When I was a missionary, I became aware of the sheer number of inactive members of the Church living in my ward boundaries. Many had left because they felt that the Church was not satisfying their needs. Others had been offended or drifted off. Often, they had also moved away making finding them even more difficult. Unfortunately, even though many of these less active members could be reached through fellow shipping and effort, ward/branch leadership often felt that they were doing enough simply keeping the active members active. Many of the less actives were not assigned home teachers or fellowshiped in any meaningful way.
I wish that those leaders who felt that way could read Elder N. Eldon Tanner’s powerful injunction to reach out and find the lost sheep that have wandered.
Elder Tanner noted that people wander for a wide variety of reasons, but ultimately we need to remember that those who were once members are seeking the same happiness that we feel through our Church membership. They simply have forgotten how the Church can bring them joy and eternal happiness:
“Let us as leaders, and all of us, always remember and never forget that everyone is looking for happiness. Everyone wants to be happy. It is our great privilege and responsibility to show him the way to happiness and success. Often some little thing, some slight, or a misunderstanding causes one to become inactive. There are those who are discouraged and inactive because they have felt neglected or have been offended; or they are guilty of some transgression of their own, and as a result feel that they are outcasts or that there is no place for them, that they are not worthy or wanted. They feel that they are lost and cannot be forgiven. We as leaders must let them know and make them know that we love them, and help them to understand that the Lord loves them, and that the Lord will forgive them if they will truly repent.”
Elder Tanner emphasized the responsibility that we all have to find those that have wandered. He analogized the spiritual wanderers who had strayed to those who are physically lost:
“If we had knowledge tonight that some young man was lost, if anyone knew of someone who was drowning, we wouldn’t hesitate one minute to do all in our power to save that individual, to save the one who was lost, the one who was drowning, the one who was in need of our help. These young men and these older men who are inactive in the Church, who have strayed away from the Church because of inactivity or for any reason, need our help and need our attention just as much. They need our prayers and our consideration, and nothing will bring us greater joy and happiness than to see one come back into activity.”
Most Poignantly for me, Elder Tanner spoke of the complacent attitude which many of those on my mission held
“Some of us seem to be very happy if we have from 40 to 70 percent attendance. If you have 40 percent attendance, you have 60 percent who are not in attendance. And if you have 70 percent in attendance, there are still 30 percent not attending, and those are the ones who need our attention, and they need it badly . . . Brethren, there is nothing more important in your whole lives than to save souls. We have programs and we have planning outlines for teachers, and we give them teacher helps, and all those things to take care of those who are attending, but I fear too often we are forgetting and neglecting and ignoring those who are not always there, satisfied to say we had 50 percent or 60 percent in attendance.”
When we focus solely on the 99 or the 70, and ignore those who have wandered, we fall far short of our responsibilities to reach out to all of those who are in our stewardships. Elder Tanner tells us that we can never become complacent when we seek out the lost. Instead, we must go after every one that wanders. The savior’s model is care and compassion for every single soul. We can never rest satisfied with our accomplishments along as one wanders and is lost.
I know that I can do better at trying to reach out to those I am assigned to home teach with greater diligence and persistence. I can do so much more. Elder Tanner’s talk helped me to remember the eternal significance of reaching out to all who have wandered, encouraged me to avoid complacency, and reminded me of the potential miracles that we can help bring about. “By saving one, we might save a family. We might even save a generation. By losing one, we may lose not only the individual but a family and his posterity.” I hope that we always remember the grave and sacred responsibility that we have to seek out all those who wander and to invite them to come back into the fold.
Here are the other posts writing about talks from this session of the April 1971 conference
|Nathaniel Givens||Love Fervently|
|G||Bites from the April 1971 Priesthood Session|
|John Hancock||Deep Down Inside Us There is Good|
|Ralph Hancock||Betty Friedan and Bishop Brown|
|Michelle Linford||Why I support Friends of Scouting|
|Michael Worley||God’s Plan to Exalt His Children|
|J. Max Wilson||LDS Conference 1971 – Meetinghouse Libraries and UX for Gospel Learning|