Mormons & Evangelicals: What can I learn from you?

Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time.  One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard.  My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.

Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.)  But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.

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Poverty Unlocked

Why is there so much poverty in the world? How can God let this happen and what does He plan to do about it? What is my role as a Christian in helping the poor? Should I give money to that guy on the street corner? What exactly can I do when the problem is so big? Is there any hope for the AIDS crisis in Africa?

I want to point you to an excellent resource. There is a new podcast called Poverty Unlocked. It contains some great information and some practical ways to think about poverty and what to do about it from a Biblical point of view. You’ll definitely feel better equipped to be a part of the solution. No more doubts about when to give and where to serve. You can know if your efforts are doing any good.

Lay Clergy in the Mormon Church

Among the unique aspects of the Mormon Church is the institution of a lay clergy. With the exception of a few leaders at the very top of the church’s hierarchy, almost all leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are lay clergy, without professional training or salary. I am unaware of any other Christian denomination¹ that relies so heavily on its rank and file to perform the functions necessary for worship and administration. I understand that certain early Methodist congregations would sometimes appoint a lay minister, who would receive some leadership training and ride in a circuit, preaching to different congregations; this is very similar to the Mormon tradition during the mid 1800’s. But in modern times the Mormon Church is relatively unique in this respect.²

What this means for a practicing Mormon is that he or she will almost always have some sort of church responsibility, usually referred to as “callings.” Per the recommendation of Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, even new members of the faith soon have duties commensurate with their level of experience or ability. Some of these callings involve practical necessities, such as cleaning a meeting house or helping disabled congregation members around the house. However, most callings involve an element of overseeing the spiritual well-being of other parishioners. For example, most active members of a Mormon congregation can expect to be called on to teach a Sunday School lesson or give a talk during Sunday services, as well as looking out for the needs of several other individuals or families in the congregation.

Sometimes I feel jealous of people who go to other churches, especially if I have to wake up for early Sunday meetings. My evangelical friends are very active in their congregations, and yet they don’t seem to spend so much time doing church things. On top of the standard three hours of Sunday services, many Mormons can expect meetings during the week, youth activities on weekends, and performing and receiving visits as part of the “home teaching” program of the church. Depending on one’s calling, Sunday may not be quite as relaxing as the label “Day of Rest” would seem to suggest.

I recently moved and changed congregations, necessitating my “release” from the calling I had been in charge of. Because my responsibility had been fairly time-consuming, I suddenly found myself with more time on my hands. And while I’ve appreciated the extra hours, I also miss taking part in the functions of the congregation. Though I may be jealous of my friends in other churches, I don’t actually want to give up the participatory nature of Mormon religion. It has its down sides, but it certainly helps me be less selfish and more inclined to help other people. I’m sure that things could be done much more effectively with a professional clergy, but that probably wouldn’t help me as much personally.

It’s only a matter of time before I am given a new calling in my new congregation. It might be to teach a Sunday School class or to pick up hymnals after meetings or to help members of the congregation find or upgrade their employment. Whatever the assignment, I’ll once again be part of the machinery that makes each congregation run. And as much as I would like to have a leisurely Sunday, it’s a part of my life that I need. It isn’t a perfect system, but hey, we’re not perfect people.


1. The question of whether Mormonism is a Christian sect is another topic entirely. However, for the purposes of this discussion, let us loosely define “Christian” as any denomination that identifies with the Christian tradition.
2. I know Buddhism involves the laity in certain roles, but given Buddhism’s lack of rigid hierarchy, I think the comparison is only approximate.

Serving vs. Servanthood

I’m part of a team at my church that sends short term teams to New Orleans to aid in the recovery effort. We send a team at least once a month, and this summer we are aiming to send at least 12 teams. I’m responsible for the re-entry meetings we do with each team. The function of the re-entry meeting is to help people deal with what they saw and how to communicate that to people. It’s also to get the people who went to think about what’s next for them.

If we send 500 people to New Orleans and they do a good job there, but never serve anyone ever again, it’s really a wasted effort, I’d almost prefer that they never went. I never want anyone to come back and say “I have now fulfilled my missions responsibility”. And I’m not just talking about programs or activities within the walls of the church. Our calling as Christians is to serve the broken and impoverished, they are not often right there in front of us in the pews.

I recently found this quote by Richard Foster that I’m going to really start emphasizing:

“We must see the difference between choosing to serve (an activity) and choosing to be a servant (a lifestyle). When we choose to serve, we are still in charge. . . when we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. . . we become available and vunerable.”