Understanding Doctrine Is Key to Missionary Work
By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News staff writer
Opportunities and challenges arise from the intersection of agency, opposition, and faith in missionary work, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“These doctrines are relatively easy to understand individually, but sometimes when taken together it may seem like they collide,” said Elder Cook. “It is essential that missionaries understand the interrelationship between these doctrines. They can then teach all three and achieve the unity of doctrine that is expected of emissaries of the Savior. The combined impact of these doctrines can be very profound.”
Speaking at the Seminar for New Mission Presidents, Elder Cook addressed each doctrine individually.
Elder Cook called agency the ability to choose and act. “It is essential in the plan of salvation,” he said. “Without agency we could not learn, progress, or choose to follow the Savior.” He said in the premortal Council in Heaven the Father’s plan included agency as an essential element.
“We cannot blame circumstances or others for a decision to act contrary to God’s commandments,” he said. “We are also responsible and accountable to God for how we develop Christlike attributes, talents, and abilities, and we are responsible for how we utilize the time that is allotted to us in this existence.”
Elder Cook noted that the doctrine of opposition is closely related to and sometimes viewed as part of the doctrine of agency. “But because opposition often comes from outside sources or third parties, it is helpful to view it separately,” he said. “This is especially true as opposition relates to missionary work.”
Two scriptures clearly set forth the doctrine of faith, said Elder Cook. “The Apostle Paul taught, ‘Faith is the [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11:1). Alma said it this way: ‘If ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true’ (Alma 32:21). For Latter-day Saints faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Elder Cook said a review of the scriptures on the blessings of faith as it relates to missionary work is truly inspiring. In the Book of Mormon alone some missionary blessings of faith include spiritual manifestations, prayers answered, knowledge obtained, a change of heart achieved, miracles performed, healing received, peace provided, the church formed, and salvation promised.
“However, ultimately investigators have the moral agency to accept or reject the doctrine of Christ,” he said. “Doctrine and Covenants 10:53 makes it clear that the Lord will not establish His Church, even though the missionaries do everything right, if the people harden their hearts. Investigators can reject what is taught.”
He told the new mission presidents that their goal in overcoming opposition and the hardening of hearts will be to teach doctrine that builds faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in the missionaries.
Elder Cook shared an experience he had as a young missionary while trying to open a new area and convert enough members to create a branch. There was great opposition and a negative newspaper article. Yet, with divine direction, the young missionaries succeeded in finding families that could lead the future branch.
Elder Cook said the experience provided invaluable lessons:
· “I felt blessed with a vision of what the Lord wanted to have happen in that new branch in establishing His Church.
· “I realized the power of humbly arriving at a plan that included goals and objectives to achieve this vision.
· “I experienced the spiritual blessing of petitioning God for assistance in accomplishing His purposes.
· “I discovered that opposition can be a blessing.
· “I learned the necessity of responding to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
· “I understood the power and influence that priesthood and auxiliary leaders contribute to the work of salvation.”
Elder Cook said how missionaries ultimately feel about their missions is often determined by how goals and planning are utilized.
Two extremes relating to missionary goals were a problem prior to new guidance from Preach My Gospel, he said. “First, from time to time instead of focusing missionaries on building wards and branches and helping the Lord establish His Church, some missions have focused exclusively on baptisms. … It must also be acknowledged that at the other end of the spectrum before Preach My Gospel, some mission presidents felt uneasy about providing even a vision of what a successful missionary is trying to accomplish, and some recoiled from any form of goal setting and the planning required to achieving goals.”
Mission presidents who learn to assist missionaries with goal setting, planning, and accountability will not only help many people receive the restored gospel and build wards and branches, but will also bless the missionaries throughout their lives.
“Our ultimate goal, of course, is to have converted, consecrated members who receive baptismal and temple covenants and renew them by partaking of the sacrament weekly. Baptisms that don’t establish the Church with strong wards and branches and don’t lead to covenants will not accomplish Father in Heaven’s purposes for His children.”
Goal setting and planning are acts of faith, Elder Cook said.
“How do you help investigators build faith?” he questioned. “When you invite investigators to make a commitment, you are not only challenging them to repent, but also you are inviting them to attain their own testimony.
“The power of preaching the word should never be underestimated. … But invitations to read the Book of Mormon, to pray and ask God about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, to attend church and experience the sacred nature of the sacrament, will allow investigators to obtain their own spiritual confirmation.”
He told the congregation to not be afraid of opposition.
“Help the missionaries understand how essential their own testimonies are in building faith in those they are teaching,” he said. “The combination of their powerful teaching and inspiring investigators to obtain their own testimony will allow them to have more success.”
Elder Cook said missionary work has its greatest effect as people make and keep the commitment to stay active in the Church all the days of their lives. “It is not enough for people to simply come into the Church. They must come to stay. All of your teaching and invitations must be directed toward this end.”