Why The Church?

A few weeks ago Jared was asked to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting. I don’t usually publicly share our talks or lessons on my blog but it was so good I felt prompted to publish it for others to read.

Good morning.  I love hearing returned missionaries. They have a special power to their speech that hasn’t quite faded.  I’m sure the Murphy home has been an exciting place since Wednesday. Welcome home, Elder Murphy.

I am Jared Kitch, and this is perhaps the first time I’ve been excited to speak. When I first came back from inactivity, I was asked to speak in our Stake Conference, and I second guessed coming back. I am not a strong man.  I get up here, and I cry.  It is not a pretty sight, so this time I decided to make sure to NOT include anything personal in an attempt to preserve my manhood.  But I started thinking about the man who asked me to speak.  I have the opportunity to sit with great men each week, and they are all criers.  We’ve all seen Bro Campbell’s ugly cry face at a particularly touching piece of music. Bro Esperson has a tiny little brush with death, and he’s crying up here. If there is mention of Louise or the word “family”, Bishop Hawk is a blubbering mess, so you will have to endure a personal story.

I was asked to speak on Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s talk, “Why the Church” from General Conference in October of last year. It begins:

Throughout my life, general conferences of the Church have been exhilarating spiritual events, and the Church itself has been a place to come to know the Lord.

This is as far as I got before I wondered if I was the right person to speak on this.  However, I kept reading…

I realize that there are those who consider themselves religious or spiritual and yet reject participation in a church or even the need for such an institution. Religious practice is for them purely personal. Yet the Church is the creation of Him in whom our spirituality is centered—Jesus Christ. It is worth pausing to consider why He chooses to use a church, His Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to carry out His and His Father’s work “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

I kept going back to that first sentence. I can’t imagine church being an exhilarating spiritual event since childhood.

When I was a kid, I was baptized because that is what I was supposed to do. I did not really think about religion; my parents did the believing for me. Shortly after being baptized, my family was watching a movie which portrayed the life of Jesus Christ. It was then that I had my first truly spiritual experience. I watched the Savior being spit upon and brutally hung upon the cross. I hid my face from my brother and sisters as tears welled up inside me, and I knew that this Man loved me. If I was the only one that needed it, He would have gone through it all just for me. This experience seared itself into my mind. I will forever be grateful for it, and yet, I still thought very little of anything spiritual.

A few short years later, when my mother left the church and my parents divorced, I found their faithful coattails being ripped from beneath my feet. I had not done anything on my own, and so, I had not formed my own testimony. My father continued in the church and my mother attended a Baptist church, and I found that I had a wonderful opportunity to excuse myself from both of their churches by playing them against each other. Any small piece of a testimony that I may have had languished and died away.

15 years later, I married Vanessa who was, by that time, an inactive member as well. As we started thinking about having children, we decided that we wanted the positive influence of the church in our family. I suppose there was a tiny spark of belief that was hidden deep within me, but I simply didn’t have time for it. I didn’t have time to save my eternal soul. We thought about it, but I’m not sure anything would have happened except that, after many years of being “lost” in the church, members of our local ward found us just a couple of days after we discussed going to church. Soon, we were back. We can follow the signs when they are glaring in our face.

Now, I risk ruining my reputation as a pillar of spiritual strength in the ward, but even after returning to activity, I merely went through the motions. I had read the scriptures. I knew the simple primary answers that seemed to cover all questions, so I didn’t bore myself with reading the same things over and over. I didn’t bother with repeating myself in daily prayer to my Father in Heaven. Through everything, I felt a little cheated. Aside from the experience as a small boy, I did not have those iconic spiritual moments. The Spirit didn’t speak to me. My heart did not burn with truth. I wanted to hear the voice in my head, but I resolved that God knew how my mind worked, and He blessed me to see the logic of the gospel, but deep down, I was rather annoyed.

I continued this way for a decade or so until a couple of years ago when I received the calling as the ward clerk. This required much of me, but it also allowed me to sit, on a weekly basis with some of the great men of our ward. I was asked to share thoughts with the likes of Brother Esperson, Campbell, Christiansen, and Bishop Hawk.  I began praying more often, and I was forced to actually take time and think about spiritual things.

Less than a year later I began the BYU-Idaho Pathway program and ran into compulsory reading of the Book of Mormon. My lunch breaks turned into study sessions. I chose restaurants with free wifi, so that I could fit it all into my schedule. I was sitting in a McDonald’s with my laptop in front of me. Six or seven tabs were open in my browser, and I was delving into a topic that I don’t even remember, cross-referencing talks and scriptures. Kids were screaming in the play area. The kitchen was humming with activity. And I heard a small voice quietly and distinctly say, “This is what you have never been willing to do.” I sat back in my booth almost breathless. Here was the still small voice that I had heard about all of my life. I had been bitter that I hadn’t experienced it, yet now I knew that the responsibility laid upon my shoulders. For 37 years, I had wanted to be blessed with an experience that I had refused to work for. I still don’t have a spiritual conduit piped into my heart receiving constant inspiration, but I know that as I work for it, I can get ever so much closer.

I know many of you are thinking, “what a sweet story, Jared, but what the heck does that have to do with ‘Why the Church’”. I testify that if not for the church, I would be the same person I was 20 years ago. I think that I was a relatively good person. I believed in God, and perhaps had my own type of relationship with Him. But I would not have the opportunity to live with my family forever. I would not know the guidance of the Spirit that I can have all the time. Without the church requiring something of me, I would not have heard that still small voice.

Elder Christofferson said “That organization, the Church of Jesus Christ, was founded on ‘apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.’ … Following the apostasy and disintegration of the Church He had organized while on the earth, the Lord reestablished the Church of Jesus Christ once again through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The ancient purpose remains: that is, to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the ordinances of salvation—in other words, to bring people to Christ.

Elder Christofferson points out three major reasons that the Lord uses his church: First, the Lord’s church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” Within the church we are able to serve one another at all times. We have callings that require us to think outside of ourselves. We are able to come and partake of the sacrament each week. We are prompted to observe the Sabbath day. Without the church, many of us may be breaking that particular commandment at this very moment. Being part of this community also helps to remind us of sin and helps us have the courage to repent. It is a slippery road when we become comfortable in sin.

Secondly, the church is able to achieve needful things that cannot be accomplished by individuals or smaller groups. Amazing things are done with the Fast Offerings we gather each month. Families lives are changed. We are able to organize missions around the world and temples to serve those around the world as well.

Lastly, the Church is, after all, the kingdom of God on the earth. Without the church, the authority of Jesus Christ would not have been restored. We are able to maintain the keys of the priesthood and perform all of the necessary ordinances for our salvation. Being stewards of His kingdom on earth enabled us to prepare for Christ’s millennial rule.

When I began, I mentioned that I was actually excited to talk today. The fear and anxiousness is no less today than it was 5 years ago when I last spoke, but I am not the same. I am closer to God and my Savior today, and I testify that it is because I’m not doing it alone. While we are responsible for our own salvation, we can be pushed and strengthened by the church. The church can be more than the sum of its parts.

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