A new Dichotomy: Participants and Volunteers

May 9, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 1:44 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

Several people or organizations have made attempts to subdivide the church into classes of people. Some examples include “iron-rod” and “liahona” members, “liberal” and “conservative” members, and even “orthodox” and “heterodox” members. Typically these labels seem to have the intent of looking down upon some other group of people, and do not seek to improve the church in any way shape or form. Thus, I consider these labels worthless, and would like to suggest a different line that may be more useful to define in the membership of the church. I would like to move away from the theological foundations of our beliefs, and instead focus on the activity of two types of members. In my dichotomy, I will label these two groups participants and volunteers. The basic concept here is that there are two groups of people who are at church, those who go to church to be helped, and those who go to church to help others. This is much like any other charitable organization, and it doesn’t mean either group is evil.

Here’s what we do know:

1. The goal of the church is to transition those who need help to having been helped, and then to volunteers to help others.
2. Members may be volunteers and participants at the same time, depending on different aspects of their lives. It thus becomes imperative to evaluate the capabilities and interests of each member to determine whether they are able and willing to serve.
3. Often participants may not know that they need help or in what area of their life they need help. This tells us it is important to have competent volunteers in decision making and facilitating positions to diagnose the participants.
4. Often Volunteers may think they are able (or unable) to do things, only to find out they did not understand the requirements of what was needed to be done. It thus becomes imperative to have clearly defined expectations. (It may even be useful to interview a candidate about their willingness to take on a type of position rather than merely call them to a position.)
5. Neither Volunteers or Participants are always honest. This is a challenge which must be overcome.
6. If Volunteers do not believe they are helping, they may quit participating.
7. If Participants do not believe they are being helped, they may quit participating.
8. For the help to be effective, one of the greatest needs of the participant and the greatest requirements on the volunteer is consistency.

Are there conclusions you do not agree with? Are there other conclusions we can draw?

51 Comments »

  1. I don’t agree that #8 (For the help to be effective, one of the greatest needs of the participant and the greatest requirements on the volunteer is consistency.) is always true because some help is a one-time shot. (moving, funerals, etc.)

    The word “need” in the #1 reminds me of misguided government programs – would the word “want” be better?

    You don’t seem to leave room for the concept of non-actors (doesn’t want to be helped, unable to help). Suppose one only wanted to attend Sacrament meeting. This person obviously wouldn’t be listed as a Volunteer, but should they really be listed as a participant (in the sense that if this one person stopped coming no ones elses burden would be lighter)?

    Comment by Daylan — May 9, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

  2. Matt,

    I totally dig your grouping into volunteers and participants. I have a talk I have been writing in my head during Sacrament meetings that is right in line with this (especially numbers 1 and 2). It seems we all contribute in some ways, and drag on the church in others. For a start, I think it should be everyone’s goal to get to a point where we are able to contribute more than we drag (if circumstances outside our control permit). By using the word “drag,” I have put a more negative spin on your word “participate.” Of course, I don’t think there is anything wrong with accepting help when you need it, but I am not sure how to avoid the fact that volunteering is going to be considered “better” than participating. How do you avoid that?

    By the way, shouldn’t number 6 read:

    6. If Volunteers do not believe they are helping, they may quit volunteering.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 9, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

  3. Daylan: Re #8, if we don’t have faith that we can count on the help in a move or a funeral (consistency) we don’t ask for the help. We need to be consistent.

    On #1, how about “want or need” I think the goal of church is to even try to help people who “need help” but don’t want help. Ultimately they may reject that help, but we are under obligation to make sure they have every opportunity to get help. Good point thought. The more I think about it, the more “want and need” seems appropriate.

    I have actually thinking about this non-actors category. Those who don’t believe the need help, but have no desire to help. I think it ia hard for them to stay active. I think people who just come to Sacrament believe doing so either helps someone or helps themselves…

    Jacob J:
    I think the objective is “interdependence” where we all eventually make up for the needs of others with our extra capacity to do. Thus we eliminate the insufficiencies that we can, Christ and Heavenly Father eliminates the insufficiencies we can’t and we rise up into that interdependent relationship Blake is talking about. We can’t all be volunteers in ever aspect, we all need someone else in someway or another. (This begs the question of What HF and Jesus need, but I’m gonna leave that alone for now.) Thus volunteers realize being a volunteer is dependent on the existance of participating.

    On the otherhand, since volunteering is serving and participating is being served, I think there are plenty of scriptures which show the greatness of servants, and being the least, and being last etc.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 9, 2007 @ 7:12 pm

  4. I’ve often thought of this as a pyramid of support, where you begin needing a lot of support around you and as you move up levels you have less and less support until you get to the top. Now if you will imagine another pyramid, upside down, on top of the first. As you progress upward you are providing support for others more and more.

    As you mention, this is multi-dimensional. Someone might be receiving support in some areas and giving it in others.

    The transition points are dangerous from an activity standpoint. There is a social transition as you go from being helped to helping. If one doesn’t navigate this well you can become inactive easily. I think that this transition occurs during missions for many people and the transition to normal membership is so sudden and the help so little that many are lost at this point.

    However, in some sense this is orthogonal to the iron rod vs liahona type arguments.

    Comment by a random John — May 9, 2007 @ 7:34 pm

  5. Matt,

    Interdependance is good, but it still seems to me that “volunteering” is superior to “participating.” Even if serving requires that there be someone who is served, it does follow from this that both are equally preferable.

    I think the root of my hesitation may be that there are different kinds of needs. Some needs are part of the human condition. For example, I need companionship. This sort of need leads to long term interdependence which is desirable. This sort of interdependence if a cornerstone of marriage, for instance.

    However, there are lots of needs that are fundamentally undesirable. They are a result of poor choices by which we get ourselves into emotional/spiritual/financial debts. These sorts of deficiencies are “bad,” if you will. As we progress, we remove these deficiencies. Your 1. even says that one of our goals is to go from being a participant to a volunteer. If this is the case, I think it is hard to get around the implication that it is greater to volunteer than to participate.

    In that respect, I think “participant” is more derogatory than either “iron rod” or “liahona,” which you seem to take issue with.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 9, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

  6. arJ,

    Good comment. I especially appreciated your point about the transition being dangerous. I hadn’t thought of it in that sense before. Thanks.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 9, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

  7. arj:

    I think a mistake we make is to think of and treat the two triangles being in sort of an hourglass or “8″ shape, whereas, it should perhaps consider them instead as two overlapping triangles. I think this would help ease the transition you are talking about, which I agree does exist.

    I don’t know what orthogonal means.

    Jacob J: You are right, I guess I am ok with this inequity in the groups, understanding that Christ is the only one without “fundamentally undesirable” needs. We are thus all participants, in one way or another.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 10, 2007 @ 7:46 am

  8. Matt W.,

    Well, to be honest I consider them to be n-dimensional cones. Or you could thing of the base as a star graph of your need to be helped in each of several areas, one axis for each area. Thus they likely don’t all come to a point at a single height. Instead you have different crossover points for each axis. If I had a chalkboard this would be easier.

    When I say that this idea is orthogonal to the other dichotomies that you list I mean that it addresses a different aspect of membership in the Church. The usefulness of your idea has little to do with the usefulness or lack thereof of the other concepts you mention.

    Comment by a random John — May 10, 2007 @ 8:33 am

  9. Matt W.
    On your #4, I think every calling I’ve ever had, I found out I did not completely understand the requirements of what was needed to be done when I started. The better defined the expectations, the nicer, though.
    The best church leaders I’ve had always interviewed me before extending the calling. Soon after moving into a new Ward, I once was asked to be the Activities Committee Chair and I explained I was going to school fulltime during the day for my Masters, was working fulltime in the evenings, and I was a husband and father to 5 children. (What a wonderfull wife!) I told them if that was the kind of person they wanted, I would gladly accept the calling.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — May 10, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  10. Matt,
    I’ve been learning Greek for the past while, and a greek orthogon is the shape equivalent to a latin rectangle, both of which mean right-angle. From there, I would guess orthogonal would somehow mean not in line, perpendicular, or on a different plane.

    Comment by Jason — May 10, 2007 @ 12:29 pm

  11. Matt,

    Two things:

    1. A few years ago when I was ward mission leader, I became aware that the mission president in Indianapolis had decided that the term “greenie” was too negative (and therefore worthless) and decided that all new missionaries should instead by called “all-stars.” Any guesses how long that lasted?

    2. One of my missionary companions in Japan really like the way the Japanese use the word “desho” after a sentence (it has the feel of “right?” or “isn’t it?”). So, he decided that he was going to just keep saying it when he got back from his mission and people would see how cool it is and it would just catch on, desho. (that one was actually slightly more effective than “allstar”).

    All I’m trying to say is that I hope you are not serious about replacing existing labels with new ones(and you are probably just using that idea to make your points about how the church should help our lives — which is cool, by the way). When you are talking about any kind of traditional behavior (like anoying labels that just seem to continue on) the reason they don’t die out is because they are not worthless — they have value, or people wouldn’t use them.

    And in my world they would be shaped like the number purple.

    Comment by Glenn — May 11, 2007 @ 8:56 pm

  12. Glenn,

    You should note that the iron rod vs liahona labels really started from a sacrament meeting talk given in the Palo Alto 2nd Ward. It isn’t like that was a very auspicious start. Maybe this will catch on.

    Comment by a random John — May 12, 2007 @ 7:24 pm

  13. You should note that the iron rod vs liahona labels really started from a sacrament meeting talk given in the Palo Alto 2nd Ward. It isn’t like that was a very auspicious start. Maybe this will catch on.

    Is this true or some kind of private joke? I used to live in that stake so it kind of caught my eye.

    Comment by AJ — May 12, 2007 @ 10:01 pm

  14. Sure, and the words “Cheese crisp” and “Goofy golf” caught on in Phoenix for various reasons and continue as localized traditional folk speech in that region (although not generally used outside of that area unless there is some kind of conncetion back to phoenix) — so I agree it is possible — as long as groups of people find the value in it and continue to pertpetuate it over time, sure.

    By the way — how sure are you about the iron rod vs liahona labels really started in one single location (monogenesis)? I wonder… Since these “guiding” instruments are commonly availbale in the Book of Mormon and parallels are relativly easy to draw — Palo Alto may be one source, but I find it hard to imagine that no one came up with the ideas earlier — I have n evidence, of course, would put my money on a polygenetic (multiple origin) explanation for these labels.

    Comment by Glenn — May 13, 2007 @ 4:24 am

  15. AJ,

    Yes. It caught my eye because I used to live in the stake as well. Otherwise I wouldn’t remember it.

    Glenn,

    It started as a talk, later was published in Dialogue (probably because it started at Stanford and he happened to be there), and then in a book.

    So yes, I think that is the origin of this dichotomy. I am not aware of earlier uses of it, and Richard Poll suggests that the idea is original to him. I’d love to hear if you have an earlier example.

    Comment by a random John — May 13, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  16. This is weird. First, Palo Alto is mentioned and I used to live in that stake. Then, Phoenix is mentioned and I currently live in the area. However, I have never heard of “cheese crisp” or “goofy golf”.

    Comment by AJ — May 14, 2007 @ 8:49 pm

  17. May I suggest the following dichotomy – saints and sinners?

    There are no other kinds in the church.

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  18. What on earth are you talking about jaredl? Are really you saying that everyone in the church is either a saint or a sinner and that no one can be both? (That is what the word dichotomy implies after all…)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 11:41 am

  19. Yep. Holy or uholy, there is no middle ground.

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 11:41 am

  20. Ummm… are you for real or just a troll? Obviously we are all sinners so what you propose is no dichotomy at all. (At least in practical terms it isn’t)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 11:46 am

  21. I take Moroni 10:32-33 literally. Why don’t you?

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  22. Alright, I’ll play along and answer your question if you’ll answer a question or two for me.

    Answer: I do take Moroni 10:32-33 literally and I have no idea why you would accuse of not doing so out of the blue like that.

    Now here’s my question: Are you a (practicing) Mormon?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

  23. I am. If you take Moroni 10:32-33 literally, then how shall one who is holy, without spot also be a sinner?

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  24. how shall one who is holy, without spot also be a sinner?

    I will concur that one wouldn’t be. Do you know anyone who is holy and without spot?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

  25. I do.

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

  26. jaredl:
    For those playing at Home:

    32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
    33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

    So to receive a remission of your sins, you have to have sins, so you have to be a sinner…

    How about Romans 3:23 or 5:12? Ya know “All have sinned” save Jesus only?

    So is this the Jesus/Everyone Else dichotomy?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 16, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

  27. jaredl: I do.

    Oooooh… Cool. So who do you know who is holy and without spot? (And I’m talking about living humans… No trying to name Jesus here.) Are you holy and without spot this very moment?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

  28. X has sinned implies X is a sinner? That seems to require “If X ever does something, he always does it,” as to say someone is a sinner is to say they currently do sin. It is justifiable to say that all have sinned, at least once. But it is not clear how one justifies the claim that for every person who has ever sinned that that person always sins.

    The dichotomy is between those who are holy, and those who are not. Those who are holy – sanctified, having received a remission of their sins – are termed saints, and those who are not are termed sinners.

    Geoff, if I were holy, I wouldn’t affirm it to you without being commanded to.

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

  29. So It’s a calling and election made sure/ calling and election not made sure dichotomy? While this may be a true dichotomy, I am not sure how useful it is, as there is no way of knowing of others what side of the line they are on. We can only guess.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 16, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

  30. One may be holy and yet not have received one’s calling and election made sure, as probably many who have received the remission of sins may testify…

    The dichotomy is as simple as saint / sinner. Why is there resistance to this claim?

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  31. The dichotomy is as simple as saint / sinner. Why is there resistance to this claim?

    Because it is a false binary dichotomy. It implies/assumes that righteousness and wickedness are binary notions rather than ever fluid conditions on a continuum.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  32. Then the resistance flows from accepting contrascriptural ideas and holding them in higher priority than the scriptures on the contested topic.

    Holiness/unholiness is a binary proposition. It takes the form H v ~H. If you want to show there exists some entity having both H ^ ~H as properties, go for it!

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  33. Look jaredl,

    I frankly still suspect you are a troll.

    How about you just put your cards on the table and explain what you mean here. No need to be coy any longer. Are you pushing for some creedal-style “getting saved” doctrine? Are you a fundie of some kind pushing some gnosis you believe you’ve uncovered?

    I have an itchy troll banning finger and this conversation is making it itchier as we go.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  34. It’s your blog. Do what you want.

    I’m saying the church can be divided up into those who are holy – the saints – and those who are unholy – sinners.

    In fact, the saints might be seen as the “volunteers” of the OP terminology, and the sinners as the “participants.”

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

  35. Holiness/unholiness is a binary proposition.

    Asserting this does not make it so. I believe that the terms holiness and unholiness describe a condition on a continuum. I think the scriptures support that notion quite well.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  36. Then please support your assertion that both holiness and unholiness can be possessed concurrently by a single being.

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

  37. I’m saying the church can be divided up into those who are holy – the saints – and those who are unholy – sinners.

    We’re still waiting for an example of just one saint in the church. (Who, by your definition is without sin and holy). If you can’t provide even one name then why should we even pay any attention to your outlandish sounding claims?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  38. Suppose I gave you a name.

    Suppose the name I gave you was “Johnny.”

    How are you better informed than before I gave you the name?

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  39. Why so afraid to put your cards on the table jaredl? Do you think you get debate points by being coy and evasive?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  40. Geoff – just for a second, consider my point.

    Suppose I told you a guy named “Johnny” was, at this moment, a saint – one who has received the remission of sins, and was innocent befoe God.

    What does this information get you? Your knowledge, I submit, has not increased.

    My telling you Jesus is the Christ does not give you knowledge that Jesus is the Christ; all you can affirm is that I told it to you. It is only through the power of the Spirit of God that you can know the truth, is that not the teaching?

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:27 pm

  41. jaredl, so the saint sinner dichotomy is the same as the volunteer/participant dichotomy? Those who come to help/those who come to be helped?

    I am somewhat confused by what all the flap is about then? Are you saying we can not help and need help at the same time? (In different aspects of our lives perhaps?) I can be a saint in my chastity, but a sinner in my alms-giving, etc…

    Personally, I find the language “saint” and “sinner” confusing and prefer the more precise and less emotionally charged terms I have suggested.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 16, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

  42. Not quite, MW.

    What I should have said was that saints were roughly analogous to the volunteers, and sinners roughly analogous to the participants. I understand why you prefer this terminology, but it is less precise to me than the concretely defined terms “saint” and “sinner”.

    When Christ said to first cast the beam from our own eye, and then we could see clearly to tend to the mote in our neighbor’s eye, we might see him as enjoining us to be perfected in him, becoming sanctified, and thus posessing charity, and then would we be effective volunteers through him to assist others in need of the Atonement to come unto him.

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  43. Alright jaredl,

    I sense this is winding down. Mostly because I am tiring of this cat and mouse game you are insisting on trying to play. The problem is that you have made what I think are ridiculous claims here and then you have not done anything to show us why they are not ridiculous.

    Yes, we can accept Christ and have our sins remitted. But then we sin again as is the nature of our time here on earth. So trying to divide the church by sinners and sinless saints is about as interesting as dividing us all by an awake/asleep dichotomy. One could claim that we fluctuate between totally clean and not clean all the time based on our sinning and repentance but why even bother to make that point in this thread? (and if that is what you mean, why do so in such a cryptic and bizarre fashion?)

    You later said “In fact, the saints might be seen as the “volunteers” of the OP terminology, and the sinners as the “participants.”” But since we are all concurrently givers and receivers (volunteers and participants) to one degree or another in this church that statement of yours blatantly contradicts your other statements about how we must be one or the other.

    So I will let you take another whack at this. Do you have any coherent things to say on this subject or can you just provide an endless stream of mystical sounding quips?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  44. But then we sin again as is the nature of our time here on earth.

    Says who?

    But since we are all concurrently givers and receivers (volunteers and participants) to one degree or another in this church that statement of yours blatantly contradicts your other statements about how we must be one or the other.

    Please see my amended statement to MattW on the same subject previous to this post of yours.

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

  45. Beams and Motes: If I see a man drowning in the ocean, do I need to be perfect in every single way to save him, or do I just need to know how to rescue swim and be willing to go for it?

    I go back to my prior position. While there are definitely Saints and Sinners in the church, we don’t have the tools to measure who is and is not of one category or another. Perhaps this dichotomy is useful in self-analysis, but that’s not really what the volunteer and participant idea was about.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 16, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

  46. Not all volunteers are saints. All saints are volunteers, or else they cease to be saints (Alma 34:29).

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  47. MW – I concede that it is difficult to tell who are saints and sinners.

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

  48. Says who?

    Ahhhh — so you are a “once saved always saved” guy (or some variation of that at least). I can see why you are being so evasive now…

    So you say you are a Mormon eh?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  49. I affirm is is possible for a man to depart from the living God (D&C 20:32). I deny that it is necessary (Alma 8:15).

    Comment by jaredl — May 16, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  50. Uh huh…

    Well good luck with that. I’m sure it is a comforting idea to you.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 16, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

  51. Geoff —

    I think you’re right — troll — he’s just pushing your buttons. Besides, I think it’s clear to everyone that 10:32-33 is about the absence of pets in the celestial kingdom.

    Comment by Glenn — May 17, 2007 @ 3:51 pm

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