In the parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus Christ taught His followers the importance of seeking out and rescuing the one who strays from the flock. Said He:
In most congregations of which I have been a part, I have seen this taken to heart with great effect. I have seen ministering companions tirelessly reach out to members who haven’t attended church in years. I have seen youth groups rally around friends whose testimonies are waning, inviting them to activities and helping them feel wanted and included. I have seen young single adult groups embrace investigators and new converts, attend baptisms en masse, and welcome newcomers into their fold of friendship as if they’d always been there. It is a truly beautiful and inspiring thing to behold, and nothing I am about to say is meant to discredit any of those efforts.
But I have long wondered about the sheep that haven’t been lost from the fold. The sheep who come Sunday after Sunday without fail. The sheep who have strong testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sheep who dutifully magnify their callings, attend ward and stake activities, and serve in the temple as often as their schedules permit.
The sheep who blend so perfectly into the ninety and nine that they practically disappear.
How many of these members secretly wonder if their contributions are noticed or even necessary? How many of them help make cookies for less active members of their ward and wish that someone would just stop by and check on them once in a while? How many suffer in silence because everyone sees them at church and assumes that everything is fine? They’re at church, after all, and they look like they’re holding it together, so they must be doing alright, right?
I’m sure it’s no surprise if I admit that I’ve had those very thoughts and feelings myself, and I’m willing to bet many of you have felt the same. At some point in our life (or many points) each of us will have moments when we feel like an invisible member of the fold, and those feelings can be terribly disheartening. Is Zion really supposed to be such a lonely place?
Absolutely not. The destiny of Zion is to be a place where all people are of one heart and one mind. So as we do our part to seek out the lost sheep, let us not forget to do what we can to also nurture those who remain with the flock. After all, no shepherd would leave his flock unattended, lest thieves or predators come in the night and steal them away.
Like Peter, we have been tasked to feed the Lord’s sheep while He is away. Here are some simple ways we can fellowship the ones who are here so that all feel like a loved and valued member of the flock of Christ.
No One Sits Alone
While serving in a single’s ward Relief Society Presidency a few years ago, our president asked us to make sure that no one sat alone during church. She asked us to watch for sisters on the fringes during Sacrament meeting and Sunday School and to either sit with them or to invite them to join our group of friends. I’ll admit that I was terrible at this because, as an introvert, I was usually the one sitting by myself. But I sat by myself because I was too shy to sit with anyone else—even people I knew—not because I wanted to. I would sit there, hoping and praying that someone would sit next to me, and feel absolutely humiliated when the entire row was left empty save for my lonely self.
I don’t tell you this to elicit pity or sympathy, but rather to provide contrast for the joy I felt when someone did sit by me. They never knew how much that simple act of choosing to sit next to a sister who was sitting by herself meant to me. Even if we didn’t talk at all, just having another body sitting a few feet from me made me feel a little less like a pariah and more like a part of something.
Now, I know that suggesting we change our seating patterns is nigh unto staging a revolution, especially in a family ward. Many congregations have a habit of establishing unofficial “assigned seats.” The Joneses always sit in the 4th row, the Archibalds sit in the 7th row on the right side, and the Phillips family sits on the very back pew. No one upsets the status quo unless there’s a baby blessing accompanied by a whole slew of visiting family members who don’t know any better.
We humans are creatures of habit, and it can be hard to imagine shaking things up—especially if you’re wrangling a small army of children who are used to sitting in a particular spot every Sunday.
So if you can’t quite bring yourself to change where you sit, never underestimate the impact of a hello. If you notice a brother or a sister sitting alone on one of the side pews as you head to your spot in the center, say hello to them as you pass. If you notice someone sitting alone in the row ahead of you, reach forward and shake their hand. Make sure they feel noticed. If your family dynamic allows it, you can always invite them to sit with you. They may decline the offer, but most people would appreciate the invitation regardless. The very act of reaching out and extending a hand can work wonders for a lonely heart.
In my singles ward at BYU, we had so many members that they didn’t have enough callings to go around, so they made up a variety of callings that don’t exist anywhere else in the church. Some of those callings were the Nice Notes committee, a group of sisters who were tasked with the responsibility of encouraging us to write notes full of compliments and gratitude to other members of the ward. The Nice Notes committee would gather these notes at the end of third hour, sort them by apartment, and then deliver them Sunday night. We knew it was cheesy and a bit frivolous, but we all lived for that 7 pm knock on our apartment doors. Some weeks, I’d get an anonymous note from someone complimenting my skirt. Other weeks, I’d get a genuine thank you for the lesson I’d taught or the talk I gave. No matter what it was, I felt like I mattered because someone noticed and took the time to write me a note.
While I don’t think that every ward needs to implement a Nice Notes committee, I do think the principle of expressing gratitude can go a long way toward making people feel like a valued part of the flock. If someone gave a testimony in Fast and Testimony meeting that you found particularly moving, send them a text later that day to thank them for it. If you notice a young woman helping to keep her siblings quiet and entertained during church, compliment her on her efforts to help her parents. If a Priest does an especially good job of saying the Sacrament prayers with feeling and reverence, tell him that it helped you feel the Spirit. I once had a mother tell me that she appreciated the example I set for her daughter by wearing modest clothing. Modesty has never been a thing I questioned, but knowing that someone noticed and appreciated my example made it that much more important to me and helped me feel like I made a difference.
The best example of ministering that I have ever been blessed by happened when I was preparing to apply for the highly competitive film program at BYU. My home teacher, Mike, asked me if he could do anything to help with my application, and I couldn’t think of anything. Then, super early on the morning the application was due, I was busy putting the last, desperate finishing touches on my application packet when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find Mike standing on the other side with a plate of toast.
“I know today is a big day for you,” he said, “and you’re probably going to be too busy to remember to eat. But I wanted to make sure you had some breakfast so you have enough energy for the day, so I brought you this.”
I have honestly never been so moved by two pieces of bread in my life, and Mike’s example that morning taught me what true ministering looks like.
Sister Jean B. Bingham said, “Sometimes we think we have to do something grand and heroic to ‘count’ as serving our neighbors. Yet simple acts of service can have profound effects on others—as well as on ourselves. What did the Savior do? [He] smiled at, talked with, walked with, listened to, made time for, encouraged, taught, fed, and forgave. He served family and friends, neighbors and strangers alike, and He invited acquaintances and loved ones to enjoy the rich blessings of His gospel. Those ‘simple’ acts of service and love provide a template for our ministering today.”
As we minister to those around us—even to those who aren’t on our assigned lists—may we carefully consider the little things we can do to help brighten someone’s day. They might not be able to tell us what they need because they might not know what they need. But if we do what we can to love and support each other, the Spirit will magnify our contributions and bless both the giver and the receiver alike.
Pray About It
In an address at this year’s BYU Women’s Conference, Sister Sharon Eubank said, “Sometimes I’m so pressed with everything that I have to do that I don’t even know what the priority is. I’ve started asking the Lord every morning when I first wake up, ‘What’s one thing that you want me to do today?’… I’ve calculated: if I do one thing that comes from inspiration, and I do it 365 days a year for 50 years, that would be a total of 18,250 things that the Lord wanted done. He’s counted on me 18,250 times and I’ve tried to respond—and that’s no small thing. One of the greatest feelings is to know when you go to bed at night that you did the best you could, and you offer it to the Lord and say, ‘I did my best, but will you please augment my offering with the grace of Jesus Christ?’ And then wake up the next morning and try it again. I’ve learned so much by doing this. I had no idea how creative the Spirit could be.”
Never Postpone a Prompting
In a recent Worldwide Devotional address by Sister and Elder Kearon, Elder Kearon shared a story in which he was unable to sleep. After pacing the floor for several hours, he heard a still, small voice telling him to stop thinking about himself. He prayed to know who he could help and how. He received a prompting to contact a friend, and only then was he able to sleep.
Said he, “Ask your Father in Heaven what you might do, and for whom. Any small act of kindness causes us to look outward and brings its own blessings. Respond to any impression you receive, however insignificant it might seem. Act on it…. You might be reluctant to take the first step, convinced you don’t have time or you can’t really make a difference. But you will be amazed at what even some little thing can do.”
I have set a rule for myself that if someone randomly pops into my head, I treat it like a prompting that they need a little extra love that day and I stop what I’m doing (unless I’m driving) to send a quick text or email. I don’t have any miraculous stories where that contact made a huge difference in anyone’s life, but I don’t ever want to look back and know that I could have if only I’d reached out. And I have been at the receiving end of such miracles, such as when I received a postcard in the mail from a friend in my new ward just after I moved to eastern Idaho, or when two sisters stopped by to bring me cookies just because, or when a sister texted to ask how my job hunt was going and to offer encouragement and support.id
What If You Are the One Who's Here?
To those of you reading this who are currently feeling like an invisible, unnecessary member of the flock, I’m gonna channel my inner Mufasa here for a minute and remind you to remember who you are. You are a beloved son or daughter of God, and He loves you so very, very much. You are never invisible to Him. As Sis. Kearon said, “Learning to find, feel, and understand our individual worth regardless of what other people might think or say about us is critical to our lifelong emotional and spiritual well-being… Be reassured of your infinite worth, which is entirely unconnected to your attainments but intrinsically linked to your relationship with God… You are of unlimited, boundless, endless worth to your Father in Heaven—the one who knows you best… You are precious in His sight…”
And those things I’ve listed above? They aren’t just meant to help others reach out to you—they’re also meant to remind you how you can reach out to others. Elder Kearon said, “I know that if we heed this call to minister, we have the opportunity to rise out of ourselves; grow in faith, confidence, and happiness; and overcome our self-focus and the sense of emptiness and gloom which comes with it…. The beauty of this kind of service, ministry, or discipleship is that it helps others in ways too numerous to list, but it also transforms us by taking us away from our worries, fears, anxieties, and doubts. At first, the service simply distracts us from our own problems, but that swiftly converts into something much higher and more beautiful. We begin to experience light and peace, almost without realizing it. We are calmed, warmed, and comforted, and we recognize a joy that comes in no other way. These gifts settle upon us out of all proportion to what we have actually done in terms of helping another.”
As in all things, Christ set the perfect example of ministering to the one. He ministered to each person, individually, adjusting His ministration to suit their unique personal needs. He did not leave anyone feeling neglected. When He visited the Americas after His Resurrection, He allowed every member of that crowd of 2,500 people to feel the prints of the nails in His palms and feet. Every single one of them.
I hope and pray that as we learn to minister to the members of our flock, we will all feel like we matter, because we all matter to Him.
What helps you feel welcomed into the flock? Share in the comments below to help others think of ways they can fellowship the ones who are here.
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