Want to Prepare Your Child to Serve a Mission? Teach Repentance
Contributed By the Young Men General Presidency and Board
- Repentance denotes a change of mind and change of heart.
- By consistently repenting, missionaries can better help others repent as well.
- Without a desire to change, we only change habits without changing hearts.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” —John 14:15
Recently, one of our board members—Brother Mark Pendleton—was at a breakfast with several stake presidents and stake leaders, during which a sincere father asked a question:
“What do you feel is the most important thing I can do to help my son prepare to serve a mission?” the father asked.
Because Brother Pendleton works in the Missionary Department, he often gets questions. Usually the questions are more general and tend to focus on various topics such as mission preparation classes, obtaining a job, going off to college, how to create outlets for stress, turning weaknesses into strengths, and helping young people be able to do hard things and not get discouraged when things don’t go their way. The list is expansive, and there has been much written and spoken on the subject of mission preparation.
Without hesitation, the response given to this man was: “Teach him how to repent.”
The father wasn’t prepared for this answer and appeared a little confused.
Missionaries’ purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement and repentance.
Preach My Gospel states, “As your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ grows, your desire to share the gospel will increase” (p. 2). Missionary work is helping people to repent, and in order to do that, a missionary has to know what it feels like to repent so he or she can help others know how to repent. Preach My Gospel also states, “We must understand what an investigator must feel in order to receive conversion” (p. 92).
Our youth need to understand that repentance denotes a change of mind and a fresh view about God and about oneself. Then repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God and a renunciation of sin. Without this there can be no progress in the things of the soul’s salvation. If a young person understands that true change is repentance, he or she will look at missionary work very differently.
Brother Pendleton gave the father the following example of how understanding repentance would help a missionary. If a missionary were teaching repentance regarding the Sabbath day and attending church, the approach could be something like this: the missionary would teach the doctrine of the Sabbath from the scriptures, including the promised blessings, then ask follow-up questions:
“Would you like these blessings in your life?”
“What might you do differently on the Sabbath in order to qualify for these blessings?”
A missionary would then bear testimony from his or her own personal experience of how his or her life has been changed and blessed through such observance. He or she would invite them today to seek Heavenly Father’s help in finding ways to keep His day holy. The missionary would encourage them to pray, sharing their desires, asking forgiveness for not honoring Him, and offering their intent to be better. At that point they would kneel down and begin the process of change.
The father was then asked, “Do you think the investigator will be more apt to attend church and continue to attend with this approach?”
This good father began to see that without teaching repentance and understanding what it feels like to repent, the missionary might focus more on a number and miss the sweet experience of helping someone repent and change and progress toward conversion.
The conversation with this father ended with this statement: “There is nothing more important for your missionary’s preparation than to help him come to know the Savior and His Atonement in this special way. Help him see repentance in a new light as a blessing and privilege and a positive lifelong experience as he learns to take the gospel from the mind deep down into his heart.” The father nodded with grateful appreciation.
Often our youth look at repentance in a negative way, believing it's only used for the most serious of sins. This approach to repentance may include a period of time not partaking of the sacrament and keeping oneself completely free from the sin for six months or a year. Though this is part of repentance, if the focus becomes a box to check off, or ticking off the months in place of turning one’s heart and will to God, then there might be a change of habit with little change of the heart.
We hope that every young person works on changing their heart by repenting every day. “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). One of the most precious commandments is to repent of all our sins. Repentance is the only way to return and live with our Heavenly Father.
Brothers Douglas D. Holmes, Stephen W. Owen, and M. Joseph Brough of the Young Men General Presidency.