When I was in the Relief Society presidency, I once attended a terrible meeting for which a stake high council member came to visit our ward. Ward and auxiliary leaders arrived at this meeting to find that the visiting councilor had set up chairs beforehand on the stage: sets of threes, arranged hierarchically in trios, with each organization and auxiliary presidency being told precisely where to sit.
Then the shaming began.
The councilor first berated the elders quorum president that one of his counselors had failed to show up for the meeting. “Where is he?” the stake visitor demanded. “Why isn’t he here?” When the EQ president explained that he didn’t know where the counselor was, the councilor admonished him that he should know. He should keep on top of such things and keep all his people in line.
The rest of the meeting did not improve, as the councilor laid out the expectations of a new stake program (blah, blah) and required each leader to publicly account for what he or she would be doing to help build the congregation.
It was a tense, useless exercise whose ostensible purpose—to reactivate church members who had drifted away, and attract new converts to the congregation—was anything but realized. In fact, I felt like running for cover myself. Who in their right mind would want to be part of such an obviously unhealthy organization?
What was especially striking to me is that later that same month I brought a non-Mormon friend to a stake fireside where we welcomed another visitor: LDS convert Gladys Knight.
That evening was as different from the stake leader’s visit as night is from day. Whereas the ward leaders’ meeting was propelled by fear and public shaming, the Saints Unified Voices choir filled every heart with joy. Knight shared her personal testimony, the choir sang Mormon and gospel standards with stirring gusto, and the Spirit surrounded us with love. We clapped along and shouted amen. It was a wonderful night.
And incidentally, that event brought in more missionary referrals and reactivations than a host of austere, anemic programs designed to achieve the same end. That’s because Knight’s goal wasn’t to make a quota or treat people like numbers. Her goal was to spread joy, plain and simple.
I want to live in this church, I thought. I want to be part of the religion that attracts people because of their contagious joy.
I’m not the only one who responds to joy, and I’ve blogged before about the many sad ways that joy has become the missing ingredient in Mormon meetings. That’s not to say that individual Mormons aren’t joyful people or don’t have the Spirit with them in their prayers or in their families. It’s that as a church, we’ve forgotten how to connect with deep wells of joy in our public meetings, and that absence of delight carries over into our programs.
To paraphrase a famous Mormon scripture, human beings exist that we might have joy. Doesn’t the LDS Church exist for the same purpose?
The image of joyful leaping is used by courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
P.S. My apologies to non-Mormon readers for the odd terminology above. A member of the stake high council is called a councilor. An assistant to a bishop, stake president, or auxiliary president is called a counselor. And yes, Mormons get confused about this too.