I recently read a blog post written by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who left the Church and came back after a few years. The post focused on things active members do and say that influence other members to “leave the Church and never come back”. One issue the author mentioned was that members of the Church don’t show true caring when trying to fellowship others who are thinking of leaving the Church or are inactive. The author asserted that “People know when you approach them with an agenda.” I’ve heard other versions of this through the years, such as the concern that we focus on home teaching (now ministering) numbers or baptism statistics while overlooking the individual.
I can see how this could cause hurt feelings or resentment. We are each unique individuals, and need to feel like we are seen and valued. No one desires to feel like an item on a to-do list that is checked off and dismissed like a jug of milk at the grocery store. President Uchtdorf acknowledged in conference that this sometimes happens, saying, “even in Church service, it is easy to spend a lot of time just going through the motions without the heart or the substance of discipleship. …we … have committed to be a people who love God and our neighbor and are willing to demonstrate that love through word and deed. That is the essence of who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
It happens in the Church, and it’s not ideal, but it does happen. Members do sometimes go through the motions or have an agenda as they try to live the gospel. They don’t always demonstrate true caring, and people get hurt. I could easily write an article affirming these thoughts, but I feel like this side of the issue has already been well highlighted in the Latter-day Saint online community, so I thought I would present a peaceable counterpoint article. So here are my—
8 things to consider when you feel like other Church members just have an agenda
1. No one is perfect.
It’s simpler to categorize people as either deeply caring or agenda driven, but most folks I’ve seen demonstrate both qualities when they’re serving in the Church or fellowshipping. I haven’t seen a blog post yet that complained about a Church member who was 38% truly caring, 42% agenda driven, and 20% truly caring with an agenda, but it would be more accurate. No one’s motives or actions are perfect. We should remember Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s words: “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.”
2. Agendas can be good.
When I Googled “agenda” on the Church’s main website, most of the hits were about holding effective council or leadership meetings. That’s because there are limited hours in a day, and a meeting without an agenda feels like wasted time. There are likewise limited hours we have on this earth, and without agendas and goals to push us forward, we can end up stalled in our progression.
I believe most members understand that, as Elder M. Russell Ballard taught, “wise goal setting includes the understanding that short-term goals are only effective if they lead to clearly understood longer-term goals.” A good short-term goal is measurable and often quantified somehow, while longer-term goals tend to be more abstract. These short-term goals can appear like an agenda more than true caring. If someone has a goal of talking to three new people at Church, they might focus more on the logistics of the goal, and lose focus on their overall goal to love others more. Or they might appear to us that way.
If a member is caught up in achieving their short-term goal, and they appear to us to have lost sight of the big picture, we can choose to have compassion in hearts and appreciate that they are trying. Elder Dale G. Renlund reminds us that “just as God rejoices when we persevere, He is disappointed if we do not recognize that others are trying too.”
3. It’s OK to say something
It’s good to show compassion when someone is trying, and not mention their apparent shortcomings, but it’s also OK to say something. People don’t always realize when they’ve lost sight of the big picture, and a reminder can be helpful or needed. Elder Dallin H. Oaks shared a perfect example of this in general conference:
“The most effective missionaries, member and full-time, always act out of love. I learned this lesson as a young man. I was assigned to visit a less-active member, a successful professional many years older than I. Looking back on my actions, I realize that I had very little loving concern for the man I visited. I acted out of duty, with a desire to report 100 percent on my home teaching. One evening, close to the end of a month, I phoned to ask if my companion and I could come right over and visit him. His chastening reply taught me an unforgettable lesson.
“‘No, I don’t believe I want you to come over this evening,’ he said. ‘I’m tired. I’ve already dressed for bed. I am reading, and I am just not willing to be interrupted so that you can report 100 percent on your home teaching this month.’ That reply still stings me because I knew he had sensed my selfish motivation.”
The man in Elder Oaks’ story was quite blunt, which is part of what makes it a memorable story. We might choose to be a little more gentle, if possible, remembering President Thomas S. Monson’s words, “let us be compassionate and encouraging. We must be careful that we do not destroy another person’s confidence through careless words or actions.”
We could share Elder Oaks’ story with them, and explain we sometimes feel like the man in the story. It’s a little easier to take correction if you’re being compared to a prophet when he was young and learning hard lessons.
4. Good, better, best.
Yes, people at Church should always truly, deeply care when they serve or fellowship. That’s best. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has explained, “it is good to belong to our Father in Heaven’s true Church and to keep all of His commandments and fulfill all of our duties. But if this is to qualify as ‘best,’ it should be done with love and without arrogance.”
Church members should be striving for ‘best’, but be patient with ‘good’, especially if someone is trying to fulfill their duty. We need to remember that going through the motions of doing something good is still better than plotting evil with genuine feeling. This is especially true if one is going through the motions with faith and hope that the genuine feelings or deeper understanding will develop. Be grateful that someone in the Church desires us to have or do what they believe would be helpful to us, even if they haven’t bothered yet to get to know us. It’s not ‘best’, but it’s still ‘good’.
5. Loving and caring are more than feelings.
Loving and caring are also about commitment. Some Sundays, faithful members are tired or grumpy or bored with life or painfully burdened, and they might not want to be sociable or even be at Church. But they show up anyway, and try to do what is right. They understand what Elder F. Burton Howard said when speaking about commitment in general conference: “It is doing whatever we promise to do with all our might—even when we might not feel like it.”
So if you are experiencing questions and doubts, and someone at Church is tired or distracted as they listen to you, they might not come across as genuinely caring at the time. However, they are at Church and talking to you because they do care even when they’re not ‘feeling’ it. They are just coming from the commitment side of love and caring more than the emotional side at the time.
6. It’s your opinion
If we feel like someone has an agenda at Church, and they don’t really care about us, remember that we’re not X-men with mind reading powers. President Uchtdorf reminded us that “though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one,” which isn’t always so.
We should leave room open in our hearts for the possibility that even though we might feel like someone only has an agenda, we could be wrong. If we have this openness in our hearts, the Spirit has the space to reveal to us any misconceptions we have. We’re also more likely to give that person another chance, and we might be pleasantly surprised to learn that our first impression wasn’t spot-on.
7. Not everyone does warm fuzzies
Sometimes when we feel like others don’t really care it’s because their personal style isn’t open, warm, and inviting. Some people would rather help you move or fix your computer or mow your lawn than listen to your thoughts and feelings. They’re good people, we need them in the Church, and they do care in their own way. Elder Henry B. Eyring has reminded us that “every person is different and has a different contribution to make.”
8. Prophets are addressing this issue, from both sides, in general conference.
It helps to know that prophets and other leaders address the issue in general conference.
A touching quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminds us of the need to show true caring—“Perhaps even more important than speaking is listening. These people are not lifeless objects disguised as a baptismal statistic. They are children of God, our brothers and sisters, and they need what we have. Be genuine. Reach out sincerely. Ask these friends what matters most to them. What do they cherish, and what do they hold dear? And then listen. If the setting is right you might ask what their fears are, what they yearn for, or what they feel is missing in their lives. I promise you that something in what they say will always highlight a truth of the gospel about which you can bear testimony and about which you can then offer more. Elder Russell Nelson told me once that one of the first rules of medical inquiry is ‘Ask the patient where it hurts. The patient,’ he said, ‘will be your best guide to a correct diagnosis and eventual remedy.’ If we listen with love, we won’t need to wonder what to say. It will be given to us—by the Spirit and by our friends.”
This quote from President Monson certainly applies to everyone—“Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.”
I was reading in the Facebook comments about a blog post that listed all the things Mormons do wrong when someone leaves the Church. One commenter expressed dismay that after reading the article, they felt it doesn’t matter what do to reach out, they’re going to offend and be accused of having an agenda. For this commenter, I share Elder David E. Bednar’s counsel, and hope they feel the support of the Lord in following it—
“Will you please prayerfully identify a person with whom you will visit and extend the invitation to once again worship with us? Perhaps you could share a copy of this talk with her or him, or you may prefer to discuss the principles we have reviewed today. And please remember that such a request should be conveyed lovingly and in meekness—and not in a spirit of self-righteous superiority and pride.
“As we respond to this invitation with faith in the Savior, I testify and promise that doors will open, our mouths will be filled, the Holy Ghost will bear witness of eternal truth, and the fire of testimony will be rekindled.”