An acquaintance of mine used to live in a ward with some of the highest statistics in the Church—attendance was high, home teaching numbers were high, Primary children were always well behaved, ward dinners included fantastic food that members rarely spilled on the meetinghouse floor, and I think there were never any arguments at Church ball. My friend and his wife were subsequently called on a mission. When they returned three years later, this couple was astonished to learn that during the time they were away serving, 11 marriages had ended in divorce. Although the ward had every outward indication of faithfulness and strength, something unfortunate was happening in the hearts and lives of the members. And the troubling thing is that this situation is not unique. Such terrible and often unnecessary things happen when members of the Church become disengaged from gospel principles. They may appear on the outside to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but on the inside their hearts have separated from their Savior and His teachings. They have gradually turned away from the things of the Spirit and moved toward the things of the world. Once-worthy priesthood holders start to tell themselves that the Church is a good thing for women and children but not for them. Or some are convinced that their busy schedules or unique circumstances make them exempt from the daily acts of devotion and service that would keep them close to the Spirit. In this age of self-justification and narcissism, it is easy to become quite creative at coming up with excuses for not regularly approaching God in prayer, procrastinating the study of the scriptures, avoiding Church meetings and family home evenings, or not paying an honest tithe and offerings. My dear brethren, will you please look inside your hearts and ask the simple question: “Lord, is it I?”
Now, my brethren, we face a great challenge. At the present time we have wide participation and wide activity, and we are making progress as evidenced by the records that come in from all parts of the Church. Our progress is splendid. Our performance probably was never any better, if as good, as now, yet there is much to be done. As we have checked the records for last year, we find that approximately one-third of the total Melchizedek Priesthood membership is not engaged in any Church activity of any kind. In addition to this group we have approximately twenty thousand men over twenty-one who hold no priesthood; approximately fifty-six thousand adult members of the Aaronic Priesthood, and some four thousand boys twelve to twenty-one not yet ordained. This gives a total of eighty thousand for which the Lord will hold us in large measure responsible, to win them to activity and devotion, so that they may receive the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood and enjoy blessings which flow therefrom. This great number, plus inactive Melchizedek Priesthood members, present a great responsibility and challenge. In their veins flow some of the best blood of this dispensation. We are expected, in very deed, to be our brother’s keeper, and if we fail, we will, of course, be our own accusers. Now is the time to live the standards of the Church, to magnify our priesthood, to live worthy of the rich promises made to us as bearers of the priesthood. Let us, therefore, be anxiously engaged in a good cause. Let us be true to the oath and covenant of the priesthood. Let us exercise the priesthood upon the principles of righteousness. And let us all learn our duty and act in the office in which we have been appointed in all diligence.
In recent months increased emphasis has been placed on establishing “real growth” in the Church, bringing all who will to the receiving and keeping of covenants and saving ordinances and living with a mighty change of heart as described by Alma (see Alma 5:14). One of the most meaningful and important ways to establish real growth in the Church is to reach out and rescue those who have been baptized yet are wandering in a less-active state, void of the blessings and saving ordinances. Regardless of our individual calling—home or visiting teacher, Sunday School teacher, bishop, father, mother, or General Authority—all can engage in the rescuing effort in a meaningful way. After all, bringing all—our family, nonmembers, less active, sinners—to Christ to receive the saving ordinances is the divine calling that we all share. . . There were several things I learned or was reminded of with this and similar interviews. I learned that many less-active members have loved ones on their knees daily petitioning the Lord for help in rescuing their loved one. I learned that it is not all that easy or comfortable for a less-active member to just walk back into the Church. They need help. They need support. They need fellowship. I learned we have less-active members who are trying and willing to find the path back to activity. I learned that many less-active members will hold callings if asked. I learned that a less-active member deserves to be treated as an equal and be viewed as a son or daughter of a loving God. Over the years I have wondered how this interview might have gone had I approached her as a less-active Church member. I leave you to be the judge. Reactivation has always been an important part of the work of the Lord. While the rescue is a responsibility of every member, holders of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood have the responsibility to lead out in this work. After all, that is what priesthood service is all about—bringing all people to the exalting covenants; bringing peace, happiness, and self-worth.
Six years ago this weekend, my wife, Marcia, and I were sitting on the front row of this Conference Center. I was to be sustained as a new General Authority that day. Marcia, who is always in touch with the Spirit, had written a note to me that read, “I think it is time for Susan to come back.” My daughter Katy suggested that I leave and call Susan to invite her to watch general conference that day. Prompted by these two great women, I walked to the foyer and called my sister. I got her voice mail and simply invited her to watch that session of general conference. She got the message. To our delight, she felt impressed to watch all the sessions of conference. . . A miracle has occurred over the past six years. Susan has a renewed testimony of the Book of Mormon. She has received her temple recommend. She has served as an ordinance worker in the temple, and she currently teaches the Gospel Doctrine class in her ward. The windows of heaven have opened to her children and her grandchildren, and although there have been difficult consequences, it feels as if she never left. Some of you, like the Nielson family, have family members who have temporarily lost their way. The Savior’s instruction to all who have 100 sheep is to leave the ninety and nine and go after and rescue the one. His instruction to those who have 10 pieces of silver and lose one is to search until you find it. When the lost one is your son or your daughter, your brother or your sister, and he or she has chosen to leave, we learned in our family that, after all we can do, we love that person with all of our hearts and we watch, we pray, and we wait for the Lord’s hand to be revealed.