Apathy is not a problem, it’s a symptom and a solution

Almost all of my posts are directed to LDS who are not in leadership positions.  But with this one post, I want to talk about, and perhaps even to, the leaders.

Apathy is not a result of bad members,
it’s a result of uninspired leadership

Apathy in the church is a manifestation of a problem with the leadership, not the members.  Inspired leaders do not preside over apathic congregations.  Take Ammon and his brethren:

And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them—yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.  (Alma 23: 6)

The converts of Ammon (and his brethren) remained 100% active throughout the rest of their lives.  Apathy never became an issue.  Why?

Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?  To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.  And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?  Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.  Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?  And if it be by some other way it is not of God.  And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?  If it be some other way it is not of God.  Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?  Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.  And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.  (D&C 50: 13-23)

Ammon preached to the Lamanites by the Spirit of truth, which resulted in the edification of both parties.  In other words, he preached by the gifts and powers of the Holy Ghost and the (non-member) Lamanites who eventually converted received the word he preached also by the gifts (see D&C 46: 14) and powers of the Holy Ghost. They continued this same process and no one became apathetic.  But no one can receive the word by the Spirit of truth unless it is preached by the same Spirit.  Therefore, uninspired leadership alone is to blame for apathy in the church.

Ah, but surely the receivers carry some of the blame, too, right?

Wrong.  We are talking of members of the church, not non-members, so these are people who have already received the word and who are already willing to receive more of the word.  They believe in the word, they believe the word will be at church and they go to church to receive it.  They expect and believe their leaders will give them the word in the Spirit of truth, meaning that it will be dispersed “according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy,” by the gifts and powers of the Holy Ghost, “the power of God working miracles in them”, just as Ammon spread the word.  If, though, after they go and listen to their leaders, they remain apathetic, it is entirely their leaders’ fault.  The leaders are uninspired.  Period.

Without the manifestations of the Spirit, boredom sets in

Anyone who has experienced manifestations of the Spirit knows that any “religious” experience in which the Spirit is not manifesting itself is not really a religious experience.  It is just going through the motions.  When the Spirit is present, a religious gathering can last all day long and one still can’t get enough.  Without the Spirit, boredom quickly sets in and ten minutes becomes an eternity.  Many will say that it is up to the members to bring the Spirit to a meeting, in other words, that you get what you put into it.  This, though, is a cop-out to try to remove the responsibility of the leaders from ministering the gospel as the scriptures direct: in the Spirit of truth.

In other religious denominations, in which pastors are paid, the members do not simply suffer through boredom-filled meetings.  If the pastor does not bring the Spirit, they either fire him or the members go elsewhere, to a pastor that they feel does possess the Spirit. Not so with the LDS.  We do like the Puritans and consider it saintly to suffer through week after week of boredom.  (See The Title of Insufferable, Self-Righteous Prigs.)

Motivation is not the issue

The typical tactic used by uninspired leaders is to try to motivate the members to do their duty, as if motivation were the problem.  For example, not a single Sunday will go by without an elder’s quorum president striving to remind, encourage and motivate his quorum to do home teaching.  Success stories will be drawn from talks of GA’s and such, showing that home teaching is important and effective.  Week after week the elders’ ears will grow more and more weary with hearing the broken “home teaching” record play.  In one ward that I was a part of, one of the elders got so tired of hearing it that when the bishop sent one of his counselors to deliver a special bishopric message to our quorum of elders, and it turned out to be about home teaching, this elder stormed off in anger and didn’t return again to the quorum until he was finally coaxed gently back.

Member missionary work is another area that is treated like a motivation problem.  Members generally are excited about the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and do not need motivation.  They do, however, need inspired leadership.  Bringing a non-member friend to a boring meeting is not something everyone is willing to do.  If the leadership is inspired and the gathering of the saints are occasions in which the Spirit is poured out and manifestations are regular, members naturally spread the word.  This is true of all cultures and religions.  For example, in the Catholic religion and regions of the world, when someone has witnessed a virgin appear somewhere, word spreads like wildfire and everyone goes to see what Spiritual manifestation is occurring.  The miraculous is widely held as a sign of the divine working, or as the Savior puts it, “the works of the Father.”  If you remove the works of the Father from any church, even one that carries the name of Christ, you are left with a church of man.  So, “the power of God working miracles in” leaders is very important.

Uninspired leaders are not sanctified

The Lord has made it plain that all leaders are to be sanctified.  If they are not sanctified, they are not to be leaders, or “teachers” of the word.  (See Scriptural Discussion #5: Teachers—Must Be Sanctified.)  Sanctified leaders possess the spirit of prophecy and revelation, yet, how many leaders have actually prophesied in the church?  How many leaders have actually received a revelation, not just inspiration, but the type that can be written down?  Go and ask your leader if he or she has ever prophesied or ever received a revelation from the Lord and see for yourself.

Unsanctified leaders are more like managers than leaders.  No one wants to be “managed.”  Heck, no one wants to be led, either, unless the Holy Ghost is doing the leading, then everyone wants to be led.  Unless a leader is sanctified and thus possesses the guidance, gifts and powers of the Holy Ghost, those who follow his leadership are being led by just a man.

Apathy is a good thing

If you touch a hot iron, you feel pain.  That pain may seem like a bad thing, but it really is a good thing as it alerts you to the danger of the hot iron so that you can remove your hand and avoid further damage to your body.  All symptoms of illness, then, although they don’t feel good, are but signals to us that there is a problem.

Leadership will often see apathy not as a signal that there is a problem, but as the problem itself. The apathy itself is then addressed, not its cause.  The members will be preached to and made to feel guilty for not doing their duty.  They will be encouraged and motivated and every other trick in the book to get them to do something that they would naturally do anyway, without any external influence, if only they heard the word preached to them in the Spirit of truth.

An argument could be made that uninspired leadership should not be encouraged by acting on it.  Only inspired leadership should be acted upon.  After all, if the membership acted upon uninspired leadership and brought their friends to boring church meetings in droves, what would be the result?  However, such an argument is not necessary because man, by nature, negates uninspired leadership with the solution of apathy.  Apathy, therefore, is not a problem, but a solution to uninspired leadership. It is an apathetic membership which should inspire the leaders to sanctify themselves and obtain the powers, gifts and fruits of the Spirit with which to minister in righteousness among the Lord’s people.  Only the Spirit can cure apathy, or enliven a sleepy body.

How to encourage leadership to repent: inspired, intentional apathy

If your ward or stake leaders are uninspired and you notice that your ward or stake is full of apathetic members, the answer is not to fight them or call them to repentance.  The Lord will take care of His leaders and will chastise them in His own due time.  It is not the duty of the membership to steady the ark.  We members did not call them, although we did sustain them through our vote. And that (sustaining) is the key.

Sustain inspired leaders and withdraw support from uninspired leaders

The proper, scriptural way that the Lord has set up whereby membership can “modify the misbehavior of the leadership” is by withdrawing a sustaining vote.  Most people feel that once a vote is cast, it must remain cast until the end of the term of office.  The election of California Governor Schwarzenegger should have put an end to that line of thinking.  Just as the Lord giveth and taketh away, so the membership has the power to sustain and withdraw support.

I might suggest a couple of important things to keep in mind when withdrawing support from an uninspired leader.  First, this is not a way to punish him, but to encourage him to sanctify himself so that he may again have your support.  And second, keep firmly in mind the difference between what are the commandments of God and the counsels or petitions of an uninspired man.  As long as you continue to keep the commandments of God, you will remain on safe ground.

For example, having entered baptism and made a covenant with God, we are to partake of the sacrament each week.  So, not attending a ward that has an uninspired bishop is not an option.  However, just attending the portion in which the sacrament is passed, partaking and then skipping the rest of the meeting, might be.  On my mission, many baptized members did just that, as they had covenanted to partake of the sacrament each week, not listen to every talk given in that meeting.

During sustaining votes, especial care might be taken as to who you vote for, or even if you vote at all.  (See Is our procedure for sustaining a rubberstamp?)  Just as there are many ways to sustain a leader, there are probably as many ways to withhold support.

Inspired apathy is a solution

Inspired apathy can be a great tool in the hands of those who wield it with a proper understanding of its effect on leadership.  Although apathy is often seen as a thing to be avoided, a bad thing, it can be a means of generating humble leaders who are guided by the Holy Ghost and not just by their egos.

Next Common Consent article: The voice of the people signifies a majority

Previous Common Consent article: Anarchy in action: congregational nullification

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist


  1. Read Nibley’s essay on rhetoric and charisma. You’ll find he agrees with you in many respects.

  2. Its ironic that a website dedicated to anarchy would suggest that hierarchical leaders are solely responsible for the problems of their congregations. Maybe I’m not understanding what anarchy is supposed to mean.

  3. But apathy isn’t a problem. He said it right there in the title.

  4. First of all, meetings are not like this in every ward in the church. I have lived on several continents, and in many states in the US, and have attended meetings in each place. Granted, not every meeting or class carries deep, deep heartwrenching spiritual experiences. Many do, and I have been in several, but it is unrealistic to expect this every time.

    Second, it is not the leadership that is providing the lesson in most meetings. The leadership extends callings, but the ultimate responsibility is on those who are called/teaching to prepare effectively so that the Spirit can be present and the message conveyed. Oftentimes, teachers come unprepared. This is to be expected, since we call people with no teaching experience to serve in those positions sometimes, if not most of the time. That’s not an excuse, though, as the Lord makes it clear that He will not fill in for us in our times of slacking off and/or personal mental absence. In other churches, the teachers, just like the pastors, are PAID, and are hired based on their teaching credentials. The LDS church holds teacher in-service and training meetings, but as with church attendance itself, these are voluntary, and people themselves choose whether or not to attend. If they would GO, their skills would improve, and likewise their lessons would carry the Spirit more effectively.

    As far as suggesting members not attend their meetings, I would consider the following:

    When Marion G. Romney was 2nd Counselor in the First Presidency, he said:

    “priesthood bearers—carry the heavy and glorious responsibility, of representing the Lord Jesus Christ in looking after the welfare of each member and of encouraging and inspiring every member to discharge his duty, both family and church.

    Among the specific responsibilities…, the following may be listed:

    …to encourage and inspire every member to do his or her part to make and keep the home a truly Latter-day Saint home.

    This would mean, among other things, …that priesthood bearers attend their priesthood meetings; that sacrament meeting attendance is regular; and that every member participate in the organizations and activities sponsored by the Church for his or her temporal and spiritual development” (The Responsibilities of Home Teachers, Ensign, March 1973).

    The First Presidency has always made it pretty clear that we are expected to attend ALL meetings, and not just Sacrament meeting. If you consider yourself on a higher spiritual level than everyone else, then wouldn’t your personal absence be a detriment to those who DO attend? Even if you don’t consider yourself any different than anyone else, you can still be the means of supplementing a teacher’s lesson with spiritually uplifting and informative insights.

  5. I thought the article was deeply insightful and inspiring. However, there is a concept that I feel should be developed a bit.
    The reality of the restoration of the Gospel in these latter days had one overriding purpose, it was to establish Zion. Zion is built upon the principles of the Celestial world. These principles are called generally, the fullness of the gospel, and includes all of the elements which have been restored. For example: Tithing according to D&C 119, consecration and stewardship, and its expanded application in the United Order, the school of the prophets (which includes all of the priesthood quorums D&C 88:127), temple work for the dead (by revelation only for those who are to inherit the Celestial Kingdom and who conform to the heavenly laws D&C 85:3), the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (temple marriage? the current paradigm of marriage is not exactly an ordinance with scriptural support), Gifts of the Spirit as outlined throughout the scriptures, 2nd anointings, etc.
    What this means, in essence, is that in deviating from the fullness of the gospel as it was restored, the church and its leadership gradually moved away from the gospel as it was restored. The church (leadership and membership) is on an aberrant course.
    The Lord responds to an aberrant course with the Samuel principle:

    Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
    1 Samuel 8:7

    The reality is that instead of a Kingdom priests and kings, men and women who rise up in the power of the priesthood, who live by faith, and demonstrate the spiritual giftings in their individual ministries, we have relegated our responsibilities to the church leadership.

    Because the church is on an aberrant course, an incremental degeneration is constantly taking place. Without supporting revelation, temple garments are being altered, temple endowments are being changed to accommodate pressures from the outside world, ordinances (such as the sacrament) are altered for convenience and do not follow scriptural patterns, talks in meetings are parroted from conference talks rather than from personal revelation and experience, and the list goes on and on.

    As a principle, God will give us what we deserve. A dynamic leadership is given to a people who are seeking God, who desire to implement celestial law and programs. The root cause of the problem is that we as a people are not regenerated. We have not experienced the reality of the new birth, we have not become “new creatures” as mandated by the word of the Lord (2 Cor 5:17 Mosiah 27:26).

    When people are ready, God will send leadership (Acts 16:7-10). Moses was sent to deliver Israel because the people had begun to cry unto him for deliverance and change (Exodus 3:7). Throughout the entirety of the scriptures, we have evidence that when people are ready, God will send the powerful leadership they need.

    At the same time, there are times when people who are ready to move to a different level of relationship with the Lord are simply asleep, or are mired in apathy, tradition and policies. God will send inspired leadership to shake and awaken them.

    What you say is true. The present condition of the church is that the spiritual gifts are missing (when was the last time you heard someone speaking in tongues in a church meeting?). If you are sick, where are healers who have the healing gifts? (hopefully everyone’s home teacher, but I quite doubt it).

    The scripture says that when two or three are gathered together in his name, he is in the midst of them. How many people enter the chapel for sacrament meeting with any kind of awareness that God is in the room? We enter visiting, laughing, talking out loud, usually very noisy. I don’t believe we would act that way if we entered the room and actually saw God sitting in the room. We would show awe and rejoicing. We would be filled with expectation. As it is now, there is little evidence that God is there, we don’t expect any spiritual gift to manifest, we know that healings will not take place, we can only hope that the meeting will end soon.

    If we do not experience inspired leadership, we must take the offensive. We must begin to seek firstly the new birth. This is both a process and an event. We must begin to cry out unto the Lord that he will deliver us from this errant path of degeneration. When we merit dynamic leadership, it will come.

    The one mighty and strong is on the way and hopefully we will be ready for him and the program that will establish Zion. A degenerating program of apathy will not do it. Although the church is our mother and the vehicle that God used for the restoration, we need to be willing to step out of the box and recognize new paradigms.
    Truth, fundamental principles, governing laws, celestial laws, relationship with God and personal regeneration, and faith in Christ will make it requisite that God send the leadership we merit as sons and daughters of God.

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