Relief Society Lesson 20: Feed My Sheep
“We must all learn to be true shepherds. We must manifest the same love to others that the Good Shepherd has for all of us. Each soul is precious to Him.” from the Life of Ezra Taft Benson
Thoughts on Less-Active Saints
This lesson is very firm on our “duty” to bring less-active members back into full activity in the church. To this point, we read quotes such as these:
“As followers of the Lord, part of our mission is to reach out to our brothers and sisters who have separated themselves from the Church.”
“The challenge before us is great. … We must exercise great faith, energy, and commitment if we are to reach these brothers and sisters. But we must do it. The Lord expects us to do it.”
“This challenge will never be met until stake, ward, quorum, and auxiliary leaders and faithful members everywhere exercise their will and faith to bring the less active back into full activity in the Church.”
I was taught a similar duty when I was a young girl in the church. I remember, particularly, as a newly called Mia Maid president, being taught that my stewardship included the less-active girls in my class. I understood that I would be held accountable for their choice to come to church – or not. This is a tall order for a 15 year-old girl with limited resources.
Since that time, I have left behind the idea of “accountability for others” – and hold more to the idea of simply loving others and accepting them where they are.
The early quotes listed feel harsh to me and I prefer to think of work with all church members (active or otherwise) – feeding the sheep – as an exercise in love, compassion, and following the Savior.
How do we best love God’s flock? How do we best feed His sheep?
These are questions that would make a good class discussion and ones that I ponder often.
When we were baptized we made a covenant to stand with each other as Saints – to be there for each other – and journey together.
So, when someone separates themselves from the church, what is the best way to respond? What would the Savior have us do?
- Respect individual paths – and let them alone?
- Continue to reach out and invite them to worship with the main body of Saints?
LDS culture teach us those who separate from the church are lost and wayward, but my life experience has taught me that this is not always the case. Many times, they find another path that is fulfilling and spiritual – and fit their personal needs.
The manual teaches us that “the principles to activate souls do not change” – They are:
- The lost or less active must be found and contacted.
- Loving concern must be demonstrated. They must feel of our love.
- They must be taught the gospel. They must feel the power of the Holy Ghost through the teachers.
- They must be included in our fellowship.
- They must have meaningful Church responsibilities.
I find these steps too rigid and prefer the sentiment – “continue to minister”. However, it would make an interesting and thought-provoking class discussion.
The lesson mentions that many less-active members are single adults. As a single adult member myself, I understand, personal, how difficult it is to continue with active church membership long into single adulthood.
Why is it hard for single members to attend church?
We are all different, but I believe there are some universal reasons.
- The doctrine that marriage = salvation can make single adult members discouraged on their journey toward salvation.
- The emphasis on traditional marriage and family can leave single adult members feeling “less than” and marginalized when attending church service.
- The lack of other single peers can make single members feel alone and unwanted.
- The many conversations about children and their care can leave some single members out.
- The strict commandment of chastity force adult single members into celebrate lives which many find unfulfilling and empty.
What can members do to provide a more welcoming environment?
There are many ways, and here are a few suggestions.
- Open dialogue to include many paths to Christ – and emphasize the relationship with Christ when discussing salvation.
- Open your homes and lives to single adult members, making them feel included.
- Consider single members when giving callings and use their talents, so they feel needed.
- Help facilitate group activities with other single adult members.
- Empathize with the difficult parts of the gospel such as the law of chastity.
Feeding the Sheep who are Actively Participating in Church
As we nurture friendships in our wards and branches, we help each other stay in the fold of the Good Shepherd.
Active members of the church struggle with many of life’s challenges. Remember to nurture the fellow Saints that you see every week. In this way, we can all grow in faith and community.
The 4th verse of “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd”
“Make us thy true under-shepherds; Give us a love that is deep.
Send us out into the desert, Seeking thy wandering sheep.”
Visiting Teaching and Watchcare
An excellent way to minister to all the ward’s sheep – is to do a good job at Visiting Teaching. This program allows women to reach out in personal ways – to love and to know their fellow members.
Visiting Teaching can be a simple touch point without being intrusive or overbearing. From the manual: “The answer, then, is found in prayerfully shepherding and feeding the flock—in other words, personal watchcare. There must be real, heartfelt concern by a true and loving shepherd, not just the shallow concern that a hireling might show.”
Chapter 7 from the Daughters in my Kingdom manual gives more thoughts, details, and stories on this topic: “Watchcare and Ministering through Visiting Teaching”.
Hearing the Voice of Christ – our Shepherd
From the manual: “At night, the shepherds would lead their sheep to a corral or a sheepfold. High walls surrounded the sheepfold, and thorns were placed on top of the walls to prevent wild animals and thieves from climbing over. Sometimes, however, a wild animal driven by hunger would leap over the walls into the midst of the sheep, frightening and threatening them. Such a situation separated the true shepherd—one who loved his sheep—from the hireling who worked only for pay out of duty. The true shepherd was willing to give his life for the sheep. He would go in among the sheep and fight for their welfare. The hireling, on the other hand, valued his own personal safety above the sheep and would usually flee from the danger.
Jesus used this common illustration of His day to declare that He was the Good Shepherd, the True Shepherd. Because of His love for His brothers and sisters, He would willingly and voluntarily lay down His life for them. (See John 10:11–18.)”
Another important message about sheep and shepherds is to OURSELVES follow the voice of the true shepherd: seek to know Him – and by guided by Him in our lives and our endeavors.
“The charge Jesus gave to Peter, which He emphasized by repeating it three times, is the proven solution: “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.” (See John 21:15–17.)”
Bill Reel gives some interesting insights into this conversation with Peter in his Mormon Discussion podcast “Return to Fishing”.
The 1st verse of “Dear to the heart of the Shepherd”
“Dear to the heart of the Shepherd; Dear are the sheep of his fold;
Over the mountains he follows, Over the waters so deep.”
The closer we are to our true shepherd, the more we will feel the spirit and be guided in our work to love and serve the Saints around us.