One of my sons made an interesting observation about two people in our ward.
“I like that one guy,” he said. “He’s ready to be your friend, and then might minister to you, too.”
“That’s nice,” I said, figuring his point was that friendship is, in itself, the point of ministering to someone.
“But this other guy, he wants to minister all the time, and only if he decides you’re worthy will he be your actual friend,” my son said.
That’s pretty harsh judgment, I told him. But I acknowledged ministering is supposed to be more than offering neighbors religious anecdotes. And I admit, the first guy is easy to get along with.
I don’t really know the second fellow, which may accidentally prove my son’s point.
My kid’s comment got me thinking about ministering and proselytizing. In April of 2018, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that a new effort called “ministering” would replace monthly home and visiting teaching.
The idea was to encourage deeper, more personal relationships and genuine friendships among neighbors, while requiring fewer reports and visits than in the past. With a sincere commitment to helping each other out, people would be able to help one another meet their spiritual and temporal needs.
“Minister” is both a noun and a verb. Sometimes it refers to being a member of the clergy, or acting as a member of the clergy. As a verb, to minister simply means to attend to the needs of someone. This is surely what LDS leaders hoped to encourage.
When LDS Church-inspired “ministering” is done well, it’s a beautiful extension of real and lasting friendship.
And when it’s not, well, it’s awkward and makes people feel like obligations instead of dear friends and neighbors.
From a Christian perspective, if you’re foisting your “help” on someone who doesn’t really need or want it, you’ve missed the point. And if offering your needed help is entirely dependent upon someone’s religious interest or activity, then you’ve really missed the point.
It’s fine to be enthusiastic about your religion. I relate to that completely. It’s also fine to be so enthusiastic about your faith you want to share it with others. Great!
But if all your kindness to others has the ulterior motive of enticing people into religious activity, it’s insincere — and maybe even demonstrates a lack of faith in Christ.
Disciples of Christ believe the Savior has everything handled. Our job is not to nudge everyone around us up to a standard of worthiness so the Savior of the World can then accept and love them. No, our job is to acknowledge the Savior’s love in every way, and learn to see everyone around us through His grace and mercy. The better we understand what He has done for us, the easier it is to love others — and the more our desires to be kind become a reflection of our own sense of gratitude instead of a frantic, misguided effort to fix other people.
In this way, Christianity becomes much more of an internal practice in perspective shift, rather than a series of performative behaviors.
In this way, we love people not because our kindness will bring them back to church, but because they are beloved children of God who deserve love.
Contact Sally at firstname.lastname@example.org.