“Continue to Minister”


Neal A. Maxwell

In recent months, the Brethren have used the phrase “less active” to describe those wonderful brothers and sisters in the Church whom we need to involve fully in Church activities and programs. The phrase is less judgmental and more inviting. It is also more accurate. Studies indicate clearly that many of these wonderful brothers and sisters have a tremendous reservoir of good will and affirmative feelings about the Church. Many are much more willing to talk about the gospel than we may think. Many actually regard their circumstances as merely temporary and fully intend to come back into full fellowship. A professional friend, after readying himself over some years for a return, said as we embraced in a sealing room, “I made it.” He knew what coming back really meant.

It shouldn’t surprise us that in our studies of the Church’s young men, our missionary program, and now of our less-active brothers and sisters, the same basic principles come through: the need for caring and trusting relationships; the realization that we teach what we are; and the reality that our successes often occur in informal settings which involve simple, direct, loving conversations.

For me, the following scripture is basic. The resurrected Jesus reminded us candidly of our full responsibilities and limited perspective:

“Ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.” (3 Ne. 18:32; italics added.)

We do not have all the data, brothers and sisters.

As the Lord says, to “not cast out” is, by itself, an inadequate response; we must, additionally, make room for them and give them a place among us. Always we must “continue to minister,” because, for some, we “shall be the means of bringing salvation to them.” No wonder this effort does not involve a new program. Rather, it involves a principle—the fundamental and regular keeping of the second, great commandment.

Our attitude should be one of service, reflecting that of the Savior as expressed ages and ages ago. Our Father described the plan of salvation and the need for a Savior. Jesus stepped forward meekly and said, “Here am I, send me.” (Abr. 3:27.) Never has one individual offered to do so much for so many with so few words.

Our attitude toward the less active should be that we are fellow-servants, just as was the case even with angels who have bidden respectful and kneeling mortals to arise, since the angels were fellow-servants. (See Rev. 22:8–9.) Since you and I are at least “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5), this posture of service and of being fellow-servants surely includes us.

Our deep desire for these brothers and sisters is that they share in the Church of today and help shape the Church of tomorrow, sharing in the special blessings to be received.

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” (1 Ne. 14:14.)

Even being gathered together brings special blessings:

“And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” (D&C 115:6.)

Meanwhile, these friends will not care much about what we know unless they know how much we care. The spiritually lonely need special reassurances, for it is possible to be hungry in the presence of food and to be lonely in a crowd—lonely even at church! As William Wordsworth lamented, “And homeless near a thousand homes I stood, and near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.” (“Guilt and Sorrow,” part 2, stanza 41.) These individuals are so close at hand.

One stake president, weary of talking about this challenge—for talking can become a substitute for doing—adjourned his high council meeting and went to one home of a less-active brother along with the high priest group leader. By the time they left, tears had flowed and a calling had been extended.

How often helping someone must wait upon first knowing them. How many of our members with unknown addresses are members who were never really known in the process of conversion or of fellowshipping?

As we reach out, we can speak with accuracy as we let these wonderful brothers and sisters know how much they are truly needed. For instance, active Melchizedek Priesthood holders constitute too small a percent of our total membership. Only 30 percent of our convert baptisms involve adult males. Of that small portion, too few receive the Melchizedek Priesthood! The failure to ordain usually means a failure to retain. Imagine what the Church would be if, worldwide, most of our adult males held the Melchizedek Priesthood and were active!

We truly need more shepherds for the growing flock. Among those we are discussing are many who will become these shepherds and leader-sisters whom we so much need.

We must take leave of the plateau on which the Church now pauses. It is no longer safe to stay on that plateau. It is time to reach out for upstretched hands before it is too late!

So much will depend upon our being able to be neighbors and servants.

I believe it was Ghandi who said that when one is in possession of absolute truth, it is imperative to love. Otherwise, my observations are that both the bearer of the message and the message will be resented.

The mighty change of heart the less active need to experience is, finally, the individual’s to make. But our love can be a catalyst as these, our brothers and sisters, in Shakespeare’s phrase, “unthread the rude eye of rebellion, and welcome home again discarded faith.” (King John IV, act 5, scene 4.)

Honest acceptance accompanied by love and service are never more felt than in those moments involving death, divorce, career changes, illness, or moves—when an individual’s world, in some way or another, has been shaken. So often these events put us in circumstances wherein we are, to use Alma’s phrase, “in a preparation to hear the word.” (Alma 32:6.)

Again, I refer to Jesus’ words: “Unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent … and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.”

Note that the resurrected Jesus, having completed a perfect mortal ministry, gives us this counsel clearly reflecting the style and substance of his leadership and charity, reminding us that we know not who will return and repent. Note, too, that without belaboring it, the sequence is first the return, then a completion of the process of change in a nurturing and ministering environment. The Lord said He “shall heal them,” but we “shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.” This is a wondrous scripture, full of wisdom and direction and consolation. We should not forget that for many in the Church who do not yet have the witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, they must believe on the words of those of us who do know. (See D&C 46:13–14.)

May we behave so that we are believable. May we be worthy, in our obvious imperfections, of having a part in perfecting the Saints.

[illustration] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh