Facing the Ministering Before Us

ministering

The new buzz word is ministering. Heaven forbid we should call ourselves ministers, though that is what we are. Unfortunately,  the word minister carries with it in today’s world some very specific connotations and images that we want to avoid. But ministers is what we are, and what we have been called to be by the Lord. So while we have our ministrations, our ministering, and are, in fact, ministers, we are stuck referring to ourselves as ministering brothers and ministering sisters instead of being able to call what we are being asked to do by the Lord what it really is – a ministry.

In the late 1300’s the word ministry meant “the function of a priest.” But by the early 1900’s the term ministry began to be used as a name for political offices – the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No longer was the word confined to what God had called his servants to do for each other, to minister to one another – to be ministers or doers of good. So now we go ministering, but it confuses people when we refer to ourselves as ministers. A ministration is an act of service. It is an act of good one performs.

Some are confused

In the past, some have confused showing up and sharing a message with a home or visiting teaching family with ministering. Some of us have gotten it into our heads that if we take a plate of cookies, or give a preprinted card with a quote on it, or hand them a refrigerator magnet with a pithy saying on it that we have fulfilled the second greatest commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the efforts that went into the creation of all these cookies, magnets, and cards. I’ve used them myself. Perhaps that is why scenes from movies strike a sensitive chord in us when we see something like a home teacher slipping large chocolate chip cookies through the mail slot at 11:55 p.m. on the 31st of the month, and calling out through the slot the message for the month. We tend to see ourselves in such behavior. That is where the humor comes from, sad though it may be.

Aspects of ministering

Part of the difficulty in ministering to others is that it requires the very things that make our personal relationships so difficult. Married couples wrestle with ministering in their marriage all the time. To minister to another’s needs is to be aware of what is needed and to desire to meet that need and anticipate that need. By doing this we alleviate suffering, bring comfort, and help someone feel more secure in our relationship with them.

With my wife’s permission I can give you a demonstration. My wife is a classic example of the absent minded professor. She was a math professor for more than three decades. She would walk across campus deep in thought, completely oblivious to the conversations and attentions of others in her inner conversation with herself as she went from place to place. She isn’t unfriendly, she was just lost in thought. It was my place to walk with my wife and alert her to the people greeting her or waving to her so she could respond in kind.

ministering

Recently, I bought her multiple water bottles to use around the house, because she had glasses of water that kept getting spilled or left empty when she needed them. The water bottles prevent her from spilling her water on the power strips under the tables. Now I move from room to room always on the lookout for the stray water bottles. I know she will need one the next time she enters the living room or the bedroom, or her office, but is that where they are, of course not. They were left in the greenhouse, the laundry room, or the kitchen, and all of them need refilling – constantly.

 

So this is one way I minister to my wife’s needs. I know she needs her water and that she probably won’t have her bottle filled and by her side when she wants her water, so I do what I can to keep them filled for her. I bring them to her wherever she is in the house, instead of expecting her to go to where they are supposed to be stationed. This is a small service on my part that is greatly appreciated by my wife.

This is just one small example of what ministering entails. I took the time to notice a way I could be of greater service to the love of my life, and found that with a little thought and effort I can make her life more pleasant and enjoyable. It is one way for me to show her how much I love her and care for her. Notice that there were no cookies, cards, or magnets involved. This was something tailored to her needs and meant to help in a way that demonstrates love and concern.

Ministering is a demonstration of love

This may be a difficult concept for many of us to fully grasp, but when we perform ministrations to others we are, in fact, demonstrating our love and concern for them. We are expressing our desire that they be uplifted, comforted, cared for, and relieved of hardship of some kind. It can actually be all of these things or just one of them. Any time we do good for someone else we are ministering to them. But the best kind of ministering is not to just do random good, but to do good that will actually benefit them. Giving $50 to a millionaire may be a good deed, but it would be a much better deed if it were given to someone who actually needed the money. There is a qualitative side to doing good. The object is not to just do good, but to do the good that the person needs done.

What does it say about the love I demonstrate to my neighbor if I do good for them that is basically wasted effort on my part, because they have no need for the good I have done? As far as I can see, it just shows my neighbor that I am clueless as to their real needs or desires. It sends the signal that I don’t really care about them. I am more concerned that I be seen doing good rather than that the good that I do be well placed and effective in the life of the one on which I bestow my efforts. It’s like giving cookies to a known diabetic. To fulfill the Lord’s directive to love my neighbor as myself, I must love my neighbor enough to care about doing the good that my neighbor needs me to do, instead of what is convenient for me to do.

What props do I need?

As I pondered the props we so often feel we can’t face our visiting families without, it occurred to me that the Savior was more poor than most any of us, yet he was the master server. If anyone knew how to minister to the needs of others, it was Jesus. Yet he had no props to hand them or fancy preprinted cards to hold up to them to show how well he prepared his message for them. Instead, he was a keen observer of the human condition. He could see when someone was hurting, and he sought to ease that suffering any way he could. It didn’t matter how small the act of kindness that was required, if it eased their burden or helped them to believe in God’s love more easily, even if just a little then it was enough.

What we sometimes forget is that ministering requires that we get involved in someone else’s life. We can’t minister to other’s needs while living in a self-contained bubble. We must interact with others, observe them, look for their needs that aren’t being met, and recognize their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. We have been called upon to council with each other for the welfare of others in our wards and branches, but how are we supposed to do this if we know nothing of any importance about our neighbors? If we don’t know what they struggle with each day, how are we supposed to find a way to ease that burden? If we hide our own needs from our neighbors, how are they supposed to help us? Ouch, that pulls on the vulnerability string. Heaven forbid anyone in our neighborhood or ward family finds out that our home has challenges and needs!

This ministering call requires that we all pull off our own masks and expose our true faces to our neighbors. This is something that we will have to take to the Lord for help to accomplish. I dare say I am not fully aware of all the ways I try to hide my imperfections and deficits from my neighbors. If I am to be honest with my ward family and neighbors then I am going to need to find a way to show them who I truly am.

We expect others to be transparent so we can serve them better and fill their needs and alleviate their suffering, yet we too often try to hide those very things about ourselves.

Ministering opens doors

Each step the Church takes in its progress toward preparing the way for the Savior’s return requires that we become a little bit more united as a people. Being united cannot (I repeat – cannot) be done when we are hiding in plain sight from each other. If we are trying to come across as the perfect family, with no spiritual challenges or financial difficulties, no sins, no this or no that then we will never be capable of becoming a united people. Unity only happens when we learn to accept people for who they are this day, warts and all.

I brought up the story of my wife and her water bottles, but I failed to mention that long before the water bottles I encountered her penchant for always turning her clothing inside out. When it came time for me to fold the laundry she had done, I convinced myself that she turned her clothes inside out on purpose just to annoy me. I hated having to reverse every single piece of clothing she had worn for the last week before I could fold it or hang it up. I would just be angry at the very thought of having to go through it yet again each week.

It took years before I finally realized that her clothes were inside out because she didn’t care how she took them off, and it was easier for her to peal them off by turning them inside out than it was to remove them carefully so as to NOT turn them inside out. It simply wasn’t important to her, and nothing I could do or say was going to change that. Once I learned to accept that this was just one way in which we were different, and that it really didn’t make any difference in the grand scheme of the universe, I was able to fold the laundry and not get upset about that one extra step required for me to get the job done.

And lest you think that I am the sainted one in our marriage, remember that I am the one telling the stories here, not her. She has her own litany of things she has had to endure because of my habits and foibles. The point is this, that ministering to someone takes time and effort. We have to get to know them, the real them, not just their public persona. This requires effort and caring on our part. We have to be vigilant and watchful, patient and gentle with those to whom we have been assigned to minister.

To those who heard the announcement in Conference that we no longer have to report our visits each month and thought, “Yea! No one will know that I didn’t go see the Smiths this month. Now I don’t have to!” beware, because you just revealed to yourself that you don’t really care about the Smiths. What really concerned you was having to make the effort to leave home and temporarily stop doing what was more desirable to you. I only say this because I had a thought similar to this go through my head, because I didn’t get my home teaching done in the first half of the month like I prefer to do. Instead, I had to admit that home teaching as an official activity was going to be a wash this time. I was feeling guilty. The announcement just gave me a way to try to worm out of my guilt.

This just showed me that I had missed the point of ministering to others. We need to learn to minister to the needs and wants of others because we care about them enough to want to relieve their distress, not because we feel an obligation to be their friend because we were assigned to do it.

Final Thoughts

Ministering is the art of showing kindness. It is the embodiment of a gentle disposition, a caring heart, and the way in which we demonstrate and experience charity, the pure love of Christ. The gospel of Christ, in its purest form, is all about relieving suffering and want, fulfilling needs, and doing the good that is needed most by that person. When we can learn to do that in our personal relationships then perhaps we will more clearly understand how to do it to our neighbors.

In the meantime, if you have any cookies you feel a need to deliver to assuage your soul for any reason, my doorstep is always willing to accept deliveries.

Part 2 of this series can be found here. Part 2 talks about some of the differences in ministering as an extrovert as an introvert.  Often, the introverts, those who are shy or live for their privacy, are forgotten about and expected to behave like those who are gregarious. This causes problems with relationships and Church activity.

Contributions to the Kingdom outlines the unique work done only by each of the prophets of this dispensation. A quick read and full of interesting facts and observations about each of our prophets from Joseph Smith through Thomas S. Monson.

About the Author:

Kelly is retired and living in Rexburg, Idaho, USA. He currently writes for gospelstudy.us. You can find articles by Kelly on ldsblogs.com, ldsliving.com, and moronichannel.org as well. He has also published multiple works, including Premortal Promises, and Contributions to the Kingdom, both available on Amazon.com.

11 Comments

  1. Debra June Rohrer April 30, 2018 at 9:05 am - Reply

    I so like ministering I love helping others and being a true friend to them this ministering is not just to church brothers and sisters it is to all members or not the mere act of ministering will bring more members to the church because they will see and feel Christ love and spirit in each of us and want to be apart of it this is my testimony of ministering which I leave in the name of Jesus Christ amen.

    • Kelly Merrill April 30, 2018 at 3:15 pm - Reply

      Thank you Debra. I believe this is truly what the spirit of ministering is all about. It is not just about helping someone or doing good because we need to. Ministering is all about living to help others in the ways in which they need help the most. It is service born of love. The more freely we are able to love others and provide them with what they need the most, our love and acceptance, the better off the whole world will be. Thanks again.

  2. Taita May 5, 2018 at 6:48 am - Reply

    I’m stuck with proper ministering when you are not assigned to a neighbor, but you know of his or the extended families great need…
    Are you to just minister sacredly, but secretly…
    I know this need because they’ve sought help from me almost every other month…
    The help maybe for a week or more days…
    There are other factors, which I find it difficult to truly minister to this family with the Spirit of Unity, as you’ve explained…
    I think it’s my own biased or judging attitudes…
    For example: Many able bodies to work (idleness/laziness Obvious)…
    Word of Wisdom Challenges…
    Other such obvious physical behaviours not of LDS standards (Spiritual Challenges)…
    Do not attend or come to Church, except minor children…
    It’s a multiple family unit with ongoing known challenges & problems…
    Am I being judgemental and the question is how does one minister to such a neighbor???

    • Kelly Merrill May 5, 2018 at 7:18 pm - Reply

      Taita, the best I can do is to give you generic advice. First of all I would look up the Church video called LIFT. It is wonderful, and addresses in a small way your challenge of how long to minister. Try to think of ministering as fulfilling the second great commandment. We don’t have to be assigned to love our family members or assigned to love God. In the second great commandment we are simple commanded to learn to love others with the same love our Father in Heaven and the Savior have for us. Do they limit the number of days they will love us if we don’t get our act together?

      Sometimes the assistance a family or person needs is something that takes a lifetime of help. And the amount of help needed can stretch the gamut of needs. We all face the ugliness of being judgmental and having biases. This is something we work to overcome as we go ministering to others. My mother asked the Lord once if he would send her a person to help, and she promised that she would do whatever was required to help that person. He sent her someone alright, and it was more than 7 years of intensive service to a whole family. It nearly wore my mom out, but that family has been blessed eternally for her service and willingness to go the distance with them.

      I am confident that as you seek the Lord’s help in knowing which needs to address, and how to address them, your life will be enriched, and theirs will be blessed, whether they take advantage of the spiritual blessings offered through your service or not. Ministering is the art of practicing the godly Christlike virtues.

  3. Amy September 11, 2018 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your insights. I really appreciated your article.

    • Kelly Merrill September 11, 2018 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      I am so happy you found the article useful. I see the ministering we have been called to do as something that should free us to serve in new and less fettered ways.

  4. Jan September 17, 2018 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    from Article: “What we sometimes forget is that ministering requires that we get involved in someone else’s life.”

    The supposition from this article and especially this line is that people WANT you involved in their lives and in their business.

    This is great for the Extroverts and the Needy-for-Attention portion of the Church–BUT WHAT NO ONE EVER CONSIDERS is that it is a NIGHTMARE for the introverts and private members.

    Please, is there a way that the ones who want to be all up in other’s business–and the ones who want people all up in their business and having Interaction —could be matched up with each other??’And leave those of us for whom all this is so off-putting and terribly uncomfortable can just be excused from it?

    I asked this very question to our Extremely needy-for-attention/interaction Bishop and he said “Remember, as Sister Oscarson said– It is not about you. Its about what others want FROM YOU.”

    So my Question is:
    Why does part of the Church matter and get their way–and the other part of members (like me) don’t?
    Why are part of us expected to suck it up and buy into the theory that it is ‘not about us’ but that it must be about the others and THEIR way and THEIR neediness?
    Thanks for listening.

    • Kelly Merrill September 17, 2018 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      Jan, I don’t have a ready answer for your great question. May I have your permission to post your question on the Latter-day Saint Ministering FB group and see if others can help with this?

  5. Jan September 17, 2018 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Thanks Bro Merrill. Sure you can post it. Was refreshing even to have somebody respond differently than the usual.

    And I DID like much of your article.
    Thanks for the obviously humble man you are to want to serve and to give others helps and ideas of how to do that.
    I probably was just too defensive in lots of it, and irritated for the one-sided nonsense I have to put up with.
    Thanks again for your efforts.
    I shall read it again with less defensive eyes. 🙂

    • Kelly Merrill September 17, 2018 at 3:19 pm - Reply

      Jan, I just noticed your email address. Love it!
      BTW, I used your comments to write a part 2 to this article. I will probably be adding a part 3 as well. When you hit me with your comment it took me a while to realize it was as polar opposite as the position you are frustrated with. Part 2 is all about learning to find a middle ground that will allow all of us to be more careful and accommodating of each other’s differences. I hope it leaves you feeling more hopeful about the direction of the Church. It certainly doesn’t solve the problem of world peace, but it does open a window of opportunity on a personal basis to not be contributing to the problem around us. Thanks again for opening my eyes to the needs of the introverts in the Church.

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