Trying What Hasn’t Been Tried Before

Imagination is probably the most underrated element of effective service—but I’ve found it to be just as important as faith and concern.

They were his friends. He was sick—perhaps dying from palsy. They had already tried every normal cure, but their friend only worsened. What could they do?

Then they heard of a prophet who healed the sick, and believing that this man might help their friend, they carried him to the house where the great prophet was teaching. But the crowds were so dense that they couldn’t get their friend even to the door. It was impossible.

Did they give up? Of course not. They cared about their friend too much to quit that easily. And they believed that the prophet might help him. So they lifted their friend to the roof, removed a section of the roof directly above the prophet, and lowered their friend through the hole to the floor.

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. … I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.” (Mark 2:5, 11.)

In this instance, all the man needed was to be brought close enough to the Savior, and because of his faith the Lord healed him, both spirit and body. Of course, the man didn’t have to be physically close to the Savior; if he had simply been spiritually close the miracle still could have occurred. And isn’t that the task of every Church worker? We try to keep our fellow Saints close enough to the Lord that they can benefit from his Spirit, and then it’s pretty much up to the individual.

The sick man’s friends had faith that the Master could heal him. And they cared enough about him to exert a great deal of effort in his behalf.

But there is a third quality, besides faith and concern, that many Saints overlook in carrying out their Church callings: imagination. The impossibility of getting in through the door didn’t deter them—if the door was blocked, they’d come through the roof.

And sometimes that’s just what is needed—someone with enough imagination to see a new way around a problem. For instance:

A Relief Society president had been trying for months to activate a particular sister who, though very talented and blessed with a good testimony, felt that Relief Society was for women who had nothing better to do—and she believed that she had something better to do! Visits, letters, special invitations—all had failed. And then the president hit on an idea that worked. She called the sister to teach a miniclass in macramé, and at the same time had two other sisters give classes in other arts. When the talented woman saw what interesting things were going on in Relief Society—and what interesting people were doing them—she began coming regularly.

A ward mission leader was worried about a family in which the mother and a daughter had joined the Church, and the father and son adamantly refused to join. He tried everything he could think of to influence them—but the more he tried, the less they cooperated.

Then the mission leader found out that the son was interested in rockets. And not just interested—with the help of a local military base he had built and launched several small rockets, and the boy’s father was more than a little proud of him.

So the ward mission leader arranged with the Boy Scouts and Explorers in the area to invite the boy to present a lecture and exhibit, which would include the actual launching of the rocket. The father came along to transport the equipment. The result was the father’s and his son’s first visit to the chapel—and a chance for them to meet many fine Latter-day Saints in circumstances where they didn’t feel like strangers. Instead they felt warm and accepted, and had a very positive experience.

Another example comes from an elders quorum president who despaired of bringing six of his inactive elders into activity. They smoked, and couldn’t seem to kick the habit. And they never felt comfortable with the other elders the few times they did come out. So the elders quorum president did something unheard of—he organized those inactive elders into a crew to work on the ward building project. He unblushingly titled them “The Smoking Elders Crew,” and they responded eagerly. After all, they didn’t want to be cut off from the Church, and now they had a chance to serve the Lord among people who shared their weaknesses and so would not seem to be “looking down” on them.

And the result? Before the project was over, several of them had given up their cigarettes and were coming to Church regularly. After all, they had put in as many hours on the building project as anyone else—they felt like what they were—actively participating members of the Church, despite their personal problems.

Imagination can make the difference. Of course, not every creative or unusual idea is going to work. Just because the idea is “different” doesn’t mean it’s particularly good. Sometimes, in an effort to be creative, well-meaning people come up with gimmicks that are in poor taste, or that really don’t apply to the problem they’re trying to solve. For instance, there are many ways a teacher can get his or her class’s attention—but the only ones that really work are the ones that attract their attention to the lesson, and not just to the teacher. An outlandish costume may get them looking at you at the beginning, but when you are later discussing a serious gospel principle, the costume will only get in the way of the discussion. A funny joke at the beginning of a talk may get people laughing—but if it doesn’t lead into the actual subject of your talk, or make some kind of supporting point, then it is just wasted time.

And gimmicks don’t work when they’re obvious or inappropriate. If the teenage boy had not been very good at rocketry, the demonstration and exhibit would have been a failure, and in embarrassment the boy and his father might never have come back to Church. If the disinterested sister hadn’t really known how to do macramé, her miniclass would have been a disaster, for she would have been out of her depth trying to teach a perceptive Relief Society class.

And it is never wise to throw away the manual and do everything “your” way. After all, the handbooks and manuals issued by the Church are the result of much prayerful thought, discussion, and research. Chances are pretty good that doing things by the book will work out well in most cases. Your faith in the Lord and concern for other people will almost always be enough to make the regular program work well.

But there are a few cases where individual circumstances just won’t allow the regular procedure, and those are the times when the Lord expects us to be creative.

“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things,” said the Lord. “For he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant.” The Lord says that his children should “do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:26–27.)

We are entitled to inspiration from the Lord in our callings, whatever they may be. If the Lord has already provided the answers to our particular problems in the scriptures, or in the instructions and suggestions issued by the leaders of his Church, then we should find them there. But when the answer isn’t to be found or a new approach is needed, we should pray for ideas, seek inspiration, and look in unusual places for the solution to our problem—even if we have to come in at it from the roof!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Craig Poppleton

Stephen Tanner, a professor of English at the University of Idaho, is president of the Moscow University First Branch, Pullman Washington Stake.