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I recently attended a “special combined meeting” during the third hour of the meeting block with visitors from the stake. Normally this means one of two things: 1) it’s ward conference when the stake leadership invades the ward to show how things should be done; or 2) there is some new program or initiative to be shared with the masses. This time it was the latter. A member of the stake presidency and some members of the stake public affairs committee were there to explain Just Serve—a new website from the church to promote community service by church members.

JustServe.org is being tested in several regions throughout the US. Here’s how it works:

  1. Members of a steering committee in your local area build relationships with institutions needing service.
  2. The steering committee asks these institutions for permission to list their service opportunities on JustServe—in some cases these may be opportunities run by other churches.
  3. Church members, YM and YW Presidents, and families wanting to serve in the community visit Just Serve to find service opportunities. (Creating a login separate from your LDS Account is optional.)
  4. Church members fill these service opportunities by just serving for the sake of serving—not serving as a subversive way to proselyte.
  5. The Church’s profile is raised in the community organically.

The site also lets you find projects by date and time or location. You can even filter to find large-group projects or projects more suitable for families with young children.

As I sat and listened to the presentation (they had PowerPoint slides so I knew it was a big deal) I appreciated the additional resource. It seemed to be a good thing to motivate us to get out there. Not everyone felt the same way. There was almost immediate confusion:

“So I’m not supposed to say I’m Mormon?”

“How will they know we are from the church?”

“How does the church ‘get credit’ for sending people to these opportunities?”

The marketer in me agreed with the essence of these questions. Are we really doing our part if no one knows we are from the church? There is a reason why you see those logoed sponsorship banners at every press conference or charitable gala you see—companies want credit. TWiM’s own Joseph Peterson explored this side of things in an article a few months ago.

But should our reason for service really be only about getting credit and building the presence of the church, though? Elder Oaks’ 1984 conference address “Why We Serve” enumerates six reasons – you guessed it – why we serve:

  1. Hope of earthly reward
  2. Motivation to find good companionship
  3. Fear of punishment
  4. Sense of duty or Loyalty
  5. Hope of eternal reward
  6. For the love of God and his children

Serving for hope of earthly reward (getting credit) is the worst reason and pretty much equals priestcraft if done in the church (Elder Oaks said it, not me). So why do it?

First, we should care about the communities in which we live. We do great at serving needs within our ward. We help many far flung locales with everything from hygiene kits and bandages to walkers and wheelchairs. We need more of our membership regularly staffing an interfaith soup kitchen or some other community-based service opportunity. Other faiths do this much better than we do.

Second, there is the hope that our membership in the church will come out as part of casual conversation and not as overt proselytizing.  But the reason to have saints serve in the community is more nuanced than just that. The church wants to show that Mormons are people too. Seriously. A Baptist minister actually said that (nearly verbatim) in one of the videos they showed in the presentation. By serving side by side people get to know that we are people of the community AND people of faith.

Third, serving those in need in the local community is the essence of Christ-like service. Although travel was different then, Christ served who was in front of him—not because it was convenient but because it was the right thing to do. It helps us to truly be a Christian people.

I am not a beacon of community service. The last company I worked for gave me 4 hours per month to serve in causes benefiting children and I rarely took advantage of it. I was, however, inspired by this presentation to do more and find ways for my family to benefit the community.

Not in a “test area?” There is no need to wait for Just Serve to be rolled out to your areal. Volunteer Match is a good online resource I used as community relations coordinator in graduate school. The Red Cross and your local United Way are other resources to find service opportunities. Finally, Generation On is another site that has lots of ideas to involve kids and youth.

So what do you think? How can you effectively serve as a “private saint”?