Ezra Taft Benson, “Keys to Successful Member-Missionary Work,” Ensign, Sep 1990, 2
From an address given by President Ezra Taft Benson to full-time missionaries.
Today the Church is in a period of rapid growth. In fact, many of our major problems are problems of growth. This is a most favorable position. With the restoration of the gospel and the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the kingdom of God has been set up on the earth. The great prophecy of Daniel is being fulfilled. Those living on the earth in these latter days are indeed living in a most thrilling time of history.
Since its small beginning in 1830, the kingdom of God has rolled forth at an amazing rate. From a few members in 1830, the Church has enjoyed growth at an accelerated pace.
Today there are over seven million members. These members are gathered in countries all over the world, and are living proof of the truthfulness of Daniel’s prophecy.
Never has the Church had the opportunity it has today. The Church is the most attractive religious body in the world. Its image has never been as good as it is today! We are known increasingly today for what we are and not for what our enemies have said about us.
It is possible to live in the world and not partake of the sins of the world. We are demonstrating that. That is what the Lord expects of us. This is the day when we should give it all we’ve got. We need to raise our sights and take advantage of the great and unprecedented opportunity which is ours as Latter-day Saints.
People are hungry for an anchor, for something that will give them inner peace and a feeling of security. They can’t find it in the churches of the world today. They cannot find it in our uncertain economic system. In one sense, we live in the worst of times because sin seems to be almost everywhere and is increasing. Never has the devil been so well organized, and never has he had so many emissaries working for him. His thrust seems to be at everything that is good and uplifting and character-building. Particularly his thrust is at the home and family and at our youth. It seems that the basic principles and ideals of the past are being challenged today as never before.
On the other hand, we live in the best of times. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fulness, together with His holy priesthood, to bless our Father’s children. Our message is a world message. The Church is a world organization—the most important organization with the greatest message in all the world. The Lord has commanded us to arise and shine and to be a light unto the world. Yes, He commanded this even during the early days of the poverty of the Church, when members of the Church were being persecuted, their property was being destroyed, and they were being driven from their homes.
Hear what the Lord said in section 115 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Verily I say unto you all: arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations; and that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” (D&C 115:5–6.)
When this was said, the Church was just barely eight years of age. But even earlier, in 1832, the Lord said this to His young Church:
“For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.” (D&C 82:14.)
Yes, I testify to you that the kingdom of God will continue to grow until it fills the whole earth.
The question arises, How can we help to move the work forward? I wish to discuss four proven keys:
First—Strive to Obtain the Spirit
To be successful, you must have the Spirit of the Lord. We have been taught that the Spirit will not dwell in unclean tabernacles. Therefore, one of your first priorities is to make sure your life is in order. The Lord declared, “Be ye clean who bear the vessels of the Lord.”
The Lord has given us His law about teaching His gospel:
“And the Spirit shall be given you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.)
And again the Lord declared:
“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.” (D&C 11:21.)
The sequence of steps to possessing the power of God in teaching the gospel is to first seek to obtain the word, then come understanding and the Spirit, and finally the power to convince.
How do you obtain the Spirit? “By the prayer of faith,” says the Lord. Therefore, you must pray with sincerity and real intent. Pray for increased faith. Pray for the Spirit to accompany your teaching. Ask the Lord for forgiveness. Your prayers must be offered in the same spirit and with the same fervor as were the prayers of Enos in the Book of Mormon.
Surely you are familiar with that inspiring story, so I need not repeat the background. I only want to draw your attention to these verses. Enos testified: “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God before I received a remission of my sins.”
He clarified that wrestle with God for us. Note the fervor in his petition: “My soul hungered … I kneeled down before my maker … I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul … all day long did I cry unto him.” (Enos 1:4; italics added.)
Then Enos testified: “There came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed … wherefore, my guilt was swept away.” (Enos 1:5, 6.)
When he inquired of the Lord how this had been accomplished, the Lord answered him: “Because of thy faith in Christ … thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Enos 1:8; italics added.)
Enos was spiritually healed. Through his mighty supplication to God, he experienced what the faithful of any dispensation can, do, and must experience if they are to see God and be filled with His Spirit. Become acquainted with Enos and the entire Book of Mormon, the greatest book in the world—a new witness for Christ. It is written for us today. This I know.
To obtain the Spirit, you will have to search the scriptures daily. The Book of Mormon tells us about some of the most successful missionaries who have gone forth to preach the gospel—Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni—the four sons of Mosiah. They were men of God who had prepared themselves to do the work. Their example is worthy of emulation. How did they prepare themselves spiritually for the work? You recall that they were converted at the same time as Alma the Younger. They repented of their sins and went on a mission to the Lamanites, which lasted fourteen years.
Following their very successful mission, they met their former missionary companion, the prophet Alma, quite by accident. Mormon accounted for their success in these words: “They had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.” (Alma 17:2; italics added.)
But this was not all the sons of Mosiah did to prepare themselves spiritually. Mormon mentions another vital ingredient accounting for their success: “They had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting.” (Alma 17:3.)
And here are the results of those preparations: “Therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:4; italics added.)
Ammon, one of these great missionaries, testified how thousands of souls may be brought to the Lord: “Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.” (Alma 26:22; italics added.)
The Lord has said that no one can assist with this work who is not humble and full of love. But humility does not mean weakness. It does not mean timidity; it does not mean fear. A man can be humble and fearless. A man can be humble and courageous. Humility is the recognition of our dependence upon a higher power, a constant need for the Lord’s support in His work. Read King Benjamin’s counsel on humility in Mosiah 4:11.
To the humble the Lord has given this promise:
“If men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27.)
It was while I was on my first mission that I discovered the constant need for dependence on the Lord.
I was a young missionary in northern England in 1922. Opposition to the Church became very intense. It became so strong that the mission president asked that we discontinue all street meetings. In some places, tracting was also discontinued.
My companion and I had been invited to travel over to South Shields, on the northwest coast, and speak in the sacrament meeting. In the invitation they said, “We feel sure we can fill the little chapel. Many of the people over here do not believe the falsehoods printed about us. If you’ll come, we’re sure that we’ll have a great meeting.” We accepted.
We fasted and prayed sincerely and went to the sacrament meeting. My companion had planned to talk on the first principles. I had studied hard in preparation for a talk on the Apostasy. There was a wonderful spirit in the meeting. The hall was filled. My companion spoke first and gave an inspirational message. I followed and talked with a freedom I had never experienced before in my life. When I sat down, I realized that I had not mentioned the Apostasy. I had talked on the Prophet Joseph Smith and borne my witness of his divine mission and of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. After the meeting had ended, many people came forward. Several nonmembers said, “Tonight we received a witness that Mormonism is true. We are now ready for baptism.”
This was an answer to our prayers, for we had prayed to say only those things that would touch the hearts of the investigators.
Learn to be dependent on the Lord for your success.
We must develop love for people. Our hearts must go out to them in the pure love of the gospel, in a desire to lift them, to build them up, to point them to a higher, finer life that eventually will lead to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. Emphasize the fine qualities of people. Love them as children of God.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “God does not look on sin with allowance, but when men have sinned, there must be allowance made for them.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 240–41.) That is another way of saying that God loves the sinner, but condemns the sin.
We will not be effective until we learn to have sympathy for all of our Father’s children. People can feel when love is extended to them. Many yearn for it. When we sympathize with their feelings, they in turn will reciprocate and extend goodwill to us. We will have made a friend. And as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Whom can I teach but my friends?”
Yes, love the people.
If we want to keep the Spirit, we must work.
There is no greater exhilaration or satisfaction than to know, after a hard day of work, that we have done our best.
I have often said that one of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.
We must not give Satan an opportunity to discourage us. Here again, work is the answer. Missionary work brings joy, optimism, and happiness. The Lord has given us a key by which we can overcome discouragement:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28–30; italics added.)
In the Savior’s time, the purpose of a yoke was to get oxen pulling together in a united effort. Our Savior has a great cause to move forward. He has asked all of us to be equally yoked together to move His cause forward. It requires not only a united effort; it requires complete dependence on Him. As He said to His early Apostles, “Without me ye can do nothing.”
Our work will be light and easy to bear if we will depend on the Lord and work.
Don’t worry about being successful. We are going to be successful—there is no doubt about it. The Lord has sent us to earth at the time of harvest. He does not expect us to fail. He has called no one to this work to fail. He expects us to succeed. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 113.)
We are to testify of the greatest event that has transpired in this world since the resurrection of the Master—the coming of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ to the boy prophet. We are to testify of a new volume of scripture—a new witness for Christ. May God bless us to testify effectively, to bear a strong testimony to the truthfulness of this glorious message.
What does the Lord really expect of us? The year before the Church was organized, He answered this question in a revelation to Joseph Smith, Sr., through his son, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.:
“Now behold a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.” (D&C 4:1–2.)
We will all be expected to stand before him at the last day. John, on the Isle of Patmos, said that he “saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books. (Rev. 20:12.)
On that important day, I have a feeling the question will not be so much “What office did you hold?” The real question will be, “Did you serve me with all your heart, might, mind, and strength?” God bless us that we may serve so that we will never have any serious regrets, that we will know we have been magnified even beyond our own natural talents.
I bear witness that God lives. He hears and answers prayers. Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of the world, our Advocate with the Father. These two Heavenly Beings did in very deed appear to Joseph Smith.
I bear witness that this is the Lord’s Church—even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He presides over it and is close to His servants. He is not an absentee Master. Of that you can be assured.
I testify to you that we have the answers to the problems of the world. We know where we’re going. We’re on our way, and the Lord is directing His work through a prophet of God with special witnesses bearing testimony to the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the God of this world, under the Father. We cannot fail in this work. He will magnify us even beyond our natural talents. Of this I bear humble testimony, based on personal experience as well as on observation and familiarity with the promises of the Lord.
I bear witness to the truth of the declaration of the Prophet Joseph Smith made in 1842 to Mr. John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat:
“Our missionaries are going forth to different nations. … The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, til it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” (History of the Church, 4:540.)
Ideas for Home Teachers
Some Points of Emphasis.You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussions:
1. Never has the Church had the opportunity for such rapid growth as it has today.
2. People are hungry for something to give them inner peace and a sense of security.
3. The Lord expects us to arise and be a light unto the world.
4. We may do this if we strive to obtain the Spirit, acquire humility, love people, and work diligently.
5. We need not worry about being successful. The Lord has sent us to earth to harvest souls at this time. We are going to be successful.
1. Relate your feelings about sharing the gospel with others. Ask those you visit to share their feelings.
2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum leader?
[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson^ Back to top