"And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
"And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done" (Moro. 6:5, 9).
My wife and I watched a news report from a Salt Lake City news station last night that discussed the growing number of discontents within the Mormon faith. The reporter quoted the recent Marlin Jensen interview in which he stated that more members are falling away today than any time in the past 175 years. Of our total reported church membership, there are as few as one-third that are active.
As I considered why this was taking place, a number of reasons came to mind. Among those reasons, my mind turned to the spirit of our meetings. While it is not the root cause of this falling away, the dullness of our meetings is a reflection upon and outgrowth of Mormon culture at large.
The ancient church met together oft to speak one with another about the "welfare of their souls." Think on that for a moment. What is the purpose of such a discussion? What are you trying to figure out? Does this mean they were actually concerned about the welfare of their souls? Is the purpose of such a discussion to reassure one another that everything is going alright? Did they wonder if their souls were acceptable before God? Is it possible that they could have at times discovered that the welfare of their souls was in jeopardy? What, otherwise, would be the purpose of speaking one with another about the welfare of their souls?
Do we discuss the "welfare of our souls" as much as we discuss our testimonies of the things we know to be true? Is pontificating about everything that you know to be true the same as discussing the "welfare or your soul?" What if a discussion of the welfare of souls requires more than soft words and messages of reassurance? What did it mean to Nephi's brother Jacob to speak unto the people concerning the welfare of their souls (Jacob 2:3-11)? What about Nephi with his brothers (2 Ne. 1:24-26). My experience is that if the welfare of souls is mentioned in a meaningful manner in our congregations today, speaking plainly about our current situation, it leads to unease and resentment. Yet it may just be what is needed to jump-start the waning spirituality of the many members who long for more. Members need to hear about the awful situation they find themselves in if it's to be fixed. We may ultimately discover that folks aren't interested in idle words after all. And many shall discover they weren't as grateful for the message that 'all is well' as they once thought they were.
We've been instructed to conduct our meetings as directed by the Spirit, just as was done anciently (D&C 20:45). Yet, our meetings are often rote and unenthusiastic. What if the church (locally) felt at liberty to conduct meetings after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, as is directed in the scriptures? What if the power of the Holy Ghost led them to pray? Would that be unacceptable? What if the power of the Holy Ghost led them to sing? Would this disrupt good order in the Church? Would a Bishop feel at liberty to have his congregation pray and sing the entire meeting if directed by the Spirit? Would the gifts of the Spirit be more greatly manifested if we were more sensitive to the Spirit's direction?
The fact that the Church is "the same no matter where you go in the world" isn't necessarily complimentary. If by "the same" we meant that all meetings were "conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit" then it may be worth mentioning. Though it's always mentioned excitedly as a testimony booster by those who've traveled, to me it is evidence of strict adherence to the Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1, that institutionalizes our culture. Though Moroni 6:9 is mentioned there as a "general guideline" for meetings, a template follows illustrating how meetings should look and run, as well as other shoulds and should nots. It is quite organized, and I'm sure very helpful in our worldwide church. That template is followed with virtually no deviation, and perhaps to our handicapping. It seems those who preside at our meetings have a challenging responsibility to seek after and act upon the guidance of the Spirit while honoring the intent of general leadership.
There are those who would say I need to fix my attitude and then I might find fulfillment in boring meetings. I don't believe that anymore. If a meeting is boring, I have no problem feeling bored to death by it. If a meeting is not edifying there's no sense in me wishing it lasted longer. If the speaker doesn't care much for the gospel that I've come to love, or speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, I'm frankly not edified. It doesn't mean I don't like that person anymore. We've all got different feelings about the gospel, what it is and how it works. We're the Church, after all, not Zion.
Don't think for a moment that Joseph Smith would pretend to be edified by some of the drivel you sit and listen to. I don't believe he'd much enjoy our regimented culture or our stale lessons. He's actually been to meetings and firesides that were conducted "after the manner of the workings of the Spirit," and knows the difference between dull templates and the breathings of the Spirit of God.
I still find satisfaction in my church experience. I understand there are others who no longer do. Where else can I meet and worship with a group of good people who believe in the restoration? Though our views may diverge upon numerous issues (most often never voiced), they consider me a friend, and I them. For those who increasingly consider themselves aliens in the Lord's church, my invitation is for you to seek the Spirit of God and bless the Church, and not to abandon it.