Question: Does the Church teach members to put service in the Church over the needs of their families?

Table of Contents

Question: Does the Church teach members to put service in the Church over the needs of their families?

Church leaders teach that the family should be placed at the center of one's life, and that family duties and relationships are paramount

Critics charge that the Church teaches them to put service in the Church (e.g. in Church callings) over the needs of their families.

Church leaders teach that the family should be placed at the center of one's life. Service in the family is a vital part of service in the Church and, when managed properly, Church service improves family relations. In cases of conflict, Church service needs to be delegated or simplified so family needs can take precedence.

Church leaders teach that family duties and relationships are paramount. However, there are instances when those who hold positions in the Church lose sight of this and require correction. Late Church President, Harold B. Lee, warned:

We have had shocking examples of Church leaders in some stakes and wards who have seemingly used their business and Church assignments as excuses for neglecting their families. In one case I heard a wife say, "Because he was so much away in his business and his Church responsibilities, I was just little more than a hired woman in his house." I have frequently counseled, and I repeat it to you again, to all of you here: "The most important of the Lord's work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes." We must never forget that.[1]

Speaking to men called to demanding positions as Bishops in the Church, late Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

I know that the work is hard at times. There are never enough hours to get it done. The calls are numerous and frequent. You have other things to do. That is true. You must not rob your employer of the time and energy that are rightfully his. You must not rob your family of time which belongs to them. But as most of you have come to know, as you seek for divine guidance, you are blessed with wisdom beyond your own and strength and capacity you did not know you had. It is possible to budget your time so that you neglect neither your employer, your family, nor your flock… We do not expect the impossible from you. We ask that you do the very best you can. Delegate to others every aspect of the work that you legitimately can. And then leave matters in the hands of the Lord.(emphasis added)[2]

Note that family is emphatically not to be neglected or “impoverished,” and that one is not expected to do more than is healthy for the family.

Church leaders have consistently taught that family duties are the primary Church duties. To neglect one's family needs is to fail in the most important Church responsibility:

  • “Your responsibility as a father and a husband transcends any other interest in life.” [3]
  • "A man who holds the priesthood regards the family as ordained of God. Your leadership of the family is your most important and sacred responsibility. The family is the most important unit in time and in eternity and, as such, transcends every other interest in life."[4]
  • “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”[5]
  • “I have repeatedly said to our priesthood leaders that the most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home.”[6]
  • "If you will make your first concern the comfort, the well-being, and the happiness of your companion, sublimating any personal concern to that loftier goal, you will be happy…"[7]

Local Church leaders are instructed to avoid conflicts between Church and family responsibilities by spreading duties throughout their congregations and showing sensitivity when making assignments and callings

Local Church leaders are instructed to avoid conflicts between Church and family responsibilities by spreading duties throughout their congregations and showing sensitivity when making assignments and callings. As member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostle, Quentin L. Cook, explained:

…it is intended that bishops, sensitive to existing demands, will delegate more responsibilities. Members need to recognize that the bishop has been instructed to delegate. Members need to sustain and support him as he follows this counsel. This will allow the bishop to spend more time with the youth, young single adults, and his own family. He will delegate other important responsibilities to priesthood leaders, presidents of auxiliaries, and individual men and women. In the Church the role of women in the home is highly respected. When the mother receives a Church calling that requires significant time, the father will often be given a less-demanding calling in order to maintain balance in the lives of the family.[8]

In recent years, Church leaders have spoken of the need to “simplify” Church programs so they don’t detract from family life. In the words of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles member, M. Russell Ballard:

Occasionally we find some who become so energetic in their Church service that their lives become unbalanced…They complicate their service with needless frills and embellishments that occupy too much time, cost too much money, and sap too much energy… The instruction to magnify our callings is not a command to embellish and complicate them. To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify… The key, it seems to me, is to know and understand your own capabilities and limitations and then to pace yourself, allocating and prioritizing your time, your attention, and your resources to wisely help others, including your family, in their quest for eternal life.[9]

Despite the ongoing counsel of Church leaders to keep duties simple, there are times when Church work does require members to spend time away from their families

Despite the ongoing counsel of Church leaders to keep duties simple, there are times when Church work does require members – particularly men – to spend time away from their families. This is acknowledged by Church leadership. Member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Dallin H. Oaks, has said:

…the amount of time donated by our members to train and minister to one another is uniquely large...I see you performing your Church callings, often at great sacrifice of time and means...[10]

Oaks went on to mention a study on prosocial behavior in the Church. He reported that:

All of this is affirmed in a nationwide study which concluded that active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “volunteer and donate significantly more than the average American and are even more generous in time and money than the upper [20 percent] of religious people in America.”[10]

If properly managed, the benefits families receive from such sacrifices can outweigh the costs. It’s part of the paradox Jesus himself expressed when he said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

When we speak of consecration in the LDS context, the first type of dedication that usually comes to mind is the dedication of money, specifically in the form of paying tithing. However, in a very real way, to spend time and energy fulfilling Church duties is also to make an offering. Unlike offerings of money, LDS people do not keep records of time spent in Church duties. We’re not called to account for the number of hours we spend annually in Church service. Unlike tithing, no specific proportion of our time is expected of us.

The proportion of time spent in Church duties changes as callings and responsibilities change. At some times, personal Church duties may be light. At other times – such as during full-time missions -- they are demanding. Whatever their size, they are never insignificant. Simply attending the weekly three hour block of Sunday meetings puts LDS people inside their church buildings longer than many other kinds of faithful churchgoers.

The prophet Malachi spoke of offerings in the Old Testament. He famously rebuked the people of his day for failing to pay tithes but he also spoke of the people’s withholding of their service from the Lord. Malachi said:

Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinances?...Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened…And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. (Malachi 3:14-17)

In the same sermon and in the same spirit as Malachi taught Israel about the blessings of paying tithing and the perils of failing to pay it, he taught about the blessings of taking time to serve the Lord. Many LDS people can testify that their household budgets go farther when tithing is paid.[11] It might not make sense mathematically but somehow the difference is made up and, as Malachi said, the Lord “open[s] the windows of heaven, and pour[s] out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Malachi 3:10.

Many members can also testify that even when a family member has a time-consuming Church calling, families are blessed with increased capacities to show each other attention and affection.

Living comfortably and securely despite sacrificing family funds to tithing is a miracle of keeping the law of consecration by paying tithing. Living in greater love and harmony while a family member serves in a demanding Church calling is a miracle of keeping the law of consecration by spending time in Church duties.


Notes

  1. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 258. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Shepherds of Israel," Ensign (November 2003), 60.
  3. Boyd K. Packer, "The Father and the Family," Ensign (May 1994), 19.
  4. Howard W. Hunter, "Being a Righteous Husband and Father," Ensign (November 1994), 49.
  5. David O. McKay, Conference Report (April 1964), 5. (quoting: J.E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization (1924), 42.)
  6. Harold B. Lee, "Maintain Your Place As a Woman," Ensign (February 1972), 48.
  7. Gordon B. Hinckley, Brigham Young University commencement exercises, Provo, Utah, 27 April 1995, cited in “Graduates Receive Challenge from Prophet,” Church News, 6 May 1995, 11; reproduced in "Nurturing a Love That Lasts," Ensign (February 2000).
  8. Quentin L. Cook, "LDS Women Are Incredible!," Ensign (May 2012).
  9. M. Russell Ballard, "O Be Wise," Ensign (Nov 2006).
  10. 10.0 10.1 Dallin H. Oaks, "Sacrifice," Ensign (May 2012).
  11. Cecil O. Samuelson, "My Grandfather's Testimony of Tithing," New Era (July 2011)..