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Cover image via LDSSmile.com.
A friend of mine joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few years ago. Her decision was bittersweet in that her parents are devoted members of another Christian faith and were adamantly against her conversion. One of their key concerns was their misperception that the church does not truly worship the Savior. Another was their fear that their daughter had somehow been unduly influenced and wasn’t really thinking for herself. Her parents informed her that under no circumstances would they ever accept any invitation to attend a church meeting with her.
Several months after joining the church, my friend became engaged to another member. They were sealed in the temple and eventually had their first baby. Her parents adored their new grandchild and, to my friend’s surprise and delight, they made the decision to attend the Sacrament Meeting in which the baby would be blessed.
I called my friend the day after that Sacrament Meeting to ask her how it went. She told me the first speaker had given a talk which her parents listened to with interest. Then the second speaker gave his talk on the topic, “Follow the Prophet”.
He began his talk with two statements. First, that the most important thing for any church member to do is to follow the prophet. And second, that once the prophet has spoken, all members must simply accept his counsel without any questions or doubts. He then discussed those two points.
As my friend and her parents walked out of church that day, the parents turned to her and told her their worst fears had been confirmed. They perceived the speaker to have validated their concern that members of the church are directed to worship and follow a man in Salt Lake City in place of the Savior. And they felt their apprehension about her being unduly influenced had also been validated since the speaker mandated that their daughter follow that man blindly without being allowed to take any questions she might have to the Lord through study and prayer. The parents renewed their objections to her being a member of the church and informed her that they would never again attend any meetings of this church.
I would not express my convictions the way that speaker did. The most important thing members of the church are called to do is to follow Jesus Christ. He is our Savior and the head of His church. And I believe it is completely acceptable to occasionally have questions or doubts about positions taken by church leaders—the important thing is that we productively work through those questions and doubts. I love the story Sheri Dew, a former member of the Relief Society General Presidency, told of a young woman who came to her one day with significant doubts about the church. Sister Dew invited the young woman to meet with her saying, “Bring your scriptures and every question you have. Questions are good. Let’s see what the Lord will teach us.” (“Will You Engage in the Wrestle”, Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional, May 17, 2016)
But regardless of how you align with the statements of that speaker, this story illustrates an important point for us to ponder. If we engage in sharing the gospel and then invite people to attend our Sabbath day meetings, what will their experience be? As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Will that first impression make the message clear that, “Jesus is the Christ. This is His Church. We are His people.” (President Russell M. Nelson, Becoming Exemplary Latter-Day Saints, General Conference, October 2018)
When I discussed this article with a friend he wisely observed, “But your point does not only apply to visitors. We members need to be properly focused just as much as any newcomers. When we do not tie every message back to the Savior, we are not teaching as we should.”
Boyd K. Packer said of the role of the Savior, “This is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them.” (“The Mediator”, General Conference, April 1977) Whatever topic we are developing in talks or lessons, if we neglect to connect that topic to our Savior, we deplete that topic of substance and redemption.
For example, a talk on obedience without that critical link to the Savior could potentially come across to some as an exhausting requirement to adhere to a lengthy checklist of behaviors. Or as Wally Goddard says, “Suggesting that we must simply plow through recommended practices without infusing them with spiritual purpose will not bring us joy or spiritual progress.” On the other hand, a talk on obedience centered in Christ becomes an encouraging invitation to deepen our relationship with Him by following Him more diligently. His desire for us to receive the blessings that come from living His gospel infuses the doctrine of obedience with spiritual purpose.
As another example, a lesson on repentance that focuses only on our role could suggest a process based in shame—one to ideally be avoided. It also hints that we are the central figures in our own salvation. A lesson on repentance that incorporates Christ’s role portrays the true purpose of the process. Repentance becomes a gift to embrace in order to access forgiveness and His power that enables us to change for the better. It acknowledges the One on whom our salvation depends.
Behind everything we teach, there should be the redemptive heart and outreached hand of the Lord Jesus Christ. If that is not the most important feeling that people take from our talks and lessons, we may have missed the point.
Returning to the story of my friend’s parents, the speaker might have begun his remarks by laying a foundation. He might have reminded listeners that the role of prophets throughout history has been to testify of Christ, to call others unto Christ, to teach of Christ’s doctrines, and to apply the teachings of Christ to the circumstances the people are living in. He might have explained that we follow the prophet today because he is led by the Savior. And we follow the prophet because he leads us to the Savior. That clarification likely would have lessened or avoided the misunderstanding that occurred for my friend’s parents.
As we prepare our talks and lessons we might consider questions such as: How does this topic relate to drawing us closer to Jesus Christ? How does an understanding of the Savior infuse this topic with purpose and meaning? If there are newcomers listening to my talk or lesson, how will I ensure that they clearly understand that Jesus is the focus of our faith?
“In the end, our faith in Jesus Christ is the essential foundation for our eternal salvation and exaltation. As Helaman taught his sons, ‘Remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation …, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.’” (Elder Quentin L. Cook, Foundations of Faith, April 2017 General Conference)
May the foundations of all our talks and lessons be our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.