E. Cook: Get It In Gear, and Just Serve #ldsconf

Image result for just serveThis little gem of a talk was by E. Carl Cook, not the apostle E. Quentin Cook. He starts by talking about some obscure method of driving old-timey vehicles called “putting it in compound” that I admit was a bit confusing to me since all I have to do to give my car torque is hit the “torque” button in the mid-dash console (it’s a Juke), but the gist of his analogy was, as Paul said, that we are the body of Christ, and we all work together to do God’s will. When you have things (or people) working together, they are stronger than one working alone. Or at least that’s what I think he was saying.

He very humanely pointed out that serving in the church can be daunting for various reasons:

Serving in the Church, however, can be challenging if we are asked to do something that frightens us, if we grow weary of serving, or if we are called to do something that we do not initially find appealing.

We’ve all felt this way with various callings we’ve received. For me, I was unsure what to do when I was called into the scouting program as I was completely unfamiliar with it. I have felt weary of getting too many of the same kinds of callings, particularly if they feel administrative or boring. And I cried actual tears when I was called to the nursery, something I eventually hated much less although it was never my favorite. Eating stale crackers in a room that smells like a ripe diaper is probably a depressing prospect to most people. And yet, the nursery is needed.

It is important that we make that connection—that our callings literally come to us from God through our priesthood leaders. After this experience, my attitude changed and I was filled with a deep desire to serve.

This is an interesting idea, and it’s why faith is a pragmatic imperative. Faith immediately gives a sense of purpose to the task at hand. If we can believe that the assignment is something God needs done, a noble purpose emerges. Our load is lightened and our efforts are made easier. We have more strength to do the thing. That’s true whether our belief is true or not; there is a psychological benefit to believing that what we are doing is important, that it matters, that it’s for our betterment, that it will be in service to God through serving others.

In a leadership seminar I was in years ago, the consultant we had hired talked about the importance of believing that you are in control of everything that happens to you. He said it was certainly not true, but it’s the only useful belief you can have if you hope to empower yourself. The more you focus on your lack of control, the less power you have to effect changes.

Faith, as used by the church, never means just “belief.” It is always about taking action despite not knowing, not knowing how it will turn out or not knowing the bigger picture.  When members use “know” to refer to faith, they are just using hyperbole and imprecise language to express their strong commitment to taking action.

A belief that the callings we have are from God empowers you to “magnify” that calling (to take action) in a way that no other belief can–even if that’s not true, even if God’s totally indifferent to Webelos or nursery or your ward’s web site. And it’s easy to believe these callings are man-made. I’m sure they often are. Even. E. Cook allows for the reasonableness of that viewpoint:

Even if we think that our Church calling was simply our priesthood leader’s idea, that it was part of some rotation pattern, or that it came to us because no one else would accept it, we will be blessed as we serve. But if we recognize God’s hand in our calling and serve with all our hearts, additional power comes into our service and we become true servants of Jesus Christ.

Even if we think that? Yes, we do often think that! I mean, sometimes it’s patently obvious. But the point is still valid that a sense of purpose and a belief that God will turn things for our betterment is empowering. He later adds:

If you want to make your bishop’s or branch president’s day, ask him the questions, “How can I help?”

It’s true that the church has need of willing hands. Some folks unfortunately get so hung up on the “inspired” nature of callings that they (and I) don’t offer to help. Instead, we wait to be asked to the dance. If we ask for an assignment, then we know it wasn’t inspired because we had to ask for it. But if we have the right mindset, we should quit seeking for a sign in the callings we are given and instead see that serving in any capacity is important:

As President Marion G. Romney taught: “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

He shares a story of his ancestors who hung on despite sickness, discouragement, and no friends. They were in trying circumstances, barely hanging on in an assignment they received to work a farm. Because they hung on, there were blessings to future generations. Pain, particularly the pain endured by others, is always forgotten when it is past. It’s hard to remember that. I can still remember the scent of that nursery room with a shudder, but it is in the past, and it hasn’t left lasting scars.

Whether we are overwhelmed or underwhelmed, whether we are scared to death or bored to death, the Lord wants us to gear down, power up, and serve.

His contrasting adjectives are great here. I often notice that there are so many different types of people at church. Many of the new converts who are called to teach the longer-term members feel intimidated at first, thinking they should defer to the members with more experience, and yet their lessons can be the fresh air many of us old-timers need. And many of the old-timers do feel bored, underwhelmed or been there, done that. It’s tough to get the juice going your third time in the same calling. We tend to give people the same callings over and over for whatever reason. Maybe there’s a bit of type-casting or pigeon-holing going on.

He doesn’t want to limit his remarks to just traditional church callings, though, and in the last part of his talk, expands it to encompass all types of service.

I extend my heartfelt love to those of you who may not currently be able to serve in the Church in traditional ways because of personal circumstances but who live your life in a spirit of service. I pray that you will be blessed in your efforts. . . . Whatever our age or circumstance, let service be our watch cry.  Serve in your calling. Serve a mission. Serve your mother. Serve a stranger. Serve your neighbor. Just serve.

His final note on “Just Serve” sounded like a conscious plug for the church’s web site of the same name where community service opportunities are featured and available for anyone, LDS or not, to search for and act on service needed in their area. We’ve used it to find service opportunities for our business, eagle projects, and of course ward activities.



  1. I 100% agree that blessings come as we serve in any calling. But it’s because we’re serving, not necessarily the calling. It’s hard to get on board with all callings come from God as that assumes way too much about the effort and process leaders go through. Let’s admit the obvious and focus on the blessings that come from service and less on the inspiration behind them.

  2. Angela, this post was great. It was a good talk, and this post did a great job of drawing out the highlights and making it original by highlighting your experiences. Bravo.

  3. I loved this talk, if only because I’ve been observing how members of our ward routinely turn down certain callings because “I no longer have any children that age”.

  4. Teacher mom says:

    I loved and needed this talk. Opposite to what Queuno has seen play out, I would have liked to turn down my present calling for a couple of years *because* I have children that age. I was called to teach early morning seminary to a dozen youth, two of which are mine. My oldest was not happy I was called (which did not come as a surprise to me) and often sits sullen in class as opposed to last year when he enjoyed the teacher and participated a lot. My younger son is fine and I have received positive feedback from other students, but I worry about the role my calling has on my oldest’s potential disengagement from the seminary experience. I need to try harder to trust that the Lord’s hand was in the timing on this calling not just for myself and the 11 others, but for him as well. I likely need to listen to this talk several more times so that I don’t fantasize about going on a seminary sabbatical until he graduates.

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