As I walked the neighborhood delivering invites to our next church social, I fingered the roll of tape and stack of invitations in my pocket, and decided this time to knock. After a while, labored footsteps grew louder and finally, a heavy woman wearing pajamas answered the door. “Come in and stay a minute,” she said, already walking away from the door and directing me to the couch. If she saw the invitation in my hand, she didn’t say. I knew of this woman. She was one of the first to build a home in the neighborhood. She was a widow, and did not attend church anymore. I sat obediently as she told me about her new pacemaker, her swollen knees and ankles, and how, due to the inexperience of a student doctor, a pin was left in her foot during surgery that gives her pain with every step. I listened and asked questions as the sun lowered in the window behind me. I could feel my cellphone buzzing; I promised my daughter I would take her shopping. The sun having long set, I eventually excused myself and hurried home, thinking about invitations and how we make them. As a counselor in the Relief Society presidency (the women’s organization in the LDS Church), one of my responsibilities is to oversee these activities for the women. We provide opportunities for learning, friendship, and service. One way we publicize activities is to hand-deliver invitations (read: tape an invite to the door). This seems to be the modus operandi for local ward publicity, and elsewhere where there are dense populations of Mormons. Open your door and you see a reminder to attend Stake Conference, an invitation to the church ice cream social, or the ward newsletter. Perhaps leafleting neighbors like a lawn care company is just a matter of efficiency. In areas where church membership is sparse, I can’t imagine driving for miles just to tape an invite to the door and leave. But it is also symptomatic of our results-based church culture, where we place broad efforts (“We invited every member of the ward!”) over deep, individual ones. Are we doing it wrong?
“You’re doing it wrong.”
I thought about how Christ understood the nature of an invitation. They were personal, and were usually followed by a promise.
And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11: 28)
Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. (2 Nephi 9:50)
Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy. (3 Nephi 17:7)
If Christ knew the power in personal contact, in reaching out to individuals one by one, perhaps we could too. It was a lesson I learned as a young woman from my parents. My mother looked after an old man who lived in the neighborhood named Frank. He had enormous fruit trees and a tiny, dusty home. He was loud and sometimes demanding. He made people uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that casseroles were left on his doorstep without a word. Besides, they said, he secretly smoked, drank Nyquil, and ate bacon and giant chocolate bars. Still, my mother hemmed his overalls and shopped for him. Once we didn’t hear from him for a day or two. My dad and I went over to check, and we found him at the bottom of the stairs. “Help! Help!” he called. He was soiled, injured, and thirsty. So my dad did what no doorstep casserole could have done and cleaned him up.
President Uchdorf explains how we overlook genuine ministry in favor of results we can measure:.
“…I know of a stake where the leaders set some ambitious goals for the year. While the goals all looked worthwhile, they focused either on lofty and impressive declarations or on numbers and percentages.
After these goals had been discussed and agreed upon, something began to trouble the stake president. He thought about the members of his stake—like the young mother with small children who was recently widowed. He thought about the members who were struggling with doubts or loneliness or with severe health conditions and no insurance. He thought about the members who were grappling with broken marriages, addictions, unemployment, and mental illness. And the more he thought about them, the more he asked himself a humbling question: will our new goals make a difference in the lives of these members?
He began to wonder how their stake’s goals might have been different if they had first asked, “What is our ministry?”
So this stake president went back to his councils, and together they shifted their focus. They determined that they would not allow “the hungry, … the needy, …the naked, … the sick and the afflicted to pass by [them], and notice them not.” (Mormon 8:39)
They set new goals, recognizing that success with these new goals could not always be measured, at least not by man—for how does one measure personal testimony, love of God, or compassion for others?”1
Indeed, what is our ministry? In the sausage-making grind of church leadership, our most difficult tasks are often not in calling descriptions but rather what lies beneath the surface. The ministry lives in forming relationships and forgetting faults. It means having patience with those we disagree with, forgiving our fellow leaders, and learning how to accommodate and love our brothers and sisters as we wallow in the mess of one another’s lives. Through this, we discover the ministry lives not in the party but in the people.
Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men. (Alma 34:29)
In preparation for a an activity that celebrated the birthday of the Relief Society, including dinner, music, inspirational talks, I asked the planning committee to give a personal, verbal invitation along with a written one. It was a small thing.
The woman asked me in as if she was expecting me. You’ll come in, won’t you? I knew her. She came to church, bore her testimony almost every month, and commented at length during Relief Society. She sat, and I sat next to her. It wasn’t long after we exchanged pleasantries that she brought her hands to her face. “I’m just so tired,” she cried. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I try, but I can’t do it. I know it will never get better. I’m old. It will never get any better.” She told me about the time she fell and broke her front teeth. I listened while she talked about x-rays, stitches, and rogue leaf blowers. About the pressing exhaustion that comes earlier with the slow passing of the hours. And the sharp pains in her head, how they whisper, stroke, but one never comes. We embrace and I finally leave, the invitation lying untouched on the chair next to us.
J. Kirk Richards, I Stand at The Door And Knock
1 Deiter F. Uchdorf, On Being Genuine https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/on-being-genuine?lang=eng Image credit: J. Kirk Richards, I Stand at The Door And Knock, Oil 24 x 24 inches, http://illumegalleryoffineart.com/i-stand-at-the-door-and-knock/