Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Attending Church Should Be a Supplemental Activity to Personal Growth

I have heard many people talk about their struggles to find growth and inspiration in the Church - from those who have attended regularly and actively for many years and feel they have heard it all multiple times (that they never hear anything new) to those who have faced disillusionment and find they no longer agree with much of what they hear weekly in meetings. In a very real way, I understand both of these concerns, but I have found a way to mitigate them in my own life - by creating a personal focus of my own that I pursue as my primary spiritual objective independent of what I gain individually from church meetings. This approach has allowed me to attend meetings with the focus of helping others during those meetings - which means that anything I personally gain from them is icing on the cake.

Personally, I have chosen to do so through my New Year's Resolution process, which I chronicle in posts here each Saturday. (Anyone who is not familiar with this process, look back at the posts that I have written on Saturdays - but first read my posts on New Year's Day starting in 2008.) I have focused on internalizing the godly characteristics enumerated in the Sermon on the Mount, the aspects of charity Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and the questions asked in Alma 5. I don't know yet what my focus will be each year in the future, but I have experienced more personal growth from this focus in a few short years than I did for decades prior to starting this journey - and I intend to continue it until I die (or until I no longer am mentally able to do so).

6 comments:

michelle said...

Hm. There's a bit more of a dance here for me where going to church is often part of that spiritual growth. I can't tell you how many times prayers have been specifically answered at church.

In other words, I don't look at it as icing on the cake, but part of the process. ... not that I can place all my eggs in that basket (sometimes going to church is not going to be a perfectly fulfilling experience), but I guess I've been a little disappointed to see that sometimes church is dismissed as a sort of appendage that has nothing to do with spiritual growth, where nothing fulfilling can be expected, and I think that swings too far the other way.

But maybe that's because I live in a place where church really is very often a feast.

Papa D said...

I probably should clarify a bit, michelle.

I also have had prayers answered at church (and have attended two wonderful wards over the past 14 years where I am fed spiritually on a regular basis) - and I absolutely don't view church as "a sort of appendage that has nothing to do with spiritual growth, where nothing fulfilling can be expected". If that is the impression this post leaves, I apologize; it's not what I meant.

All I really mean is that I can't make church the primary focus of my spiritual growth - that I have to pursue that outside of church. I don't think that is at odds at all with what the LDS Church teaches, since we hear all the time that personal study, prayer, service, home efforts, etc. are every bit as important (and, often, more important) than what happens at church.

Going to church is PART of my spiritual growth - absolutely. It just isn't the biggest, primary part.

Papa D said...

I just had a thought about how to say this perhaps a little better:

If attending church is my primary source of spiritual growth, in a real way I am "living on borrowed light". That is fine for a while, for many people, but it can't be the case long term without depleting the oil that is needed to keep the lamp trimmed properly.

ji said...

Thanks! I agree that people will be dissatisfied if they look to church for all of their social and other needs -- families, employment, hobbies, clubs, and so forth can sometimes better fill our social and emotional needs than church. Filling these needs is not the purpose of church, although church can help fill some of these needs some of the time for some people. Rather, the purpose of church is worship and service and inspiration -- I go to church to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, to help strengthen others by my association and testimony, and to learn a little through the help of the holy spirit -- anything else I get there as you say, is icing on the cake.

People who approach the church as a cultural institution where they will meet all their desires or needs for academic growth or personal validation or respect of others or democratic approaches to decision-making or sharing their own doctrines to an audience or so forth will likely be disappointed. True, some people will find social acceptance and prestige of office in a church setting, but not everyone will -- and even for those that do, such is not the purpose of church.

Gwennaƫlle said...

"If attending church is my primary source of spiritual growth, in a real way I am "living on borrowed light". That is fine for a while, for many people, but it can't be the case long term without depleting the oil that is needed to keep the lamp trimmed properly."

Yep.

To me the goal we should be pursuing is beyond mere church attendance just the same way getting proper sleep is not the main source of our strength.

the attitude is like for some students here in France for who going to University is about going to university and have to sense of projection of their life in a future. Going to church should help for a bigger goal and should not only be seen as a social hang out opportunity or only a commandment.

Anyway, got to go meet some clients.

michelle said...

I figured that is what you meant, and I'm sorry I didn't clarify my thoughts a little more. This is just on my mind because it seems there is an undercurrent of that kind of dismissal and I find it unfortunate. And it was late so I was a bit lazy in my comment, I'm afraid.

I still wanted to communicate what I did, but knowing you, I figured you weren't in that camp of dismissing church. ;)