I have attended some exceptionally inspiring sacrament meetings. In fact, just this past Sunday we attended my brother’s ward for their baby’s blessing, and the ward presented a fantastic meeting of speakers and musical numbers from a special needs youth group in the Salt Lake City area. I was near tears at the end because of the Spirit present.
Unfortunately, those kinds of meetings seem to me to be the exception. I have wondered if sacrament meetings are broken most of the time. Consider this from marketer Seth Godin, from his blog today:
Broken events = People who don’t want to listen, being forced to sit through speeches that the speakers don’t want to give…
If someone starts by telling a joke that they know is lame or starts going through all the tribulations they had finding something to say, if the audience is checking the time or secretly tweeting, then the event itself is broken. The speaker who discharges an obligation is not a speaker you are hoping to hear.
Maybe obligatory speeches used to have a point, maybe they used to serve a vital function, but they no longer do.
Most Sunday speakers do not seem to want to speak. It is an obligation to speak, an assignment, that seems to make eyes roll and is a burden (I’ve personally invited many to speak, and was often met with such responses, if not outright rejection). Consequently, the resulting talks seem to be lacking. How many times do talks begin with lame jokes, or the endless struggles the speaker went through to find something to say “after Bro. Jones called last Wednesday,” or continue their talk by detailing travel logs, or life histories, or confessions, etc., without getting to anything truly meaningful? Is this a Utah Mormon condition, or is it more widespread? Does it occur regularly outside our tradition too?
The ordinance of the sacrament is the most important part of the meeting (if not the block), and the primary reason we hold the meeting, to remember the Savior and renew the covenants we have made with God. And granted, the speeches often do more good for the speakers than the listeners. But perhaps there is something to be learned by the mantra “if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all”? Is sacrament meeting worth holding, beyond the ordinance of the sacrament and testimony meetings, if the messages given are base? Are sacrament meeting talks a relic of an earlier time in the Church, when apostles and prophets spoke regularly and delivered eloquent discourses fit for scripture? Do we get points for what Nibley described as “sitting in endless meetings, for dedicated conformity and unlimited capacity for suffering boredom”? (“Zeal Without Knowledge,” Approaching Zion)
Joseph Smith also seem to be troubled by this, even in his time:
“How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending (descending from distinction, yielding to inferiors) for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God…” (TPJS, 137, parenthetical 1828 Webster’s definition added.)
A scripture comes to mind:
Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
If it be some other way it is not of God.
Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D&C 50:17-23)
What does it mean to preach by the Spirit of truth?
On the other hand, perhaps it is me that is falling short; maybe I’m broken. President Kimball was once asked, “What do you do when you find yourself in a boring sacrament meeting?” He replied, “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. Quoted recently in Elder Hallstrom’s talk from April 2012 Conference).
Am I missing something and failing to gain significant blessings? Do I need to strive harder to find inspiration from our sacrament meetings (and other meetings), regardless of what the speaker is saying? Maybe the WWF wrestling match with my kids over and under the pews every Sunday is the holdup and distraction? Or maybe it is a time for meditation and personal contemplation, when the speaker is failing? Or is there something amiss with the way we conduct our meetings? How do we produce meetings where “People [are] thrilled to be listening to people who are excited to be speaking,” as Seth Godin says, and where both are edified and rejoice together? How do you find such speakers? Would it be better by volunteer sign-up, such that the speakers are excited to be speaking? Would it be better to shorten sacrament meeting to the singing of hymns, the offering of prayers, the administration of the sacrament, and a short message, and then hold firesides for other interesting messages as they present themselves?
My stake president over the last couple years has repeatedly instructed the leaders in our stake to do much better in training our speakers, helping them abandon the common monotone reading of text on a piece of paper, to more extemporaneous and live speech which is naturally more engaging, even offering a simple formula for success:
- Read a scripture and explain it.
- Tell how the scripture applies to your life, tell a story.
- Testify of the principle, and blessings received.
- Repeat from step #1 until your time has ended.
That’s just one suggestion. How can I do better? How can we do better to make sacrament meeting a memorable, uplifting, and inspiring experience every week?