How to Praise New and Reactivated Members of Your Ward

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Nothing validates and lifts our spirits more than when we see sincere seekers of truth join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or we see less active members find the spark of the gospel, rebuild strong testimonies, and rejoin our church family.

We see the promise being fulfilled from D&C 18: 15

“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!”

We rejoice for them and with them. We should.  However, when we praise these Latter-Day Saints for their conversion our praise should reinforce the attributes of conversion rather than the results. Our praise should reinforce the reality that conversion is a journey, not a destination.  To do less is to reinforce results rather than process, intent rather than action, and faith without works.

Why praising new members effectively matters is because we want them to understand and apply the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. New members and reactivated members are feeling the redeeming power of the atonement. This is why they are coming unto Christ through his church. We also want them to feel and know the enabling power of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Key to this journey, for the newly converted and for all of us, is our ability to cultivate a spiritual mindset about our membership and our view of the gospel.

What is a mindset?

Psychologist and Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck identified two mindsets: fixed versus growth.

Her research suggests that people with fixed mindsets believe things such as intelligence, character and creative ability are innate and immutable. In other words, no matter how much they study or how much effort they exert, they’re pretty much stuck with the cards they’ve been dealt. Because people with fixed mindsets believe their potential is capped, they avoid challenges that test their abilities.

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe the brain is a muscle that can grow, and abilities are assets to be nurtured through hard work. People with growth mindsets believe that they are born with raw materials—a launching point. As a result, they thrive on challenges.

We all have mindsets about the different facets of our life including our spiritual lives.

What is a spiritual mindset?

To correlate these psychological terms and research to the gospel, a fixed mindset is really a temporal mindset- whereas a spiritual mindset is a growth mindset.

A temporal mindset views the world in terms of gains and losses, in which fortune and fate are not within our control. This mindset is all about the here and now. In a temporal mindset. we are animals without a form of godliness.  The sum total of our experiences in life only has temporal value.  Although drastic sounding, sometimes we view some aspects of living the gospel from a fixed or temporal mindset.

Have you ever said or thought:

  • Brother … is a spiritual giant.  I’ll never know the scriptures like him.
  • Sister … is a great teacher, I’ll never teach as well as her.
  • Brother … always make the right decisions and lives a blessed life. My circumstances prevent me from that kind of righteousness.
  • Brother and sister … have a perfect marriage.  My marriage is not like that.

If you have thought or said anything like this you view the gospel and discipleship from a fixed or temporal mindset.

However, a spiritual mindset sees this world as a similitude of the world to come, that we are celestial in nature, that we are not only products of our earthly parents and earthly circumstances but literally spiritual children of our Father in Heaven.  A spiritual mindset is the product of faith and understanding of the purpose of life and the Plan of Salvation. This mindset believes that spiritual growth is not only possible but necessary for further understanding of the atonement Lord Jesus Christ.

Only through a spiritual mindset can we understand our core identity, that we are spiritual children of our Father in Heaven and that all gifts and blessing can be obtained through grace and spiritual work.

Why is the right kind of praise so important?

What research shows about mindset is that if you praise people on their abilities they are pushed towards the fixed mindset. If we praise members about their church attendance in imprecise and superficial ways we may push them into a fixed mindset about the atonement and discipleship.

Members may think church attendance is the only requirement or goal for salvation.

Praise that acknowledges the work and effort of living a Christ-like life will help others develop their spiritual mindset.  We should understand that the gospel of Jesus Christ is more than church attendance.  The path to an abundant spiritual life is certainly marked by outward magnifications of our faith. However, the real journey is within us.

The enabling and transforming power of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ occurs on and between Sabbath Day.  If members think sustainable spiritual change can occur only 3 hours a week, then they have a fixed or temporal mindset.

The real goal for ourselves and others should be to cultivate a spiritual mindset in our journey of discipleship.  How we view our own spiritual mindset can affect how we praise members and how we help them build their spiritual mindset.

By praising people for their attendance rather than their action and spiritual growth we may be pushing them toward inactivity later, when trials, difficulties, and setbacks occur?

How do we praise so that we build a spiritual mindset toward discipleship?

Please keep in mind that I’m not saying the typical praise we give others is wrong or detrimental.  The act of kindness has virtue of its own. What I am saying is that praising and encouraging other differently can help them and us, develop a spiritual growth mindset.

Although I’m targeting this article toward new members and reactivated member the principle can apply to all members.  What I’m proposing is that by altering our patterns of praise we can change our perspective and grow our spiritual mindset.

The story of prodigal son

There are several different dimensions to the story of the prodigal son found in the gospel of Luke 15:11–32, I want to theorize about what was said or not said to prodigal son the next week at church after he returned home.

Although we don’t have a full record of this parable, you can image that ward family may have verbally slain the fatted calf of praise for the prodigal son upon his return. We do this because of our joy and our intent is genuine.

What the story doesn’t tell us is after the prodigal son received the blessings from the redemptive power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, was he able to allow the atonement to empower him to do good works and serve others?

Over the first year of reactivation we can imagine the praise that the prodigal son may have received: “So good to see you,”  “I loved your testimony.”  “Your lesson was great.”

Although we are genuine in our joy to see those who come back like the sons Alma and the prodigal son, we should not just acknowledge the result of their decision to come back, but the process, and their choices and work they undertook to make the journey back.

For example, what would be the effect on the prodigal son in this story if over the first year of his reactivation members gave praise like this?

“Seeing you attend church makes me want to attend,”

“I loved the way your testimony has grown,”

“I admire the work and effort you put into your lesson.”

Isn’t it more honest to praise like this?  If sincere, this kind of praise not only reinforces correct actions, it builds a relationship?

How should we praise others?

Here are some examples that are more specific to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that emphases both spiritual process and the actions taken to build a spiritual mindset.

  • I really felt the spirit when you taught today or shared your testimony
  • I admire the work and effort you put into your lesson
  • Your journey has inspired me.
  • I admire the choices and effort you are making.
  • I really liked the questions you asked in your lessons, it really made me think.
  • I appreciate the time the effort you put into preparing your talk
  • (After a member bears their testimony): That was so brave, you inspirited me because of your testimony.

These praise points should go beyond what you see on the surface.  When in a spiritual mindset your praise of their thoughts and choices can open up a dialog with new members.   A spiritual mindset acknowledges that we should all be learning from the gospel.  If we share that learning we grow, as well as others.  This is the difference between attending church vs. learning from church attendance.

In many ways a spiritual mindset and effective praise will dispel the myth or false perceptions that righteous members of the church have never had to face struggle or had to make difficult choices or work hard at their spirituality, this, of course, could not be further from the truth. Nevertheless, a member with a temporal, fixed mindset may view other members of the church in this way.

As we build our own spiritual mindsets, our praise will help members build their own spiritual mindset so that they and we can become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and both enjoy the fruits of the redeeming and enabling power of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Shane Lester earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Professional Writing and a Master’s of Science degree in Instructional Technology with an emphasis in learning psychology from Utah State University. Shane has had a dual corporate career in training design and software product design.

Shane has published five books and serves as a high councilor in the Evanston Wyoming Stake.