families who do not wish to be part of a religion and share its beliefs and practices. The church does much good in the world, but capitulate on its doctrines and beliefs so that families can have an outing on Sunday? c’mon. You’ve got to be pulling my leg here.

  43. I totally agree that the church has high tolerance for difference in belief and low tolerance for difference in behavior. Contrast that, though, with other churches who have very low dogma and very low commitment required. I am torn on this notion of watering down the requirements. New converts and reactivates are excited to shed those nonLDS behaviors and make commitments. There is something powerful and symbolic in that.

    We got a flier when we moved inviting us to a neighborhood church. Everyone in the pics was dressed for worship like it was a BBQ. The minister wore jeans. The flier advertised that they didn’t care what you believed or have any things you had to do to join. It just wasn’t that appealing to me. Christ gave everything for us. Shouldn’t we be willing to change our lives as well as our hearts to be closer to Him? It reminds me of Don Novello’s riff on SNL that he was creating his own church with 10 suggestions instead of commandments.

    Yet, I would accept people into the church on whatever terms necessary without judging them and I would reach out.

  44. Jeff,

    “capitulate on its doctrines and beliefs so that families can have an outing on Sunday?”

    I don’t see how the church has to capitulate on its doctrines to sponsor a family picnic.

    Some people who are religious don’t fit in well with our 3 hour block of church meetings. Can we do something to accomodate these people? Is 3 hours of church a vital doctrine of the restoration?

    Other people who are more secular may not be interested in religion at all, but may find that the church offers some good programs for families, etc. Can we bring these people into the fold in some way–accepting them just as they are?

    I’m just trying to be inclusive here.

  45. I could see group gatherings on Sunday as not in violation of the Sabbath as long as they didn’t turn into just another excuse to play sports and extend Saturday into the Sunday hours, but it would be impossible in most locations to hold them at the church – and holding them elsewhere likely would eliminate those members who attend the regular meetings. That could turn into perceptions of “Mormonism” and “Mormonism Lite”. It is hard enough to battle natural pride without a group that would draw such a distinction without effort.

    Otoh, I think I understand and share your concern. If these activities were organized on days other than Sunday . . . they would be what the Church actually encourages. 🙂

    I do believe we need to do a better job of talking with those who don’t attend about ways that they might be willing to be involved in things outside of the Sunday block of meetings. If they don’t attend those meetings, they do tend to be written off as “inactive” and not given opportunities to serve in the overall kingdom.

  46. Bill,

    “I don’t see how the church has to capitulate on its doctrines to sponsor a family picnic.”

    I think it is pretty simple. Sponsor a family picnic, by all means! On the Sabbath as an alternative to worship, not going to happen. “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Your suggestion is in fact a capitulation. Again, there are many outlets for that activity outside of our Church.

    Why must we be THAT inclusive as to lose ourselves?

  47. “Why must we be THAT inclusive as to lose ourselves?”

    I think that this is the whole question that Ray is asking. Where is the line between being inclusive and losing ourselves?

  48. Are Sunday picnics that much different from Wednesday night basketball?

    There are wards all over the church (and have been for decades) where the Wednesday night (Mutual night) activity for the boys is five or ten minutes of not too well planned out stuff, followed by an hour of basketball. When I would talk with leaders about including more gospel or doctrinal stuff, they would respond that they are trying to get the “inactive” or “less active” or “less interested” boys to at least come to church for “something” and basketball was it. Playing basketball at church, the theory went, was better than them playing on a playground somewhere or not coming to church at all.

    There is the argument that playing basketball at church, if that is the focus of the entire months-long or years-long level of partial activity for these “less interested” boys, ACTUALLY is more harmful than playing at a playground. This theory goes that it somehow cheapens or lessens or lowers the church to the level of the playground, because that’s what the boys see it as.

    Would Sunday picnics be a good idea? Would they be just like Wednesday night basketball? And, would that be a good thing, to get some less active folks out to at least share a meal with some folks who are “more active” on the tacit promise that there would be no preaching (or very little preaching)? Where is the line?

    Ever since I started visiting this forum, I have been trying to figure out where the lines are on things. There are no clear answers to where the lines are on things. I think no clear answers to where the lines are is kind of a “bait and switch” because our church is billed as the “one true church” and the one that has the “fullness of the Gospel” and a whole bunch of other things that get us very close to saying “We have all the answers.” On this blog we all pretend that we’ve never heard that, and that nobody could every possibly have thought that the church claims to have all the answers. But, the fact that we have the answers is the appeal of the church. Truth, capital “t” Restored. That’s our claim.

    Prophet who is the “only person” on earth who is authorized to speak for God. That’s our claim.

    Sounds like we should have the answers, and we should know where the lines are.

    There is a constant battle between the theories of inclusivity and the theories obedience to commandment. Inclusivity folks often see commandments as more flexible, variable. Obedience folks feel they are hard and fast and clear and unbendable. Most of us are somewhere in the middle and it varies with us by what the issue is that we are facing.

    I don’t know where the lines are. I have a home teacher (who has been in several bishoprics) who doesn’t believe much of the doctrine of the church at all, and what he does believe changes quite a bit, depending on his situation. Maybe that’s the healthiest attitude. He’s mostly happy at church, wouldn’t attend stake or General Conference even for money and fame, but thoroughly enjoys church and church activities, does his callings, and is a 100 percent home teacher and has been for years. He thinks many of our church leaders are nuts, but he’s ok with that, they don’t bother him, and he doesn’t bother them.

    Different strokes for different folks. And in the Mormon Church – imagine that. We’re not really all that monolithic.

  49. Great question, Andrew, about Wednesday night basketball. I have a HUGE problem with it – the exact on you describe. There are much better ways to reach out than to dilute within.

  50. Those who desire a watered down Church and gospel simply to participate would probably tire of that as well in time anyway.

  51. #50, “Those who desire a watered down Church . . . would … tire of that as well . . . .”

    Ok, that’s probably true. But, I think Ray’s question is, are there ANY things we can do differently that DON’T constitute “watering down” the Church, but that WOULD help retain more (recognizing we’ll never retain ALL).

    For example, Elder Hales has an article in this month’s Ensign about grooming and dressing standards. Hawkgrrl commented on a “casual” Protestant church in her neighborhood. Where is the line between wearing a crisp white, long-sleeved shirt, with a recently pressed and cleaned charcoal gray pin-stripe suit, a beautiful silk tie, and highly polished black shoes and coming to church in shorts, a T-shirt and backless sandals? Clearly there is a line SOMEWHERE between those two, but where is the line? How about if the suit is a little wrinkled from being crammed in the closet improperly? How about wearing a polo shirt instead of a T-shirt with the sandals. How about a cream-colored shirt under your suit coat? How about a red shirt? How about a tie with Donald Duck? How about wearing your hair “just a little” too long?

    Obviously, there are extremes when dealing with these kinds of things, and we need to be careful, but there is a line somewhere, and we should have some way to define it, agree on it, and move forward.

    And, the feminist in me insists that I point out that the focus and emphasis that some people put on how meticulously entire families are dressed, can be very hard on the mom, who is usually (although not always) the person “held responsible” for the appearance of her family at church on Sunday. Boy, did I get one of those looks that only a Mormon wife can give when I told her I was going to church in my pajamas once, because I was too tired to get dressed. Needless to say, I got dressed. (She later told me that she MIGHT have let me get away with it if I hadn’t been conducting in Sacrament meeting that day, but I don’t think she would have.)

  52. “Where is the line between wearing a crisp white, long-sleeved shirt, with a recently pressed and cleaned charcoal gray pin-stripe suit, a beautiful silk tie, and highly polished black shoes and coming to church in shorts, a T-shirt and backless sandals?”

    What exactly is wrong with the “shorts, a T-shirt and backless sandals” end of the spectrum? Do we have to ‘capitulate on doctrines’ or ‘water down’ the church to welcome people who come dressed this way? Would more people come to church if they could dress more comfortably? Would a congregation half full of ‘pajama people’ turn other people away?

  53. #53 – “Would a congregation half full of ‘pajama people’ turn other people away?”

    Ok, what about it, Hawkgrrl, and Elder Hales? If the gospel of Jesus Christ was being taught at a ward building where half the folks showed up in pajamas, would you stay away? Would their pajamas somehow be evidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ wasn’t really being taught? Would pajamas prevent the Holy Ghost from attending and allowing the Spirit to be felt?

  54. Andrew and Bill – I would never turn away anyone or refuse to reach out regardless of their personal dress or whether or not they live the commandments. As members, we should be accepting of all. I worry about the message of exclusivity and how to balance that with inclusion. It should never be us turning someone else away, but they may turn us down if they don’t want to meet the standards–in time that feeling may change for that individual.

    Dress code is not my beef. Come in jammies if you like. But to tout a church as desirable because it has no standards (the point of the flier) runs contrary to the point of church IMO. Become a secular humanist if that’s the case. They make good neighbors.

  55. We can become pharisaic in our focus on appearance, but we also can lose our sense of reverence (“to revere”) and worship without any concept of proper preparation – which I believe includes an element of attire. We live in a society that believes that there are circumstances where and individuals for whom common respect and decency prohibit pajamas and overly casual dress for those who understand such standards. That definitely can be taken to unhealthy extremes, but the opposite extreme carries its own consequences, I believe.

    This is a great example of the balancing act I see with church attendance. I also would never turn away someone wearing ragged clothing and reeking of tobacco and/or alcohol. In fact, I wish desperately that there was much more diversity throughout our chapels. However, I also would never encourage such clothing and practice among the collective congregation. I would hope that those who truly view Sacrament Meeting as a worship service would dress with that in mind, allow all to join them no matter their dress and hope that all – with repeated attendance – would likewise dress with such respect and worship in mind. I am not in favor of any uniformity in dress, but I am solidly in favor of uniformity in attitude – and I believe that such uniformity in attitude tends to cause general similarity in dress.

    The only instance where I would discuss attire with a fellow attendant is if the chosen clothing literally was sexually provocative to such an extent that it was a clear and unavoidable distraction to the worship of others – either because of active observation of the attire and the person thus attired or because the studious efforts to avoid observation distracted from the focus on the talks and ordinances and general spirit of the meeting. In that instance, I would focus on the group over the individual, while attempting to address the issue as compassionately as possible.

  56. 1. Are leaders of any organization primarily responsible for each and every individual within their organization, or are they primarily responsible for the well-being of the organization as a whole?

    A temporal question…
    If yhe question refers to businesses in the secular world, then I believe their responsibility is only to their customers and employees, ie. the well being of the whole.

    2.Are Mormon leaders (from Stake Presidents and Bishops and Relief Society Presidents and Sunday School teachers to The Prophet and apostles) different than leaders of secular organizations in this regard?

    In a word: Yes. This is the spiritual question.
    My take is, it’s all about the individual. Bishops to the song book organizer gets to be responsible for the 100% whole. No one is exempt from the ninety and nine annology. Bishops are responsible for “all” those with in his boundry. If he is doing his calling correctly he delegates the workings of his calling to his counselors and focuses on the individuals of his flock. As “members” our responsibility is to our neighbor. One of the most influential stories told by Christ is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus recounted this parable to a man who had asked, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by asking, “What is written in the law?”
    The man answered, referring to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart … and thy neighbor as thyself.”
    When Jesus promised, “This do, and thou shalt live,” the man challengingly replied, “And who is my neighbor?” In answer to this man’s questions, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. (See Luke 10:25–35.)
    The Good Samaritan is a Type and Shadow of how the Plan of Salvation works for each of us. How to live in accordance to that plan and how to understand our individual purpose in that plan.

    3. Is there a tension between these possible emphases?

    There always has been. Leaders of differing faiths have persecuted the Saints from the beginning of time. There is a pendulum that swings both ways. As members begin to see and understand their responsibilitys a shift from temporal to spiritual occurs, those with out “the light” resist. As there is an “opposition in All Things.”

    4. If so, how can they be harmonized – or can they be harmonized?

    The only reason we’re here is to Learn. As our understandings of the Gospel increases the better equipt we are to follow the spirit in situations to bring an understanding to both sides of the pendulum. Satan gets this, will he ever come in harmony with the gospel?… He has his responsibility in this plan, we get to find the fence sitters and those who are “willing to give ear to hear” the chance to recieve the blessings of the Kingdom.
    All is spiritual in the eyes of our Father. Every situation has a spiritual effect on us as individuals. Our responsibility is to be in harmony with the Father and rely on the other members of the Godhead to lead us in the path that they would best see fit to bring souls unto Him.

    5. How do these questions affect our understanding of accountability – both on a communal and individual level?

    Accountability is the one true measuring stick in our religion. Weather we know it or not, being accountable is the only question we’ll be asked come Judgement time. What did I “do” to further the Kingdom of God while on earth?

    6.What other questions arise from the first three questions – and what do you feel the answers are to these other questions?

    Too many to list.
    We are each responsible for the people in our lives. How we respond to people represents the place we are at. No one is “better” than the next. We are all learning and that’s what this whole exercise “earth life” is about. I’m just happy to be here to be able to go through these experiences and see “what’s next.”

  57. #48:

    As Orson Scott Card noted in Saintspeak

    Spaulding Theory

    This theory holds that if a young man in the church touches a basketball at least 1,000 times in a Church cultural hall, he will eventually go on a mission.

  58. I just don’t get the killjoys who think it Sabbath breaking to eat outside with my family on a sunday.Maybe it isnt Sunady if it does’nt hurt?

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