To illustrate his general conference priesthood session address titled “On Being Genuine,” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf recounted the story of Catherine the Great of Russia visiting the southern part of her empire and being deceived by pasteboard facades of buildings and busy-looking peasants.
“Although modern historians have questioned the truthfulness of this story, the term ‘Potemkin Village’ has entered the world’s vocabulary,” said President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency. “It now refers to any attempt to make others believe we are better than we really are.”
Though it is part of human nature to want to present oneself favorably, “when taken to extremes, this desire to impress can shift from useful to deceitful,” he said.
Citing scriptural admonitions against hypocrisy, President Uchtdorf said, “In our day, the Lord has similarly strong words for priesthood holders who try to ‘cover [their] sins, or to gratify [their] pride [or their] vain ambition.’”
Posing the question of why this happens, he observed, “In some case, we may simply have lost our focus on the essence of the gospel, mistaking the ‘form of godliness’ for the ‘power thereof.’ This is especially dangerous when we direct our outward expressions of discipleship to impress others for personal gain or influence. It is then that we are at risk of entering into Pharisee territory, and it is high time to examine our hearts to make an immediate course correction.”
Such a temptation can be found in Church assignments, President Uchtdorf said, recounting the story of a stake that set ambitious goals for the year, but then the stake president wondered whether the goals would make a difference in the lives of members.
“He began to wonder how their stake’s goals might have been different if they had first asked, ‘What is our ministry?’”
The stake then set new goals, shifting their attention on some things that, although they can’t be counted, “do count.”
“I wonder if our organizational and personal goals are sometimes the modern equivalent of a Potemkin village,” President Uchtdorf mused. “Do they look impressive from a distance but fail to address the real needs of our beloved fellowmen?”
President Uchtdorf suggested it may be beneficial to ask, “Why do we serve in the Church of Jesus Christ?” or “Why are we here at this meeting today?"
Answering that question, he said, “I am here because I desire with all my heart to follow my Master, Jesus Christ. I yearn to do all that He asks of me in this great cause. I hunger to be edified by the Holy Spirit and hear the voice of God as He speaks through His ordained servants. I am here to become a better man, to be lifted by the inspiring examples of my brothers and sisters in Christ, and to learn how to more effectively minister to those in need.
“In short, I am here because I love my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
“I am sure this is your reason too. This is why we are willing to make sacrifices and not just declarations to follow the Savior. This is why we bear with honor His holy priesthood.”
President Uchtdorf assured his listeners that “with patience and persistence, even the smallest act of discipleship or the tiniest ember of belief can become a blazing bonfire of a consecrated life. In fact, that’s how most bonfires begin – as a simple spark.”
But such magnified discipleship cannot happen “if we hide behind personal, dogmatic or organizational facades,” he warned.
“The Church is not an automobile showroom – a place to put ourselves on display so that others can admire our spirituality, capacity or prosperity. It is more like a service center, where vehicles in need of repair come for maintenance and rehabilitation.
“And are we not, all of us, in need of repair, maintenance and rehabilitation? We come to church not to hide our problems but to heal them.”
Priesthood holders have an additional responsibility, President Uchtdorf said, “to ‘feed the flock of God, not by constraint but willingly; not for [personal gain], but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being [ex]amples to the flock’" (1 Peter 5:2-3).
He observed that “the greatest, most capable, most accomplished man who ever walked the earth was also the most humble. He performed some of His most impressive service in private moments, with only a few observes, whom He asked to ‘tell no man’ what He had done" (see Mark 10:17-18).
President Uchtdorf declared, “My dear brethren, this is our high and holy calling – to be agents of Jesus Christ, to love as He loved, to serve as He served, to ‘lift up the hands which hang down and to strengthen the feeble knees,’ (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5) to ‘look after the poor and the needy’ (Doctrine and Covenants 38:35) and to care for the widows and the orphans.”