Typically when we hear a lesson in church about service we think about helping people who are having a rough time. Usually it is families who have a sick member, people who are having financial or emotional difficulties, etc. While this class of acts certainly falls in the realm of Christ like behaviour, I wonder if broadening the range of what we consider service to be doesn’t fit in with what general authorities have been saying for a while.
Normally mormons are considered pretty industrious. Nibley’s oft referenced article, Zeal Without Knowledge prods us to think that perhaps we worry more about the energy expended in the name of service than the end results achieved. It often seems like the main motivation of service is to increase our capacity to sacrifice our time and effort. While obviously good, isn’t this attitude quite different from the mormon view of industry.
Our industrial roots are easy to see. The saints were always encouraged to build, develop and create. The cities and houses built and abandoned by the saints are a testament to this. So how come service seems to be more about stop gap helping measures rather than developing and improving civic resources? Does the industrial aspect of our culture still apply to type of service we idealize?
Personally, I think it is easy to loose sight of what does and does not constitute service. For example, does maintaining a page of church resources count as service? I would imagine that there are numerous people have been more helped by these things than they would have been by a number of apple pies and casseroles.
What about secular community resources that people develop? Are these things as valuable as helping out a sick neighbor? Is making a new map of mountain biking trails, or hiking guide as important as visiting the sick? I would think probably depends more on the motivations one has going into those projects than anything else. It seems like including motivation and direction in service gets one closer to a good combination of industry and Christ like aid, however, does this still take advantage of the potential of industry?
Perhaps the best example of what I am thinking about is the parable of the talents. If we start thinking of service as being judged by what we do with our talents and abilities, I think it puts a different spin from what we normally hear. With this view, if we aren’t actually creating something lasting then we are falling short. Now, this is not to say, simple acts like shoveling a sidewalk, making a dinner, etc aren’t important. It is just that perhaps ideal service needs to something that pushes all the talents we have. Perhaps those three or four year projects maybe the type of thing we are after.
For me, maybe it means the sacrifice of getting a kayak club going in my small town. Maybe it is the years of effort it will take to make a scrambling guide for the mountains around my home. Maybe it is promoting the tourist attractions of the town. Personally, I tend to think these are the things that draw in a community. Not only that, they are not religion dependent. After all, I don’t think mormons have the market cornered on service.