"Every Member A Missionary"
Missionary work, or preaching the gospel, is one of the three-fold missions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Sharing the gospel can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. One of the greatest miracles to witness is when an individual embraces the true gospel of Jesus Christ, repents of his or her sins, and makes a complete 180 degree turn-around. Many of these great experiences comes to those who serve full-time missions, however, they can also take place for everyone else.
To be effective member missionaries, there are 3 principles that may greatly help:
No. 1 - "Open Your Mouth"
If you are not inclined to speak to strangers, being shy or introverted like myself, this principle can be a great challenge. Even when we have friends or acquaintances that we are comfortable with, talking about the gospel can be frightening, perhaps because we fear rejection or we worry that we may offend someone. Here are a few thoughts on this subject.
In Doctrine and Covenants 24:12, the Lord commands, "And at all times, and in all places, he shall open his mouth and declare my gospel as with the voice of a trump, both day and night. And I will give unto him strength such as is not known among men." This scripture without question applies to the full-time missionaries, however, I feel it may also apply to every member. The Lord is pleased when we open our mouths in sharing the gospel with those around us.
You may wonder, "What should I say?", or "I don't know enough about the gospel to share it. What if they ask me hard questions? How will I answer?". The Lord also counsels you to have faith in Him when he explains, "Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men; For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say. But a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall declare whatsoever thing ye declare in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things. And I give unto you this promise, that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say." (Doctrine and Covenants 100:5-8) Here, the Lord teaches that if we have faith and open our mouths, He will tell us what needs to be said. Also, he commands that when we do talk about the gospel, that we do it in meekness and humility, thus inviting the Holy Ghost to bear record of what we are saying. Remember, it is the power of the Holy Ghost that convinces men and women of the truthfulness of the gospel. As members and as missionaries, we are merely tools in the Lord's hands in spreading forth the gospel. I can remember several experiences, both as a missionary and otherwise, where I felt inspired to say something and I could perceive that it touched the heart of that person I spoke to. We do need to listen to the promptings of the Spirit and let our fears put it aside.
Fear is the opposite of faith. Shakespeare once wrote, "Doubt is a thief that robs us of what might have been." If we doubt, if we fear, how will we know what might have been had we not tried. In Doctrine and Covenants 60:2-3, the Lord chastens, "But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them. And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have." What are we afraid of? In our American culture, it may be especially harder to open up to other people because in general we are a closed society. Our culture has separated church and state. We're not allowed to talk about God in public, or pray or worship in public places. I spent 2 years in Southern Mexico as a missionary and their culture is much more open. It seemed everyone believed in God and openly admitted it. They were people of great faith and they were also very friendly, greeting strangers as they passed by. It was a little easier to talk about religion there, but the opportunities still exist here in the U.S.A. "For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words—Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble." (Doctrine and Covenants 3:7-8) Our God is with us! If we will have courage and demonstrate our faith in Him by opening our mouths and talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ, He will support us.
Moroni taught that he spoke "with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear" (Moroni 8:16). What is perfect love? It is the love of Christ. "And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.....Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:45, 47-48).
For those of us who feel inadequate or unprepared, let us remember the story of Enoch. Enoch, who may be one of the most righteous men to have lived on the Earth, was called to preach the gospel of repentance. "And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am angry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off; And for these many generations, ever since the day that I created them, have they gone astray, and have denied me, and have sought their own counsels in the dark; and in their own abominations have they devised murder, and have not kept the commandments, which I gave unto their father, Adam. Wherefore, they have foresworn themselves, and, by their oaths, they have brought upon themselves death; and a hell I have prepared for them, if they repent not." (Moses 6:27-30) And here was Enoch's reply: "And when Enoch had heard these words, he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?" (Moses 6:31) It seems that Enoch also felt inadequate. But the Lord comforted him by saying, "Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good. Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you. Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me." (Moses 6:32-34). The same counsel can be applied towards us. The Lord is with us, and He will justify our words.
Perhaps the most powerful tool we have is our own testimonies. There can be no defense against a strong testimony. Share it willingly and openly. Before we were born, there was a war in heaven where Satan was cast out. I used to think that this war was fought with swords and shields but in reality the weapons we used against Satan and his followers were our testimonies. In Revelations 12:9-11 it mentions, "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." Moreover, the Lord explains that our testimonies are written in heaven and that He'll forgive us of our sins if we share them. "Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you." (Doctrine and Covenants 62:3)
I can think of countless personal examples, both good and bad, of "opening my mouth". One in particular which I experienced during an impressionable time in my life, occurred in junior high school when I was 14 years old. I knew I was the only LDS member in this particular history class. Our teacher was a very opinionate woman who enjoyed sharing it with us. One afternoon, she began the class by asking, "Is anyone in here Mormon?". I froze. I should have humbly raised my hand, but I didn't. One girl next to me whispered, "Aren't you Mormon?" I answered, "Yes. But I want to see what she will say." Partly, this was true. I was curious about her opinion, and I thought if I admitted I was Mormon, she might not share it. But in reality, I was also afraid to be singled out like that in front of my peers. And I was afraid to what issues or questions she might bring up and that I might not be able to defend myself. So, the teacher continued to talk negatively about Mormons and I remember that she spoke on the issue of polygamy. The moment passed and the opportunity was lost to shed a positive light on the Church.
Another personal example involved a young man I met soon after my mission who was investigating the Church. I met him through his girlfriend who was an acquaintance of mine. He had been receiving the discussions and I remember trying to resolve some concerns of his, when ultimately I directed him to ask God. Well, I must have said something right because when he was baptized, he asked that I confirm him a member and give him the gift of the Holy Ghost.
No. 2 - Be A Good Example
Of all the principles of missionary work this is perhaps the most important. Within the LDS church, members realize that we are not perfect and perhaps we are more forgiving of each other than non-members. However, it would seem that non-members judge the Church by it's members...and maybe they should. The Lord explained that we should know his prophets "by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). Then you should expect that you would know the true church of Christ by the fruits of its members. Alma, in the Book of Mormon, also taught that "the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fall in its progress." (Alma 4:10) My wife is a teacher at a local high school, and she brings home shocking stories of our youth who are setting bad examples by breaking the Word of Wisdom, being dishonest, disobeying the law of chastity, and so forth. Some non-member students have mentioned that being Mormon doesn't mean anything because they are being just as bad as everyone else. I recently bumped into a friend from high school who played football at Washington State. He said that he was shocked to hear some of the profanity and insults that came from the BYU fans and players. One 91 year old woman who I was treating as a patient learned that I am Mormon and she asked if I was faithful to my wife. She later explained that when first moved to Las Vegas in the 1950's, that many of the cocktail waitresses she knew at work were dating Mormon men who were married. Another acquaintance of mine from work told me that when he dates Mormon girls, it takes him about 2 weeks before he has sex with them. I'm shocked! I try to explain that these people are not doing what they have been taught.
Alma taught, "...establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls." (Alma 17:11). Just as a bad example can damage or even ruin one's perception of the church, so can a good example uplift the church. That same football-player friend will always remember how I consistently declined to drink alcohol, or smoke marijuana, or have sex with girls. My good example will be in his mind forever. An example, being good or bad, can be a powerful thing!
In Doctrine and Covenants 1:30-31, the Lord explains that he is pleased with the church as a whole, but not with its member individually..."And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually - For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance."
In the New Testament, Christ commands, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16).
The examples we set as parents are perhaps the most powerful. I will never forget the example my father set and continues to exemplify in his dedication to the church and his responsibilities therein. As parents, we must practice what we preach. Our children emulate us in everyway. So, let us be good examples!
No. 3 - Be Prepared
Being prepared for missionary opportunities is a lifelong pursuit. We must continue to learn the gospel and strengthen our testimonies. In regards to opening our mouths as mentioned above, the Lord has counseled "if ye are prepared ye shall not fear." (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30). We must also study the scriptures and the words our the modern-day prophets. In Doctrine and Covenants 11:21-22, we are taught, "Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men. But now hold your peace; study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, and also study my word which shall come forth among the children of men, or that which is now translating, yea, until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation, and then shall all things be added thereto." Strengthen your testimony by sharing it. Pray continually. How many of you have a Book of Mormon ready to give out? Do you keep one in your car of your briefcase? Remember, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and the conversion process always begins with the Book of Mormon. Get a Book of Mormon ready if you don't have one nearby. Write you testimony in it. Highlight the passages that are important to you.
A personal example of where I was not prepared occurred while I visited my relatives in Brazil. My mom is the only Mormon in her family where they are all Seventh-Day Adventists. One evening, as was a tradition in their family, they sat in a circle and one by one recited scriptures from the Bible that they had memorized. I was to be the last one. I honestly didn't have many scriptures memorized, and the few that I knew were used by someone else in the circle. I thought how perfect it would be to recite a scripture from the Book of Mormon, but I didn't have it with me. I left it in the United States. And so, when my turn came, I was so flustered for not have anything memorized, I refused to speak. I think I embarrassed my mom and I was actually ashamed because I was a returned missionary and should have known the scriptures better. The opportunity to shed a good light on the Church was passed because I was unprepared.
The Commitment Pattern
Full-time missionaries are taught what is called the Commitment Pattern. It is a very effective tool used to help people change their lives and "commit" to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. This pattern can also be used in everyday life of work or school, and more importantly, in sharing the gospel.
Many of us have spent a great deal of time building relationships of trust with our co-workers, neighbors, and friends and family members. The tricky part is helping them to feel and recognize the Spirit. Follow the promptings of the Spirit to talk about the gospel. The environment or setting is usually important in feeling the Spirit. A loud television or radio, a rock concert, inappropriate movies....such things may be obstacles to feeling the Spirit. Look for those opportunities when there is peace and then share the gospel and help someone feel the Spirit. Learn to recognize those opportunities and take advantage of them.
Galations 5:22 helps to explain what it feels like when the Spirit of God is testifying to us..."...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.." For help on presenting the message, open your mouth and be prepared (see below). Find out what their concerns may be and help to resolve them as the Spirit indicates.
When you invite, phrase your question to get a "yes" or "no" answer. "Will you come to church with me?" or "Will you read and pray about the Book of Mormon?".
Follow-up by finding that opportunity again to talk about your last discussion...and make it sooner than later preferably.
Throughout this whole process you are resolving concerns, following the promptings of the Spirit, having a prayer in your heart at all times as you seek the Lord's guidance.
Who Will Listen?
Many times in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord refers to those who are ready for the gospel. In Doctrine and Covenants 4:4 he says, "For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul." He also refers to these people who have been prepared for the message as "His elect", "And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts". (Doctrine and Covenants 29:7). All missionaries past and present will tell you of an experience where they met someone so prepared for the message of the gospel. Many missionaries refer to them as "golden". I remember one man I met while giving the 2nd discussion, which always included the baptismal challenge. Now, this man was very educated and knew the scriptures very well. It was our experience that these individuals needed more time for the discussions because they liked to argue and debate. So instead of challenging him for baptism in one week from that date as we usually did, we decided to challenge him to be baptized in 2 weeks from that date. When we presented the challenge, he asked why he had to wait 2 weeks to be baptized and he asked if he could be baptized in one week. We were shocked and felt somewhat guilty for our lack of faith. When we taught him about the Word of Wisdom, he gave up coffee immediately which was no easy feat since it had been drinking it for 40+ years. His example led to the baptism of his 2 sons. His wife, already a member, became active again. And a whole family was brought unto Christ!
What is the benefit of sharing the gospel? It could not be explained better as it is in Doctrine and Covenants 18:10-16: " Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance. And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth! Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people. And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!"
I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the true church of Jesus Christ. Knowing this makes me happy, and following the teachings I'm given and obeying the commandments makes me happier. Sharing this knowledge with those who are willing to listen is even more joyful.