No person who has been converted to the gospel should shirk his responsibility to teach the truth to others. This is our privilege. This is our duty. This is a command from the Lord. President Heber J. Grant said:
“The first great commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, might, mind and strength; and the second was like unto it, to love our neighbor as ourselves. And the best way in the world to show our love for our neighbor is to go forth and proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, of which he has given us an absolute knowledge concerning its divinity.” (Conference Report, April 1927, p. 176.)
I was asked a few years ago, “Should every young man who is a member of the Church fill a mission?” And I responded with the answer the Lord has given: “Yes, every worthy young man should fill a mission.” The Lord expects it of him. And if he is not now worthy to fill a mission, then he should start at once to qualify himself. The Lord has instructed, “Send forth the elders of my church unto the nations which are afar off; unto the islands of the sea; send forth unto foreign lands; call upon all nations, first upon the Gentiles, and then upon the Jews.” (D&C 133:8.)
Thus, the elders—the young men of the Church of the age to be ordained elders—should be prepared and anxious to fill a mission for the Church throughout the world. Presently, only about one-third of the eligible young men of the Church are serving full-time missions! One-third is not “every young man.”
Someone might also ask, “Should every young woman, should every father and mother, should every member of the Church serve a mission?” Again, the Lord has given the answer: Yes, every man, woman, and child—every young person and every little boy and girl—should serve a mission. This does not mean that they must serve abroad or even be formally called and set apart as full-time missionaries. But it does mean that each of us is responsible to bear witness of the gospel truths that we have been given. We all have relatives, neighbors, friends, and fellow workmen, and it is our responsibility to pass the truths of the gospel on to them, by example as well as by precept.
The prophets of this dispensation also have clearly taught the concept that missionary service is the responsibility of all members. President David O. McKay taught the principle with the challenging words, “Every member a missionary!” (See Conference Report, April 1959, p. 122.)
What a thrilling thing it is, my dear brothers and sisters who are fellow members of the kingdom of God, to be entrusted by the Lord to serve as messengers of His word to our brothers and sisters who are not members of the Church. Let us assume for a moment that the roles were reversed—that you were not a member of the Church but that your present nonmember neighbor was a Latter-day Saint. Would you want him or her to share the gospel with you? Would you then rejoice in the new truths you had learned? Would your love and respect increase for your neighbor who had shared these truths with you? Of course, the answer to all of these questions would be: Yes!
The scriptures are definite that the gospel must be taken to all the world. The Savior emphasized this when He took His apostles to the top of the Mount of Olives just before His ascension and said, “And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8.) Today His disciples are under the same injunction, and surely His words “the uttermost part of the earth” include the inhabitants of all the continents and those in every corner of the earth.
There are other scriptures with which we are familiar which emphasize this same concept:
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15.)
“Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations. [Again, notice the words all nations.]” (Luke 24:47.)
“Bear testimony of my name and … send it abroad among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.” (D&C 112:1.)
“Thou shalt bear record of my name, not only unto the Gentiles, but also unto the Jews; and thou shalt send forth my word unto the ends of the earth.” (D&C 112:4.)
Surely there is significance in the words of the Lord: “all nations,” “every nation,” “every land,” “uttermost part of the earth,” “every tongue,” “every people,” “the ends of the earth.” There was and is a universal need; there must be universal coverage. Mankind is the universal family of our Heavenly Father, and we have received a universal command to take the gospel to the members of this family.
If there were no converts, the Church would shrivel and die. But perhaps the greatest reason for missionary work is to give the world its chance to hear and accept the gospel. The scriptures are replete with commands and promises and calls and rewards for teaching the gospel. I use the word command advisedly, for it seems to be an insistent directive from which we, singly and collectively, cannot escape. Furthermore, the command is clear that not only must all members of His church give missionary service, but we must take the gospel to all the children of our Heavenly Father on this earth.
The Lord has indicated that we can expect His power to be with us when we proclaim His word. He has said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” And then in the next verses He indicates one way this power is to be used: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt. 28:18–20; italics added.)
If missionary work is indeed the Lord’s work, which it is, and if it is to go forth by His power, which it will, then why should we, as Latter-day Saints, fear or hesitate in taking the gospel to others?
The Lord told His prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27.) I believe the Lord can do anything He desires, and certainly He desires that the gospel be taught to every person on the earth.
The Lord has indicated that He will not only open the necessary doors for missionary work, but He will accompany those who participate in this service. Earlier in this dispensation He made the following promise to the president of the Council of the Twelve, and the same principles apply to all who are in His service:
“Wherefore, whithersoever they shall send you, go ye, and I will be with you; and in whatsoever place ye shall proclaim my name an effectual door shall be opened unto you, that they may receive my word.” (D&C 112:19; italics added.)
Therefore, as missionaries we are not to question whether or not to serve, but we are to prepare and then do. There are no impenetrable “iron curtains” or “bamboo curtains” or national curtains or neighborhood curtains so far as teaching the gospel is concerned. I see no good reason why the Lord should open doors we are not prepared to enter, but I believe he will open every missionary door we are prepared to enter. And if we do not enter, then the responsibility will be upon us. If we do not do our duty in regard to missionary service, then I am convinced that God will hold us responsible for the people we might have saved had we done our duty.
Our role as missionaries is not primarily to convince people of the truthfulness of the gospel. If the Lord were primarily interested in convincing people of the divine nature of this work, He could, and perhaps would, demonstrate His powers in such a way that large numbers of people could know the truth in a relatively brief period of time. He could speak if He chose, and all the people on earth could hear in their own language. Or He could emblazon His words in the sky, where all could read or see them. But if those persons thus convinced did not really change their lives for the better, repent of their sins, and turn to Him in righteousness, they would be worse off than before and would be more insensitive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.
No, the Lord is not primarily interested in having His children only convinced of His work. He would like them to be converted to the gospel. Truly converted persons change their old sinful ways and turn to a new life in Christ; there is truly a “converting” or a changing in their lives. As the apostle Paul put it anciently—
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17.)
As missionaries, members are vital and necessary parts of the conversion process. Sometimes in our discussions of missionary work we state that a missionary “converts” so many persons. Actually, the missionary does not convert anyone; the Holy Ghost does the converting. The power of conversion is directly associated with the Holy Ghost, for no person can be truly converted and know that Jesus is the Christ save by the power of the Holy Ghost.
As a vital link in the conversion process, we should bear our testimonies that the gospel is true; our testimonies may well be the spark that ignites the conversion process. Consequently, we have a double responsibility: we must testify of the things we know, feel, and have felt, and we must live so the Holy Ghost can be with us and convey our words in power to the heart of the investigator.
The Lord has promised great blessings to us in proportion to how well we share the gospel. We will receive help from the other side of the veil as the spiritual miracles occur. “Whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before [you]. … I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels … about you.” (D&C 84:88.)
The Lord has told us that our sins will be forgiven more readily as we bring souls unto Christ and remain steadfast in bearing testimony to the world, and surely every one of us is looking for additional help in being forgiven of our sins. (See D&C 84:61.) In one of the greatest of missionary scriptures, section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we are told that if we serve the Lord in missionary service “with all [our] heart, might, mind and strength,” then we may “stand blameless before God at the last day.” (D&C 4:2.)
And, further, the Lord says:
“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15–16.)
In missionary service, members of the Church are having experiences similar to this:
A member asked a salesman on impulse, “Would you like to know more about the Mormon Church? I am a Mormon.” The answer brought knowing tears of the Spirit. “Yes, I really would. You know, when I was young I seemed to know the difference between right and wrong, but now I have a problem with my son. He doesn’t seem to sense the difference. Do you have something that will help me teach my son?” The affirmative answer by the member led to a date with the missionaries the next day. The testimony of the member during the discussions and the frequent fellowshipping led to a family baptism.
Other members sharing the gospel tell of this experience:
A beauty operator, a member, asked her new client if she would like to read a Church tract while waiting and placed it in her client’s hand. The answer was “No.” Then she offered a copy of the Book of Mormon and again the answer was “No.” Not giving up, the member picked up a Church magazine from another table as though it were a commercial magazine and gave that to her client to read. Quickly thumbing through the pages the client readily realized it was also Church material, but as she moved to lay it down, she noticed an article entitled, “Love at Home.” Having some serious troubles with her husband, she decided to read the article. Then during the rest of the visit a lengthy conversation developed around Mormon home life. The result was a visit arranged immediately with the missionaries. The husband wasn’t present at the first visit, but the wife gave him an ultimatum: “Listen to these missionaries or the children and I may leave.” He listened. They were baptized as a family. He is a high councilor today.
We have profound influences upon our relatives. A young mother turned to her own mother who was a guest in the home and who had just enjoyed a visit with the missionaries and said, “Mother, what has gotten into you? You don’t even treat relatives that nice!” The lady, wise and perceptive and spiritual, looked at her daughter and replied, “My dear, can’t you see: they are angels!” They joined the Church. That phrase is a tradition in that family. They will always look upon all missionaries as ministering angels.
Every gospel teaching experience is a spiritual experience for all parties, regardless of whether it leads to baptism or not. Our goal should be to identify as soon as possible which of our Father’s children are spiritually prepared to proceed all the way to baptism into the kingdom. One of the best ways to find out is to expose your friends, relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances to the full-time missionaries as soon as possible. Don’t wait for long fellowshipping nor for the precise, perfect moment. What you need to do is find out if they are the elect. “[My] elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.” (D&C 29:7.) If they hear and have hearts open to the gospel, it will be evident immediately. If they won’t listen and their hearts are hardened with skepticism or negative comments, they are not ready. In this case, keep loving them and fellowshipping them and wait for the next opportunity to find out if they are ready. You will not lose their friendship. They will still respect you.
Of course, there are discouragements, but nothing is ever lost. No one ever loses a friend just because he doesn’t want to continue with the visits from the missionaries. The member can continue the association with no threat to his friendship or special relationship with that family. Sometimes it takes more time for some to come into the Church than for others. The member should continue to fellowship and try again at a later date for conversion. Don’t be discouraged just because of a temporary lack of progress. There are hundreds of stories about the value of perseverance in missionary service.
In some areas of the world the members are having remarkable success. They are providing so many referrals, good referrals, ready to be taught in the member’s home or in the family’s home with the member present, that the missionaries are busy from morning until night just teaching and working with those families who are proceeding toward baptism.
The real goal for effective proselyting is that the members do the finding and the full-time missionaries do the teaching. This tends to solve many of the old missionary problems. When members do the finding they have a personal interest in fellowshipping, there are fewer investigators lost before baptism, and those who are baptized tend to remain active. Another by-product is that when a member is involved, even if only from a casual relationship, the investigator seems to sense much more quickly that Mormons have a special health code (the Word of Wisdom comes as no surprise), that Mormons spend Sunday in church and not fishing or playing golf (keeping the Sabbath Day holy comes as no surprise), and that Mormons contribute readily to the Church programs (tithing, fast offerings, budget, building fund, missionary funds, etc. are more readily understood). When there is little or no surprise, the reluctance to be baptized is more easily overcome.
Another old missionary dilemma is when the investigator says, “Yes, it’s easy for you to be a Mormon because you haven’t had to raise a family or change your life.” The adult member or peer is the one who can effectively step in with his testimony to say, “I am no different than you are. I live the Mormon way of life. I’m happier and healthier and have more left over at the end of the month than if I didn’t live the commandments. Besides, I know it is true.”
As mentioned, in many areas the members have truly caught the vision, and they are keeping the missionaries fully occupied teaching all day long and bringing hundreds and thousands into the kingdom. But in other areas it seems that “everybody’s job has become nobody’s job.” Let me point out a common error in the mind of man. When someone speaks of what has been accomplished, we tend to think “me,” but when someone mentions what should be done, we tend to think “them.” But I ask all of us to honestly evaluate our responsibilities and our performances in giving missionary service. When we say every member should give referrals, it is too easy to let someone else do it. There doesn’t seem to be enough sense of responsibility on the part of some individual members to do what could and should be done in missionary service.
There is a spiritual adventure in doing missionary work, in giving referrals, in accompanying the missionaries as they give the discussions. It is exciting and rewarding. The hours, the effort, the wondering, all are worth it when even one soul expresses repentance and faith and a desire to be baptized. Imagine how wonderful you would feel when they say, “When you are here, and we’re talking about these things, it seems like I’m remembering things I knew before,” or, “You can’t leave here until you’ve told us all you know about the restored Church.”
Members should strive to refer entire families. The missionaries will teach single people, but they are sent out especially to bring entire families into the Church. A family will tend to remain stronger in the Church than individuals. Even one strong person in a family will help to keep them all active and will help solve the occasional laxity of one or more members of the family.
We expect to have complete cooperation between the stake missionaries and the full-time missionaries and to involve the members of the Church generally in opening the gospel door to our Father’s other children. One of the main ways in which this can be done is to use the organizations and programs of the Church for proselyting. Thus all officers, teachers, and members of the priesthood and the auxiliaries should keep their organizations in proper order, making them truly lights set upon a hill that can give light to the whole world. We cannot stress too strongly the need to do missionary work in the framework of priesthood correlation so that investigators are fellowshipped and tied into the programs of the Church in such a way that they promptly become active and faithful members. This, then, is another way in which all members of the Church can be actively and constantly engaged in missionary service—by fellowshipping, befriending, and encouraging the new members of the Church.
In summary, let me quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith: “The truth of God will go forth boldly … till it has penetrated every continent … and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished.” (History of the Church, 4:540.) And then this significant revelation: “For, verily, the sound must go forth from this place into all the world, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth—the gospel must be preached unto every creature.” (D&C 58:64.)
Brothers and sisters—all fellow members in this most important work—we must not slacken our hands in this work. Not only is our eternal welfare at stake, but also the eternal welfare of many of our brothers and sisters who are not now members of this church. Let us be faithful in discharging our responsibilities and obligations to ourselves and to them. By so doing, we shall all be blessed as President George Albert Smith indicated when he was an apostle:
“Do we realize that every man is in the image of God and is a son of God, and every woman his daughter? No matter where they may be, they are his children, and he loves them and desires their salvation. Surely as members of this Church we cannot sit idly by. We cannot receive the beneficent favor of our Heavenly Father that is bestowed upon us, the knowledge of eternal life, and selfishly retain it, thinking that we may be blessed thereby. It is not what we receive that enriches our lives, it is what we give.” (Conference Report, April 1935, p. 46.)
I always thrill with the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith in a letter that he sent to the Church from Nauvoo, Illinois, on 6 September 1842; may we now apply these words to missionary service: “Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage … and on, on to the victory!” (D&C 128:22.)