This lesson is all about sheep. Sheep are stupid animals. Sorry to be blunt, but they are. They are adorable, and loveable, but they do stupid things that require their shepherds to be on the constant lookout for the next dumb thing they do. The majority of the flock is generally safe, but there is always someone wandering off that needs to be fetched back into the safety of the fold.
In Isaiah 53:6 the verse starts out by saying, “All we like sheep have gone astray ...” In the Church, when we talk about the sheep, we are generally referring to just those who have wandered away into obscurity, adopting the ways of the world and forsaking the lifestyle of the Lord’s people. As we look at what President Benson has to say about dealing with the lost sheep, I would like you to keep in mind the first four words of Isaiah 53:6. All of us act like sheep from time to time. We all need some degree of rescuing, even if it is something as small as the occasional pat on the back or acknowledgment for doing good.
Reactivation has two parts. There is the part that caused the person to become less active in the Church then there is the part that helps the person feel like they want to come back to church. Every person who has ever become less active in the Church was, at one time, active in the church. What caused them to go elsewhere?
What causes a person to leave full activity is varied from person to person, but there are some general categories of reasons. Some do not have their questions answered. Their testimony becomes shaky and they lose their faith. Some come into the Church in the midst of great fanfare that quickly dies out, leaving the new convert to struggle with new habits, new doctrines, a new lifestyle, and very little support. Sometimes it is just easier to return to what they knew and felt comfortable with, rather than struggle with the difficulty of a new culture that has left them high and dry. Others have great experiences that bring them into the Church, but then life starts to settle into the mundane daily routine, and the luster and newness of the gospel dims, and the new person begins to wonder if the novelty wasn’t just a passing phase or fancy.
Finally, there are those who allowed temptations to begin to dictate their behavior, and before long, they are out of the Church and living like their neighbors, instead of living the commandments. Many try to convince themselves they are happier this way, but that generally doesn’t last forever.
President Benson makes a good point when he says that “the purpose of the Lord’s church is to further the progress of every son and daughter of God ...” Those coming back into activity in the Church sometimes feel overwhelmed with comments about needing to become perfect. Note that President Benson only said we need to “further the progress” of the sons and daughters of God. We need to help those coming back feel comfortable about where they are in the gospel, while instilling in them a desire to explore it to find ways to make themselves better. We all seek perfection, but it isn’t going to happen in this life.
A measure of love
Often, all it takes to help someone return to full activity is a loving arm that is extended. Unfortunately, too often that loving arm is withdrawn as soon as the person has been baptized or given a calling, or has gone through the temple. When the Good Shepherd brings a lost sheep home, he doesn’t ignore it once it is where it is supposed to be. He watches over us, the lost sheep, to make sure we stay safe and sound in the body of the flock. He does what he can to help prevent us from wandering off again. We, as the under-shepherds, have the same responsibility for each other.
When we show love to someone that love must be continual. If we stop showing our love for our brother or sister once they have done what they think we wanted them to do, what are they to think, but that our affections were not genuine? There are very few of us who are so strong in the gospel that no matter how poorly treated we are will stay active and participating in the church.
Programs of the Church
Much has been said, and is being said in our meetings about the Lord hastening His work. We are being told that in order for us to keep pace with the Lord and His work, we need to learn how to preach and teach in the Savior’s way. The methods of the past will only give us the results of the past. But what are the changes we need to make in order to keep up with the Lord as he hastens his work?
I may be the lone voice in the wilderness on this one, but “there are no new solutions to this old problem of sheep straying elsewhere for food.” The Savior was very clear to his Apostles and to the members of the Church that we need to feed his sheep. President Benson also said:
... we must all learn to be true shepherds. We must manifest the same love to others that the Good Shepherd has for all of us. Each soul is precious to Him.
... The sheep—some distracted, some indifferent, some preoccupied—must be found and loved back into activity. Every priesthood and auxiliary resource must be used to assist in this effort.
As you earnestly strive to accomplish this worthy goal, we urge you to give renewed emphasis to effective priesthood home teaching and effective Relief Society visiting teaching. Home teaching and visiting teaching are inspired programs. They are designed to reach each member of the Church each month, both the active and the less active. Please give home teaching and visiting teaching an increased emphasis.
Perhaps, instead of looking for something new, we need to focus on the inspired programs we have already been given, and learn to think and act about the programs of home and visiting teaching in new ways. As we seek for the Lord’s Spirit to teach us how to behave in more Christlike ways, perhaps we should also be pleading with the Lord to learn the value of each and every member of the body of Christ. If we want to bring the less active back into the fold, we need to place as much value on them as we do on the most active members of our congregations. There is no such thing as an unimportant person. We need to pray for a way to have our hearts pierced with that conviction.
Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.