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Q&A: I am still going to church, trying to help others; Is there more I can or should do?


A friend emailed me this question, which I have anonymized while keeping the essence:

I know there are issues in my church, but I believe that by remaining in my church, I can reach more people and do more good than if I left. With everyone I interact with there, I try to help them see and believe the next increment of light from where they stand. It seems like if I said more, they wouldn't listen anyway, and I can't see what good I'd do as an estranged hermit. Am I doing everything I could? I feel like I'm not necessarily calling things as I see them, but I also feel like if I did, I would be giving them more than they could handle. Do you have any insights on this?


Here is a rough cut answer from some thoughts I've been working on for some time on teaching. It could definitely be extrapolated on, written more clearly, and organized better, but I hope there is something here that helps you now.

If you really want to do the greatest good, you must measure your impact by what is accomplished that would not otherwise be, not just by what you do. If you have the ability to do for some what no one else could, and share with others the ability to do for others what they can also do, you ought to focus on what you alone can do. If all you do is what others could do in your place, the value you contribute is less than if you did what you alone can do.

For all people, the best thing they can do is seek out the people who have just slightly less light than them. They ought to take advantage of every opportunity to share light with anyone willing to receive it, but always structuring their lives to find and maximally help those who have just less light than them.

A person who prioritizes what they alone can do will help everyone far more than one who seeks to help everyone directly, because they will facilitate the advancement of people who, in turn, will do much more good for others in a chain that will net far more benefit for all than attempting to help all others directly.

The aim of helping everyone directly cannot co-exist with the aim of helping those only you can help. You will have to choose one that is more important to you. A person who is servant to all cannot actually serve all. Instead, they will serve everyone they can in all ways they can while preserving their maximal benefit to those that they alone can help.

If you seek to serve God, you must prioritize the opportunities to teach the people who have slightly less light than you. Preferring this outcome will require you to leave placeholder ideas, experiences, relationships, and so on before or between meeting the people with slightly less light than you who you seek. For example, suppose God has taught you how to preach the gospel free of the shackles of organized religion. You may consider that you have the ability to help many people within organized religion, and you are right, and you should try. But you need to realize that while you are in organized religion, you will be dismissed out of hand with good reasons by those who you uniquely have the ability to help. This is one example of infinitely many, and the specifics of your situation will be as unique as you and God’s plans for you are. However, you will find that no matter your specific situation and gifts and experiences, these conflicts will indeed occur and must be wisely navigated in order to maximally prepare yourself to do for God and his children what you alone can do.

One might be tempted to believe that acting for the greatest benefit might require you to optimize your approach to those least prepared for more in order to reach the greatest number of people.

The number of people you reach is not the only variable in the calculation of greatest benefit. How much you benefit them is another factor, as is how many people they will benefit as a result, and by how much. The number of recurring ripples matters, and so does the intensity of each.

In light of the number of permutations of possibilities, deciding what yields the greatest benefit can be overwhelming. However, this is only true if you attempt to calculate it in long form using the variables described. Instead, you can simplify the equation by focusing on the greatest truths you can teach. Why does this work? Because in practice what we are considering isn’t how low we should go—you can and should always teach the next increment of truth to all you have the ability to—but how high we should go. The real question is whether we engage in opportunities where the next increment of truth consists of truths advanced enough to get us excluded from the more numerous opportunities to share lower truth we would otherwise have.

Jesus said that we are to share on the rooftops what he teaches us in private:

What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. (Matthew 10:27)

Our focus ought to be in finding and facilitating a flow of truth to these people, the rooftops; the ones who have been following all the truth they already have access to in life. [1] We should take advantage of all opportunities to share lesser truth when we have the chance, but we should not restrain ourselves from teaching great truths we know when we meet someone who needs and has prepared themselves to hear them in an attempt to maintain channels of providing lesser truth to lesser people.

I truly believe that anyone who follows this advice will not be permitted to remain in an organized religion for very long. Today's churchy people will not long endure persistent invitations for improvement. That's not why they are there. They came to escape the constant invitations the world already gives them through problems they do not yet have the solutions to. Instead, they seek refuge in promises that they are good enough as they are, and that they can have everything God has to give without making any changes.


[1] Those who are ready for more are already using all they have: “And there are none that doeth good except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth unto this generation.” (D&C 35:12)