Looking out of the windows of our homes, we can see the houses of our neighbors. Some of these people may be members of the Church; others may not. The members may or may not be active, and the others may or may not be friendly toward the Church.
We go to church with our fellow Latter-day Saints, are taught by them, and have learned to love them. Together we feed each other the bread of life we call the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But who feeds the others?
Ezekiel prophesied, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezek. 34:2.) Do I as an active member of the Church stay so busy feeding myself in my Church classes, meetings, and activities that I am ignoring the rest of the flock?
The Lord reproves those shepherds who do not feed the flock: “The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost” (Ezek. 34:4).
Just how do we feed the flock the Lord describes—the less-active, part-member, or other families in our neighborhood—the “one” we were commanded to leave the ninety-nine for? (See Luke 15:4; Matt. 18:12.)
The Book of Mormon provides the answer, suggesting eight stages or steps in reaching others. We learn these steps through careful study of the account of the missionary work of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites.
Ammon and his brothers had a great challenge, just as each of us today has in trying to share the gospel with those around us. “They supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken.
“And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people” (Alma 17:13–14).
For five hundred years the Nephites had worked, without success, to bring the Lamanites back into the light. Likewise, bishops, missionaries, home and visiting teachers, and youth leaders often have tried to share the gospel with our nonmember and less-active neighbors without success.
Despite the skepticism of those who doubted that Ammon and his brothers would be able to “convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they [were],” Ammon was successful, with the help of the Lord (Alma 26:24).
In the first stage of successful missionary work, the Lord tells Ammon to “go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls” (Alma 17:11; emphasis added).
Setting a good example for our neighbors is an important preliminary step to sharing the gospel. Many of us might think that if we just live our religion, people will eventually knock on our door to ask why our lives are so different. But it is rarely that simple.
Ammon shows us how to be good examples in the second stage of his work among the Lamanites. Ammon didn’t enter the land of Ishmael and immediately begin preaching. He first laid a foundation by telling the king, “I will be thy servant” (Alma 17:25). The Lord would have us set an example by serving neighbors, not just going about our business, living the gospel, and hoping others will see and decide to follow.
Lamoni put Ammon in charge of his flocks, perhaps to test his loyalty and the sincerity of his desire to serve him. Our neighbors also might test the strength and depth of our commitment to serve them. Do we serve out of a sense of religious duty or out of love for them and concern for their welfare?
Ammon accomplished the third stage of missionary work when Lamoni’s flocks were scattered and Ammon’s fellow-servants feared the king would slay them. “I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants … in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words” (Alma 17:29; emphasis added). Although our neighbors may choose not to believe and accept our words, it is our opportunity to win their hearts and lead them to believe our words by being good examples and by serving them.
“And now, these were the thoughts of Ammon, when he saw the afflictions of those whom he termed to be his brethren” (Alma 17:30). Even though the king valued his sheep more than the lives of his servants, Ammon considered his fellow-servants to be “his brethren.” Our great exemplar in this respect is Christ, who had the ability to draw the spiritually sick to him through the power of his love and acceptance. He loved and tolerated the person despite his or her sins. Following the examples of Christ and Ammon, we need to make sure our neighbors don’t consider the Latter-day Saints they know to be cliquish, intolerant, or condemnatory.
In the fourth stage of successful missionary work, Ammon defended the flocks and his fellow-servants. The king wondered if Ammon was not “the Great Spirit.” The servants responded, “Whether he be the Great Spirit or a man, we know not; but this much we do know, … that he is a friend to the king” (Alma 18:2–3). The servants testified of Ammon’s friendship. What power for good there would be if those not of our faith and those in less-active families in our neighborhood could testify to each other of the friendship we and our families give them.
The fifth stage of missionary work began when the Lord stirred Lamoni’s conscience. “Notwithstanding [the Lamanites] believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants” (Alma 18:5). Ammon had yet to speak of God or the commandments when his example of service and friendship stirred Lamoni’s conscience. The Spirit was preparing Lamoni to hear the gospel. His value system allowed him to think it wasn’t wrong to slay his servants. But confronted with Ammon’s example, he reevaluated his actions.
Many of our neighbors see nothing wrong with their lifestyles and do not share the same values as members of the Church. But through our example of service and friendship, it is possible to stir their conscience and cause them to reevaluate their lives.
The sixth stage of missionary work began when Lamoni felt astonished at Ammon’s faithfulness. “Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man,” the king said (Alma 18:10). Not only is Ammon the king’s servant and friend, he is the greatest servant he has ever had. What if our less-active neighbors felt we were the most faithful home or visiting teachers they had ever had? What if our other neighbors considered us to be the most true and faithful of friends?
In the seventh stage of Ammon’s missionary work, Lamoni desired to speak with Ammon but “knew not what he should say unto him” (Alma 18:14). The two men stood in awkward silence for one hour, one wanting to hear and the other wanting to tell. Similarly, we might not perceive our neighbors’ desire to speak of the things in their hearts. Consequently, we are afraid to approach them.
The Spirit inspired Ammon to perceive the thoughts of the king, and he spoke. The king replied, “How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things” (Alma 18:20). Only after Ammon laid the foundation and was inspired by the Spirit to perceive the king’s thoughts did he share the gospel with Lamoni. It can also be helpful to us if we lay a stable foundation, then seek spiritual promptings when sharing the gospel with our neighbors.
The last stage of missionary work represents the attitude we ought to have in doing missionary work among our neighbors. “Now [the sons of Mosiah] were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any human soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28:3; emphasis added). With this attitude in our hearts, our leaders will no longer need to prod and exhort us to share the gospel.
It is not always easy to befriend and feed the flocks of the Lord’s fold. But we can begin by following Ammon’s example, remembering the eight stages of successful missionary work the scriptures provide:
Exemplify. “Show forth good examples” (Alma 17:11).
Serve. “I will be thy servant” (Alma 17:25).
Win hearts. “I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words” (Alma 17:29).
Befriend. “We do know … that he is a friend” (Alma 18:3).
Example stirs conscience. “They supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong” (Alma 18:5).
Be a faithful servant. “There has not been any servant … that has been so faithful” (Alma 18:10).
Speak with inspiration. “How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly” (Alma 18:20).
Love “every creature.” “They could not bear that any human soul should perish” (Mosiah 28:3).
When I was a child, my mother read me the story of Ammon defending the flocks at the waters of Sebus. I looked at the picture and imagined the strength of Ammon, a hero. I thought his greatness resulted from his ability to use a sling and a sword. I have since learned that Ammon fits the Lord’s definition of greatness, found in Matthew 23:11 [Matt. 23:11]: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.”
This article may be the basis for a family home evening discussion or for individual consideration. For example:
As a member of the Church, what are my responsibilities toward my neighbors?
With a friend or family member, role-play a situation in which some of Ammon’s principles are applied.