“Prosecute the missionary work in this land and abroad so far and so widely as you may. All are called according to the gifts of God unto them; and to the intent that all may labor together, let him that laboreth in the ministry and him that toileth in the affairs of the men of business and of work labor together…”
Doctrine and Covenants 119:8
“Now, behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men, therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day; therefore, if ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work … Remember, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.”
Doctrine and Covenants 4:1-2
A mark of a dying branch is the assumption of responsibilities by too few persons. In one branch the only elder is the pastor, preacher, church school director, song leader, and class lecturer. Such has been the case for the past decade. Today the branch is less than half the size it was ten years ago, and from the present age composition it will be a branch of the past in another ten years if some changes are not made. No leadership has been developed, nor is any more d sired either on the part of the presiding officer or the membership. They are seemingly content to go on into oblivion. Yet “all are called according to the gifts of God unto them.”
This pattern is easily established by some leaders who seem to have been blessed with more than average ability in various fields. Frequently when such a leader asks those working under him to assume responsibility, that potential worker refuses because of his lack of comparable abilities. Or the presiding officer becomes impatient with the beginners’ seemingly feeble efforts and “just takes over” again. With such an outlook, potential workers are “passed over” – the parishioners seem to have no gifts.
If a similar program were carried out in our homes our children would grow up to be helpless. Branches do likewise. In some instances limited pastoral leadership (limited as far as gifts are concerned) have built the fastest growing branches. Such pastors are willing to accept their share of the load, but at the same time are willing to share responsibility. “All are called according to the gifts of God unto them.”
Many an inactive member has renewed his interest when given responsibility in the church. Non-members have grown to members through serving the church-even in physical labors. Psychology points out that we need to let people help us do things. The leader with vision can see potentiality in people. There are times when his vision is obscured until a dire need arises. Some branches, it seems, need to die before they can be resurrected to see their potentialities. Yet “all are called according to the gifts of God unto them.”
No greater punishment can be inflicted upon a normal person than for him to be compelled to attend a branch in which he is allowed only passive participation, and to remain unnoticed for that which he desires most-to be given a chance to excel in some field or department of the church. Social science has pointed out that by nature each person desires to be a member of a group-a solitary individual is not a normal person. Group participation is the building of one’s self-one’s happiness – one’s security. We all, if normal, desire to belong to a group and to participate actively in it. The greatest missionary endeavor of the church lies here and usually begins in group participation. There is the misleading teaching in many religions that church membership brings salvation. Membership, in inactive or passive participation, may prove to be a seed of dissatisfaction. Really, the primary step toward substantial church membership begins with group participation. A “convert” to subject matter without participation often remains only a number on church records. Active participation in church circles brings about modification of attitudes and tastes to harmonize with the group. If they are active in the “out group” (other than church) and passive in the “in group” (the church) they are likely to become resentful toward church members, although converted to subject matter. Active participation makes their membership more than just marginal.
In a theocratic democracy we do not “dish out” orders and expect them to be followed to a “T.” If such absolute authority were in effect the following generations would grow up to be puppets and branches would either die or disintegrate. Problem number one is usually those who are in the position of leadership. Frequently, the ones who pride themselves on their experience and insist on their way of doing things because of that experience little realize that they may be repeating errors of the past. Individual initiative should be encouraged as a part of the branch program.
Another human trait which seems to be shared by most of us is that we pride ourselves on our use of common sense in regard to human relations. Such pride leads one in every ten to a mental institution. Humility is mentioned with the other attributes in the Scripture quoted. Weaknesses are given to us that we may be humble before God in our service to him. Actually, we have few experts in the field of human relations, but because so many of us assume that we are experts in this field, group conflicts result.
In the field of religious progress we are called upon to make surveys or investigations touching the human ego which is encompassed with taboos and deep reservations. In such research we are led to probe into facts that may reveal situations or practices needing reform, even in the face of vested interest members who have arrived at a state of self-satisfaction. Such investigation by only the leader may reveal true facts but will be met with resistance to suggested change. One pastor’s research into his congregational situation led him to report some facts indicating that the congregation was dying. For years the members had sincerely launched out on a program of perfecting themselves with no concern for their neighbors. Revealment of those facts caused the pastor to be removed. This is a mistake commonly made by leader and follower. The solution here is, first, the realization that more than four fifths of us have our prejudices, and no matter how valid the facts we do not easily change an established attitude or belief.
Attitude and belief tend to remain as they are established. If an investigation is made, it is already biased. That is, the facts that prove the present attitude or belief will be accepted; while those that tend to disprove will be discarded or overlooked. Any change in group attitude or belief must be done collectively and gradually by the group. In finding and recording the facts the members will promote a strong “we” feeling, and new progress can be made in transition without the group’s realizing its growth. Leadership must not go so far in advance of the group in discovering facts and needed changes to recommend drastic change until the membership has been through the same avenues to discover the facts also. Leadership must help the group make its decisions. Facts must be discovered by group members and discussed openly and frankly by them. Facts discovered by individuals are believed by them in the same manner in which they believe in themselves. Our church groups want to cure their own ills, but on the basis of their own diagnosis and treatment.
Every member and potential member likes to excel in some special field of the church. If we are constructing a new church we are not going to ask a public accountant, experienced only in that field, to take charge of the plumbing; but we may ask someone experienced in plumbing to assume responsibility for it and use the accountant as an assistant. There are two important things we must keep in mind in using a person. One is his interest and desires; the other is his abilities and gifts. If a person is not interested in working with children he likely will not put his heart and soul into it. If his heart is not there, his treasure lies elsewhere. Glen Cunningham who was once burned so that the doctors gave up hopes of his ever walking again developed the desire to see what his crippled limbs could do. He started walking between the plow handles. After much training he ran the fastest mile. Many would like to serve in the “fastest mile” area of the church, but they must first learn to walk between the plow handles. Herein lies more responsibility for the leader.
Sometimes members desire to occupy certain positions in the church which would be disastrous for them and others. They can be given other positions in which they are kept busy and can actively excel.
Other square pegs that seem to get into round holes are the fighters. There are actually two types, the militant and the tame. The latter can be the most dangerous. They occupy a position of leadership as an undermining negotiator. Their appeasements have serious effects on groups; in good faith they mislead and misrepresent the desires of the whole. They are often marked as the actual do-nothings, leaning on whispery gossip. They rely on winning good will and are too afraid to offend. An assignment in some special field will often re-channel their interest and energy. The militant fighter is outspoken and often radical. Sometimes we are tempted to give him what he says he wants to avoid, a “row.” Actually he hopes we will fall for this. Many times his cries are so loud that we are misled to believe he represents group opinion-when actually he stands alone. People do not continue long in their creations of discord if they do not gain a following, or if they continually lose in their battles. If a good cause can be substituted for which they can fight and win in harmony with the program of the church their desires are satisfied. If such is not the case and we cannot divert their energies to productive works, we had better do as Joseph Smith once did when confronted with a similar problem. Hiram Page had been receiving revelations through a stone to guide the early church. It would have taken very little in some respects to have wrecked the church in its infancy, so Joseph again went to the woods to pray. He returned from the woods to send Hiram Page-along with some other men -on an important mission. It was a mission to the very borders of civilization, carrying the Book of Mormon message to the Indians. The challenge was so great the stone incident was forgotten. “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” “All are called according to the gifts of God unto them.”