Stake Conference — like every talk — was on ministering. The concept is quickly expanding. Not only are home teaching and visiting teaching repackaged as ministering, but so is fellowshipping, being friends, doing missionary work, even teaching your children. Hug your kid, it’s ministering. Talk to a neighbor, it’s ministering. A youth temple trip is now ministering to the dead. This is going to get old fast.
1. As a program this has potential. It’s nice to see home and visiting teaching simply retired and the whole reporting system dropped. This ministering program has the potential to be better than what it replaced. But the plan as announced is only the initial step. Execution matters, and evolution of a program as it plays out matters as well. Remember the missionary age change? As announced, the idea was that young men would serve at 18 if the young man and his parents, as well as the bishop, thought he was prepared and mature enough to go at 18. Within weeks, that requirement of careful reflection was a dead letter. Eighteen became the new nineteen, period.
2. “Ministering” is an awfully broad term. Remember “the Rescue”? At least that was a fairly circumscribed concept. Teaching a lesson or raising your kids didn’t become part of that discussion. But ministering is such a broad concept that it invites the sort of pious exaggeration that Mormons are good at. Expect a Primary song about ministering soon. Maybe ministering added as a Young Womens value as well. The five-fold mission of the Church: perfect the Saints, proclaim the gospel, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy, and minister to everyone.
3. As a Mormon title, “Minister” is problematic. Mormons are good at repurposing words, usually in a way that does violence to the original term and confuses or even offends outsiders. Mormon teens are priests; younger boys are deacons. Even most Mormons can’t explain where the term “MIA Maid” comes from. Google “ministering” and 9 out of 10 results are recent Mormon posts. Are we going to call men and women who receive assignments to go visit persons and families ministers? Is the bishop going to ask a sister, “who is your minister?” Are young men and young women who accompany these adults going to call themselves “youth ministers”? Imagine a twenty-something Presbyterian fellow who got a four-year degree in religious studies and, feeling called to the work and having passed background checks, is employed part-time at the local megachurch running their youth program. He introduces himself as “a youth minister.” A nearby Mormon teen chimes in: “I’m a youth minister too! Brother Bradshaw and I visit a retired couple down the street once a month.”
There is nevertheless one good thing about this new title: It applies to men and women, boys and girls. It is a priesthood-like office that young women can claim. It’s a sneaky step towards extending the priesthood to all worthy Mormons instead of just all worthy men. Thousands of LDS young women will soon proudly think of themselves as ministers, and that’s real progress. I’m happy for them, even if I’m not happy about the title and how we’re going to use it.
The visiting Seventy who ran our Stake Conference threw out questions to the congregation and called on several people to stand and participate. One of the questions was something like: “How will you make young women in the ward feel included in and engaged with the activities in the ward and the gospel, including ministering?” My answer would have been: “That’s easy. Give them the priesthood.” I doubt senior leaders intended this, but the new ministering program quietly brings us one step closer to that moment. I guess the Lord works in mysterious ways.