This is a guest post from Joey Lyman, who blogs at Questions About Mormonism.

In recent years, there has been a push from church leaders to “simplify.” In 2010, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf admonished that, “we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most.” In asking us to focus on the “basics,”President Uchtdorf defined those basics as our relationships with God, family, our fellow man, and ourselves, in that order. 1

Some have questioned whether this renewed push to “simplify” applies only to our personal lives outside of church participation, or whether it applies to the programs of the church. Their confusion is understandable; the last big push to “simplify” in the 1980’s and 90’s resulted in drastic changes to church programs and policies 2. Change has happened before, and will happen again. As President Packer notes, “procedures, programs, the administrative policies, even some patterns of organization are subject to change. We are quite free, indeed, quite obliged to alter them from time to time. But the principles, the doctrines, never change. If you overemphasize programs and procedures that can change, and will change, and must change, and do not understand the fundamental principles of the gospel, which never change, you can be misled.” 3

Individual members of the church don’t control when or how the programs of the church will change. What we can control is our understanding of and participation in those programs. We can each determine for ourselves what the “optimum speed for our circumstances” is. We can choose to participate at a level that is acceptable to God and man, and which helps us keep our individual focus on the unchanging Gospel, rather than the ever changing program-appendages to that Gospel, without getting worn out into inactivity, depression, or disillusionment.

The idea of tailoring church program participation to meet member needs is not novel. Consider the “Basic Unit Program” of the church, originally published in the 1980’s, but still in use with the most recent publication update in 2002. In that program, designed for members in areas where the full structure of the church is not yet present, members are asked to focus on the basics, with the promise that the full blessings of the Gospel will be available to them if they do so. They look at “five elements of the basic unit,”4 which are:

  1. Organization
  2. Meeting Places
  3. Curriculum
  4. Teaching
  5. Records and Reports

In this program, the Family is asserted as the “basic unit of the Church,” and everything else grows from there.

Notice that members who use the Basic Unit Program are not denied any blessings of the Gospel, full fellowship, Temple recommend opportunities, or a good standing in the church even though they might not have programs such as Mutual, Boy Scouts, or Seminary. Salvation is available even though they may not have correlation meetings, endless committees, sub-committees, and presidency meetings. As one examines the church around the globe, it becomes readily apparent that our success as Saints in the Church of Jesus Christ cannot be measured by our participation in programs, because those programs are ever changing and not universally available.

We can implicitly understand that the Gospel is the source of our spiritual strength and salvation, and that the programs of the church are there to assist in the missions of the Gospel. The programs are tools for personal growth and shepherding, not substitutes for core principles nor measures of worthiness. So here’s where I’m looking for your input: If we feel a need to limit or eliminate our participation in programs like Scouting or Seminary, can we do that without jeopardizing our standing in the church? If we are not able to function fully in our roles and home or visiting teachers, can we adapt those roles to be more personally manageable, without offense? If frequent meetings are not possible for us, can we still participate at a level that is within our capacity? How much can we simplify programs of the church, or our participation in them, without jeopardizing our salvation?

  1. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Of Things that Matter Most; Gen. Conf. Oct. 2010
  2. Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., The ’80s—Looking Back; The ’90s—Looking Ahead; Ensign, Jan. 1990
  3. Boyd K. Packer, Principles; Ensign, Mar. 1985
  4. Basic Unit Program Guidebook, 2002, LDS.org