Last Sunday, my wife and I, who have different callings, were awkwardly both required in a brief, post-block activity. We were juggling our two kids back and forth in order to accomplish our different responsibilities, while simultaneously feeding them, because the activity infringed on their lunch schedule. At one point, when my 1 year old daughter grabbed my white shirt and tie with food-covered hands and spit milk onto me, I declared to the executive secretary, who was standing next to me, that he was to inform the Bishop that I have instituted a policy on behalf of the Church, under which no married couple with children can ever be called to serve in positions with potentially conflicting schedules. We laughed, but deep inside, I was annoyed.
The Bloggernacle and the Church itself are constantly alive with discussions focusing on some variation of the words “I think the Church and/or Church leaders should do [this] in [this way] instead of [that] in [that way].” I participate in these posts and comments, partially because I think navel-gazing is fun, but also because I’ve found myself “enjoying” Church less and less in recent months, and have been trying to find the reason why.
A few days ago, Kevin Barney wrote a great post called “Lowered Expectations” in which he described the effects that improper or otherwise unsustainable expectations can have on a person’s feelings toward the Church, its leadership, and gospel living in general. Although much of his post focused on apparent inconsistencies between science and theology, he generalizes the point in his concluding paragraph:
We seem to have the idea that putting the Church high, high up on a pedestal is a good thing. In my experience, we would be better off if we could “lower expectations.”
I think there is great wisdom in the principle of moderate expectations for almost everything in life–movies, food, relationships, and yes–the Church itself. But really, shouldn’t we be allowed to expect more–not less–from the Church? Shouldn’t the only true Church, according to our own beliefs, be able to give something a little bit special, a little bit more, than what we expect? Actually, I don’t think so.
Several years ago, I worked for a company in a sales position. During one period, our company didn’t seem to be doing very well–sales were low, and because part of our pay was tied to commissions, morale was low, too. We blamed schedules, product assignments, and prices–essentially said it was the company’s (or management’s fault). We held a few meetings, talked things over with our boss, and tried a handful of gimmicks or bonuses for improved performance, but nothing really seemed to improve sales. After a few weeks, my boss called us in for a meeting and said that, after observing us a little more closely, and as badly as it pained him to say it, he felt the problem was not some exogenous influence in the economy, or failure on the company’s part, but was rooted in the fact that we simply weren’t giving our best effort, and that going forward, he expected more effort out of us. I hated him for about a day, because he had told me, essentially, that I was being lazy. However, while it stung my pride, when I honestly examined my behavior during the period in question, I found that he was right.
Is it possible–or even probable–that we haven’t so much overblown our expectations of the Church’s duties in delivering “religion” as much as we’ve assigned duties to the Church that it never agreed to provide? I once had a calling that required me to visit with Sunday school instructors in several wards for training meetings. While my colleagues and I discussed various pedagogical techniques, the primary focus of the training was on helping members of the LDS Church understand that their experience in Sunday school is in their own hands, and that it’s counterproductive for instructors to cultivate an environment in which members come to expect that gospel scholarship and spiritual increase will be served to them on a platter.
I think about my missionary days in Finland, and the way I would describe the Church to the people (hypothetical, mostly…I was in Europe) were nearing baptism or at least serious about investigating the Church. There were a few verses from the Book of Mormon that we read frequently to help these people see what they were signing up for by joining Team Mormon (Mosiah 18 and Moroni 6). According to these familiar scriptures, membership in the Church is about:
*Being part of the “fold of God”
*Reducing the burdens of others
*Mourning with those who mourn
*Testifying of God
*Serving God and keeping the commandments
And regarding Church meetings specifically,
*Discussing the welfare of souls
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it illustrates a theme–membership in the Church is about giving, not getting. Given this, what does the Church do? It houses authority for saving ordinances. It gives to each member, if desired, an opportunity to serve in various capacities. It provides a physical place for members of the Church to carry out certain of the activities listed above that can be lumped together as “worship.” In short, it provides tools for members of the human race to exercise faith, cultivate charity, and become more like Christ through service and sacrifice.
I am forced to examine my behavior over the past several months, during which I’ve felt less thrilled with Church meetings on Sundays. Just like I realized years ago with my employer, I found that I have not been giving it my best effort. Worse still, I realized that, over time, “going to Church” has become all about me–how I missed a class because my child had a tantrum, how I was bored in Priesthood meeting, how I had to do some task for calling during Sunday school, how tired I am of fighting with the kids to get them ready for Church–and how rarely it is about seeking those who mourn, are in need of comfort, or are carrying heavy burdens. My recently-returned missionary-self of 10 years ago would slap me in the face. I should expect better scripture study at home and with my family. I should expect a quicker response from myself when opportunities for service arise. I should expect more meaningful prayer and fasting. I should expect myself to greet new members and make them feel welcome next to me. I should expect a more concerted effort in missionary work. I should expect better temple attendance.
I agree with Kevin that we need to temper, or even eliminate at times, our expectations of other people and of the Church. However, I believe it is time to elevate my expectations for myself.
[Note: This thread was beginning to take a direction I didn’t intend; rather than repeatedly edit and delete comments, I have closed it up early.]