Last week in church, I asked 9-year-old Zach if he had a testimony of the gospel. He said he did. So I offered him five bucks to get up in front of the congregation and bear it.
I explained that I was sick of listening to old people rattle and wanted to freshen the lineup. Zach, who had never been up on the stand before, had to think about it for a while. Eventually, he got up and did it.
His sister Kate went along for moral support. Since she bore her testimony, I paid her as well. They were worth every penny.
Here’s the thing: Both later tried to give the money back. Zach came into the library and held out the money, saying, “I don’t feel comfortable bearing my testimony for money.”
I smelled parental intervention. No 9-year-old kid buys into guilt like that on his own, especially when money is involved.
I could have gotten into a doctrinal debate with Zach, saying, “And I don’t feel comfortable not being allowed in the temple unless I fork over a hell of a lot more than five bucks.”
Furthermore, there was also the distinct possibility that the Holy Ghost had prompted me to offer him the money as an incentive to do something good, a matter not even his mom or the bishop could prove didn’t happen.
Instead, I tried to keep it on Zach’s level. First, a deal was a deal. Second, if he tried to make me take back the money, I’d beat him up after church. He’s only 9 and I’m, like, 10 times his size.
There was a way out of our dilemma. I told Zach that if he truly felt wrong about my cash-for-testifying program, he should put the money in an envelope and give it to the needy.
Even better, he should give it to someone he didn’t like. Honestly, that’s the best way I know of deciding whether you really feel bad about accepting money for the wrong reason.
Everyone who attends a meeting, whether it’s a church worship service, a business conference, or even the planning of a bank robbery, expects to get something for the time. Not everyone gets it the same way.
In the case of a worship service, structure and form are important — ironically, more important than the point of being there in the first place.
For people like me — and there are way more of us than you might think — worship works only if it’s interesting. It requires new insight, fresh ideas and, OK, a bit of entertainment.
When I was a kid, it was easier to change things up because nobody honestly expected a 9-year-old to sit still for 90 minutes while adults droned.
If you don’t think so, look around at what kids are allowed to do during church just to keep them quiet. Anything short of screaming and disrobing is permitted.
Better yet, look at what adults are doing. If it weren’t for dozing, daydreaming and electronic devices, half of them wouldn’t make it through a service.
If you’re going to church, you should at least actively participate in what’s going on, even if it means resorting to unorthodox ways of keeping your attention up.
Besides, who knows if the day won’t come when Zach, long since a Mormon stake president, area Seventy, and now an apostle, won’t get up in church and use a singular experience to make an important gospel point?
“My first public testimony, brothers and sisters, cost a member of the congregation five dollars. I don’t recall his name. He may have even been one of the Three Nephites, but it was just the incentive I needed to overcome my fear and get busy spreading the word.”