President Kimball’s Vision of Missionary Work


Ezra Taft Benson
This article is an edited version of an address given 3 April 1985 at a mission presidents’ conference held in association with April general conference.

No prophet in this dispensation, since the Prophet Joseph Smith, has spoken on missionary work as much or as forcefully as has our beloved prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball. Oh, that he were strong enough in health to be here and to speak to us as he has on other occasions.

Each of us has a solemn obligation to, first, understand by the Spirit what President Kimball has said over the last decade about the mission of the Church; second, to catch his prophetic vision of missionary work; and third, to implement completely in our own lives the words of our living prophet pertaining to missionary work.

The most important counsel and direction on missionary work comes to us through the living prophet, for he is literally the mouthpiece of the Lord. So stated the Lord: “For [the prophet’s] word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth.” (D&C 21:5.)

In anticipation of my address to you today, I have read and reread every major address regarding missionary work given by President Kimball during more than a decade. As I have done so, tears have welled up in my eyes as I have again caught his marvelous vision of missionary work as given to him by direct revelation.

I testify to you by the Spirit that our prophet’s words stand as a living testimony of what the Lord would have us do today. I fear that unless we fully understand the words of President Kimball, catch his prophetic vision of missionary work, and implement his words, we will be held accountable before God. I also fear that we have not yet done what the Lord would have us do as directed by his holy prophet.

I have arranged President Kimball’s messages into four separate areas of missionary emphasis which apply specifically to the Church’s missionary responsibility. I hope that we will understand these four areas of missionary emphasis so well that they become our walk and talk for our full service, our major focus in accomplishing missionary work the Lord’s way.

Sacredness of Souls

First, President Kimball’s greatest emphasis has been the sacredness of bringing souls unto our Father in Heaven and the importance of greatly increasing convert baptisms.

In October 1974 President Kimball asked: “What is the greatest blessing that can come to man? The answer was given to John and Peter Whitmer: … ‘And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.’ (D&C 15:6.)”

President Kimball continued: “If one labors all his days and brings save it be one soul! … One soul! How precious!

“Oh, that God would give us that kind of love for souls!” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Oct. 1974.)

In 1974 President Kimball asked, “How can we be satisfied with 100,000 converts out of nearly four billion people in the world who need the gospel?” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Apr. 1974.)

Four years later, he again questioned, “How can we be satisfied with 200,000 converts in a year out of four billion people in the world who need the gospel?” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Sept. 1978.)

Although during those four intervening years we had doubled the annual number of convert baptisms, the Prophet’s vision was larger. He knew we could do much more.

In 1979 he reminded us: “We have paused on some plateaus long enough. Think, brothers and sisters, what would happen if each active family were to bring another family or individual into the Church; … we would be joined by several hundred thousand [new] members of the Church.” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 1979.)

As a Church, we have not yet caught that vision. Members are not bringing several hundred thousand members into the Church each year. We have not yet met this challenge of a living prophet. We are still on some of these same plateaus. As far as convert baptisms are concerned, we have only been converting some 200,000 people a year for the last six years. What has President Kimball’s response been to our “low rate” of convert baptisms? I quote again, “We must have more converts. They must be well converted. No gimmicks to get baptisms. They must be real converts, and we emphasize that to you brethren, but we do want more converts.” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 1974.)

In 1975 President Kimball instructed:

“Now you are going out … not merely to make friends for the Church, though that is important, but to properly convert and baptize. … Notice the quote … “He that believeth and is baptized must be saved.” (Mark 16:16.) Not he that heareth, but he that believeth and is baptized.

“Brethren, the spirit of this work is urgency, and we must imbue … our Saints with the spirit of now. NOW. We are not justified in waiting for the natural, slow process of bringing people into the Church. We must move rather hastily.” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 1975.)

Then in 1979 he stated:

“Please do not confuse this straightforward emphasis on missionary work with mere statistics. Our concerns are with souls, not statistics. We desire growth because that will mean that we are reaching our Father’s children who desperately need the gospel and the Church in that light. … We have been doing in our missionary efforts a good work, but it is not good enough. It is time to stir ourselves, and then we can stir others. …

“When we think of our alternatives in conversion rates as being either hasty and numerous baptisms on the one hand, or the slow, snail-like growth of the Church on the other hand, we are displaying too little faith in the Lord and even in ourselves. Those are not our only choices! …

“Sometimes [when] we give you exhortations of this kind, there may be a tendency to feel as though it just can’t be done; but we can baptize more people and we can do it in a very solid and stable way.” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 1979.)

On another occasion he said:

“Wilford Woodruff baptized two thousand people on his mission in England in a short few months and … Heber C. Kimball baptized 1,800 in a few months. … There are hundreds of other brethren who have baptized tens and fifties and hundreds during their missions. Is it possible that each of you could develop some Wilford Woodruffs and Brigham Youngs who could baptize hundreds and thousands? Can we raise our sights?” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 1975.)

Quoting from that marvelous verse in the Book of Mormon where Alma talks about bringing thousands of souls unto the Lord, President Kimball then said, “Did you hear the word thousands? … Not hundreds, not dozens, not tens, but thousands. … The Lord … knows what these words mean, and when he uses the word thousands, he means thousands. And that’s ten hundred in a thousand!” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 1978.)

Referring to this emphasis on convert baptisms, our prophet-leader asked for some introspection. He stated that convert baptisms are not the responsibility of the Missionary Department of the Church, but are the responsibility of the ecclesiastical line officers and members. Thoughtfully President Kimball suggested:

“When we try to find causes for our lack of greater progress in missionary work, I suggest that we ponder what happened at the Last Supper when the Savior indicated that one present would betray Him. The disciples did not look or point at each other, but all responded with a very quick question, ‘Lord, is it I?’ (Matt. 26:22.)

“Let us all assume that we might be part of the reason that the work does not go on as well as we think it should.” (Mission Presidents’ Seminar, June 1979.)

Thus, the first major emphasis of the Lord’s prophet is to increase the number of convert baptisms in a significant and dramatic way.

Will you accept this challenge? Will you share your personal conviction with others that the prophet of the Lord expects us to baptize many more people in a very solid and stable way?

Faith

In his second major emphasis, President Kimball has indicated that missionary leaders, missionaries, and members must have much greater faith than we have ever demonstrated if we are to dramatically increase the number of convert baptisms. He quoted the words of the angel that “with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37.)

He reminded us of the words of the Lord to Abraham, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14.)

He recalled the days of Pentecost when some three thousand souls were added to the Church in one day and then exclaimed, “Three thousand was a rich harvest in anybody’s book.

“Brethren and sisters, we must think in larger numbers. We must prepare our missionaries better, not only with language but with scripture and above all with a testimony and a burning fire that puts power to their words.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Apr. 1976.)

Then he declared, “I am under no delusion … to think that this will be an easy matter without strain or that it can be done overnight, but I do have this faith that we can move forward and expand much faster than we now are.

“We urge this matter upon us and place squarely on the shoulders of the General Authorities and their numerous associates to clear ourselves with our Maker when we have expanded our best efforts.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Apr. 1974.)

President Kimball, as we all know, is a man of tremendous faith. He urges us to develop this same faith. He reminds us of George Bernard Shaw’s classic statement, “Other people see things and say why, but I dream things that never were, and I say, why not?”

Then President Kimball added:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? …

“We do not worry about HOW AND WHEN AND WHY. We say WHY NOT. …

“I repeat my witness that He will unlock doors and His promises may be relied upon. I know He will stay the opposition. He will mellow hearts and He will pave the way if we have faith to pursue.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Oct. 1974.)

How’s our faith? Do we really believe we can achieve miracles for the Lord as the President of the Church knows we can? Believe, have faith. Remember President Kimball’s prophetic words: “Remember our sons and grandsons are going to do things which would stagger us.”

Personal Goals

I now move to President Kimball’s third point regarding how to effectively do missionary work today.

Never has a prophet emphasized more the importance of setting personal goals to bring souls unto God. That is President Kimball’s third point of emphasis. Would you catch this vision so that you can assist missionaries to prayerfully and with the Spirit set personal baptismal goals?

In October 1974 President Kimball declared: “I feel that we must use a goal program and let every missionary make his own goal. In the past it seems the mission presidents and sometimes visitors have set goals for people and that isn’t quite right. I believe the mission president should not set the goals for the individual missionaries. Let them have the privilege and the responsibility.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Oct. 1974.)

In 1975 President Kimball continued this same theme.

“Now I want to say a word about missionary productivity—particularly goals.

“Some years ago there grew up an error in the method of proselyting and many people were baptized who were not converted. This caused concern among the Brethren. We want people to have a testimony, but when we expressed some concern about many of these baptisms, the pendulum swung the other way, all the way across, and there were many mission presidents who came to feel, mistakenly, that they should never discuss baptism with investigators at all. … That problem has been corrected. … From now on, … we expect that every year there will be a great increase in conversions and baptisms. We hope that stake and full-time mission presidents will understand this. We do believe in setting goals. We live by goals. In athletics, we always have a goal. When we go to school, we have the goal of graduation and degrees. Our total existence is goal-oriented. Our most important goal is to bring the gospel to all people. We must convert more people. We must find ways and means.

“Our goal is to achieve eternal life. That is the greatest goal in the world. We are not opposed to goals. We do not want stake and full-time mission presidents to establish quotas for the missionaries. Rather, we expect them to inspire missionaries to set their own goals, and make them high enough to challenge their very best efforts, and work to achieve them. … We look to you to teach these principles and follow up.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Apr. 1975.)

Let us apply these principles of goal-setting to missionary work. Our living prophet is asking us to do it.

Accelerated Missionary Activity

Now for the fourth and final point of emphasis, which is laced throughout all of President Kimball’s talks on missionary work: Members of the Church must greatly accelerate their personal missionary activity if the Lord’s harvest is to be accomplished.

President Kimball declared, “Do we really believe in revelation? Then why cannot we accept fully as the revealed word of God the revelation of the Prophet-President, David O. McKay, wherein he brought to the Church and to the world this valuable Church slogan, ‘Every member a missionary.’”

“How else could the Lord expect to perform His work except through the Saints who have covenanted to serve Him? You and I have made such a covenant. Will we honor our sacred covenant?” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Sept. 1977.)

Again President Kimball declared:

“It is impractical for us to expect that [full-time] missionaries alone can warn the millions in the world. Members must be finders. The valuable time of our teaching missionaries is too often spent in ‘finding.’

“Members should shoulder this responsibility. Every member knows of nonmembers he or she can refer to the missionaries. Every father, mother, and youth of this Church should share the gospel by giving a Book of Mormon, telling the account of the Prophet Joseph Smith, or inviting our acquaintances to a special meeting. If we are in tune, the Spirit of the Lord will speak to us and guide us to those with whom we should share the gospel. The Lord will help us if we will but listen.

“It is the responsibility of the members to provide the stake and full-time missionaries with the names of individuals and families to teach. Sometimes we forget that it is better to risk a little ruffling in the relationship of a friend than it is to deprive him of eternal life by keeping silent.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Apr. 1975.)

The following year, President Kimball added:

“It should be clear to us that usually we must warm our neighbors before we can warn them properly. Our neighbors must experience our genuine friendship and fellowship. We want members to entreat neighbors, not to scold them or scare them.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Sept. 1976.)

In 1980, he concluded:

“All of this means … that we cannot share the gospel with every nation, kindred, tongue, and people [using only full-time] missionaries (as wonderful as they are), but we must have several million more to help them. We must, therefore, involve the members of the Church more effectively in missionary work. Member-missionary work is the key to the future growth of the Church.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Oct. 1980.)

My beloved brothers and sisters of the Church, let us exhort each other to fulfill our missionary responsibility. Let us do it with love—not criticism. Let us do it with understanding—not berating. But let us do it, and do it with urgency. Let us catch the vision and the inspiration of President Kimball. We need to understand that member-missionary work is literally the key to the future growth of the Church and that we have covenanted with our Father in Heaven to do this work.

As President of the Twelve, I feel the need of our again hearing the word and the will of the Lord on missionary work from our living prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball. I testify to you of the truthfulness of these four great points of emphasis on missionary work. May I reiterate these points.

First, the sacredness of saving souls and the importance of greatly increasing the number of convert baptisms.

Second, the necessity of increasing our own personal faith in order that convert baptisms will increase in a significant and dramatic way.

Third, the importance of missionaries prayerfully and with the Spirit setting personal convert baptismal goals.

Fourth, the urgency of being actively and productively engaged in member-missionary work in order that the Lord’s harvest may be accomplished.

With all of my heart I pray that these four great points from a living prophet may be fully understood, that we may catch the prophetic vision of missionary work of our beloved president, and that his words and spirit may be fully implemented in our own lives. God bless us, brothers and sisters, with expanded understanding and greater determination to fulfill the vision of our prophet-leader.

I close by quoting from a petition of President Kimball to the Lord in humble prayer: “Our Father, may we move forward with Jesus Christ as our advocate to establish the Church among the inhabitants of the earth. … May we merit the promise that the Lord will do things that we can hardly believe. May we improve the efficiency of our missionaries, each bringing thousands of converts into the Church. Please, Father, open the doors of the nations.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Apr. 1975.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert Barrett