Monday, March 23, 2015

People Will Flow to Zion: Service Should Be Unconditional, Not a Means to Conversion

I believe the greatest "missionary work" we can do is to devote more time and effort to service, but I believe we can't do so with the idea or goal of increasing church membership.  I believe we need to "share the Gospel" of Jesus Christ more by modeling Jesus' actions than by preaching what he taught - as important as it is to share what he taught.  I think if the overall membership stopped trying to “do missionary work” and started serving others more actively (not just each other, like so many “service projects” are focused on doing) – with no conversion focus but simply for the love of other people – we would end up with a situation where the full-time missionaries would be teaching much more than they currently can. I believe if we truly worked to establish Zion, people would “flow unto it” – and “missionary work” would be available for the full-time missionaries without their having to seek it nearly as much. 

I am talking about service by regular members like me, given in the communities in which we live. Those opportunities are abundant and nearly overwhelming in many communities, and everywhere I’ve seen it approached humbly and meekly (“How can we help, no strings attached?”) the local government and community leaders have been grateful. In areas like where I was raised, where over 90% of the citizens are members, it would be a bit different, but if we stopped serving with an agenda and simply looked for those who need help (and provided whatever they need, not what we want to give), things would be radically different even in areas like where I was raised.

Serving in soup kitchens and shelters of all kinds – conducting parenting courses for young parents – mentoring and tutoring students (of all ages) – sitting with hospital patients and nursing home residents who have no family who visit – volunteering in schools – delivering Meals on Wheels – providing temporary shelter for abused women and their children – teaching budgeting and nutrition skills – cleaning senior citizens enters – helping Habitat for Humanity – volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club and YMCA – cleaning and beautifying cemeteries – clearing land that poses a fire hazard – providing childcare for welfare recipients attending classes – helping with military veteran rehabilitation – organizing or participating in drives to gather food, clothing, school supplies, etc. for needy children and families.

The list is endless – and I believe that it would take a paradigm shift to allow members to spend less time at the church building and more time in the community. With the advent of modern technology, there is so much we could do administratively without having to have traditional meetings – and we could substitute service of this type once a month for some of our secondary meetings (even the second and/or third hour of our Sunday meetings). It’s just a matter of decoupling culture and tradition from Gospel, in many cases – and I use “just” knowing it’s not easy.

The issue is sustained effort and commitment, even if no baptisms result immediately. It really does have to be for nothing more than love of others. If nothing else, it would turn us into better Christians and not just better Mormons – but I really do believe a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes (many of them deserved, unfortunately) would break down and interested people would find us as a result of more exposure and our own internal change.

As I’ve said previously, we tend to focus so much on not being of the world that we forget to be fully in the world – and that, I believe, is our biggest challenge to both building the kingdom of God on earth and to establishing Zion. So, while I believe that how missionaries serve is an important issue (and that it can’t be the same way they served previously as itinerant preachers), I believe the solution in our own time lies in how we (the membership) serve, first and foremost.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree, but how will we find the time? Actually, if I were to do only a fraction of what my great ward would like me to do, I'd be getting up before I went to bed.
I think finding common ground within our communities-participating in a language conversation class, also in some fitness and dance classes, a book group-have been a great way for me to get involved in
'service'.Enjoying our time together, serving others within our groups and supporting one another over time, have brought us close. Doubtless there will be times when they need to 'serve' me. A friend of mine once said to me'nobody likes to be anyone else's "project".' That was a turning point for me. When the french do something pleasant for someone else and are thanked, they will often reply 'c'est normal.' I think everyone feels better when we see good behaviour as a normal, ordinary part of everyday life.