David Ostler is a former bishop, stake president and mission president (Freetown, Sierra Leone). Now retired, he has a professional business background focused on executive management of bioinformatics and evidence-based medicine. A lifelong member of the Church, Brother Ostler was raised in Utah, served a mission in Japan, and received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Utah and Dartmouth College respectively. He and Sister Ostler, who reside in the Washington, D.C. area, are the parents of six children. Brother Ostler has been a previous guest on Leading Saints and has participated in the Leading Saints virtual summit on the subject of “Questioning Saints.” He is the author of the 2019 book Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question. The book is the result of research, interviews, and surveys involving former Church members or those not presently attending.
06:50 A one-size-fits-all approach to gospel learning is ineffective. Reasons people stop attending vary.
09:50 Approach to surveying and writing on this subject discussed. It was vital to keep himself open to thinking about the issue in a different way.
11:50 His intent was to listen and better understand the issue. Existing books did seem to help current, believing members (e.g. parents, leaders) understand the issue.
13:40 Reworking the pronouns: It’s about “us”—we are all in this together, regardless of present activity status. It should not be “us versus them.” Nearly everyone has been confronted with difficult questions.
15:40 How can leaders sound more inviting? Using the right language. Labels reduce people to a “them.” The term “apostate” generally means an enemy, and that does not fit most people who have left the Church. They’re not necessarily “fallen, “anti-Mormon” or “tares.”
19:00 We all struggle in some fashion and are all sinners. Recognizing commonalities. Although we dress shiny at church many may be paddling upstream. Leaders should not fear exhibiting vulnerability.
21:30 We seem to be good about ministering when there’s a health or economic issue, but these other areas are more challenging and require some different skills.
23:50 Many who were surveyed or interviewed expressed gratitude that someone was trying to understand them. Leaders/parents may not have the perfect answers but can listen with empathy.
25:25 People reflect to some degree the era in which they are raised. They may have experienced things differently as to how they view authority, education, minority issues, mental illness, gender, nationality, and sexual orientation. Genuinely listen to avoid succumbing to blind spots.
27:55 Societal changes, including the internet, have had an effect. Try to understand. Not all they read on the internet is inaccurate. Many younger people are concerned about financial institutions, school debt, etc. Many don’t see issues as black and white. They’ve been exposed to non-traditional families and non-traditional gender roles. Avoid being overly simplistic in our approach to helping someone.
34:40 Focus on a “pastoral” role as a leader, not simply getting the person back to church. Pray for insight, treating people as individuals and not simply seeking “just the right scripture” to share.
37:40 Crucial conversations. Genuine empathy builds trust. Fear keeps us from listening or leads to the “Us” vs. “them” approach. As a leader, you may say the wrong thing, but is your heart in the right place?
40:35 Dealing with these issues as parents. Don’t let fear pervade our thinking. Doing the right things vs. doing things right. Strive to make gospel study home-centered and church-supported.
45:00 “Gospel Topic” essays. Missionaries need to have read those and not be caught off-guard. “Come Follow Me” should allow us to delve into important topics on the home front.
49:20 Story of “Amanda,” who no longer comes to church and feels her mother is no longer proud of her. We must give respect, space, love, and acceptance of the “Amandas.”