Thursday, October 2, 2014

People vs. Programs

Lately I’ve had time to consider the various programs of the church and to, quite honestly, evaluate their worth and value to the members.   The conclusions that I’ve come to have surprised me.

It all started with a meeting that I had regarding the status of our YM. To be brutally honest, our ward has not had a good track record of cranking out worthy, temple bound young men who are ready to serve in the Melchizedek Priesthood, go on missions and marry in the temple.  I’d quote you the statistics, but they are too depressing.

So we held this discussion as to what to do about it.  After discussing all the programs we have available to the YM and what we might be able to do…we didn’t come up with any good ideas.  One comment that was made really struck me to the core though…it was made by our Bishop when he stated “When I’m sitting in the front of the chapel and I look over the congregation, I don’t see happy people. Living the gospel should make us happy, shouldn’t it?”

Of course the reply to that is YES! We should be the happiest people on the earth.  We have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ…we should be ecstatic!

So what’s the deal?

To answer that, let me tell you more of the above story.

That statement by the bishop really resonated with me.  I thought to myself…It’s true.  Even I’m not all that happy.  Meetings are a drudgery.  There are Sunday’s when the idea of going to church is almost unbearable.  Extending callings is something that I dread.  Home teaching is just frustrating…all of it just seems to be frustration mounted on top of frustration, and NONE of it is bringing me happiness.

Luckily I had time to walk home from my meeting and ponder this a bit.  I got home still with no conclusions…but I was ready to learn something.

Earlier in the week was my son’s birthday.  He is a fan of Bear Grylls…not necessarily his TV shows…but the man himself, and as a gift I had bought him this book…
Honestly, if you've never read about Bear...his life story is impressive, and he's an entertaining writer.
So my son comes to me and says “Dad, have you read this book?” I told him I hadn’t but that I was looking forward to it.  He said “You need to read chapter 36 tonight.” And handed me the book.

I opened the book and read “Chapter 36: Find a Good Guide

He opens this chapter with this statement:

“When you pursue an exciting path through life, you are inevitably going to have moments of hardship, doubt, struggle and pain. It comes with the terrain of being a champion of any field.

So accept that fact.

For me, my simple faith has so often brought light to a dark path, joy to a cold mountain and strength to a failing body.”

He then points out that if you are going to find someone to guide you through the mountains, you pick someone who knows the mountains, likewise, if you are going to navigate the pitfalls of life “who better to have as a guide than the person who made the path or the mountain in the first place.” 

None other than Jesus Christ.

He then talks about how important faith in Christ is the central point of navigation through life and talks about his faith. 

Then I read this paragraph that blew me away:

“…finding a faith should help you to be freer, more full of life, more filled with joy, peace and love than you would ever imagine.  And those qualities, in abundance, will only make you stronger and more capable of living a wild and adventurous life.”


I read that a few times and then wrote it down because he hit the nail on the head…and it brought suddenly to my mind the heart of the problem that we were witnessing in our congregation.

We are entirely focused in the wrong place!  All the programs that we have in place are taking precedence over our faith in Jesus Christ…and that is why people are not happy, because their faith is rooted in success of programs rather than Jesus Christ.

You see in the Church we have the three P’s of needs or priorities.  People, Principles and Programs.  People are the highest priority, and teaching them correct Principles is key to happiness. The Programs are there to help us teach those Principles of salvation to the People. 

Principles can change by revelation but are otherwise pretty much set.  The doctrines of salvation are not going to change.

Programs, however, come and go based on the needs of the people.  If a program doesn’t meet the needs of the people then it’s time to re-evaluate it and try to do something else…only we don’t often do that, or we are not willing to do that.  Honestly, what do we do when someone isn’t following the program? Often we seek to place guilt on that person for not doing the program…don’t we?  Think about it.  For example…If a kid isn’t doing scouting, do we ask if the program is working for him or do we seek to make him conform to the program?  If people don’t attend a dull meeting, do we ask how the meeting could have been improved or do we lament that people are not faithful enough and willing to sacrifice to attend?  One of the most broken programs in the church is home teaching.  It has never worked very well (church wide home teaching numbers are abysmal), but how often are we told what terrible people we are because we aren’t doing the program well?  Has anyone ever asked “how could we achieve similar ends with different means? (I’m not casting dispersions on the prophet here, it just seems to me that we’ve developed a lazy habit of trying to guilt people into adherence to programs rather than honestly asses the needs of people and revise programs to better serve those needs.)

What am I getting at here?

I heard someone say once that the gospel of Jesus Christ is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.  It is this.

The GOSPEL of Jesus Christ is literally the “GOOD NEWS” of his atonement and resurrection for the salvation of ALL MANKIND!  That is it. Every single sin, mistake, pain, heartache or stumbling block we will encounter has been felt by the Savior of the world and has been atoned for.  It’s done.  That is the meaning of being saved by grace. This is the knowledge that should make us abundantly happy and feel the joy, peace and love that Bear talks about in his book.  The worth of our souls is dependent on our application of that knowledge and repentance of sin and daily seeking to be perfected in Christ.  ALL OF THAT OTHER STUFF (programs) and our adherence and practice of it is secondary.  BUT, that isn’t how it works in a typical ward is it?  Don’t we all sit there and say “I should do more family history, I’m not going to the temple enough, I’m not supporting that meeting, I’m not 100% home teacher, I’m not reading my scriptures every day, I’m struggling to fast today, I’m not the perfect mom, I’m…(fill in the guilt phrase)” and we focus so much attention that, that it overwhelms our happiness in Christ.  We forget the heart of the gospel and focus on the extremities.

Consequently we are not very happy and our priorities are misplaced.

Let me pause here for a second and state very clearly that all those programs are for our good and benefit. They are here to assist us on our path back to our Father in Heaven.  BUT there is a key in that thought that the programs are here to serve us…not the other way around.   They are all things we should be doing and if we are truly following Christ we will be doing those things and getting better at them every day. 

All those things are there to help us…but if they are making us unhappy…then we need to step back and reassess what it is that we are doing and WHY we are doing it.  We also need to refocus ourselves and center all that we do on Christ.

BUT…I’d also tell leaders that we also need to reassess what it is that we are asking people to do…and honestly ask “Is it helping them to focus on Christ…or is it a distraction and a burden?”

if we are just piling up activities and then guilt-ing people into unhappy compliance…then are we truly representing the Savior?