An Interview with David Butler
Worship team. Questioning procedures. Small group teaching sessions. Sacrament as the week’s highlight. Encouraging members to share more of the messiness of their lives. For young Bishop Butler and his ward council, these were the stirrings that became part of their ward culture as they were striving to bring Christ into their meetings and congregation.
Those are the words David Butler, a religious educator at Utah Valley University and cohost of the popular YouTube scripture study channel Don’t Miss This with Emily Belle Freeman shared. In his recent interview with Kurt Francom on Leading Saints, he focused on how to make Christ the center of our Sacrament meeting and our leadership efforts
Check the Cultural Patterns
Brother Butler began, as I believe President Nelson seems to be doing, by questioning nearly everything. Why do we continue to do things in this order, is this necessary, is that program still needed, are we simply following a cultural pattern, is this procedure up for change? An open-minded, progressive approach to both assessing and meeting the needs of the ward felt both inspired and invigorating.
Find Your Focus
His focus became the Sacrament, a tenet of his tenure. In unprecedented methodology perhaps, he gathered families and small groups around the Sacrament table during the second and third hours of church to teach the doctrine of Christ beginning with Adam and Eve. At a family’s request, he was open to meeting on an additional evening to instill a love for the sacredness of the Sacrament. Over the course of eight months they were able to meet with members of the entire ward sharing the gospel of Christ and the whole reason for the Sacrament, thus bringing the focus of their worship back to Christ.
Their goal as a worship team (i.e., the ward council, whose members he selected based on his searching question, “Does she have a missionary heart?”) developed into, How can we increase faith in God the Father and in His Son, our Savior? “Let’s give Sacrament meeting back to the Savior” became their mantra. Talks centered on themes of the Savior’s life, including delving into the book of John, for instance, or asking a member to consider the names of Christ and to share what he’d learned and how those names apply personally in his life.
Sacrament Meetings That Lift Our Soul He encouraged ward members to refrain from giving a book report on General Conference talks but to be raw and messy, to share personal experiences they had had with the Savior and His love. They included high council members in this discussion and asked them to do the same.
Their whole mission revolved around having the members leave Sacrament meeting feeling more loved by and more connected to God.
Think how this simple tweak in thinking could impact our lives. So often we come to church only to leave feeling the weight of all we’re not doing, maybe committed to trying harder the next week, but possibly feeling overwhelmed to the point of wanting to give up, knowing there’s really no way. What’s the point, we may ask ourselves? I’m just tired, I’ll never figure out how to do it all. If all we hear is that we’re not measuring up, that we need to be more missionary- and temple-minded, that we should be doing better with our ministering and personal study, we can feel discouraged before the week even starts.
However, focusing on our Savior is rejuvenating. As we speak more of grace, which Brother Butler encourages, as we come to understand His restorative, redeeming power, we are not only empowered, we feel supported, carried, and strengthened. Strengthened in both our resolve as well as our ability.
Any Effort Is Worthy Effort I loved the discussion that ensued, using Come Follow Me as an example. I felt a release as both he and Kurt pointed out the obvious: God is never disappointed in us, there is not a “right” way, He’s thrilled with any effort we make. Although co-host of the popular You Tube program, Don’t Miss This, Brother Butler insists it is simply a resource, “an on-ramp,” to encourage us in our personal study. He shared how his family continues to adapt the Come Follow Me guide to meet their personal—and changing—needs while emphasizing there’s no one way, no right way.
He uses the question, “Are we loving God and each other more as a result of our time together in the scriptures?”, as the mark for their family scripture study time. We may sometimes dutifully but erroneously believe that we must devote a certain amount of time or cover the given material to be doing it well. As Kurt pointed out, sometimes we will go for days or weeks without following the prescribed outline while feeling more connected with God than ever.
I’ve found myself feeling lazy or negligent when I sit down with my Come Follow Me book and realize I’m a week or two behind the rest of the world. I feel almost ashamed, embarrassed, that I could not even do the basic reading that’s being spoon-fed to me. I’m learning to recognize my distorted thinking, as if by completing a block of passages I’ve somehow earned my way closer to Christ like in some twisted Mother May I? game.
As Kurt shared, there is power in occasionally setting aside the book and just sitting with God. I’ve also found strength in pondering, in asking questions, in being real and open with Heavenly Father throughout the day. Yes, scriptures can be a springboard, but they are simply that: a tool to propel us into the arms of our loving Savior. And that’s what Brother Butler is getting at. Let’s not get so caught up in what we think it should look like and instead recognize our efforts are accepted and magnified and that they will look different in every family.
They continued with the idea that people who feel loved, love well. Fear never motivates us the way love and grace do, and yet as parents and sometimes leaders, we occasionally tend to love so much that we will go to a place of almost teaching fear. We can never reach a person from that angle; our influence should always come from a place of love.
Our discipleship is most heartfelt when it comes from a natural inclination to love and to follow Christ. We don’t need to fear God, only sin. Punishment never comes from God; it comes from the law itself: justice is met in the consequence. I wish this could be the prevailing message our young people would cling to. I feel that we’ve done a poor job in teaching this; too many of our youth and young adults and even life-long members think of God as a rule-giver and that we need to do more and be more in order to be accepted and loved.
Feel Confidence in God’s Love Yet Brother Butler reminds us that we don’t earn his favor or our salvation. The Sacrament, he affirms, is the story of redemption. As God’s children, we have every assurance that He is for us. We don’t need to worry about the “shoulds”; He’s simply not that kind of God. If our members felt confident in His love, their experiences could totally be reshaped. We would settle down and be more gentle with ourselves and others, we would be much more accepting of the efforts of others as well as ourselves and we would allow for simply being where we are.
We need to believe that we are acceptable ourselves before we can effectively lead within our families and callings. Brother Butler insists that leadership is all about love. Whereas the hierarchy of the church can be a stumbling block, God’s government is the family and has everything to do with love. Which is why it’s so important to get to a place where we feel the love of God in our lives. As Mother Teresa taught,
“When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.”
We Can Be Certain of the Savior’s Love
I’ve found this idea developing and taking root in my life over the past several years. Interestingly, the more I learn about and spend time with my Savior and his teachings and his words, the more I understand and feel His love and acceptance. I am so confident that His arms are always outstretched and welcoming that I am losing the inclination to feel ashamed when I stumble or forget or make a mistake.
I’m recognizing more immediately when I’ve misspoken or failed to follow through with a prompting or made a hasty judgment or was slow to forgive or show gratitude. I don’t get hung up on it. I’m eager to repent, which is nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of either. I know it’s simply a chance to refocus, to admit I could do better and to try again. I am certain of my Savior’s love for me and so I simply look to Him. And because of the love I feel myself, I am absolutely convinced He loves everyone else. I feel this love assured.
The Saviors love seems to be the overarching principle Brother Butler hoped to instill in us. Heavenly Father and our Savior already love us, and we don’t need to do anything to earn that love. While he worked diligently with his ward council to find ways to teach and instill that idea in the hearts of the members during his time as bishop, we all have the opportunity to use our callings to share this same message in personal and unique ways. This theme is familiar and resonates with me because it is God’s message to each of us, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever shall believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Align Our Hearts with Christ
I came away from my hour with Kurt and Brother Butler renewed and reminded of what my purpose is and how I can move forward. Not armed with a to-do list, but with a lightness, a centeredness, a clearer focus and resolve to use Christ’s atonement and His grace as I practice loving myself and others within my sphere of influence.
I appreciated Brother Butler’s closing sentiments relating to being less critical and more loving toward others using missionaries as an example. Rather than look disparagingly on those who come home early, we could instead exude love, pride, and congratulations for any effort made, regardless of length of time served. A modest illustration of how love can work everywhere, he taught when our hearts are aligned with Christ, as we strive to make Him the center of all we do, we as leaders naturally extend that love to all we serve, a powerful admonition and reminder to make Christ the central focus of our lives.
Caren McLane has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Community Health Education from BYU. She met her husband, Todd, her freshman year while at BYU. They are the parents of 5 children and live on a 4 acre “hobby farm” with chickens, cows, and dogs. She volunteers at the library and hospice and has blogged since 2014. Caren has served in a variety of callings in the Church and is currently serving as the Relief Society President in her Montana Ward.