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Ministering: less talk, more action

A few weeks ago, I was called to be the ward mission leader. Since then, I have been pondering on what I need to do to magnify my calling. I have served with a lot of different ward mission leaders both on and off my mission. Some jumped in with the missionaries. Others never learned the missionaries’ names. Some rarely missed an opportunity to attend teaching appointments. Others rarely attended Church itself. Some were overbearing in their calling. Others couldn’t bare to be in their calling. It’s a wide spectrum.

So how does the Lord want me to serve? What should my focus be? How can I put new energy into visiting the “same ten people?” Or do we need a new approach entirely? A lot of weighty questions on my mind. I’ve been trying to discern how Christ wants me to serve in this capacity.

Christ: ministering and administering

When I read 3 Nephi 27 the other day. The leaders of Christ’s ancient Church in the western hemisphere were praying, seeking guidance on how to best serve Him in His Church. I really resonated with that. He responded by telling them they already knew the answer:

Ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do.

When I read that verse, I was impressed with this thought: Consider all the records we have of Christ’s interactions with people. Divide those interactions into two groups: “ministering” and “administering.” We have records of Christ “administering.” He gave explicit instructions for the building of tabernacles and temples, organizing quorums, and mission calls. There is a lot of administering. But the administering component of His interactions with us is dwarfed in both length and magnitude by His ministering. The blessings, the teachings, the healings, the miracles, the personal manifestations, the love, the concern, the tears, and the prayers dwarf all other things He did.

So what are the works those Nephite leaders had seen Him do? He let thousands of believers come to Him one by one and feel the prints of the nails. He wept for them. He wept with them. He comforted them. He forgave them. He healed their sick. He blessed their children. He gave them the emblems of His flesh and blood. He sanctified them. He prayed for them using words so powerful they could not be written.

Christ ministered far more than He administered.

As I pondered on that, here are two principles that I have chosen to try and implement in my calling.

Principle #1: Death by planning

See if the following sounds like your ward council sometimes:

Week 1 Someone brings up that a certain member is struggling with a certain aspect of the Gospel. The Bishop takes some notes. The Elders Quorum President says there’s a brother who may be potentially well-suited to addressing this. Added as agenda item for next week.
Week 2 No time to talk about that point on the agenda because missionaries took too much time reporting on all the people they taught that will not be at Church.
Week 3 No time to talk about that point on the agenda because the young women’s president and the Bishopric spent too long talking about the details of the upcoming standards in excellence.
Week 4 Remind ward council members what the topic is the member is struggling with. Someone remembers the Elders quorum president saying something, but he’s out of town and no one can remember exactly what he’s said. Tabled until next week.
Week 5 Ward council members throw around ideas for 30 minutes about how to help this member. Meeting ends with nothing actually decided.
Week 6 Discuss the concern again. Someone suggests that topic could be the focus of a 5th Sunday discussion. Bishop says he’ll think about it.
Week 7 Bishop says he likes addressing that concern in front of the ward so the brother doesn’t feel singled out, but he also wants to talk about a few related topics, so it will be folded into the larger discussion.
Week 8 No longer on agenda because it will be covered in 2 months when there is a 5th Sunday.
Week 15 Topic doesn’t get covered in 5th Sunday discussion due to time constraints. But that’s OK because that member is not at Church that day. In fact, no one’s quite sure when they last saw him or her in the pews.

Look, I understand the need for good planning. I get that the Lord works through councils and that’s awesome. But when I look at Christ’s example contrasted to how long it often takes for us to get some things done in the Church, I worry that we are perhaps too cautious and meticulous in our efforts to serve our brothers and sisters. We over-plan. We turn what could be simple visits into big productions. And we deliberate and counsel while those we are trying to serve are waiting for what seems like an eternity for us to find the “best” way to help them with a need they have now.

When I read that verse in 3 Nephi 27, I rememberd the tragic story that Elder Mervyn B. Arnold shared in General Conference. Two fishing boats were returning back from their work as a storm was approaching. One boat’s engine broke down. The other boat was unable to tow them. While the distress calls came in, the coast guard met to decide and deliberate on the “best” way to rescue the boats. They deliberated too long. By the time they finally came to a plan, both boats were deep beneath the waves.

Applying this to our ministering efforts, Elder Arnold pled:

While we must be organized in our councils, quorums, auxiliaries, and even as individuals, we must not delay going to the rescue. Sometimes many weeks pass as we talk about how to help families or individuals who are in special need. We deliberate about who will visit them and the approach to take. Meanwhile, our lost brothers and sisters continue needing and sometimes even calling and pleading for help. We must not delay.

Again, I’m not advocating “fly by the seat of our pants” approach to ministering. I’m simply suggesting that if we spend more hours of our week administering than ministering, we might be doing it wrong. When the Lord commanded us to be “anxiously engaged” in a good cause, He meant that we should be “eagerly engaged”– not “stressed about how to engage.” When a man falls overboard and you hear the people on the boat discussing whether a life ring or a life jacket is the best flotation device for the job:

Ain't nobody got time for dat!

Principle #2: Shorten and simplify!

Also, in considering our administering to ministering ratio, it’s not just “minister more.” It’s “minister more, administer less.” To accomplish that, we need to greatly simplify our approach. I can’t remember the last time I went to a meeting at work or at Church that couldn’t have realistically been accomplished in half (a quarter) the time. I think sometimes we schedule meetings to last an hour by convention. And then somehow we make 15 minutes of counseling together stretch to fill the whole hour. And when that hour is finished, if the discussion continues, we keep going because it is the Gospel, after all, and we are engaged in a good work, so surely God would want us not to stop just because a clock hand moved up, right?

It’s not just meetings, either. When we do finally decide on a course of action to help someone, we usually overdo it. When one family is struggling with a certain topic, we plan a whole Fifth Suunday discussion around them. When a less-active wants to get married in the Church building, suddenly the whole ward needs to attend to show support. When the Church introduced online donations, some wards specifically ask their members not to pay their fast offerings online just so the dads can haul their sons from house to house to collect them in person and bring them back to the Bishopric who now has to wait two hours later at the Church building to get everything counted and turned into the bank.

I’m not saying all those ideas are bad. Sometimes that kind of extra rigamorale seems to be our response a lot of the time. But the kinds of problems we are to address as ministers are usually best solved by more programs, more activities, and more combined lessons. Sometimes these large-scale approaches are appropriate, but more often they just get in the way of ministering within the homes and in our families. Pres. Packer warned:

Meetings and activities can multiply until they take “strength unto themselves” at the expense of the gospel– of true worship. [Return] much of the responsibility for teaching and counseling and activity to the family where it belongs… [with] fewer intrusions into family schedules… Church activities must be replaced by family activities… Some families need more support than others. Perhaps we have been over-programming stable families to meet the needs of those with problems. We must seek a better way.

Sure, Christ taught the multitudes. And sure, He attended and taught in regular synagogue meetings weekly and particpated with them in their own meetings and programs. But in large groups, He had to veil His meaning in parables and was limited in His ability to reach their hearts. His most powerful teachings and His most effective ministering were all one by one as He went to them in their homes and in their fields and through their streets.

I’m not criticizing anyone’s ability to minister. Remember, all this came out of my wondering what I can do better in my calling. The members of this Church are amazing. We want to serve others. And we want to do it in the best, most effective, least threatening, most powerful way possible. But maybe in striving for “the best” we pass up opportunities to serve entirely when all that was needed was a simple “good enough” in-person visit.

Less talk, more action

As a result of my pondering and studying, I counseled with the ward missionaries and proposed we change our meeting time for ward correlation. Instead of meeting together for one hour after Church before we go home, we now meet at 6:30 on Wednesday nights. The meeting lasts a maximum of 30 minutes. We try not to discuss anything that doesn’t require whole group participation, so often it’s even shorter. After correlation meeting, we divide into companionships and go visit the members for about 2 hours. Now, instead of dreading yet another meeting that should have been an email, we look forward to getting out of the building and hopefully touching some lives each Wednesday evening.

I’m not saying this “less talk, more action” approach is the answer to every organization in every ward. But in all the callings I’ve had, I have felt the Spirit and seen more success in our efforts when we are “going and doing” and not just “counseling together.”

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