When I was 15, I had a crush on a boy named Brian from the other ward that shared our building.  His sister told me liked me, and he asked me to meet him (along with a bunch of kids from the other ward) at Rick’s Place, a dance club in nearby Lancaster.  Before I met up with him, someone in their ward pulled me aside to tell me that Brian’s family was less active, and they only came to church once or twice a month because his dad wasn’t a member.  My 15 year old brain tried to figure out what I was supposed to do with that information.  Did it mean I shouldn’t break his heart because their whole family would quit coming to church and it might be my fault, that I had to “throw him one” for the Lord?  Or did it mean that I shouldn’t get serious with him because he wasn’t on the “temple track”?

I’m honestly still not sure what the person intended for me to do, but in our missionary and temple minded church, those seem to be the two alternatives to dating or befriending someone who is on the fringe of the fold.  Either way, it didn’t matter.  This boy liked me for about three weeks before moving on to Stacy, the stake patriarch’s granddaughter.  By then I liked someone else anyway.

In church, we are told to go in search of the lost sheep. 

12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.

But let’s be honest; some people in the church totally suck at it.  Frankly, the sheep are better off not being found by these folks.  Run, sheep, run!

I have read lots of stories on the internet about people who were “love bombed” (a term I never heard growing up), “heart attacked” (another term I didn’t know, but usually done by the YW who give cut out hearts to a girl who is less active to make her feel loved, but also pointing out her “otherness” in the process), badgered or interrogated, stalked, testified to, called to repentance, condescended to, or lectured by well-intentioned members who want to do their duty toward the lost sheep, but who also are on their own righteousness track and can’t truly understand why the lost sheep don’t adore the sense of belonging and warmth the flock gives them.  But they feel a need to “check the box” on their outreach efforts.  Unfortunately, these efforts often backfire.  Here are a few stories:

Someone I know told my friend that she had no light in her eyes.

Lots of people tried to put my mom back on the straight and narrow after she stopped going.  One lady was like, “You can just tell you’re hurting.  Try not to wear your heart on your sleeve.” 

I was compared to Korihor.  But they apologized later.

Not all who wander are lost.  I roll my eyes at any implication that I’m “struggling.”  Going to church was a struggle for me.  Not going has been freeing, and I’m much happier and less conflicted now.  One thing I really hate is being talked to in a saccharine Primary Voice.

My aunt called me (uninvited) under the pretense of hearing some of my feminist concerns, and then told me why my feminist concerns were contrary to the True Way of Things.  Her manner suggested that she expected my concerns to be resolved by her explaining how things “really” are.

My brother was repeatedly harassed after repeated do-not-contact requests.  He was traumatized by anti-gay bullying as he grew up in the church, and the persistent, “loving” outreach of the home teachers and missionaries during what was supposed to be his “it gets better” time was the opposite of helpful.

When I was a youth, I assumed all inactivity was the result of personal tragedy, and I was trying to make lives better by participating in “love bombing” activities.

I had a woman visit me after about a year of being inactive.  I listened to her message, but then I told her that my reasons for not coming back to church were personal. . . She was so forceful and badgering.  When I reluctantly told her what my reasons were, she basically told me that they were wrong and backed it up with scriptures/GA quotes.  All of this in my own house!  I felt terrible for the rest of the night, and definitely didn’t come back to church or allow anyone to visit me for a while after that.

I told one of my VT that I was going to take a break from attending LDS services. . .  My HT emailed me to let me know the RS Pres had informed him that I was taking a break from church and that I was OK with having VT and he was wondering if I was still OK with contact from him.  I do appreciate that he asked if I was OK with him contacting me, but I hate the whole talking about me in leadership meetings.  This has been a ward that has been cold and indifferent toward me.

What are the common mistakes here?

  • Listening superficially or not at all.
  • Caring more about being right than about the person.
  • Assuming you understand the other person’s reasons or that all people have the same reason.
  • Making the person feel like a special project, an outsider, or the subject of gossip.
  • Not respecting an individual’s wishes not to be contacted.
  • Being condescending or insulting.

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Let’s see what you think.

  • Have you ever been the recipient of this kind of approach?  How did it go?
  • Did you ever attempt to “help” someone in the church, and it backfired?  Do you know why?
  • Do you think it’s hard to have authentic friendships in the church when missionary motives are at play?  Why or why not?