Missionary Work in the Digital Age

L. Tom Perry

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


 
L. Tom Perry

I am grateful to be with you today. We recognize the missionaries from the Provo Missionary Training Center who are present today. Look at them. Aren't they marvelous? These newly called missionaries are preparing themselves to preach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to every kindred, tongue, and people.

With the lowering of the age to call missionaries, it ushers in a new era for missionary work in the Church. I know for many it has been a life-changing event. We know it was overwhelming to the young men and young women it affected.

Surely the Lord and you parents have reared up a special generation to serve in this special day when the need and the opportunity to teach the gospel has never been greater.

In just a few days, the missionaries seated behind me will be sent to your wards and stakes. As the number of missionaries continues to increase, we have asked, “What will all these missionaries do?” Our answer is that they will be doing the same things that missionaries have always done; they will follow our Savior, Jesus Christ, and preach His restored gospel.

Mission presidents hold the keys to preside over and lead their assigned missions. The stake president holds the keys for missionary work in his stake. The bishop holds the keys to preside over his ward mission. They must coordinate and work together, united in bringing missionary work forward in this now digital age. The bishop will exercise his keys with the ward council to identify and teach part-member families and their families and friends and less-active members and their families and friends.

The message they will share—that of the Atonement of Christ, the Book of Mormon, and living prophets—is the same message that I shared as a young missionary in the Northern States Mission. However, some of the ways in which we shared the message are vastly different from the way you will share it.

When I was a young missionary, we were able to speak with contacts on the street and knock on doors to share the gospel. The world has changed since that time. Now, many people are involved in the busyness of their lives. They hurry here and there, and they are often less willing to allow complete strangers to enter their homes, uninvited, to share a message of the restored gospel. Their main point of contact with others, even with close friends, is often via the Internet. The very nature of missionary work, therefore, must change if the Lord is to accomplish His work of gathering Israel “from the four corners of the earth” (2 Nephi 21:12). The missionaries are now authorized to use the Internet in their proselyting efforts.

During less-productive times of the day—chiefly in the mornings—missionaries will use computers in meetinghouses and other Church facilities to contact investigators and members, work with local priesthood leaders and mission leaders, receive and contact referrals, follow up on commitments, confirm appointments, and teach principles from Preach My Gospel using mormon.org, Facebook, blogs, email, and text messages.

Access to the Internet by missionaries and the use of digital devices will be phased over the next several months and into next year. We will be in touch with you when it is time for your mission and area to use these tools. Of course, safety is paramount in this new frontier of missionary work. Mission presidents will monitor missionaries’ online work to help them remain safe in all they do.

One complaint we often receive from those who are interested in the Church is that they build up the courage to stop by one of our buildings only to find it locked and empty. So we have also decided to open our meetinghouses for guided tours. The missionaries will be at meetinghouses to greet interested individuals and guide them through our houses of worship, where they can be taught and invited in a place that rests under the strong influence of the Spirit.

As missionaries enter this new age where they will use computers in the work of the Lord, we invite the young and the old, the adults, the young adults, the youth, and the children everywhere to join with us in this exciting new work by becoming Facebook friends with the missionaries in your area on your own computers and sharing their gospel messages online and by becoming involved in missionary work yourselves.

Less than one year ago President Monson made the historic announcement lowering the age of missionary service. Since that time, thousands have heeded the prophet’s call, and many more join their ranks each week. As of two days ago, the total number of missionaries serving was 70,274. Never before have had so many missionaries flooded the earth. Of course we need somewhere to put all these wonderful missionaries, and so we created 58 new missions this year—bringing the total number of missions to 405. This year we also called 173 new mission presidents, more than have ever been called at any one time.

Clearly the missionaries and mission presidents have answered the Lord’s call. Now He is calling us, as members, to serve alongside them and Him in His great work.

Just as missionaries must adapt to a changing world, members must also change the way they think about missionary work. In saying this, I wish to make it clear that what we, as members, are asked to do has not changed; but the way in which we fulfill our responsibility to share the gospel must adapt to a changing world.

It was 54 years ago that President McKay called on every member to be a missionary. President Hinckley called on us to use a better way to do missionary work. It is not simply door-to-door tracting. There is a better way. President Monson outlined the better way by members and missionaries working together to preach the gospel in a cooperative endeavor.

These declarations are simply a reiteration of what the Prophet Joseph Smith himself taught: “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 330).

Nothing in these prophetic calls to action has changed. The greatest responsibility any of us has, no matter our calling or station in the Church, is to preach the gospel. This is as true today as it was in Joseph Smith’s day or in any other dispensation of time.

How, then, can we fulfill this call from the Lord to preach the gospel? One way for us to do so is to become one in purpose in missionary work.

Being one in purpose implies more than simply having a common goal. For example, many of our children are interested in the popular sport of soccer. They rapidly learn that kicking the ball through the net scores a point. At first they don’t understand the fine points of the game. They have the same goal, to score a point, yet they are not well organized. They just converge on the ball en masse.

In missionary work, many of us fall into this same category. We think we see and understand the ultimate goal, yet we do not see our purpose in it; we do not know the position, so to speak, that we are to play. Ours is a lack of understanding, not desire.

Ask a full-time missionary here today what their mission purpose is, and I am confident that each would answer emphatically: “My purpose is to ‘invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end’ ” (Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service [2004], 1).

Brothers and sisters, if our greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel, as the Prophet Joseph Smith stated, then our purpose is clear: by virtue of our membership in His Church, each of us is called and commissioned to “invite others to come unto Christ,” whether they be active members, new members, less-active members, or nonmembers. If any around us—nonmembers or less-active members of the Church—have not received “the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, [and] receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost,” we invite them to do so.

This responsibility does not rest solely on the missionaries.

Regarding this misconception, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated: “We can let the missionaries try to do it alone, or we can help them. If they do it alone, they will knock on doors day after day and the harvest will be meager. Or as members we can assist them in finding and teaching investigators” (“Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 107).

It is time for us to understand that we—the neighbors, friends, and family of less-active members and nonmembers—are ideally situated to offer an invitation with the proper love and consideration that the one we invite deserves. We hope the invitation will be accepted, but if it is not, we should continue to demonstrate friendship and Christlike love so that the one we invited knows that the relationship we had nurtured and cultivated was not simply a means to an end but a lasting and true friendship.

Of course the Lord’s Church is a church of order, and this work will move forward under the proper keys. “Under the direction of the bishop, the ward council develops a ward mission plan. The plan should be brief and simple. It should include specific goals and activities to help members of ward priesthood and auxiliary organizations participate in member missionary work, retention, and activation. The ward council coordinates the ward mission plan with the plans of the full-time missionaries assigned to the ward” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church [2010], 5.1.8).

The bishop directs the work of salvation in his ward through the ward council. The ward council identifies those who could receive an invitation to be taught the missionary lessons or to return to full activity and decides who in the ward is best situated to make such an invitation with the proper love and respect.

The elders quorum president and the high priests group leader are members of the ward council. They have the responsibility to identify less-active quorum members and work with the other ward council members in guiding them back into full activity in the Church. The blessing of returning the priesthood to their homes will bless entire families for generations.

The ward council then identifies less-active members who can be visited and taught by the full-time missionaries. The ward mission leader, a member of the ward council, works with the missionaries to fill the missionaries’ planners with the names of those who would most benefit from a visit.

While the full-time missionaries are responsible for teaching investigators, they can and should be accompanied by ward council members, ward missionaries, or members who have a personal connection with the investigators. Members who accompany the missionaries should bear their testimony of the principles taught in the missionary lessons and reinforce these principles between missionary appointments.

The ward council may invite the full-time missionaries to help the ward missionaries home or visit teach less-active members or teach new member lessons. We realize that far too few of our recently baptized members receive the new member lessons.

The Lord desires us to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will” (D&C 58:27).

As I speak about being “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” I am reminded of my young friend Scott. Scott has some difficulties that limit him in some ways, but in other ways he is extraordinary. For example, his boldness as a missionary rivals the sons of Mosiah. I believe that in Scott’s mind it’s unimaginable that everyone isn’t a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that everyone hasn’t read the Book of Mormon and doesn’t have a testimony of its truthfulness.

As Scott was making his first airplane flight alone to meet his brother, a neighbor was seated nearby and heard this conversation.

“Hello, my name is Scott. What is yours?”

His seatmate gave his name.

“What do you do?”

“I am an engineer.”

“That’s nice. Where do you live?”

“In Las Vegas.”

“We have a temple there. Do you know where the Mormon temple is?”

“Yes. It is a beautiful building.”

“Are you a Mormon?”

“No.”

“Well, you should be. It is a great religion. Have you read the Book of Mormon?”

“No.”

“Well you should. It’s a great book.”

No one assigned Scott to speak to his fellow passenger. I don’t even know that he consciously thought of his baptismal covenant “to stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:9); yet his invitation certainly shows that that covenant has become engrained in him.

Likewise, we do not need, nor should we wait for, an assignment to invite our nonmember family, friends, and neighbors to attend church, read the Book of Mormon, or meet with the full-time missionaries. As home and visiting teachers, we do not need to receive an assignment to invite the less-active members we home or visit teach to return to full activity or prepare to receive the blessings of the temple. In addition to the covenant listed above, we also made a sacred covenant to “bear one another’s burdens, that they might be light; … and … to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9).

In fulfilling our responsibility to share the gospel and help our less-active friends and neighbors return to full activity, our efforts will be most effective when we seek inspiration and act out of love—both for the Savior and for the person to whom we administer. For example, consider the prayer that Alma uttered as he and his companions were preparing to teach the Zoramites:

“O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ.

“Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee” (Alma 31:34–35).

Alma recognized that each person he had been sent to teach was a spiritual child of God and his own spiritual brother or sister, and he loved them. After praying, Alma and his companions were filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately went to work.

In relating Alma’s experience and prayer to our day, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Let there be cultivated an awareness in every member’s heart of his own potential for bringing others to a knowledge of the truth. Let him work at it. Let him pray with great earnestness about it. Let each member pray, as did Alma of old” (“Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” 106).

The Lord’s work moves forward when each of us understands and fulfills our purpose. The priesthood will be strengthened, and we will experience profound success in missionary work and reactivation when ward councils, members, and full-time missionaries are united in the Lord’s purpose.

Surely there could not be a more exciting time to be involved in the Lord’s work. In a world where we can so easily share our testimonies, the kingdom of God will surely spread, like the stone in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, until it fills the whole world (see Daniel 2).

May we, both members and missionaries, ever be united in fulfilling our missionary purpose to help others come unto Christ. May we be a light and a beacon to all the earth and particularly to God’s children who are seeking the Lord’s blessings. This is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.