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.
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