Nurturing the Less Active


In the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, we read: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free. … For the body is not one member, but many.” (1 Cor. 12:13–14.)

Paul likened the body of Christ, or the Church, to the body of a man, stating that each member is essential to the whole. “The eye,” he said, “cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee.” (1 Cor. 12:21.) As the body of a man is incomplete if some member is missing, so it is with the Church. All members have some function to serve; each has something to contribute.

In his analogy, Paul made special mention of:

—Members “which seem to be more feeble.” He stated that they “are necessary.” (1 Cor. 12:22; italics added.)

—Members “which we think to be less honourable.” Such, he wrote, were to receive “more abundant honour.” (1 Cor. 12:23; italics added.)

—Members of the body referred to as “our uncomely parts” who were to receive “more abundant comeliness.” (1 Cor. 12:23.)

Listen to Paul’s instructive words: “God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

“And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Cor. 12:24–26.)

Few words found in the scriptures are more poignant than these: “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.” (Ps. 142:4.) Do any members of the Church feel that they are unknown and uncared for? Have we turned our faces away from some whose lives appear less than Saintly?

Who?

As we seek to know and to understand those we should invite back into the mainstream of the Church, we might consider the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. (See Luke 15.)

The lost sheep spoken of by the Savior could represent the member of the fold who strays from the path, following rather passively the enticements of the world. He may not do so with planned or malicious intent; he simply follows the crowd and melds into the group that shows him the greater interest. Usually, a lost sheep will respond to overtures of genuine love, concern, and proper fellowship.

Perhaps the Savior used the parable of the lost coin to demonstrate that a valuable soul, like a piece of silver, may be lost through neglect. At times, leaders and teachers become neglectful, even offensive, and allow others to slip away. If this happens, and it can happen very easily, the responsible party should light the candle, sweep the floor, and do all within his power to recover the coin before it becomes encrusted with dust and is lost forever.

The prodigal son may represent those who openly rebel against heaven and home. The prodigal is often one who feels he might know more than his elders, who wants to try his own wings in uncertain areas, or who stumbles and falls while walking the slippery path of youth. Those close by may not understand the exact reason for the rebellion. However, the prodigal’s soul is of great worth and he should never be abandoned. Prayers, pleadings, persistent love, and the welcome mat at the door often win him back. (See James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3d. ed., Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1916, pp. 454–61.)

We must understand and seek out the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Whatever the reason for their loss or estrangement, their souls are of infinite worth; they are vital members of the body of Christ.

Four Groups to Especially Nurture

We may consider Church members who need special nurturing in four groups: children, youth, prospective elders and their families, and new converts.

Children. Children are largely dependent on their parents for emotional and physical support, and their attendance and activity in the Church reflects that support. If the home attitude toward church is not favorable, the children are less likely to attend church regularly, if at all. If one parent is active, then the children’s church activity rises slightly.

The same pattern is evident in a boy’s ordination to the Aaronic priesthood, where the level of the parents’ church activity generally corresponds to the rate of their sons’ being ordained to the priesthood.

Youth. During this period of growth and development, when the strident voices of the world seem to be loudest, young people need a refuge, a place of peace away from adversity and peer pressure. The Young Men and Young Women programs can meet this need, but youth involvement still depends largely on parental activity and attitudes toward the Church.

Prospective elders and their families. The number of prospective elders in the Church is growing faster than the number of brethren holding the office of elder. We need more dedicated quorum presidencies and home teachers who will reach out in love to these brethren and enfold them in the circle of their fellowship.

New converts. It is critical that Church members fellowship converts and make them feel a useful and important part of their ward or branch. These newest Church members, sensitive to their commitment but unsure how to relate to the unchanged world, observe the more “experienced” members closely for guidance and example. It sometimes doesn’t take more than a couple of unwise decisions or actions on the part of the “experienced” member for the new convert to wonder about his commitment to the Church and drift into inactivity. Inactivity may also come through inadvertent neglect—not including a convert in activities, not getting to know him, and a multitude of small gestures that can influence his decisions.

Feelings of the Less Active

Would it surprise you to learn that almost half of those who do not attend meetings still consider themselves religious? That is, they believe in God and say their prayers even though they lack commitment to the Church. It is apparent, however, that they do not understand the relevance or blessings of participating in Church programs and activities.

Let me share with you some of their feelings about themselves and about churchgoers.

—Even though the less active believe they are unworthy in God’s eyes, they think they are about as good as most people.

—They think that going to Church meetings does not necessarily make someone a better person.

—They think most churchgoers pretend to be better than they are and are, therefore, hypocrites.

—By not going to Church meetings, the less active think they are more honest than churchgoers because they do not pretend to be better than others.

If we understand how less-active members feel toward religion and us, perhaps we can be more effective in helping them obtain the full blessings of the gospel. We must help them see the need for the practical aspects of the gospel and not overpower them with abstract principles.

A less active member who had a difficult time obtaining an appreciation of the Church reached the conclusion that the Church is not a club for the perfect but rather a clinic for those who are striving toward perfection. I wish this view was shared by all.

A Change and Awakening

Studies show that the less active are most receptive to changing their lives when experiencing a crisis or a disruption in their personal relationships, such as a move to a new area, the death of a loved one, or the birth of a child. Such situations make a person more open to supportive relationships with caring people who can introduce him or her to the solutions inherent in gospel living.

We should strive always to build strong and continuing relationships with the less active. And we should remember that if a loving and caring person steps forward at the time of crisis and offers honest assistance, the relationship is enhanced. It becomes firm and persuasive as willing sacrifices are made and as personal bonds of friendship are established.

Through that friendship, truths are taught, the seeds for gospel understandings are planted, and spiritual experiences are shared. In time, the person strengthens his own relationship with his Heavenly Father and recognizes the need for more involvement in religious matters and with religious people.

We Must Care More

The souls of our brothers and sisters who may seem to be more feeble and less honorable are precious. The Church has need of them. We should make every attempt to know them and to help them claim the full blessings and joys of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our prayers should be as Alma’s: “Give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.” (See Alma 31:35.)

We must remember that our salvation is intertwined with the salvation of others. We must care more for those who seem to care less for their faith.

Soon after my grandfather Egan left home to serve a full-time mission, his wife, my grandmother, made this entry in her journal: “Tonight the stake president called me into his office and invited me to work with the more careless members of the stake.”

If we fail to reach out with helpful service to the more “careless,” seemingly indifferent, or less active, are we not guilty of feeding ourselves and neglecting the flock? The Lord reproved the shepherds of ancient Israel for such neglect. (See Ezek. 34:1–19.)

The 1985 Christmas message of the First Presidency reached out in love to those less active in the Church:

“We are aware of some [brethren and sisters] who are inactive, of others who have become critical and are prone to find fault, and of those who have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated because of serious transgressions.

“To all such we reach out in love. We are anxious to forgive in the spirit of Him who said: ‘I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.’ (D&C 64:10.)

“We encourage Church members to forgive those who may have wronged them. To those who have ceased activity and to those who have become critical, we say, ‘Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the Saints.’

“We are confident that many have longed to return, but have felt awkward about doing so. We assure you that you will find open arms to receive you and willing hands to assist you.

“This is the Christmas season when we honor the birth of the Lord who gave His life for the sins of all. We know there are many who carry heavy burdens of guilt and bitterness. To such we say, ‘Set them aside and give heed to the words of the Savior: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

‘“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

‘“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”’ (Matt. 11:28–30.)

“We plead with you. We pray for you. We invite and welcome you with love and appreciation.”

As I read this message carefully, these words seemed to jump off the page:

—“We are aware of”

—“We reach out in love”

—“We encourage Church members to forgive”

—“We are confident that many have longed to return”

—“We assure you that you will find open arms”

—“We plead with you”

—“We pray for you”

—“We invite and welcome you with love and appreciation”

We must not ignore or treat casually this appeal by our prophets, seers, and revelators.

God help us to go forward with the united resolve to “seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and … bind up that which was broken, and … strengthen that which was sick.” (Ezek. 34:16.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Snow