Thursday, November 6, 2008

How to Be an Exemplary Member Missionary

Many of the most faithful members of the church follow misleading principles and practices when they attempt to share the gospel. They sift through the people they know, trying to judge which of them might be “prepared.” They then spend untold hours cultivating friendships with (known in LDS parlance as “working with”) those they have judged to be potentially interested, in the belief that they must “prepare” people before they can be invited. If and when they conclude that they are ready to be invited, their invitation typically focuses on how much the church can do for them – how much happier the church could help them become. The members then feel that they have failed if those they invite do not take the discussions and get baptized. These practices are actually grounded in unscriptural, false principles – but they have been so widely taught and practiced in the church that most members have become intimidated by missionary work.

We have learned that when we follow correct principles in our efforts to share the gospel, however, it becomes a delight. Some of these principles are:

1. We cannot predict in advance – and in fact we should not pre-judge – whether someone might be prepared to accept the gospel. We simply need to share the gospel in an honest and open way with as many people as possible. Some of them will prove to be interested. (Matt 7:1; 13: 54-58; John 10:19-39.)

2. We needn’t transform people into friends before we invite them. We can invite anyone – friends, neighbors, work & school associates, and strangers. When we invite them in a sincere way so that they can feel our love for them, honest people will be flattered, and not offended, by our invitations. (John 4)

3. Most people – especially those who are prosperous and content with their lives – have a deeper need to give service than to receive help. When we invite people to serve with us in doing the work of the Lord, they often feel the Spirit and see the meaning that the gospel can bring to their lives. (Mark 8:35; John 7:17)

4. We succeed when we invite. Our responsibility is to give people a chance to exercise their free agency; and it is their responsibility to make the right choice. If we don’t invite they are not free to choose. This negates the very purpose for which God placed each of us here (2 Ne. 2:16).

5. Often our instincts are to exempt ourselves from the command to share the gospel because we’re so busy serving the Lord in other ways. We indeed are busy. And yet if we are desperate to do what God has commanded, He will bless us with miracles. When He trusts that we’ll invite them, God will put people in our paths. (1 Ne. 3:7)

We’ve found the following practices to be helpful in implementing these principles.

Setting a date

Deadlines help us get things done. Elder Ballard has promised that if we will set a date as a commitment to God that we will to everything we can to find someone for the missionaries to teach, He will bless us to find someone. Setting a date hasn’t worked for many of those who have tried it because they haven’t taken the commitment seriously enough. The promise is that if we will do all that we can, God will bless us to find someone. When we become so desperate that we are fasting frequently, praying daily; and trying to engage in gospel conversations with everyone we meet, it is then and only then that God learns that He can trust us. He will then put people in our path, knowing that when He does, we will invite them.

Use “Mormon words” in conversations

Make a habit of using “Mormon” phrases in your conversations—referring to activities at church, children who are serving missions, experiences you’ve had or lessons you’ve learned in Church assignments, and so on. When we use these phrases, it is as if we are opening a door, inviting the other person to come in and talk about the Church. Most people choose not to come through that door, and that’s fine. But sometimes they’ll ask you about the Church. You can then answer their questions. And if it seems appropriate, you can open a second door—inviting them to a Church meeting or to come to your home so you can tell them more. Most of those you invite will decline, but that’s okay. Some accept. It literally is unpredictable (see principles 1&4 above) – meaning that the more people you invite, the more will accept. Regardless of the outcome, you will find that if they feel your love when you invite them, and if you invite in an honest, straightforward way, they nearly always will express gratitude that you would care enough to invite them.

Make it easy for them to say, “No thanks.”

When we have the opportunity to invite, language like this has become easy and comfortable: “I’ve just had this feeling that I should ask you something, but before I do I want to be sure you feel free to say no to this invitation – because it won’t affect how I feel about you at all. But at some point, if you ever had the interest, I’d love to have you come to our home so we can explain a bit about what makes Mormons like me do what I do. It’s a great organization, and I just thought you might find it interesting.” This makes it easy for disinterested people to decline, and for interested people to accept – so nobody feels awkward.

Instead of just teaching them the gospel, teach them how to learn the gospel, and how to know it is true.

The vast majority of people outside the church do not know how to pray, or how to study the scriptures. Rather than simply teaching them what we think they should be interested in, we’ve found that our concern should first be to teach them how to study the scriptures, and how to pray to know if something is true. To do this, we’ve learned to follow the same process with our investigators that Preach My Gospel (pp. 107-112) recommends for the missionaries when they study the gospel. The missionaries are taught to: 1) Start with a question; 2) Find passages of scripture that will help them formulate answers to their question; 3) Write down their conclusions and feelings, because it forces them to think; and 4) Pray to know if what they wrote, and what they read, are true. Before we started teaching our investigators to follow this process, about one in five of those who accepted an initial meeting with us was baptized. Since we began following this method, about two in five have accepted baptism: The yield has doubled.

People will learn when they’re ready to learn, not when we’re ready to teach them. So when someone has accepted our invitation, we then ask: “Rather than our telling you what we think you should know about our church, could you please come with a list of questions about religion to which you’ve not yet been able to find satisfactory answers?” The missionaries then draw on the lessons in Preach My Gospel to answer their questions. After each lesson we give our friends a “homework” assignment, to read specific chapters in the Book of Mormon from which they can distill answers to two or three of their questions. We ask them to write down their answers, and then teach them how to pray to know if what they wrote, and what they read, are true. At the next lesson we ask them to read their answers to their questions and explain how they derived those answers from the Book of Mormon. We then invite them to bear testimony of what they learned. After they teach us, then we teach them.

You can find additional suggestions for how to be a great member missionary at

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