In my youth, I heard local priesthood leaders read and expound on many occasions the following scripture:
“The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth.” (D&C 65:2; see also Dan. 2:34–35.)
Though such words were a part of a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1831, and though I trusted in the scriptures and the words of my leaders, I seriously wondered whether they would ever be fulfilled. I suspect my skepticism was, in part, related to my limited understanding and faith.
There were other reasons, however, why I felt the way I did—just one generation ago. At the time (middle 1940s) Church membership was still less than one million; a world war was in progress, curtailing proselyting efforts by full-time missionaries in most areas of the world; convert baptisms were relatively few; Mormonism was not well known or appreciated by people; and member involvement in sharing the gospel with nonmembers was minimal.
These facts and conditions blocked my vision and caused me to ask: (1) Will this revelation ever be fulfilled? (2) If this revelation is to be fulfilled, how will it be accomplished? and (3) How might I become a part of prophecy fulfilled?
The answer to my first question was partially supplied in the post-war era when missionary responsibilities were reemphasized and thousands of young men and women responded to the invitation to serve full-time missions. I participated in this new missionary thrust, and I delighted in the continuing reports of more and more missionaries in the field and in the creation of new missions. With the added missions and the increased missionary force came a steady rise in convert baptisms.
During the thirty-year period of 1946–76, I noted with more than casual interest these indicators of Church growth:
• Missions increased from 38 to 148.
• Missionaries serving increased from 3,213 to 25,100.
• Convert baptisms increased from 5,929 (1946) to 133,959 (1976).
• Organized stakes increased from 161 to 798.
Year by year I became less a skeptic and more a believer.
All vestiges of my former skepticism were erased when President Spencer W. Kimball made this report in the October 1976 general conference:
“It is estimated that it took 117 years, from 1830–1947, to attain one million members. Then it took sixteen years, from 1947 to 1963, to reach the second million members, and then nine years, 1963 to 1972, to attain the third million. It will probably take about four or five years to move up to the four million mark, and then we can guess what the future holds.” (Ensign, November 1976, p. 4; italics added.)
Who can read such statistics and still doubt the word of the Lord? I, for one, no longer question whether the revelation given in 1831 will ever be fulfilled. Facts surrounding Church growth provide abundant evidence that the stone is rolling forth. And, “seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), how can we doubt the ultimate destiny of this great latter-day work?
My second question was: If this revelation is to be fulfilled, how will it be accomplished? This has been answered in a number of ways. A glimpse of what could be in missionary work was seen when President David O. McKay issued his landmark statement, “Every member a missionary,” and challenged all families to fellowship one nonmember family into the Church each year. This challenge evoked new enthusiasm for missionary work and opened up new vistas for accelerated Church growth.
President Spencer W. Kimball renewed President McKay’s challenge in 1974 and 1975. These were his words:
“We expect to have complete cooperation between the stake and full-time missionaries, and to involve the members of the Church generally in opening the gospel door to our Father’s other children. …
“I seemed to envision … thousands … prepared and anxious … for missionary service … until the army of the Lord’s missionaries would cover the earth as the waters cover the mighty deep.
“… It is unrealistic to expect 19,000 or even 100,000 missionaries to cover the globe. … We call upon priesthood leaders to teach every family in the Church to assume its responsibilities.” (Regional Representatives Seminar, April 4, 1974, and April 3, 1975.)
Note what President Kimball emphasizes—an army of missionaries, cooperative efforts by stake and full-time missionaries, and every family in the Church assuming its responsibilities in priesthood missionary service. Here, then, is the key to missionary success and unlimited possibilities for Church growth.
Upon hearing President Kimball’s instructions, my mind went back to the fundamental principles of a unified missionary program in the Church, as outlined by the First Presidency in a letter dated October 27, 1972:
“1. The responsibility to do missionary work rests with every member of the Church.
“2. Those called as stake and full-time missionaries are to help the members of the Church discharge their missionary responsibility.
“3. All of the organizations and programs of the Church should be used for their proselyting value.
“4. Home teaching is the vehicle that makes available to the members the help of the missionaries and the organizations of the Church.
“5. Missionary work is now a ward-or-branch-centered activity which revolves around the ward mission leader and is correlated through the Ward Priesthood Executive Committee and the Ward [Correlation] Council.”
I’m convinced that the gospel will roll forward unto the ends of the earth. The stone cut out of the mountain is rolling forth and will fill the whole earth, with the united efforts of missionaries and members.
The answer to my third question (How might I become a part of prophecy fulfilled?) did not come in a day, a week, a month, or a year. It came slowly and progressively as I became deeply involved in missionary activities. As a mission president, I observed firsthand people’s hunger for truth. I also observed the willingness of some members and missionaries to satisfy that hunger and to share the restored gospel with friends.
However, I must admit that I felt the sharing process proceeded too slowly. Most members of the Church have heard the challenge, “Every member a missionary,” and most want to accept it and do the work, but often they are afraid or do not know what to do.
I have spent many hours pondering the problem of member involvement in missionary work, including my own involvement. Gradually, I have reached the conclusion that productive participation in the Lord’s proselyting effort begins with a spirit, grows as confidence is gained, and matures through full involvement in friendshipping and fellowshipping activities.
As outlined in more detail in the chart accompanying this article, I believe that all members can become a part of prophecy fulfilled and assume an active role in missionary service in three steps.
The first step is to catch the spirit by sustaining the missionary effort. This step invites members to sustain the missionary effort by being a model of gospel living, fasting and praying that the doors to nations and hearts of men will be opened, and supporting missionaries. Such sustaining actions are rather simple but very important.
Almost invariably, it seems, modeling the truth by a Church member is chapter one in conversion stories. Not long ago, I attended a stake conference where a recent convert was called upon to bear his testimony. He began his story by saying that his initial interest in the Church was sparked by a business associate, a member of this stake presidency. After relating the incidents leading to his conversion, the man said, pointing to the counselor in the stake presidency: “I’m here today because of him. Thank heaven he modeled the gospel and caused me to want to be like him.”
We must also remember the precious nature of souls, the power of prayer, and thus request God’s help in obtaining success in our labors with others. We need to lift our voices to heaven as Alma did and cry:
“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.)
By doing these and similar things, we direct our thoughts beyond ourselves toward others and become concerned for their welfare. In this way the missionary spirit is felt and caught.
Once the spirit of the work is with us, we want to share our blessings with others. This is the second step, in which we build confidence by sharing the gospel. The desire to share should motivate us to prepare our sons for missions, to send our money on missions by contributing to the Missionary Fund, to share copies of the Book of Mormon, to share subscriptions of Church magazines, and to seek referrals. These sharing actions tend to build confidence in the program.
I thrill each time I reflect upon the sharing exemplified in the James R. Boone family of Jacksonville, Florida. Brother Boone, his first wife, and his thirteen sons and daughters have all served full-time missions. His second wife also served a mission. Just imagine, sixteen returned missionaries in one family! What joy and confidence they have reaped.
Each time I think of sharing a copy of the Book of Mormon, I’m reminded of a young lady in Texas who was introduced to the gospel by my daughter. This convert had a difficult time accepting the teachings presented by the missionaries in the first few discussions. And, at one time, when informed that her previous baptism, a baptism conducted by a Protestant church, was invalid, she walked away from the mission home vowing never to return. Weeks later, however, through some faith-promoting experiences, the young lady did return to hear more and was soon baptized into the Church. After her baptism, I asked: “What brought you back?” “It was the book,” she said, “the Book of Mormon.” The Book of Mormon and Church magazines are great missionary tools and should be shared liberally with others; they help to teach and testify of the truth—even while you and the missionaries sleep.
Steps one and two should promote in us a desire to become fully involved in the friendshipping and fellowshipping of nonmember families, which is step three. Regardless of the number in your family unit, one or a dozen, the process is the same. You prayerfully select a nonmember friend or family, plan friendshipping activities, invite your friends to learn more about the Church, and continue fellowshipping those friends or families after they become members of the Church.
I have a friend who attributes his conversion and continued growth in the Church to this kind of friendshipping and fellowshipping. Here is his story in his own words:
“When my wife, Linda, and I moved to Waco, Texas, in 1969, I could feel that something unusual was going to happen. We were active Southern Baptists and had a conservative life-style. When we attended our first company party, we felt a little uneasy, but soon identified with some people who felt as we did. When Leo Weidner entered, the group started to ask him jokingly if he had brought his own root beer again. It soon became apparent that he didn’t need alcohol to have a good time. I was impressed with his jovial spirit and the next day asked him about his religious beliefs. He immediately told me he was a Latter-day Saint and invited us to his ward to a missionary meeting on the Book of Mormon.
“As soon as I heard the Joseph Smith story and saw his picture in the grove, I knew the Church was true. I bore my testimony to family and friends and they expressed how disturbed they were with my ‘odd behavior.’
“Brother Weidner gave us constant attention and soon introduced us to a new couple who had joined the home office. This couple, Del and Vergie Rogers, became a tremendous force in our conversion. They became our friends and discovered our individual needs. Although the Spirit had touched me, I still had an unquenchable desire to know doctrine. They supplied full-time missionaries, standard works, missionary seminars, and everything possible to help us gain this knowledge.
“Linda made it apparent that she really wasn’t interested in changing churches. Vergie Rogers told us later that she decided to ‘just become Linda’s good friend and not mention religion anymore.’ Through this friendship she found that Linda had a great interest in genealogy and food storage. Linda even became so enthusiastic that we bought a full year’s supply of food before we joined the Church.
“Because Texas was our home and there were few Latter-day Saints in our area, these three people had tough resistance in convincing us to make a religious change. They fellowshipped us constantly for a year before we were baptized. Almost every week we were invited to their homes for dinner or ice cream, or we were invited to movies, Church socials, and Church meetings. They were so sincerely interested in us that we really couldn’t feel intimidated.
“At our baptism and afterwards we had total evidence of the sincerity of these Saints:
“1. A former mission president (Sanford Eliason) traveled 120 miles to speak at our baptism.
“2. The new mission president (Carlos E. Asay) wrote a letter of congratulations to us and gave us constant encouragement after our baptism.
“3. Del and Vergie Rogers traveled 1,400 miles to attend the Los Angeles Temple with us a year after our baptism.
“4. Recently Leo Weidner told me how he considered me as a brother and has really proved it by being close when I needed a helping hand.
“Everyone who fellowshipped us has shown as much help and friendship over the last seven years as they did before our baptism.
“Although the Spirit moved with us quickly, we could have never had the strength to face the adversity of leaving family beliefs and old friendships without these new friends. No material goods ever replace a true and sincere friend. And these friendships have survived even though hundreds of miles now separate all of us.”
Too often, I fear, members avoid or procrastinate their missionary opportunities because they don’t know how to become involved. They don’t understand the process described above; consequently, they deny themselves choice blessings and experiences. I invite you to study carefully the outline and follow the suggested sequence. In this way enthusiasm will replace apathy, confidence will overcome fear, and involvement will crown your efforts with success.
Suppose that all members of the Church were fully converted to priesthood missionary service. Suppose they understood fully: (1) The commandment—“And let your preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor …” (D&C 38:41); (2) The baptismal commitment—“to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in” (Mosiah 18:9); and (3) The warning—“Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads” (D&C 88:81–82). Suppose they felt keenly the urgency of the work and willfully became involved, anxiously involved, in the sharing-lifting missionary process. Such understanding and involvement, I believe, would prompt each Latter-day Saint to seek “the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:19), to hasten the day when the gospel will fill the whole earth, and thus to become a part of prophecy fulfilled.
As I reflect upon the days of my youth and the time when I doubted a prophetic statement, I realize more and more the necessity of believing and doing. I doubted that the gospel would “roll forth unto the ends of the earth” until I went halfway around the globe to preach the gospel. I wondered how the miracle of Church expansion could occur until I became an active participant in expanding member-missionary proselyting activities. I questioned whether I would live to see fulfillment or even partial fulfillment of prophecy, until I became more than a casual observer. Yes, I’ve come to know that believing and doing are the parents of faith—particularly when that faith is related to the fulfillment of God’s purposes.
I pray that members the world over will take seriously the charge “Every member a missionary”; I hope they will come to know the five basic principles linked to the Church’s missionary program; I urge them to ponder the implications of the commandment, baptismal commitment, and warning associated with sharing the gospel; and I invite all members to participate in the three steps of fulfilling their missionary responsibilities. By doing these things, their faith in the ultimate end of priesthood missionary work will be strengthened.
Prophecy will be fulfilled, with or without us. God grant that our eyes will be opened to the vision of this great missionary work and that our hearts will be softened so that we will strive to be a part of prophecy fulfilled.
Step 1. Catch the Spirit by Sustaining the Missionary Effort
Support and encourage the stake and full-time missionaries.
Step 2. Build Confidence by Sharing the Gospel
Prepare and encourage sons to serve full-time missions.
Provide financial assistance to those missionaries who live in countries outside the United States and Canada by contributing to the General Missionary Fund.
Share copies of the Book of Mormon with nonmembers.
Share subscriptions of the Church magazines with nonmembers.
Be referral conscious; ask the Golden Questions; and provide the missionaries with the names of nonmember friends.
Step 3. Become Fully Involved by Friendshipping and Fellowshipping
Always be a model of righteousness by living the commandments; remain prayerful about your missionary obligations and opportunities; continue to share the gospel with nonmember friends. In addition—
Prayerfully select a nonmember friend or family (or part-member family) whom you feel is ready to accept the gospel.
Plan friendshipping activities to interest the family in the gospel.
Invite them to take part in family outings or other family activities.
Share hobbies or talents with them.
Invite them to special missionary-oriented programs, such as special firesides, pageants, tours of visitors centers, open houses, Tabernacle Choir broadcasts or concerts, Church-sponsored athletic events, roadshows, etc.
Hold a special family home evening (on a night other than Monday) with them.
Invite them to Church meetings.
Try to discuss aspects of gospel principles and gospel living in a normal, natural way when interest is shown.
Ask the members of the family if they are interested in learning more about the Church.
If they are interested, have the ward mission leader arrange for stake or full-time missionaries to teach the family, preferably in your home.
If they are not interested, continue friendshipping them and prayerfully seek for other families to friendship.
Continue fellowshipping those families who become members of the Church.