I had a memorable experience when I was serving as a mission president in Dallas, Texas. During a zone conference, our mission home called to say that President Ezra Taft Benson, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, would like to meet with me in the Dallas–Fort Worth airport.
Excited (and a bit nervous), I arranged for capable assistants to conclude the training at the zone conference, and my wife, Marilyn, and I met with President and Sister Benson in a private area of the airport. For two hours we discussed the missionaries and their work in northern Texas.
As we spoke, I felt President Benson’s great love for missionary work. We saw him hug and speak enthusiastically with some missionaries who had just finished their missions and were preparing to board a plane for home. He graciously arranged to speak to all our missionaries on a subsequent visit. He bore fervent witness to us that the Book of Mormon must be the heart of our personal study and of our missionary work.1
With full hearts and strengthened resolve, we sang a missionary hymn to President and Sister Benson. As they departed, I sensed that President Benson was taking advantage of every opportunity, even during an airport layover, to stimulate missionary work.
That sense of mission is one of the most characteristic features of the restored church. Almost from the moment of birth, we prepare for and engage in missionary service: Babies are blessed by their fathers to grow up faithful and fulfill an honorable full-time mission; mission savings accounts are opened; and lessons at church and at home constantly encourage missionary work. One of the crowning moments of a Latter-day Saint’s life—young or not so young—is to stand before one’s congregation and bear testimony of the restored gospel on the eve of leaving for full-time missionary service. Perhaps even more momentous is the homecoming following such service; it is a time of reunion, of glorying in God’s goodness, of rejoicing in the truths shared and in the spiritual growth experienced. For young men and women, a full-time mission initiates them into adulthood and prepares them for a lifetime of gospel service. For older members, it reenergizes and caps their lifelong devotion to the Lord.
And yet a full-time mission is only the beginning. Missionary work permeates our lives at work, at home, at church. Every member is encouraged to share with friends and relatives how the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has blessed their lives. Indeed, much of the strength of the Church is due to such efforts. The spiritual power that comes to those who share their feelings about the gospel, along with the strength new members infuse into the Church, is immeasurable.
This missionary zeal, as a church and as individuals, is a result of a divine commission given anew to the Church in our dispensation to take the gospel to the world. (See D&C 18:28; D&C 112:28.) Our Heavenly Father is a God of truth, justice, and love. He doesn’t play favorites. (See 2 Ne. 26:33.) He intends that all his children learn how his plan can bring them peace, joy, a sense of purpose, and eternal family relationships. This “good news” is to go to everyone. (See D&C 1:2.)
There are several ways members may assist:
We may pray diligently and, when appropriate, share feelings and experiences about how the Lord has blessed our lives. (See Mosiah 18:9.)
Those who are receptive and desire these blessings are to be taught by the full-time missionaries. President Spencer W. Kimball suggested that “the members do the finding and the full-time missionaries do the teaching.”2
Working together in this way, members and missionaries can take the gospel of Jesus Christ to “every nation, kindred, tongue and people.” (D&C 133:37.) After the members talk to others, sharing their feelings about the gospel, missionaries teach those who are receptive. By participating in this great work, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, we join with the angels as co-workers in sweeping the earth with truth.3
Our commission is not only to baptize people, but in a balanced way to simultaneously strengthen them and activate others as well.4 Thus, our commission as a church is not only to preach the gospel in every nation but also to “establish congregations of Saints”5 and stakes among them to which the Saints can gather and be strengthened.6
The Church must grow to fill the whole earth (see Dan. 2:35–44) before the glorious second coming of the Lord of the harvest (see Alma 26:7; D&C 65:5–6). Only when the truth has at last “swept every country, and sounded in every ear” will the end come.7
Those who are consistently involved in fulfilling this divine commission know a rare joy. Such was true for the late Elder Robert E. Sackley of the Seventy and his wife, Marjorie. When Elder Sackley was a bishop in Medicine Hat, Canada, he and Sister Sackley prayed often that the Lord would impress them with the name of someone to visit.
Following the impressions they received, Brother Sackley set up visits on the phone; then he and Sister Sackley visited the person’s home, got better acquainted, and exchanged feelings about the Savior and his gospel. If the people seemed receptive, the Sackleys invited them into their home to hear more. Most accepted their invitation. And most who came joined the Church. Through this prayerful approach, hundreds of people who were taught in the Sackley living room were later baptized. Each time, the experience brought the Sackleys closer to the Lord and closer to the peace and joy that come when his Spirit is present.
I know what a difference sharing the gospel can make in another person’s life. At the Missionary Training Center in Provo, we couldn’t find a returned missionary to teach language to missionaries assigned to Czechoslovakia. We finally hired a young woman fluent in the language who was not a member of the Church but was willing to live gospel standards.
This new teacher had many gospel conversations with fellow teachers. They offered many prayers in her behalf. Her students enthusiastically practiced teaching her the discussions. She was wholeheartedly accepted and loved.
One day during a testimony meeting, she surprised everyone by expressing how touched she was by the testimonies of her fellow teachers. Then, burying her head in her hands, she exclaimed tearfully, “It’s true! It’s true!” After the meeting, as fellow teachers thanked her for expressing her feelings, she said, “It wasn’t I who spoke.” Then she added: “I really didn’t want to be baptized. But I have had several unmistakable witnesses of the Spirit, and when God tells you to do something, you have to do it, right?”
She was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church in late January of this year. She has since traveled to Russia to personally share the message of the gospel with friends. The joy others shared with her is now hers to share with others. (See D&C 18:15–16.)
The growth of the Church is taking on dizzying proportions. In 1973, there were 3,300,000 Latter-day Saints. Now, only twenty years later, Church membership is nearing 9,000,000. More than 70 percent of the U.S. converts are found by members. As a church, we are starting to fulfill our divine commission. But so much more can be done. If only 10 percent of the Church members fellowshipped one person a year into the Church, our conversion rate would more than triple.
Fulfilling our divine commission as a people will involve more than the Quorum of the Twelve, more than the full-time missionaries. To make the best use of the Lord’s resources, members have been asked to do the finding of those to teach, and missionaries to do the actual teaching. At a worldwide mission presidents’ conference in Salt Lake City, President Benson noted, “Member-missionary work is literally the key to the future growth of the Church.”8
Other recent Presidents of the Church have also felt impressed that now is the day for the kingdom to roll forward as it never has before. According to President Joseph Fielding Smith, the Church, because of the number and strength of its members, has at last “attained the stature and strength that are enabling us to fulfill the commission given us by the Lord.”9
“This impression weighs upon me,” added President Spencer W. Kimball, “that the Church is at a point in its growth and maturity when we are at last ready to move forward in a major way.” President Kimball then challenged each Church member to bring another family or individual into the Church within a year.10 President David O. McKay had also issued this same challenge several years earlier. Following each of these invitations, there were large upsurges in Church growth.11
Darian and Elizabeth Andersen and their eight children know what a difference heeding the prophets’ invitation can make. The Andersens fasted and committed to the Lord that they would have one missionary fireside in their home each month for one year. Fervent prayers ensued on how to fulfill what seemed to be a gigantic commitment. A prompting came: “Have a ward party in your home.” They moved out all the furniture from the downstairs of their Edmond, Oklahoma, home to make room. Almost the entire ward came, including two who were not Church members. All had a wonderful time.
As the guests were leaving, Elizabeth and Darian engaged the guests who were not members of the Church in conversation and, offering up silent pleadings to Heavenly Father for help, invited them to come into their home to see Church videos. The invitation was accepted! And both joined the Church. Darian and Elizabeth held forty-eight gospel study firesides in their home that year, far surpassing their goal of one a month. Many souls felt the Spirit of the Lord. Before the year was out, four more had been baptized.
I know how intimidating sharing the gospel with others can seem—and how easy it can be with help from the Lord. When I was a new mission president, my wife and I didn’t seem to have time to personally share the gospel. But the words of the then-living prophet wouldn’t let us alone: “Every one of you should be a missionary in addition to what else you are doing. … You cannot go into eternity and look the Lord in the face if you’ve done nothing toward teaching the gospel to others.”12
Since we didn’t know many people who were not members of the Church, we offered fervent prayers that the Lord would lead someone to us with whom we could share his gospel. Soon thereafter, a young man walked into the mission office to deliver a bicycle. After we got acquainted, I showed Steve an artist’s rendering of the Dallas Temple, then under construction, and explained that in the house of the Lord, families are joined together forever. The words flooded into my mind as the Lord promised: “It shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say.” (D&C 100:6.) Steve seemed impressed. I invited him to dinner, where we had a lovely gospel conversation, which led into the missionary discussions and his conversion.
After joining the Church, Steve told us that he had been praying to be led to the truth during the same period of time we were praying for someone to be led to us with whom we could share it! Great has been our joy with Steve as he has completed an honorable mission, has married in the temple, and is building a gospel-centered family. To continue to experience this same joy throughout eternity with him, with our children, and with others in Heavenly Father’s kingdom would be the greatest of all conceivable blessings.
Besides rejoicing with converts forever, there are additional blessings that come to those who are engaged in missionary service.
For example, by bringing the message of salvation to others, the missionary “bringeth salvation to his soul” as well. (D&C 4:4; emphasis added.) I have witnessed the wonderful metamorphosis in which new full-time missionaries encased in worldliness transform into creatures of sterling character and stalwart devotion. One such missionary wanted to go home early. But through prayers, fasting, and diligent Book of Mormon study, he instead “waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth” and started to teach with the “power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:2–3.) He had made an Alma-like transformation. (See Mosiah 27; Mosiah 28:3.) At the end of his successful mission, as I drove him to the airport, I asked him what had changed his mind. He replied that as he had studied and prayed, he had realized that what he did affected how people will spend their eternities. He decided to stay for them. And in helping others come unto Christ, he had become more Christlike himself.
The Lord also blesses the families of missionaries. I know of a woman who went through two divorces, was excommunicated, and then married a third time outside the Church. Her parents tried unsuccessfully for twenty years to reclaim her, and finally, entrusting her to the Lord, they left on a mission. While in the mission field, they received word that their daughter and her husband had set the date for his baptism and her rebaptism a few days after their parents’ anticipated return.
What a difference a divine commission makes! Having invited us to join in partnership with him, the Lord prepares us, watches over us, and helps us fulfill his commission. To the early missionaries of this dispensation, the Lord said: “I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you. …
“And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84:42, 88.)
With such heavenly, watchful care, “shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward … and on, on to the victory!” (D&C 128:22.)
“If the question is asked,” said Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “‘You mean you are out to convert the entire world?’ the answer is, ‘Yes. We will try to reach every living soul.’
“Some who measure that challenge quickly say, ‘Why, that’s impossible! It cannot be done!’
“To that we simply say, ‘Perhaps, but we shall do it anyway.’” (Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 97.)
It is the individual members of the Church, actively involved in sharing their feelings about Jesus Christ and his gospel, who will make it possible at last for the gospel to be delivered to the ends of the earth. President Ezra Taft Benson suggested some key qualities necessary to succeed in this vital member-missionary work: Strive to have the Spirit with you. Be humbly dependent on the Lord. Love people. Work diligently. (See Ensign, Sept. 1990, pp. 2–7.)
Succeeding in this work is not difficult, nor does it require complicated programs. President Kimball suggested a simple procedure for approaching friends and acquaintances:
Prayerfully select an acquaintance to approach.
Contact the persons you are prompted to visit. Do things with them. Share your feelings about the gospel.
When they show interest, invite them into your home to hear the message of the Restoration. (See Gene R. Cook, Ensign, May 1976, p. 104.)
So what do you talk about with your friends to prepare their hearts for an invitation to hear the gospel? Share how the gospel has influenced you personally and helped with the challenges of life. Share your feelings and experiences. Don’t speak of doctrines right away; these rarely attract people to learn more about the Church. Emphasize what you have in common with them.
Perhaps more important than talking is listening. Listen for understanding, and don’t be too eager to talk. Don’t be in a hurry to bring your conversation to a conclusion or to force interpretations of ideas. Be warm and relaxed. Enjoy the exchange and be willing to learn and share.
When the friend shows interest, extend an invitation to come to your home to learn more. Be aware that half of all invitations to meet with missionaries, and three out of four invitations to Church activities, are accepted! Don’t be too concerned if any one specific invitation is declined. Most people will still accept other invitations. The chances of offending friends are slight. Be active in following up with a variety of member-missionary efforts.
In short, share feelings with everyone. If the reaction is positive, extend the invitation.