Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thoughts on Reactivation and Baptism

Roy recently wrote a great blog post about reactivation. I intended this to be a comment on that post but realized how asinine it was to write such a long comment when it could be a post in and of itself. So here we go.

I wonder, and I've expressed this before, whether or not the people the missionaries baptized into the church are people who can stay active. We're as a rule a highly articulate and educated church. We have our own jargon, derived from traditional Christianity, but with very unique meanings. We place a high value on academic achievement. Our leaders tend to be highly successful in their fields.

This does not describe--I'm speaking in general terms here--the type of people that the missionaries have access to. Now that's not to say that missionaries don't baptize people who become stalwarts in the faith. They do we've all seen it. But of their many baptisms what percent stays active? I think church wide our activity rate is somewhere in the 30%-50% range. I don't think this is all because of disaffection with dogma, I think a lot of inactivity starts with a failure to find a niche in a ward or branch and subsequent failure to learn our liturgical language.

This is why I see reactivation and missionary work as a highly cultural part of our church existence. With new converts we need to befriend them and acculturate them. We cannot simply assign a home teacher and call it a day. Conversion requires new members to become fluent in a new language and to learn a new standard of expectations.

Now the language part is hard for many Mormons because by and large we are not bilingual. I mean to say we don't speak Catholic, Muslim, or Evangelical very well. We struggle to realize that "sacrament" to us is "communion" to others and their "sacraments" are our "ordinances". We forget that the term Grace as it is used in much of the Christian world is what we think of as mercy (rough translation, there are nuances that don't come through). Perhaps most important in the conversion and conversation with new members (and non-members) is that what we mean by "works" is really nothing more than the idea that the power of the Grace of Christ changes the hearts of men to do good continually.

Without starting this process of linguistic acculturation at the beginning of a conversion we are fighting an uphill battle when we reactivate.

I believe that this is why Prez. Hinckley was so adamant about not only having a calling for new converts, but also teaching them the gospel and befriending them. Without friendship and the ability to openly dialogue about doctrine, those we baptize are at a disadvantage at "becoming Mormon" and all of the cultural baggage that this entails.

Additionally without the ability to actually discuss the gospel beyond the superficial "seminary" analysis of Sunday School, I think we fail to realize the potential of living in a community of Christ. The insights that can be gleaned through dialoguing with others and admitting to them that there are aspects of the gospel you a. struggle to understand or b. have a hard time believing, can be tremendously edifying and uplifting. If we undertake to start this process with every convert and reach out to our friends in a similar manner we can as a people fulfill the promise of the School of the Prophets and "all be edified together."


Monday, January 24, 2011

Thoughts in the Temple Part 1

By moving to Buffalo, C and I now live closer to a temple than we have in years. It is a short 1 hour 45 minute jaunt to the temple. Given our schedule this means we only go every four to six weeks but that's still more often than we've been since our years as temple workers. Of course the fact that it is the Palmyra temple we attend only adds to the spirituality (can I quote Animal Farm in connection with temples? I better not.).

In any case while there this past weekend I was reading through 1 Nephi 19 and I came upon a passage that I don't think I've ever fully appreciated before. v. 7
For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet but I would speak in other words--they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.

Now this scripture is set in context the prophesies of Zenos and Zenock in relation to the coming of Christ, and so could easily be read as an indictment of those who outwardly reject the Savior. I couldn't help but read it as an indictment of those of us who belong to the Church.

I think each of us have pet subjects that we choose to follow more closely than those things that make us uncomfortable. For me I tend to focus on the temple and its place as the center of our worship. Yet I do this without presenting it as part of my life to my non-Mormon friends, something that would be a great missionary tool. I tend to accept the words of Joseph and Brigham that we shouldn't follow the prophets blindly without realizing that means that sometimes things I disagree with on a personal level are given to us from the prophet acting as a prophet. The list can go on and on.

It is appropriate that such an insight would come in the temple. For it teaches us that gospel itself is not merely a single part or aspect of doctrine, but that it all ties together in a great whole. To do missionary work is to do genealogy, for none of us exists independent of our kindred dead. To home teach is to do missionary work, for no dead stands in a vacuum. To go to the temple is to perfect ourselves, to preach to tie generations past and yet to come together in the great web of salvation.

In the end the principles of the gospel are like this. No doctrine is independent and to treat some with more deference than others is to set at naught the words of Christ.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Activation Efforts

As a follow-up to my earlier post about my 2011 personal goals, I wanted to explore the third resolution in more detail. At ward council this week, our Relief Society president referred to section 5.3 in Handbook 2, which discusses activation efforts.

In this section we have a reference to 3 Nephi 18:32, where the Savior commands the people of His church to accept sinners among them, ministering to them with faith that they may accept the truth of the gospel message.

As we work with a huge ward with immense numbers of inactive, estranged, and incompletely converted members, this commands rings true, and it is a powerful final message from the Relief Society president who, shortly after the meeting, was released from her calling of over five years.

But even more powerful than the idea of continuing to minister is the promise. We may be the means of bringing salvation through this faithful persistence. It's true of temple work; perhaps many of those for whom we do proxy work will not accept the gospel, but those who do will love us for acting in their behalf. Children sealed to us may turn from the gospel, but our love can in the end help them find their way back.

As so, as I seek to minister with more power and more love, this verse speaks volumes to me. I must not shrink just because I don't see results. My getting-things-done mentality needs to cede to a longer-term view of conversion. And I need to minister more fully, more completely.

Monday, January 3, 2011


One of the best parts of having several weeks off around Christmas is that it gives me the chance to reflect on the previous year and set some goals for the new one. With four weeks between semesters, I find I can step back from the minute details of my life and really focus on what I want to do differently. I also get to sleep in a lot, which helps too.

But over the last few years I've done a lousy job of this, and my goals have been kind of prosaic--stuff like "lay sod in the back yard," an admirable goal for 2010 that, unfortunately, didn't come to fruition. And even worse, even if it had, I don't think it would have made a profound improvement in my character or life.

So this year I am making what I hope will be deep goals, things that are rooted in my core values and that have the potential to truly transform what I do as husband, father, Latter-day Saint, and member of my community. Following what was a successful approach as a missionary, each goal is tied to a scriptural phrase as part of the process of making that goal bigger than just a to-do list. And, because blogging something makes it more real for me, here are my three main goals for 2011:

Feast on the words of Christ. My scripture study habits have become soft over time, and I simply need to be more consistent. We've done it with family scripture study; now I need to do it with personal scripture study.

Seek learning by study and by faith. In addition to reading the scriptures daily, I need to broaden and deepen my learning. This applies to my dissertation, my gospel study, and my leisure reading. Across the board, I need to be both more selective and more voracious in finding, consuming, and internalizing valuable ideas.

Minister with power. The best experiences I have had this past year have been in one-on-one settings. Whether with members of the ward, co-workers, my kids, or my wife, opportunities to stop what I'm doing and listen to another person, to share a moment of connection and compassion have made the biggest difference. These moments make my work, my church service, and my life richer and more meaningful. As a hard-core introvert, this is not my natural state, so I need to strive for these kinds of opportunities. Like scripture study, it's too important to leave to chance. Rather, I need to actively create time for these sorts of interactions.

Here then are some specific actions I want to focus on for each of these goals.

Feast on the words of Christ. The real challenge here is to find the right time of day for scripture study. Mornings seem like an obvious time, since I tend to wake up early. But I also tend to have a lot to do early in the morning--grading essays, housework, emailing, etc. The commute to work might be a good time, as might lunch time. Either way will require disciple, which is definitely something I need more of in my life.

Seek learning by study and by faith. The main focus here must be my dissertation. I've had some serious obstacles over the past few years, but I need to stop making excuses and start working more consistently. That means writing every day, meeting with my adviser more often, and really developing an end-game strategy. Simply stated, I need to finish this year.

Minister with power. The thing I admire most about people with whom I serve in the Church is their ability to connect with people on an individual basis and make them feel valuable and loved. This is something I don't do well; my emphasis on getting things done often results in a hurried life devoid of personal connection or the kind of warmth that really makes a difference in people's lives.

Over the next few days I will make some additional observations about each of these goals, getting specific in terms of how I see myself doing these things and how this will improve my life. And maybe even get me out of laying sod.