Sunday, February 20, 2022

Just Jesus, Please.

Church attendance appears to be on the decline across the world. Covid and the rise of home church gave greater traction to the already downward trend in converts and in members going inactive (link). 

The LDS church doesn't report numbers on how many inactive members it has. A glance around your home ward will give an idea of the numbers for you. I served a mission in Japan and in one ward we had over 700 members on the records and only 90 or less attended each week. If the church is the Kingdom of God on the earth as it teaches, you would expect the stone rolling forth to be gaining momentum, not less. I wrote about the Kingdom of God is not a 501c3 here

One of the most transformative inventions in world history was the Gutenberg Press. This press marked the first way to make and mass-produce books without handwriting them. Although there were a few types of presses invented before Gutenberg’s (mainly in China about 1,000 earlier), they weren’t as successful because of their overly complicated production process that made it difficult to make quick changes or necessary edits. Gutenberg’s invention of movable text greatly streamlined the process.

Prior to Gutenberg’s press, texts were primarily available to the rich because handwritten manuscripts were expensive to purchase. The new press created a way to lower production costs and make literature accessible to the lower classes. This means that people of all income classes were beginning to have access to more written knowledge than ever, including the Bible. Although few people owned a Gutenberg Bible, the printing press marked the beginning of a time where people were able to hold God’s Word in their own hands, empowering common people to have a personal relationship with Christ. With an increase in literacy, the more opportunities to own personal religious texts and growth of individual reading, the printing press ultimately undermined the Catholic Church and disrupted the European religious culture by spreading religious knowledge and shifting the power to the people.

The modern day Gutenberg Press is the Internet. With the stroke of a few keys we can land in an ocean of information and opinions in a web of truth, half-truths, and lies. China, a communist country where the government is in control of the people, works diligently to censor and block ideas, information, and websites they do not want their people to see. They control information and outwardly it appears to be a big brother just trying to keep you safe. This type of leadership control has worked for many dynasties. We see censorship everywhere these days.

When you have a religious institution that has something to hide, they will try to control what you see, read, and talk about. They will tell you what is approved reading and strongly discourage anything that does not come from its leadership. They will discourage searching for any information outside of their own database or leaders and it is partially for good reason - there are a lot of harmful things a person can stumble across that could and have crippled faith. However, these types of leaders will teach that they are the only ones with authority so you do not need to look any further than what they offer because they have everything you will ever need. Our church is just such an institution.

You will find very few organizations or churches that withhold documents and journals from their membership. You will also find few churches that employ a full time historian. Ours does both.

Why would any organization ever deny access to its archives from its members? 

What would be the benefit in doing so? 

Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our church, shouldn't all of its history be ours for the viewing?

Leonard J. Arrington was called as Church Historian in 1972. He was sustained at general conference that year and for the next couple of years. In 1975 he was named "Director" of the History Division but was not released as Church Historian and in 1982, he received a letter honorably releasing him. That same year Elder G. Homer Durham, who had been managing director of the Historical Department of the Church since 1977, was named Church Historian.

If you visit the East Wing of the Church Office Building you will find in the hallway a gallery of portraits. These are the Church Historians, from Oliver Cowdery to G. Homer Durham. But where is Leonard Arrington? Nowhere to be seen. The official explanation is that to be a Church Historian one has to be a General Authority. A brief period of our history, awkwardly embarrassing to someone, is thus erased. Orwell's Truthspeak did not have to wait for 1984. 

Why would the church exclude this man, you may ask? Well, he made the mistake of wanting to lay out our history as is, without embellishments. That didn't sit well with a few leaders. More can be read of him here. Arrington was able to gain access and share church history that was otherwise inaccessible to general church membership. His journals show an inside perspective to church leadership.

Our Gutenberg press - the internet, allows anyone to gain information they couldn't have obtained previously. The church knows this and, similar to China, will continue to make great efforts to cast doubt in the minds of those who have questions and go seeking for answers outside of the church since the church isn't practicing transparency. 

What is unfortunate is that the church has the answers their members are seeking for, but they won't share them. In a self-fulling prophecy, they work hard to keep their members from knowing ugly sides to their history. They have archives which only the leadership has access to and in this suppression of information from the members they create the outcome they were trying to avoid - members not trusting leadership, searching elsewhere to find information, discovering ugly things they believe must be true - and then members leave. 

Members are going to step away from the church in greater numbers in the years ahead because of the modern day Gutenberg press now called, the Internet. Many reading this post have seen one or more nieces or nephews leave, a sibling, an aunt or uncle, or friend stop attending church. Most members who have stopped going did so because they felt lied to. Since membership attendance will decline anyway, it would behoove the church the open their archives to the public in a show of good faith that they are truly trying to be honest and transparent. But instead we will see the church doubling down on telling inaccurate history - like the release of the manual: The Saints. For those that have taken the time to check the references and deep dive into accurate Church History, you will see for yourself that The Saints is more historical fiction than truth.

As people leave the church they will leave for various reasons. The Quorum of the 12 Apostles had a training for church leaders in which they identified many of the reasons people are leaving and a powerpoint slide from that meeting can be viewed below:

To those who question and don't know where to turn, I pray you run into the arms of Jesus. Don't depart from the One who gives you Life. If the cross tells us anything - it emphasizes the unimaginable lengths your Lord and your God will go to win your heart. 
He is Majesty! He is King! He is Beauty! He is Perfection! 

In this post, I write especially to those that feel discouraged with the church and are seeking more of Jesus.

Some of you will desire a community of likeminded people to fellowship and discuss the things of your heart with. Having been on this journey for 12 years, I tell you, most assuredly, there are just such groups waiting to receive you. I write to encourage you that if you choose to attend gatherings, invite the Spirit to speak to you before you go. In these gatherings there will be just enough talk of "Zion," "visions," and "dreams" to capture your interest. Goodness gracious and for Pete's sake - our home teacher in our last ward spent hours and hours and hours and hours talking to us about his visions and dreams (which always seemed to be about him and his amazing end of time missions and Jesus was nowhere to be found). He even invited my husband and I to attend various group gatherings. We were stunned (but not surprised) to learn he was personally and intimately connected to Chad and Lori Daybell. But I digress.

When I say that I know some of the groups out there, I don't say it with any pride. I say it with some embarrassment. I wish I didn't. I was deceived more than once and it brought me to my knees. I have been so used to being in church meetings where everything is cut and dry and there is a handbook of rules of what is and is not acceptable. Because discussions in various groups were so different from church, I frequently listened to strange ideas or topics being discussed and questioned my own feelings telling me something was off. Yet when I look back at where I am today, I thank the Lord for the deception because it revealed my own heart to myself.

See, the thing is, some groups will gather with the intent to draw closer to the Lord, but that isn't what always happens. Sometimes gathering can feel like Nephi described in his vision of the Tree of Life "and some were lost from view wandering in strange roads" (1 Nephi 8:32). All I could do was pray continually to know what was right. Then I heard, "Those who seek Me with all their hearts shall find Me" and I was comforted. I had to come to grips with the fact that in the church or out, in a pew or in a group - maybe not everyone desires Jesus and only Jesus. It may sound silly, but I didn't know that until a couple of years ago. I thought we were all seeking Him and only Him.

God be praised He gives us what we desire most. As I have prayed for the Lord to give me friends I could worship with, I have been blessed, even though the number has been small.

I never foresaw the day when I'd no longer be a fully active member of my ward and getting here hasn't been easy. As much as I respect those who still find it an important part of their spiritual life, it is no longer part of mine. There came a point where the institutional needs came into conflict with the life of Jesus I was seeking. And sometimes the group gatherings outside of church can be even more destructive. The problem is not the venue; it is our preoccupation with anything other than Him. As with any other expression of the church, enjoy it as long as it expresses His kingdom and give it a wide berth when it no longer does. Keep in mind that once you start some "thing" your focus will shift from coming closer to Jesus to ensuring that the "thing" goes well. 

You will find fellowship easiest when you stop looking for "it," and simply love the people God has put around you. If you're looking for Jesus' kingdom, look for people who are drawn together by their passion for Him and for one another and pause and give careful thought to those groups, leaders, or teachers that have pet topics, repeated sermons, a fixation on authority, particular projects, doctrines, covenants, rules, authorized cannon, etc.. 

I think about some of the moments in Jesus life...who wouldn't have wanted to be at that lunch with Zaccheaus, in some of those boat conversations crossing the Sea of Galilee, or in Bethany having a meal with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha? Being with Jesus among a group of people watching Him love them into His kingdom, spurring them on with His wisdom, or opening doors of trust into their hearts would be a joy. Wouldn't it be unthinkable to be anywhere else?

As you attend gatherings, you will likely come across knowledgable or charismatic leaders and teachers. If you feel like I am singling out one specific group, I assure you, I am not. Most groups have similar characteristics as you will personally discover if you venture from one group to the next. There's generally one person who typically leads because they seem to speak with more authority and it can feel like they do have more authority. These gatherings will initially come together in the commonality of Christ and in time, Jesus seems to take a back seat to other pet topics or projects. Just like the church conflates attending the temple to be the same as the worship of Jesus - group topics, their authority, their cannon, etc. are, to them, the same as worshiping Jesus directly.  

It is important to ask yourself if the meeting you are in has the fragrance of Jesus about it. Finding the fragrance of Jesus exudes the sweet scent of His nature. If it's not there, it will have the telltale odor of human sweat. I didn't always get it right. But learning to look for His fragrance has helped me look beyond what I want or what I think is right and follow what He desires. 

In the 12 years of this journey I have sat with varying groups, always hungry and confident that we were about to feast on something wonderful! There were always enough breadcrumbs that would give me hope, and not taking time to evaluate why I never felt fully satisfied or at peace, I would attend another gathering and another, longing for that feast, but again, I hungered. 

Set gatherings and groups have a limited shelf life and often people attend as a place to hide from real human engagements. That's why people will prefer spiritual gatherings over spending more time in their closet in prayer, more time with their spouse, taking time for their kids, or helping their neighbors. Often when people awaken to their awful situation they want to begin something. I would initially advise: Resist the urge to start anything. Learn to trust Him and live in concert with others as He leads you first. Most things we start will eventually lead to a focus on the type, frequency, and location of meetings, or the role of leadership to manage the group. Our underlying assumption is that there must be a formula we can follow to replicate church whenever we want. Wouldn't you think if such a model existed, Jesus would have shared it with us? 

Yes, there were many times I was fed when I met with people that shared the same love of Jesus. And there were many times I was not and it took me a long time to identify what was missing, and so this is why I share today. As I've watched people go through this process, it seems that they have a deeper longing which continues to surface in two expressions: 

1. There must be something more 


2. Something seems wrong here

Don't ignore those feelings - Jesus is calling you to Him. There is only One who can satisfy your hunger and thirst after righteousness - and it is Jesus Christ, the Almighty God! No one can come to Him except that the Father draws them. He is the Bread of Life that came down from heaven, that we can partake of, and not die. He is the Living Bread. He gave is His body for the Life of the World. If we partake of His Bread and His Blood, we will have eternal life and we will be raised up at the last day. His flesh is meat indeed. And His blood is drink indeed. (John 6)

If you are blessed to find a group that loves Jesus above all else, thank your Lord! They aren't easy to find, but with humble desire and sincere prayer to God, all things are possible. A group that is devoted to Jesus doesn't need pet doctrines or theories needing to be discussed in perpetuity. Regularly scheduled meetings don't allow for the Spirit to guide you (John 3:8).

Groups born of the spirit are lead by the spirit. They love Jesus. They love to worship Him, praise Him, and adore Him. Your lifetime membership in the church has taught dependence on a leader to get us a connection to heaven and that belief is hard to let go of. We see other charismatic leaders who have a great knowledge of the scriptures as more spiritual, and more righteous. Sometimes those leaders speak of their personal connection with God and offer to share their good favor with heaven to those that follow their revelations. Our sticky hands will reflexively reach out to grasp a new arm of flesh to cling to. (D&C 1:19)

Many people battle loneliness in the early stages of this journey, especially if they have to start over building friendships that champion the new creation God is making of you. That takes time. Fortunately, the answer for loneliness is not being around more people but letting God fill that space in your heart. When we try to fill it with people, our relationships will be based on needs and they will get twisted before they begin. God often finds it helpful to draw people to himself for a season as they detox from religious performance and seeking the approval of others. As He builds a new life with you, you will be free to love others in a way that will allow healthy friendships to grow. Each day, love whomever God puts before you and see where it leads. 

Jesus didn't spend His life in a lot of preplanned meetings and he touched people most deeply in life as it unfolded around Him. Walking with God is simply asking him each day, "Who do you want me to be with?" Often it will be in your own home, in your own closet, or in extended family relationships that need healing and tending to. 

Will the church Jesus is building be fully revealed in the earth? 

It is inevitable. 

God's temple is rising in the world.
1 Cor. 3: 16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
It may be obscured at times by groups whose actions smell more like human flesh than the fragrance of a loving Jesus. But His temple keeps rising. Wherever people are learning to live in His love and love others, the temple rises. Whenever people learn to listen to him instead of manipulative voices, the temple rises. However people find ways to work together by laying their lives down in kindness and generosity, the temple rises.

Its completion is inevitable because Jesus is the one building it. It cannot be made with hands because it isn't made of brick and mortar. It can't be drawn up on a flow chart because it isn't a system. It is a living organism made up of all the people who recognize the supremacy of Jesus. This has been His purpose since the first act of creation (Ephesians 3:10-11).

What if when he was walking the countryside with his disciples, talking to a woman at a well, sitting in Zacchaeus's home having lunch, or relaxing in Bethany, he was showing us exactly what his church looks like? What if when Jesus spent time with the Samaritan woman at a well, told the story of the Good Samaritan, or embraced Peter with prayer before and after his betrayal, He was showing us how the church lives?

Maybe He did after all tell us everything we needed to know about his church. Its teaching is more like a conversation about faith in the stern of a boat after a fierce storm than it is a lesson or discussion in weekly groups. Its gatherings look more like a meal in the upper room than people sitting in rows of pews or chairs. And its leadership is better expressed in washing dirty feet than sitting in a council meeting about meetings. 

As I walked down this path to where I am today, I continually second guessed myself. When you begin to question nearly 200 years of tradition, you can expect others to be threatened and have many try to discourage you. They will misinterpret your frustration as bitterness and may accuse you of being selfish. They will discount your hungers by saying that we can't expect the church to be perfect when it is filled with broken humanity. They will tell you that we can't just sit around and do nothing when there is so much work to be done. They will tell you that attendance is the litmus test to measure the sincerity of someones faith. Most of all, they will be afraid that in leaving long-established traditions you risk your own salvation or that of your children. Following Him even when others wrongly judge and exclude you is why so few take this road. Those who do only do so because they are called to do so or convinced that there is a reality beyond their experience that continues to beckon them. 

Our security is found not in any particular expression of church, but by our relationship with Him. He's always wanted to be the One to guide us. While teachers can be valuable tools to help us discover a growing life in Jesus, they become valueless if they supplant his ongoing revelation in our hearts. The New Testament is filled with language that invites people into the depth of that relationship, so much so that everyone can know him "from the least of them to the greatest" (Hebrews 8:11), and that "You do not need anyone to teach you..." (1 John 2:27).

Initially I asked myself,"Don't I need to be taught?" Then I realized, the purpose of the New Covenant was to invite each of us into a growing relationship with Jesus so that we have no need to be taught by others (Jeremiah 31:34) and the only covenant we need to accept is the one He offers to each of us, personally, one by one, directly. He wants to lead you into His Truth. Don't ever give that away to another human being, which means each of us will have to discern between truth and error. We need to learn to recognize the fragrance of Jesus and turn away from that which may tickle our ears but only draw our dependency away from Him. Mistakes will be made, and that is okay, no one travels this road perfectly. If you seek Him with all of your heart, you WILL find Him.

How will my kids learn about God?! You introduce them to Jesus like you would introduce them to their Grandmother. You just do it naturally. Don't teach your children to be good Christians, show them how to walk with God in the same way you do. In the youngest ages, they can see God as a part of the family as they pray, share, and learn together what it means to follow Him. Pray for them to desire a personal relationship with Jesus and He will bless them. One minister said the greatest advice he ever received was to not require his children to attend church after they turned twelve. 

Some people may find this view of the church challenging. They've thought of it only as a meeting to attend and the regular discipline of showing up each week a critical component to their faith. But if that's all it is, it will not stand up to the challenges of life. Church, as well as regular group gatherings, can help people learn the basic theology that undergirds a life of faith, but problems arise when it keeps people dependent on the program or meeting and doesn't teach them how to live beyond it. 

Perhaps the biggest change I have experienced in home church is that it forced me to move from being a passive participant in someone else's program, to someone who actively participates in His unfolding Kingdom. Yes, you don't get to follow someone else's instructions, but instead you have to be more intentional in all aspects of connecting with Him and His kingdom.

It is easy to wonder how weekly lessons alone can possibly help people engage God. How are children ever going to learn about Him in a Sunday school lesson that turns every scripture story into teaching them that their behavior is more important to God than they are? 

Having a church or fellowship that has a hierarchy who say they speak for Christ has fragmented those who attend. A cursory view of history makes it clear that a hierarchy of human leadership does more to disfigure the church than it does to protect it. Perhaps the severest price we've paid for doing so is that we no longer see authority resting in Jesus but in the institutions or groups we have created by our own hand...perhaps not so dissimilar from the idols crafted in ancient Israel to replace the God they could not see. 

As far as we know, Jesus didn't teach His disciples how to run a church, build them, or manage them. He didn't hold any leadership training conferences, give them a handbook of instructions or even start a Sunday school. He didn't show them how to form and manage a 501c3 nonprofit organization. He didn't teach them how to hold a sacrament meeting. He did't craft a doctrine statement they all needed to sustain and agree to. He simply walked through life, touching people he met, showing them the reality of His Father's kingdom and inviting them to live in it. He wasn't ever in a meeting that looked like our Sunday services. In fact he didn't seem to do one thing that would have prepared his disciples to hold a congregational service or organize an International organization to sustain the life of the followers. 

You can do it. No matter if you are in church or a group, if there is something in your heart that doesn't feel right, ask questions. The Lord will lead you to where you need to be and no one need judge you for wherever that is.

You can stand alone and find Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of your Salvation. You can call out to Him to save you and don't stop petitioning Him until He answers you (Luke 18:1-8). Yes, we need fellowship to strengthen us, but until you have developed an eye single to His Glory and found Him in your wilderness, you will sit in a pew or at a gathering snacking on the stale breadcrumbs that tumble to the ground from another. Never forget, He is the Bread of Life and YOU are His temple and He will come to YOU (Malachi 3:1).

Jesus At The Center
Darlene Zschech

Many of the things in this post can be found in the book: Finding Church, by Wayne Jacobsen


  1. Remember, Peter had to leave the ship to come to Jesus

  2. This is a gem. I resonate with so much of it. The part about the misdirect we suffer from that God is more interested in our behaviors than us ourselves as his children.

    The history of this church is not accurately portrayed. The rising generation is leaving by the thousands. The most logical thing to do is come clean to them. Come clean, and move on. This will never happen though it so desperately needs to.

    Mike R

  3. Henri Woods4.3.22

    You've expressed this beautifully. Hard to find this kind of a group but I will have to start looking when my own group rejects me because they don't understand I want Jesus more than anything else. And I can't just follow peoples ideas and traditions.

  4. This speaks to my soul. Thank you for articulating it so well. I love Wayne Jacobson.

  5. Anonymous6.3.22

    your lack of references from the Book of Mormon makes me wonder if you are even a member.

    1. I don't think I understand. Most of my posts are rich with BoM references. I also think we, as members, underutilize the Bible and New Testament. I know it can be startling to see someone write a post and only use Bible references to illustrate their points but guess I can't help myself...I'm a person who loves the Bible in addition to the Book of Mormon. :)