Mission Presidents' Influence Vital to Powerful Gospel Teaching
By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
Mission presidents’ influence on this generation of missionaries will prepare them to be powerful gospel teachers, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve told departing mission presidents and their wives on June 26, the final day of the 2013 seminar for new mission presidents at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
“Your example will provide your missionaries with a pattern for them to follow during their missions as well as for the rest of their lives,” he said. “You will teach them to become spiritual leaders of the people in your mission, which will prepare them to become successful future husbands and wives, parents, and faithful, effective members and leaders of the Church for the rest of their lives.”
Drawing upon experience and observation as a General Authority for the past 37 years, Elder Ballard identified “some common, unifying principles that I think can be helpful to you as you begin your exciting journey to lead your mission.”
The first principle he taught is “to love and respect each and every one of your missionaries not for what they appear to be at the moment but for whom they really are and what they can become.”
He told the presidents and wives that the Lord would place under their stewardship and care “some of the ablest spirits that will ever grace this world.”
“It will be your responsibility to teach them and to help them discover who they really are,” he said. “Once they discover their divine origins and their great destiny and potential, they will be filled with Christlike love and the desire to serve Him throughout their lives.”
Mission presidents cannot change their missionaries, Elder Ballard said. Rather, the presidents must be agents of change, helping their missionaries learn how to become changed by the Spirit.
He likened the presidents to master sculptors and the missionaries to beautiful pieces of marble. He said the sculptor Michelangelo imagined in exquisite detail the figure he wanted to create as being entombed within the marble, and his role was to release the ideal form by removing the excess stone.
The second principle Elder Ballard taught was the importance of deep-rooted faith and love of God.
“Your Christlike desires and your actions motivated by your love of God will set a tone and establish a climate for your mission and your missionaries that will result in unparalleled growth for all those under your stewardship,” he said.
The third principle Elder Ballard taught the departing mission presidents is to serve with the right motivation.
“It is the same desire that motivated the Savior to descend below all things, to overcome all things and become the Redeemer of mankind,” he said.
He noted that missionaries whose desire is aligned with that of the Lord “will be your most trusted leaders. Those who struggle with this will be your greatest challenge. Be patient with those who struggle. Show your love for them. Constantly remind them of their privilege to be true servants of the Lord. Pray for them. Teach them. Teach with them so you can know how to help them present this glorious message effectively. Encourage them to diligently pray to be filled with the love of Christ to have the same desire to serve as the Savior had.”
The fourth principle Elder Ballard taught was to study and be led by the power of the Holy Ghost.
He told of an occasion on his mission to England when he was president of the Nottingham District and a member of the prestigious Midland Debating Society called him to ask if an authority of the Church could make a presentation to a few hundred of their members. He accepted the invitation on behalf of his mission president, Selvoy J. Boyer, but was surprised when President Boyer subsequently wished him luck and simply said, “The Lord bless you, my boy.”
Elder Ballard asked the missionaries in his district to fast and pray with him. Giving the presentation to the society, he shared a simple explanation of the Restoration of the gospel. In response, members of the society individually disagreed with him, stating that Mormons are not Christian.
When it was his turn to respond, Elder Ballard said, “I felt my fear and anxiety turn to confidence as the Holy Ghost began teaching me beyond anything I had ever experienced before. I was actually able to quote scriptures by heart, verses I had read a few times but certainly never memorized. I spoke with clarity and yet with warmth and good will.”
The audience was touched by the Spirit and felt that his answers were reasonable.
The final principle Elder Ballard gave the departing mission presidents was to “build leaders with enduring faith that with God, all things are possible.”
“Heavenly Father wants you and your missionaries to be successful, to grow through love and service, and to be instruments in His hands to bring the message of salvation to His children,” he assured his listeners.