For most of us our Church attendance represents in our imaginations the primary chunk of our religious time and devotion during the week. For some of us Church attendance actually is the bulk of our religious observance time and devotion during the week. So much happens during our Church block that we often inflate its significance in our perception to be the majority of our weekly worship. This is not a simple thing, and there is much that goes into our perception of what it means to go to Church.
In reality, our Church block comprises only about 2% of our entire week. That is little more than a Saturday afternoon matinee in time allotment. Yet on Sunday we scurry around the house getting everyone ready. Everyone must be dressed in their best clothes, meals prepared ahead of schedule, lessons prepared, talks readied, leadership meetings accounted for, etc. And then we have to worry about getting everyone there before the meeting starts so we aren’t the stragglers who interrupt the meeting trying to fit into the only empty bench at the front of the chapel after the prayer has already been said.
In short, getting ready for, and going to Church tends to be a big deal, especially when you have a passel of children in tow. So why do we do it? Isn’t our religious life supposed to encompass the entire week? Why do we put so much focus on this one communal meeting each week? Why are we all willing to invest such a physical and emotional effort into getting there and staying there each Sunday?
I have talked about this perception a number of times with my wife, and we finally came up with five reasons why this block of meetings is so important. I am sure we could have arranged it differently, or even added more categories, but these are the five we settled on.
I believe the sacrament is the most important reason for attending Church. This covenant is vital to our spirituality and our spiritual strength throughout the week. Having the Spirit to be with us on a daily, and even on a constant basis is a matter of spiritual survival in today’s world. Partaking of the sacrament is our opportunity for an official weekly evaluation of how we are doing in our efforts to remember Christ in all our doings.
What is most important here is that we not just remember Christ, who he is and what he has done, and is doing for us in this one Sabbath meeting, but that we learn to remember him every day of the week. We often think and behave differently when we are at Church than during the rest of the week. We need to learn to be “at Church” all week long. Are we saying prayers morning and night? Are we evaluating our behavior and our covenants with him each hour of the day? Do we seek for his approval and blessing in all of our decision making? What are we doing to actively seek the influence of the Holy Spirit every day of the week? To we approach all our dealings with those around us as though we were in a Church activity?
These are the kinds of things we should be thinking about as we gather in Sacrament meeting and take the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. This is a time for review and reflection. It is only about 20 minutes in length, so much of this reflective exercise needs to be done before coming to Church. Being able to do a personal review and reflection is extra difficult when you have smaller children with you, but the sacrament service is a wonderful place to teach them how to be reverent and sit quietly so they can think. I know that sounds naive, but it is true. Children won’t learn to ponder from anyone but their parents. The world has an aversion to pondering. Pondering brings the Spirit, self-awareness, and answers to problems. So I guess the question is, have we learned what it means to ponder? We can’t teach our children this important skill unless we have learned it ourselves.
Elder Kenneth Johnson of the Seventy once quoted Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when he said, “Testimony is to know and to feel, conversion is to do and to become.” We have all week to become converted by ministering to others and keeping our covenants. But once a month, in Fast and Testimony meeting, we have a wonderful opportunity to strengthen our testimony by bearing it to others who share our beliefs. The only place safer to bear our testimony is in front of our family. That is assuming, of course, that your family is friendly toward the gospel of Christ.
Many a testimony has been born in the act of sharing what we hope to be true or believe to be true. Often the effort of putting into words what our heart and mind have been sensing creates an opportunity for the Spirit to stamp the reality of those truths on our soul. One of the most tried and true ways of gaining a testimony is to bear a testimony. I know it is counter-intuitive, but it works none-the-less.
Fortunately, we also have other opportunities to share what we have learned about things of a spiritual nature. We can bear our testimonies in our classes, either in Sunday School, Relief Society, or Priesthood meeting. We can also bear our testimony to the Young Men/Young Women/Primary or when we go out ministering to our neighbor. We can also bear our testimony in a much more informal way when we talk with friends or strangers and tell them what we have come to know through the influence of the Spirit of God in our lives. This kind of testimony bearing can profoundly affect the lives of others, often because it is spontaneous and heartfelt. And more than the one who is hearing the testimony, it will strengthen the one bearing that testimony.
As one who loves to teach, and to participate in group learning, I can’t emphasize the importance of instruction enough. The least attended portion of the three-hour block is the middle hour where we gather together to learn about the gospel of Christ. In Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-80 the Lord commands us to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.” But then he continues on and tells us why we need to learn from and teach each other. The next three verses are a single sentence, so when you read it look for the over-arching thought behind it. Don’t read these three verses as individual thoughts.
77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.
78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.
Getting rid of all the descriptor parts of the sentence, the Lord is saying that we need to instruct one another so we will be prepared in all things for the time when we are called to the mission he is prepared to give us. If we will take teaching each other seriously, so we have the Spirit with us in our learning efforts then his grace will attend us. His grace is his enabling power. This is the transformative power that attends all his blessings to the faithful, empowering them to accomplish all things they are commanded to do. This is the power that changes our hearts and enlarges our vision and capacity comprehend, perceive, and to appreciate all truth. This is the same power that transforms us into people who are able to live the lives of the righteous.
Stripping down these four verses to their bare bones, this is what I take away from them:
“And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you … that ye may be prepared in all things.”
Note: In the next few verses the Lord says that the mission he has in mind is for us to go out and warn our neighbor. Why? So that their sins will be on their own heads, and not on ours because we didn’t warn them properly.
81 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.
82 Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads.
Our responsibility is to “warn” or teach each other as well. If we don’t understand the doctrines of our own salvation then how can we expect others to understand the marvelous opportunities available to them in Christ’s gospel. Just because those who show up to our meetings are probably already card-carrying members of the Church, it doesn’t mean they have a complete understanding of all the doctrine any more than we understand all the doctrine. We need each other.
I know that most people run away from the idea of having to stand in front of a group of people and teach them the gospel of Christ. But the new method of teaching in the Church is no longer the “stand and lecture” method. We are supposed to be learning to counsel one with another. This means, at its very heart, that we learn to share our testimonies and experiences with each other. The teacher may be presenting the ideas behind what the Brethren would like us to discuss, but the time spent in class is supposed to be filled with your experiences about the doctrine being presented.
When you share your perception of the doctrine with me, and I share mine with you, and our fellow saints do likewise, we will begin to see that there is hidden power in our midst. People share their personal experiences with the Spirit and with the doctrine and how it has played out in their lives, and we will see that there are those who have some pretty interesting views of the eternities. And there are those who are rock solid in that particular doctrine. And the fascinating thing is that the person who is rock solid this week on the doctrines being presented may be way out in left field next week. It all depends on what our life experience has taught us.
The purpose for bringing us all to an agreement and a mutual understanding of the doctrines of Christ, is to unify us and to create a people of one heart and one mind. This means we need to understand each other and still love and tolerate each other, despite our differences. But that will never happen as long as there is only one person talking during our time together in communal instruction. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “mark my words, if we don’t figure out how to embrace this kind of learning, the Lord will put us into positions where it will become a matter of survival. We need this in order to become a Zion people.”
There are times when we are able to stand strong and be supported by our own testimony and level of conversion. But into each and every life comes times when we falter, for whatever reason. It is during these times when we need to know we are not alone in our faith. We need to hear others struggling with the same issues we struggle with. We need to hear how others overcame their trials, or at least outlasted them and came out still kicking on the other side of the ordeal. It is this principle of strength in numbers that uplifts us and sustains us in the hard times.
When we see someone else suffering, but we are not, these are perfect opportunities for us to minister to the needs of others. We will all trade places eventually. Everyone who stands strong will one day find themselves feeling weak, and vice versa. My wife refers to this situation as walking through the deserts of life. It is easy when we are walking through the rich, plentiful meadow times of life, but when life takes us through the desert, and we feel spiritually, and emotionally parched and lost, it is during those times that we can be nourished by those who are still in the meadows and see life from a different perspective. Sooner or later it will be us in the meadows and them in the desert. That’s life.
It is important to remember that it doesn’t require a certain quota of people in order for this support to take place. In some areas of the Church the members are few and far between. Even finding one other person to talk to about what is happening in our lives from a gospel perspective can make a world of difference. Even when we feel alone in a large crowd of members, it may be all about finding that gem, that one person who understands our struggle and can give us the emotional or spiritual nourishment and encouragement we need to get through our current challenges. Again, we need each other.
Our Church meetings are also the only time and place where most business that keeps the ward or branch running can be transacted. We need to offer our sustaining vote to those who have been called to positions. We need to acknowledge those who have been released. We need to sing the hymns of Zion with each other. They are prayers the Lord encourages us to sing, because the Spirit attends the singing of those hymns. They are composed, written, and selected by the Church to do just that, bring the Spirit and teach us the doctrines of the kingdom. Too often we are too timid and don’t apply ourselves to properly singing the hymns in our meetings, and that includes at home as well.
It is during our meetings, including Stake meetings, and General Conferences, that we are instructed as a body of Christ. The leaders called and ordained or set apart to serve us magnify their callings by following the Spirit to teach us the peaceable things of the kingdom, and conduct the business that keeps the whole organization moving forward.
Think of ward/stake/Church business like we think of brushing our teeth, making our beds, doing our laundry and the dishes. Yes, life could go on, but in a much less desirable condition if we don’t do these things. So when our leaders call for us to be at a function, even if it is a party, we need to be there. We need to be teaching our children that it is important to listen to and obey the directions we receive from the Lord’s anointed leaders. We should be very reluctant to forgo a Primary activity, a Relief Society mid-week meeting, or chapel cleaning. The only people we hurt when we decide these things have no merit or value in our life is us. Well, others may suffer due to our lack of attendance, but they are the ones receiving the Lord’s grace for having been there, so He makes up for our lack of being there by blessing those who showed up with extra blessings. Argue with my logic all you like, but that is what I believe.
In actuality, the title of this article should have been something more akin to “The Blessings of Being Able to Go to Church.” But be honest, that probably wouldn’t have caught your attention, would it? Going to Church shouldn’t be just a Sabbath thing. Mentally, we should be in Church all week long. Every dealing we have with another person should be based on our love for our Lord. All our thoughts should be centered on how each activity we engage in helps us keep commandments and whether or not we are properly ministering to each other.
I am so happy that ministering is not just about seriousness all the time. Ministering happens just as effectively in all the happy moments of our lives. We can take a child to the movies (well chosen ones, of course) and improve a relationship. That is ministering. And we can brighten someones day with a well-deserved smile or compliment. That is ministering as well. These are all things that would be appropriate in Church as well. I have often been sent home from Church with the instruction from the Bishop to go and shovel people’s roofs to prevent them from collapsing from the snow. Such things are worthily done on the Sabbath.
Going to Church needs to become a daily mindset, not just a thing we do for three hours once a week then forget about it for the rest of the week. Changing how we look at our time together each Sabbath day will greatly improve our worship for the rest of the week.