Friday, March 16, 2012

Worship and Learning at Church

From time to time I hear members of the Church complain that they are not being fulfilled during the three-hour block. Most typically, the assertion is that the talks and lessons are not stimulating enough--spiritually and/or intellectually. I once felt like this as well. This is an embarrassing memory to relive, but in hopes that it will help someone else that is entertaining similar thoughts or having an experience that mirrors mine, it is worth the pain.

My wife and I were living in the Seattle-area at the time and I, along with work, school, and another ward calling, was teaching early morning seminary. Other than the fact that I am not really a morning person and on some days early morning seminary felt very early, I loved my experience teaching the youth and found it remarkably rewarding. Every day I would spend a great deal of time studying and preparing for my lessons. I learned doctrine and Church History at a level I had not done previously. It was an extremely stimulating and exciting time for me. Like many returned missionaries, I came home from the mission field and (unfortunately) didn't really continue my study habits that had become so refined while serving in Brazil. I regret that I didn't continue my scripture study behavior but nevertheless I became distracted by everything else. Gratefully, teaching early morning seminary forced me to get back into the scriptures. It didn't take long before I was right back to my habits and becoming spiritually and intellectually rejuvenated. Unfortunately there was an unexpected (and unwelcome) side-effect.

I became proud. Because I was learning so much and making so much progress (in my mind), I became dissatisfied with my three-hour block experience. I felt cheated in some way because the instructors and speakers weren't teaching and speaking at the same level as I felt and perceived my progress was making. I found myself becoming critical about the talks that were given. I would begin writing my own talk in my head and felt that I could do better. I even began thinking that it was too bad the bishop in my ward didn't have me speak frequently in Sacrament Meeting and teach Gospel Doctrine. After all, I thought, I am the smartest member here. I know more than anyone else. Who is more qualified than me? I sincerely felt that I was not being spiritually or intellectually stimulated anymore and wondered if I ever would again. No one could teach me anything that I don't already know, I thought. I actually remember thinking that! I am fundamentally ashamed these were my feelings.

I am grateful to a dear friend that heard about my proud and sinful feelings. He immediately called me and gave a well deserved rebuke. Of course, he was gentle and loving, but it was very clear he was disappointed in me. In retrospect I think it was his disappointment that caused me to reflect more seriously on my attitude. I told him how I felt and asked what I should do. He looked at me and said, "Matt, we don't come to Church to learn. The primary reason we come is to worship."

I must say that that word, worship, changed my whole outlook on my Church experience. My friend was absolutely right. Less I be misunderstood, I am fully aware that when we come to Church we do learn. But learning, I have realized, is a blessing that is associated with worship, almost a side-effect. I changed my misguided thinking and something wonderful happened. (I might add this wonderful thing has continued to happen.)

As I began attending my three-hour block with the idea of worship in mind instead of attempting to prove how much I knew or silently challenging others to try to teach me everything changed. Because I was coming to worship my heart became humble. I was no longer fixating on myself and what members were (or weren't) doing for me in order to spiritually stimulate me. Instead I was just focusing on the Redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the gift His Father gave to us. In my hymn singing, in my prayers and meditations, and as I listened to my fellow saints speak and teach, I was focused on the Godhead and expressing my eternal and boundless gratitude for them. My hope was to be worthy of the Holy Spirit and find ways to keep the covenants and commandments better. What happened next was unexpected: as a result of my change of heart I began to learn. In fact I began to learn more from my fellow congregants than I ever had alone. I still maintain that the purpose of our Church experience on Sunday is primarily to worship, however I also know that as we are humble the Spirit will allow us to be spiritually stimulated.

And so back my original reason for writing this. When I hear that members are feeling the same way I once felt, I feel sad for them and wish they had a friend like I once had. Perhaps this will serve that same function. I hope so.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad