I was asked the question above recently, and the following was my response:
First, not all faith transitions are crises. Many are nothing more than a maturation in individual perspective. We are prone to classify different views as crises, and that tendency alone causes many problems. (More on that later in this post.)
My first piece of advice would be really simple:
Read Elder Wirthlin's April 2008 General Conference talk, "Concern for the One", and Pres. Uchtdorf's talk in the Saturday morning session of this past General Conference ("Come, Join with Us"). Study both of them carefully and prayerfully. (I will address more directly some of PRes. Uchtdorf's points in a future post, but I want to dwell particularly in this post on what Elder Wirthlin taught.)
Regarding Elder Wirthlin's address:
1) Notice what he says about those who become "lost".
If a leader couldn't understand anything else, I hope he at least could understand that many of those who struggle do so because:
a) They are different;
b) They are weary;
c) They have strayed.
Notice, TWO of the three types he mentioned HAVE NOT strayed. That's SO critical to understand. They are "lost", but they haven't strayed. They just are different and/or weary. So, what can a leader do for them?
2) Recognize and acknowledge that their differences are OK - that being different does NOT mean straying. If nothing else can be accomplished, that one single thing, I believe, would save many people great and terrible heartache and suffering and would, in a very real way, "save" them.
3) Stop heaping burdens on people who are weary.
Allow a way to receive a timely and honorable "release" during weariness that does not include the implication that needing a break means someone is weak or has strayed. Show by action that Elder Packer was right when he said that the Church is meant to help the members - that the members aren't meant to staff the Church.
4) As for those who have strayed, find them - then truly get to know them - then love them no matter if they return immediately or ever. Love them for who they are, not as projects - or objects to reactivate.
5) Preach the Church as God's orchestra, as described in Elder Wirthlin's talk.
Nurture that analogy obsessively. Tell your members to celebrate diverse instrumentation in the Church. Preach Zion as such an orchestra - NOT as a bunch of piccolos playing the same, solitary melody.
6) Focus passionately on making each and every church meeting a spiritual, Christ-centered experience.
Differentiate between the purpose of Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society Meetings - and insist the Bishops focus on the different purposes, as well. Preach the development of Christlike attributes, the chief being charity. Preach service strictly for the sake of helping others - NOT for the sake of conversion. Partner with non-members and other organizations (including other churches) in this effort. Ask members to sacrifice to lift others - and almost nothing else. All the law and prophets hang on love, so teach and model love - by understanding and living Elder Wirthlin's message in "Concern for the One" and Pres. Uchtdorf's message in "Come, Join with Us".
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