What Does it Mean to be Active in the Church?

This blog post has a deceptive title. But, I can almost guarantee it’s not what you think. I challenge you to read it and see if I bring up any doctrines that surprise you.

Know Do Be

This morning at choir practice, the choir director had us singing a very well-sung Primary Hymn: I am a Child of God. Years ago, when this song was first accepted and used, the chorus lyrics read thus, “Teach me all that I must know to live with Him someday.” Later, prophet Spencer W. Kimball requested the lyrics to be changed to, “Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.” Then, this morning, our choir director talked about how it would make sense to her if another alteration was made (and might’ve been made when Gordon B. Hinckley was prophet) reading thusly, “Teach me all that I must be to live with Him someday.”

In the simple words know, do, and be we see the natural progression of faith that we all pass through. First, we are taught truth. Then, we are asked to act upon what we know, to do. However, often, in our haste to do we forget the actual purpose of doing, which is to become.

God doesn’t just go through the motions. He is love. He is mercy. Etc. All these traits come to Him naturally. He doesn’t have think about being just, He is just, and so forth. We all easily forget that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about knowing, doing and most importantly becoming.

These three words (know, do, become) are at the core of the answer, “what does it mean to be active in the church?” This is because becoming truly active is both an internal and an external process. We all tend to start by knowing the Gospel (internal). Then, we try very hard to do the Gospel (external). However, the doing is often given to us and supplied to us naturally by the programs and inspired organization of God’s church. And because the doing is so readily available and provided for us, it is quite easy to get caught up in the external-doing and forget to press forward to the becoming (which is both internal and external).

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the doing that the doing overwhelms us and we forget what the Gospel is all about. This is often when people choose to go inactive in the church, by which they often become lax and inactive in the actual Gospel.

Becoming implies that doing has actually changed us into a different type of being. Which, if that’s the case, we no longer do, we are. Kind of blows the mind, but there it is.

In fact, many people complain that being a Mormon is very difficult. That our “church” requires too much of us. So much “activity” required, so much doing (which granted, can be empty doing if we forget its purpose and many of us do). Yet, what they misunderstand is that the organization of the church is set up in an inspired way. It is nothing less than a Spiritual University.

God commands us to serve our fellow men, in the scriptures. The church then provides frequent and long-term opportunities to do this serving. God commands us to sacrifice. The church then provides opportunities to give ritually and as inspired of our income, time, talents, and other resources. We sacrifice much that is earthly in our pursuit of godhood—which is what the church and gospel are all about. We are asked to pay tithing and offerings the same as the widow who was asked by Elijah to make him a little loaf of bread out of the last of her oil and meal before feeding herself and her son. We often do and give and serve when we have not even enough for ourselves and our family. And yet, it is such service, faith, and sacrifice which brings about miracles, and miraculously our cruses of oil never go dry and our barrel of meal seems to never become empty.

God commands us…and the church provides… It goes on and on. The Gospel is the Gospel. The church is the fundamental, critical, and godly instituted organization ordained with the power and resources to aid us in succeeding in the Gospel. It is a Spiritual University.

The church is a school of godhood. It is the highest and truest form of Christian education. God commands us to become like Him and to get to know Him. The church (as set up by God, Himself) is meant to provide the framework (Spiritual University) to help us accomplish what He has commanded us—to become like Him and to get to know Him. The church is His help, His support, His book of answers! There is no secret to godhood save attending His school and studying sincerely and genuinely—to become.

Thus, to be “active” in the church means to be “active” in the Gospel of Jesus Christ—to be active in accepting and acting upon all the support God has offered us. It’s not hard to be a Mormon any more than it’s hard to be any type of Christian. In fact, in many ways it’s easier because we have a spiritual curriculum, training ground, and a host of spiritual coaches. We don’t have to set out on our own seeking to figure out how to accomplish God’s commands. He’s given us the day-to-day framework and an entire organization to take the guesswork out of becoming like Him.

Active or Inactive

So, it is a common, traditional thing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to identify individuals and families as “active” in the church or “inactive.” I’m not a big fan of these labels, but I also recognize the intent with which they became so commonly used. And, if seen in the right light, they make absolute sense.

The word active means: doing things for an organization, campaign, or cause rather than simply giving it ones support.

When we refer to people as being “active” in the church, we usually mean that we can see outward evidence of their beliefs and desires to become godly. We see them going to church, serving in callings, etc. rather than them merely being a record on our rosters as someone who has been baptized but doesn’t outwardly act on their beliefs. Those who we don’t see actively participating in the organization (or spiritual university) of the church are often called “inactive.” Meaning, we suspect they belief in the core doctrines but they are not “acting” outwardly on that belief in ways we’ve come to expect.

However, members of the church are getting better (though far from perfect) at not too quickly assigning these labels. This is because many people who are outwardly “active” are not necessarily inwardly converted to the actual idea of becoming like God. They are, literally, going through the motions for all sorts of other reasons and motivations. And this happens when they forget that the whole purpose of doing is to become.

We also have the issue of people being very Christian and “active” in trying to be Christlike who are less comfortable with the more guided and structural spiritual educational framework provided by the church. And yet, the organization of the church has been put in place by God. And by acting outside of it individuals find themselves limited in their progression toward godhood. They can only progress so far without certain ordinances and covenants. They can only access so much grace and power. Thus, it is clear that to some extent we must all submit to God’s Formal School of Godhood.

I love this quote by Donald L. Hallstrom of the Seventy from the April 2012 Conference:

Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed.

By contrast, the things of the gospel are usually less visible and more difficult to measure, but they are of greater eternal importance. For example, how much faith do we really have? How repentant are we? How meaningful are the ordinances in our lives? How focused are we on our covenants?

I repeat: we need the gospel and the Church. In fact, the purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel. We often wonder: How can someone be fully active in the Church as a youth and then not be when they are older? How can an adult who has regularly attended and served stop coming? How can a person who was disappointed by a leader or another member allow that to end their Church participation? Perhaps the reason is they were not sufficiently converted to the gospel—the things of eternity.

Elder Hallstrom then goes on to suggest how to be “active” in the church and “active” in the Gospel.

I suggest three fundamental ways to have the gospel be our foundation:

Deepen our understanding of Deity. A sustained knowledge of and love for the three members of the Godhead are indispensable. Mindfully pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, and seek direction from the Holy Ghost. Couple prayer with constant study and humble pondering to continually build unshakable faith in Jesus Christ. “For how knoweth a man the master … who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13).

Focus on the ordinances and covenants. If there are any of the essential ordinances yet to be performed in your life, intently prepare to receive each of them. Then we need to establish the discipline to live faithful to our covenants, fully using the weekly gift of the sacrament. Many of us are not being regularly changed by its cleansing power because of our lack of reverence for this holy ordinance.

Unite the gospel with the Church. As we concentrate on the gospel, the Church will become more, not less, of a blessing in our lives. As we come to each meeting prepared to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), the Holy Spirit will be our teacher. If we come to be entertained, we often will be disappointed. President Spencer W. Kimball was once asked, “What do you do when you find yourself in a boring sacrament meeting?” His response: “I don’t know. I’ve never been in one” (quoted by Gene R. Cook, in Gerry Avant, “Learning Gospel Is Lifetime Pursuit,” Church News, Mar. 24, 1990, 10).

Here’s a link to the whole article for those who are interested.

Converted to His Gospel Through His Church, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, of the Seventy, April 2012 Conference Address

Now, if I were to suggest anything, it would be two of the things Elder Hallstrom pointed out:

  • Get to know God better
  • Focus on the Gospel and use the Church to strengthen your ability to live the Gospel

The Pharisees looked beyond the mark (the mark being Christ) and focused so much on “doing” that they couldn’t see Christ through the wall of rules they created. And yet, Christ chastened them not for their excessive rules, but for the more internal aspects of the Gospel which they had omitted: faith, love, charity, mercy, righteous judgment… (Matthew 23:23).

Thus, we can see that the Pharisees largest mistake was putting rules before Christ, instead of Christ before rules. If we put the Gospel of Jesus Christ first and then look to the Church, we will at last find the peace and power God intended us to have in our spiritual education. We will find relief and support and guidance in our pursuit of the Gospel.

If we seek to serve our fellow men, as God commanded (Matthew 25:35-40; John 21:15; James 1:27), we will find all these ways laid out for us in the inspired organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

  • …when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King [Christ] shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
  • So, when they had dined, Jesus saith unto Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
  • Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

There are certainly thousands of scripture references from God exhorting us to be unselfish, charitable, kind, meek, mild, loving, merciful, willing to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things, to be perfect! How can one person manufacture enough experiences, resources, and so forth to accomplish the magnitude of such commands—to even come close to learning what needs to be learned? That’s just it. We can’t. No one person can become like God on their own.

The very organization of the Church is in place to give us the chance to help others learn the gospel (to be fed. Every member is exhorted to live a life that exemplifies Christ. We are “every member a missionary.” Every member is asked to be a visiting or home teacher. We visit those in our area and we seek to fill their needs (physical and spiritual), to comfort, to bless. We are encouraged (when we have the resources) to sacrifice conventional lives to serve official missions. Young men accept such a sacrifice as a personal duty, given to them by God through the prophet. Young women offer their lives as well. We have a lay clergy. Each person in every ward and stake, the world over, is called to serve (without pay—or purse or scrip…) in volunteer positions and callings from Bishop to nursery leader. Everyone serves in the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27). The Church helps us focus our lives around becoming godly. By entering the church (through baptism) we promise to be “in the world” but not “of the world.”

Active is Being in the World but NOT of the World

What does that mean? To me it means to be living in the world but to have one’s most important priority and focus as the goal to become like God. All other worldly offerings take second priority. That is, to me, what being “active” is. When our highest priority and focus is anything other than becoming like God, then we are to some extent “inactive.” We are to some extent omitting or ignoring Spiritual University courses, classes, labs, tests, certifications, and practicals.

To me, to be “active” means to be trying to become like God and using His Spiritual University to reach that goal. To be “inactive” means to be a temporary dropout from what is certainly a rigorous course of study and an ambitious eternal career. We can choose another eternal career. We have the agency. But God will never stop sending us scholarship reminders and new class registrations until the final judgment when whatever eternal profession we choose can no longer be changed.

The neat thing about the Church, or Spiritual University, is that you can get a lot of Ds and Fs and have a GPA of 1.5 and still maintain your scholarship (grace). You simply have to not quit. You simply have to keep repenting and keep trying. Talk about a sweet scholarship. To be “active” you simply have to keep going to school and not quit.

And trust me, there are actually no A-students with 4.0s in God’s Spiritual University. There was only ever one valedictorian—Christ. He had a 4.0 and got an A in every class, and He did it to show us how. To give us the hope to not quit and to keep our scholarship. Even the most faithful to have lived on this earth had many courses with Cs, Ds, and Fs. All of us get Bs and As on some assignments, but ultimately, we are poor students. That’s why our scholarship (grace) is so powerful. We can only lose it (in varying degrees) as we drop out of classes.

So, with such a miraculous scholarship and such a priceless education why not be “active”?


3 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to be Active in the Church?

  1. I believe this way of looking at church activity is helpful. When I have been discouraged or “burned out” from church activeness (or over-activeness) it usually because I’m not focusing on the real reason for the service. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday assignments themselves and forget why we’re doing it. And though we may help someone along our way as we’re serving, it’s good to remember that it’s really us the calling is for to start with. I agree that church activity is a chance for us to learn, improve, and grow through grace. We can do nothing good enough without God’s grace. No calling or assignment that we accept can ever be done exactly as it should. But in the trying and with grace we can, little by little, ”… come unto Christ and be perfected in him…”


  2. Just read this again today , what insight ! It reminded me of Neal AMaxwell who always taught about discipleship, which is simply another word for true gospel activity . One of his quotes that I love succinctly describes true activity , or discipleship, “ Deeds, not words—and becoming, not describing—are dominant in true discipleship.”


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