Sharing the Gospel Today: A Conversation with Presidents Paul H. Dunn and Hartman Rector, Jr.

Paul H. Dunn and Hartman Rector Jr.


Some months ago, the First Presidency announced that the First Council of the Seventy, under the direction of the Council of the Twelve, will administer the missionary program of the Church. It was also announced that the missionary program would soon be further correlated and find greater applicability at stake, ward, district, and branch levels.

Serving as spokesmen for the First Council of the Seventy to discuss these matters are President Paul H. Dunn, managing director of stake missions, and President Hartman Rector, Jr. They have been given assignments that involve overseeing the missionary work of the Church at stake and ward levels. Both brethren have had many years experience in missionary service.

Q: To begin, how would you describe the missionary program of the Church?

President Dunn: Missionary work in the Church is church-directed, stake-organized, ward-operated, and individually or family performed. In other words, the scriptures indicate that the Church must give direction, and the purpose of the First Council of the Seventy is to give that direction, under guidance from the Council of the Twelve, to the total missionary effort.

Until now we have tried to reach two or three billion people with just 15,000 or 16,000 full-time missionaries, and it just isn’t mathematically possible. Now we are going to try to get every member directly involved so that the missionary efforts of three million members can complement the work of our full-time missionaries.

The Church provides the motivation, encouragement, and information to assist the members in doing what the Lord has asked. Organization comes at the stake level with the coordination of full-time and stake missionary work. Then, with the ward mission leader, under the direction of the bishop, leading at the ward level, the members find new contacts, attempt to share the gospel with their neighbors, and lay the groundwork for the full-time and stake missionaries to teach.

Q: How is the Church making it possible for us to share the gospel with our neighbors?

President Dunn: There are three groups of people who assist members in sharing the gospel with their neighbors: full-time missionaries, stake missionaries, and members of seventies quorums. Heretofore, there has been a tendency for each of these groups to go its separate way—in other words, we have had three different organizations all with similar goals. The new emphasis, as we like to call it, is to harmonize, to bring them into correlation.

President Rector: We propose to do missionary work through the basic correlation unit of the Church—the priesthood executive committee. Three fundamental facts are involved in correlation: the recognition that (1) the family is the most important unit in time and all eternity, (2) all the programs of the Church exist for the benefit of the families of the Church, and (3) home teachers, under the direction of priesthood quorum leaders and the bishop, carry the full program of the Church to the families. We propose to do missionary work through the priesthood.

Q: Is there any way, with the new emphasis, that the Church can influence and assist or better help the individual member to fulfill his responsibility to share the gospel?

President Dunn: For the first six months of this year the General Authorities are giving direction to all stakes on how this work might be accomplished. It will be a matter of training stake presidents, high councilors, bishops, seventies, and others so that they in turn can train the membership.

For instance, the bishop, by right of his calling, is chairman of missionary work as well as welfare, genealogy, and home teaching. It is his responsibility to encourage every member to fulfill the divine injunction to be a finder and a fellowshiper. That process begins in the ward priesthood executive meeting and involves consultation with the ward mission leader—who is president of the seventies quorum, wherever possible—and high priests group leaders and elders quorum presidents. It reaches to home teachers, who are to encourage their families to find potential members. That’s where the converts will be made. As specialists in missionary work, seventies have the responsibility of teaching the other priesthood leaders under the direction of the bishop how to find families, as well as finding families themselves. These priesthood leaders (high priests group leaders and elders quorum presidents) then instruct their own respective quorum members, including the home teachers. Seventies can be called upon by these quorum leaders to assist in the missionary instruction, but at all times the instruction should be under the direction of the respective quorum leader.

Missionary work will be achieved by working through the priesthood quorums and by a cooperative effort between full-time missionaries and stake missionaries.

Q: How do full-time missionaries and stake missionaries coordinate their activities?

President Dunn: This is done at a weekly correlation meeting, chaired by the ward mission leader, who performs in this function by right of his calling. The purpose of the meeting is to coordinate the work of the missionaries, ensure that the contacts made by the members are developed, and integrate these new people into the ward organization as soon as possible. In effect, the ward mission leader passes on the names of contacts that he receives through the membership; and the missionaries, in turn, give back to him the names of the people with whom they are working. There is also a progress report on finding, fellowshiping, and teaching potential members.

A key point here is that all full-time missionaries working in a local ward will team up with stake missionaries as often as possible. Not only will this emphasize the oneness of the overall program, but it will also assist the missionaries in coordinating their activities.

Q: Does this mean that the full-time missionaries will come under the direction of the stake leaders?

President Dunn: No, the full-time mission presidents will continue to give direction to their missionaries, but this correlation meeting will bring about a better correlation between the stake and full-time missions in any particular area.

Q: You have spoken of the home teacher working with his families to help them become finders. What about the home teacher assigned to inactive or partly active families? How will the program work with these families?

President Rector: What the home teacher will have to do is to demonstrate by the way he lives and by the way his own family lives what the inactive person is missing in his life. It may also help to have inactive members participate in the fellowshiping discussions that have now become the Gospel Essentials class in Sunday School. This twelve-week course for investigators, new members, and those members being reactivated emphasizes such areas as the eternal family, the plan of salvation, and personal responsibility.

Once members of a family have been activated, they will normally become missionaries. The greatest missionaries are those who are converted themselves. They may not be the greatest teachers, but usually they are the most effective finders. We have the missionaries as the teachers.

President Dunn: I think of a corollary to that. It’s been my personal experience that most Latter-day Saints want to do what the Lord has asked. The problem generally is that they don’t know how. It really gets down to methodology rather than principle. For example, I find that I am reluctant to share the gospel with my neighbor who lives next door to me because I have to live with him, and I tend to shy away from the divine commission merely because I want acceptance from him. It is a matter of recognizing that everyone is a neighbor; and when we have faith and confidence and some techniques, we can extend that faith to others.

Church buildings and facilities and organizations and programs are to be used for their proselyting value too. The ideal, of course, is for families (husbands, wives, and children) to take their nonmember friends to Sunday School, Relief Society, MIA, Primary, and seminary. Priesthood quorum activities, parties, sports, banquets, and other types of activities also present appropriate means for fellowshiping nonmember families. Inviting nonmember families to dinner is an excellent way to start. In this way the programs of the Church become aids to us in our missionary work.

Q: Will individual members of the Church learn how to introduce nonmembers to the Church?

President Dunn: It will be the responsibility of the home teachers, under the direction of their quorum leaders and the bishop, to exhort members to learn their duty and attend to their missionary responsibilities.

President Rector: For instance, there are about five basic experiences in life that can open the door to contact with the Church. Those who move into a new neighborhood are often good contacts because they generally are not tied to any particular church organization yet. They may not even know where to get their milk or how to order newspaper delivery. These kinds of opportunities provide the means for member families to serve in a Christian way.

In addition to new neighbors, newlyweds, families with new babies, those who have had deaths in their families, or parents with children in difficulties often become excellent contacts to whom the gospel can be taught. Particularly is this true if the contact develops through a family-to-family situation. The family-to-family approach is the most compelling method that we have to bring people into the Church. When we can show the fruits of Mormonism and the blessings families can gain through membership, then we have the greatest invitation we can extend to those outside the Church.

President Dunn: In addition to these situations, the First Council of the Seventy will develop “how to” techniques and methods that we can periodically share with members. This is part of our general direction.

Q: To whom does the stake president look for help in this assignment?

President Dunn: Regional Representatives have direct responsibility for assisting stake presidents in missionary matters within their stakes. The stake president also receives direction from the First Council of the Seventy. Within the stake, he is aided by the seventies; presidents of the seventies quorum within the stake are responsible for the operation of all stake missionary work, under the direction of the stake president.

But we would like to emphasize that in reality all missionary work is done at the ward level and is a ward responsibility. The bishop is responsible for the successful operation of all missionary work in the ward and for the fellowshiping of new converts. I think that this has been implied in the past, but it has never been spelled out before quite like it is now.

Q: How does the bishop coordinate the ward activity?

President Dunn: As outlined in the Priesthood Missionary Handbook for Stake Missions, the ward priesthood executive committee meeting and the ward correlation council meeting now become the principal means for coordinating all missionary work at the ward level.

The priesthood executive committee meeting generally is expanded to include the ward correlation council. This is where auxiliary leaders come into the picture. Hopefully, participants in the ward correlation council meeting are talking about people and not programs. May I add this personal plea—when the day comes that we talk about individuals and not the program, I think we will have taken a great step forward.

Q: Is there a new emphasis in the fellowshiping program to help converts after they have joined the Church?

President Dunn: Again, this is where every member can get involved. Prior to a convert’s baptism, families could invite their friends into their homes for special evenings and to ward programs and other activities to acquaint them with the Church and show friendliness to them when they attend Church meetings. Following baptism, converts can attend the new Gospel Essentials class in Sunday School.

President Rector: Hopefully, if the priesthood executive committee functions as it should, prior to baptism a home teacher will be assigned to the prospective member family. The home teachers then fellowship the prospective member before baptism and stay with him through the period of baptism and into Church membership. When the missionaries complete their assignment, the home teachers are already assigned and working with the family. Again, this refers back to the correlation meeting between the ward mission leader and the stake and full-time missionaries. It’s all part of the correlation program.

Q: What actually is the responsibility of the seventy in the Church as he relates to the members?

President Dunn: Simply stated, the ward mission leader (the seventy) should do the following:

1. Under the direction of the bishop, teach the various Melchizedek Priesthood leaders how to instruct home teachers to assist and counsel fathers of member families in friendshiping one or more nonmember families each year.

2. Receive a monthly oral report from the other priesthood leaders during the priesthood executive meeting on the status of these selected nonmember families that are being friendshiped.

3. And, of course, the seventy should be an example to all the ward as a father of a family in how to find nonmember families.

As a ward mission leader and his seventies fulfill the above responsibilities, they will greatly assist member families in fulfilling their missionary role.

Q: What is the responsibility of a member in doing missionary work? Is it true that fathers of families are really responsible for sharing the blessings of the gospel with nonmember families?

President Rector: Members are responsible for missionary work. Fathers should lead out and give direction to their families in “finding” on a family-to-family basis.

Q: We all know that every member is to be a missionary, but specifically what should we be doing?

President Rector: A family could fulfill its missionary responsibility by accomplishing three things. The father with his family should (1) prayerfully select one or more nonmember families to friendship during the year, (2) determine the experiences during the month that his family will have with the nonmember family, (3) report periodically, as desired by the family head, to the home teachers the experience his family has had with the nonmember family.

If families regularly fulfilled these three responsibilities, members would begin to look to home teachers for guidance in their missionary work, and many more families would be friendshiped. Finally, by using priesthood correlation, more families would be baptized and truly fellowshiped into the Church.

Q: How do the Mission Representatives and the Regional Representatives dovetail into the overall process?

President Rector: Mission Representatives of the Council of the Twelve and of the First Council of the Seventy have been called primarily to assist mission presidents in administering, motivating, and teaching. From time to time they meet with full-time mission presidents and their full-time missionaries to assist the mission presidents in their responsibilities of directing and motivating their missionaries.

The Mission Representatives also help implement policies of the Twelve and the First Council of the Seventy. They tour their assigned missions, assisting mission presidents, and may attend mission presidents’ seminars where they carry the instructional responsibility.

As far as stakes are concerned, the Brethren have suggested that whenever possible stake and ward mission leaders meet with the mission president and the full-time missionaries, particularly when the Mission Representative is present. By this means, a more unified proselyting program will be placed in effect in all stakes and missions of the Church. (At the present time, Mission Representatives have not been called to serve in Utah and southern Idaho, where full-time missions do not exist.)

As for the Regional Representatives of the Twelve, they now treat mission districts exactly as they have dealt with stakes in the past. That is, they instruct mission district leadership personnel the same way they previously instructed stake leadership personnel. The Regional Representative of the Twelve also instructs stake presidents, bishops, seventies, and stake missionaries concerning their assignments and responsibilities.

Q: It sounds like this new approach to missionary work will really have tremendous impact on the Church.

President Rector: The true impact of this program on the Church will be determined largely by: (1) the assumption of responsibility of each member of the Church to be a missionary—fulfilling his responsibility as a member missionary as outlined above, and (2) the leadership of the Church, stake and ward, taking responsibility for the actual operation and organization of the work.

President Dunn: Overall, this is not a new missionary program, but a reemphasis of that which has been with us since the Church was restored. The scriptures contain many admonitions from the Lord that every member needs to be aware of his neighbor and to share the good tidings of the gospel. It is the desire of the Brethren to assist each member in doing that phase of missionary work that the Lord has assigned to him.

[photos] President Paul H. Dunn; President Hartman Rector, Jr.