NOTE: Adapted from my notes for a talk I delivered 17 July 2016 in the Provo YSA 101st Ward. I have attempted to recreate more or less what I shared, with some additional material that I didn’t get to.
I spoke a couple of months ago, so I guess that means it was either so bad that I needed to try again, or so good that they commissioned a sequel and got it right into production. We’ll begin with a quote:
“There is neither man or woman in this Church who is not on a mission. That mission will last as long as they live, and it is to do good, to promote righteousness, to teach the principles of truth, and to prevail upon themselves and everybody around them to live those principles that they may obtain eternal life.” —Brigham Young (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 322)
In other words, your mission, should you choose to accept it is to be a missionary your entire life, to share the Gospel with those around you and are close to. Now, I know that missionary work is one of those topics that tends to induce lots of sighing and eye-rolling because it means that we have more things to do and none of us like having more to do. In addition to all of that, it’s hard. And awkward and weird.
I sent out a survey to all of you, which you may know—at least 26 of you know about it—and one of the questions I asked was “why don’t you do missionary work?”. I thought I’d try to address some of the most common responses, since I think they apply more broadly than to just the 26 people that took the survey.
The top responses were:
- FEAR (53.8%)
- I’m in Provo (53.8%)
- Lack of Time (46.2%)
- “I don’t want to be that guy/girl/person” (42.3%)
I’m going to spend most of my time with the first and last, since I think being afraid to be that person falls under the fear category. And perhaps I should explain what I mean by that, in case you’re baffled by my ambiguous allusions to seemingly specific stereotypes. That person is like a super-Jesusy zealot that posts 7, 8, 9, 10 times a day on Facebook in Portuguese and English, but only scriptures and seems to have dedicated their life to continuing to preach to the people of Brazil from their computer and do nothing else. You are irritated by this person and you’re a member that chose to come to Provo and probably served a mission yourself, so you can’t imagine the irritation that people feel who aren’t members.
I grew up in Idaho, with about a 40-60, member-other split. Those that weren’t members often had a pretty antagonistic relationship to the Church, like a gang war, constantly fighting over turf, but far less violent. I had a decent spread of friends across the spectrum, and my non-member friends would occasionally bash the Church and I’d pipe up, “Hey, guys, I’m a Mormon…” and they’d always be like, “Oh, yeah, Conor, but you’re not like those other Mormons…”, which I never quite knew what to do with. But, what I’m saying is it comes pretty naturally to me to be the exception to the rule, not that I don’t follow rules, though that’s definitely what that sounded like…
Anyway, with all that in mind, here’s a couple quotes that provide a quick response to concerns 2 and 3:
First, from Harold B. Lee:
“Missionary work is but home teaching to those who are not now members of the Church, and home teaching is nothing more or less than missionary work to Church members.” (Improvement Era, Dec. 1964, 1078)
So, anyone that has home and visiting teaching assignments has missionary work responsibilities. Which means that everyone in Provo has quite a bit of missionary work to do.
Second, from Gordon B. Hinckley:
“We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39). Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere.” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 94; or Ensign, May 1995, 71)
That’s a prophet of God suggesting that his obligation to share the Gospel is as serious as ours, which means I probably need to take my missionary work obligations far more seriously than I do.
And Courtney provided some easy, simple ways for us all to share the Gospel online that would take hardly any time at all [Note: Courtney spoke about sharing personal inspirational stories, quotes from talks or videos with personal application, using Instagram, C.S. Lewis quotes, etc.].
Now, on to Fear and some of the other subsets of that, but first a quote that I always think of when I hear “fear” mentioned and has probably run through the heads of some of you already, so I’ll just get it out there:
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
Figured since I quoted Star Wars last time this talk wouldn’t be complete without a Star Wars reference. The application here is that if we fear missionary work, eventually we’ll get angry as it is mentioned (which happens frequently) and that anger will build and fester until it transforms into hatred and once you’re hating missionary work, you won’t be fulfilling your responsibilities and then you’ll suffer and nobody wants that.
So, some fears that came to mind that prevent me from doing missionary work when I should:
- We have questions ourselves, so how can we help others?
- Being that person
- Losing friends, family, etc.
- Sound dumb, be judged, etc.
These are legitimate concerns and I think the likelihood of them happening increases when missionary work is done poorly and with the wrong spirit. They may still happen if you do everything in your power to be understanding and loving. Some of these are related and intertwined, and I think the solution, broadly speaking, is two-fold: Love and Authenticity.
Time for a scripture about dealing with fear1 John 4:18:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”
I think love here can take at least 3 forms: Love for the People that you are sharing the Gospel with, Love for The Gospel itself, and a Love for Talking about The Gospel. All of these are different, but related things. And I think identifying which of them resonates with you and which do not, may help you in figuring out ways that you can do more missionary work and why certain approaches may work or may not work for you.
Now for some words from Christ to his Apostles in John 13:35:
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Of all the things that Christ chose to give his disciples as the visible marker of their discipleship, he chooses their exhibition of love to each other and to all those around them. This relates I think, to Matthew 22:37-40:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Everything depends on love. That’s the core.
Elder Russel M. Ballard taught:
“[A]s powerful as our message is, it cannot be imposed or forced upon people. It can only be shared—heart to heart, soul to soul, spirit to spirit—by being good neighbors and by caring and showing love.” “The Essential Role of Member Missionary Work”, April GenConf 2003
There’s only so much we can do. And it needs to be done with love. This idea is expressed nicely by Adam Miller, a Mormon philospher:
“The idea of Christ’s love is not the thing at stake, Christ’s love is. It’s true that Jacob defends the idea of Christ’s love with both force and effect, but it’s also true that we hardly see him enacting that love.” (Future Mormon, pg 27)
I’ve definitely been guilty of this. Where rather than embodying God’s Love, which I’m allegedly trying to share with someone, I become far more concerned with the idea of God’s Love, with some doctrinal particulars or messy bits of detail that are likely less significant in the long run. And definitely are when they prevent me from showing the very Love that I purport to be the messenger of.
I think that we can do this if we share the Gospel authentically. A lot of these thoughts are inspired by a devotional Scott Swofford gave in 2014, “Both Feet Forward,” that I shared on the ward Facebook page recently-ish and you may have read then, before, watched live, or otherwise experienced, and if not, you should. The main idea is that we frequently limit ourselves to sharing the Gospel with only our best foot forward, which makes us look suspiciously perfect and eerily unreal, and therefore difficult to reach for people, so we need to share with both feet forward, not that we need to confess our sins on Facebook because that’s probably not going to convert someone, but might, but that we need to be real.
I would chat about theological issues last summer while I was working in England with Bobby a Christian Scientist. He shared an idea with me that I think is valuable to this discussion—that sharing beliefs is like sharing a favorite movie/book/tv show, or my roommates sharing Pokemon Go with me.
I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and think everyone should watch it (including all of you), but my love for it isn’t diminished by anyone refusing to watch or not liking it if they do. Same with the Gospel. It’s something we love and want to share with others.
In other words, when we do missionary work, we’re delivering their letter to Hogwarts, their invitation to join the Avengers, the revelation that they have The Force, the request to board at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, we’re Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys helping Peter Banning remember who he truly is—Peter Pan.
It’s important for us to incorporate it into who we are, which will obviously look different to different people. One of the ways I do that and have had lots of success is through humor. Here’s some examples from my Instagram account that I think are illustrative of the tone I take sometimes in incorporating the joy the Gospel brings me into my life (and showcasing some of the more peculiar aspects of being a peculiar people).
[NOTE: I described these posts during my talk, but figured I’d take advantage of the change in medium and just insert them here so you can see it in its original glory, rather than creating a mental image.]
Likely would not be found in the WRTG 150 Instructor guide of another University…
Though unfortunately for my beard, I am returning to BYU for my Master’s in English, so, it’ll depart in August once again…
I eat fruit snacks every Sunday (used to be during Elder’s Quorum, but now it’s during Ward Council because that used to be lunch time and I gotta eat something). A birthday present from my Mom, which is probably a hint you picked up on if you’ve seen Johnny Lingo…
In addition to posting humorous things on Instagram, I blog weekly and have for the past two and a half years or so [hey readers!] and have had lots of positive response to that from people in the Church, on the fringes of the Church, and even friends outside the Church, though I thought initially that much of my writing would be incoherent for a non-Mormon audience.
Whatever you do, make it yours. If some of you used humor the way I do, your friends would probably just be baffled because that’s not you. All I know is what’s worked for me and wanted to provide a possible alternative to show unconventional ways to wear your Mormonism on your sleeve, as it were.
- Love the people.
- Love the Message.
- Live the Gospel daily in a visible way.
- Share it like you do everything else you love.
- Be Mormon, but don’t forget to be You.
And some verses to close D&C 18:10, 15-16:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God…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’ve felt the joy of bringing people closer to Christ and believe that we can all feel that joy when we strive to do so. It can be frightening and awkward and difficult, but I think is an endeavor worth embarking on. I know that God lives and loves me and all of you and that we are meant to be ambassadors of that love to those around us and that that is true missionary work.
President Thomas S. Monson has taught: “Missionary work is difficult. It taxes one’s energies, it strains one’s capacity, it demands one’s best effort. … No other labor requires longer hours or greater devotion or such sacrifice and fervent prayer” (“That All May Hear,” Ensign, May 1995, 49).
Alma 29:1-2 “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.”
Ursula K. Le Guin: “Nothing is yours. It is to use. It is to share. If you will not share it, you cannot use it.” The Dispossessed
Charlotte Brontë: “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”
Elder Orson F. Whitney: “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1928, 59).
Full Quote from Elder Russel M. Ballard: “We are not just trying to get people to join our Church; we are sharing with them the fulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. But as powerful as our message is, it cannot be imposed or forced upon people. It can only be shared—heart to heart, soul to soul, spirit to spirit—by being good neighbors and by caring and showing love. We need to be watchful for one another and reach out to one another. And as we do so, we will radiate the gospel in our own lives, and it will radiate to the people the blessings the gospel has to offer.”, “The Essential Role of Member Missionary Work”, April GenConf 2003
“Sometimes you got to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.” The Good Dinosaur