Will You? Implementing the Mission of the Church


From an address given at the Church Educational System Symposium at Provo, Utah, on 12 August 1997.
To invite with “Will you?” evokes a yes or no answer, which is an exercise of a person’s moral agency.
V. Dallas Merrell

In October 1996 President Gordon B. Hinckley said to the Church: “There are those who were once warm in the faith, but whose faith has grown cold. Many of them wish to come back but do not know quite how to do it. They need friendly hands reaching out to them. With a little effort, many of them can be brought back to feast once again at the table of the Lord” (“Reach with a Rescuing Hand,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 86). His call to reach out and bring people back is fundamentally tied to the Church’s mission statement to “invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59).

Much has happened since the Church’s beginning in 1830. We have grown to a membership of 11 million members, with curriculum materials in 145 languages. Members are gathered in about 2,600 stakes, and full-time missionaries serve in over 300 missions. Why all this organization, brick, and mortar and all these missionaries, programs, officers, and teachers? It is because of our purpose, our mission: “to invite all to come unto Christ.” This is not a slogan. It is the Savior’s very reason for His Church. It must be the gauge of our success.

Come unto Christ

To invite people to come unto Christ is the ultimate purpose of all that is related to the Church. This divine invitation is clearly stated by Moroni in the Book of Mormon: “Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moro. 10:32).

The Book of Mormon is the great divine “handbook” on how this is done. A great discourse focusing on Jesus Christ as the center of Heavenly Father’s marvelous plan of happiness is found in 2 Nephi 31:20–21 [2 Ne. 31:20–21]:

“Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

How do we come unto Christ? How do we become perfected in Him? How do we take upon us the name of Christ?

Learn the doctrine of Christ. Clearly, coming unto Christ involves differing steps or processes. I have identified four. The first of these is that we must learn the doctrine of Christ. The doctrine of Christ is one of the central themes of the Book of Mormon, and the phrase is used therein several times (2 Ne. 31:2, 21; 2 Ne. 32:6; Jacob 7:2, 6; 3 Ne. 2:2; see also 3 Ne. 11:30–39). In the first three articles of faith the Prophet Joseph Smith summarized doctrine he learned by revelation and from translating the Book of Mormon. Those articles of faith cover who God is, what our accountability is, and how we are to be rescued:

  1. 1.

    “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”

  2. 2.

    “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

  3. 3.

    “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

    Live by correct principles. Once we have learned the truth of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we must do something about it. This is the second important aspect of coming unto Christ—living by correct principles. The thing we must do is to apply the principles of the gospel, as explained in the fourth article of faith:

  4. 4.

    “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance. …” [A of F 1:4]

    It is essential that we have faith in Christ. That is, we need to align our hearts and souls with Christ and then, as we surely falter and fail, to keep working on that alignment by repentance, always keeping our eyes and hearts on coming unto Him.

    Are faith and repentance enough? No. We must continue to press forward with a steadfastness in Christ. Let’s finish the fourth article of faith: “… third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Receive priesthood ordinances and make covenants. The third part of coming unto Christ involves priesthood ordinances and covenants. Through priesthood ordinances we bind ourselves to Him by covenant. We maintain our alliance with the Savior by being faithful in keeping the covenants we made as we received those ordinances. President Hinckley has said, “We are leading toward one objective for each individual member of the Church. That is for all to receive the ordinances of the gospel and make covenants with our Heavenly Father so that they may return to his presence. That is our grand objective. The ordinances and covenants are the means to achieving that divine nature that will return us into his presence again” (closing remarks, regional representatives’ seminar, 3 Apr. 1987). No soul will enter the highest degree in the celestial glory without obtaining the essential priesthood ordinances, which are:

  • Baptism and confirmation

  • Ordination of males to the Melchizedek Priesthood

  • Temple endowment

  • Temple sealing

Keep the covenants made. Receiving each of these ordinances and faithfully keeping the sacred covenants associated with them are necessary to come unto Christ. Thus, the fourth step in coming unto Christ is to keep the covenants made. Ordinances and covenants are required of all people who would take part in the mission of the Church, and this Church is the only place where they can be obtained.

The focus of the Lord’s mission for His Church might be illustrated by an experience in the island nation of Fiji in 1995. We had just finished a stake conference, and as we were leaving, some missionaries pointed to a woman who wanted us to meet her nonmember husband of 30 years, a Fijian high chief. I shook his hand and, after greetings were exchanged, asked if he had heard the missionaries. “Yes,” he said. “How do you feel about the Church?” I asked. He said he felt good about it. I then asked, “Will you be baptized today?” He looked into my eyes, then away at the sky, the ground, and from side to side. Eternity pressed on this moment. Then came his answer: “Why not?” So I asked, “Is that a yes or a no?” “Yes!” he exclaimed.

His wife burst into tears of joy. We had a jubilant baptism. The mission of the Church had been put into action. This brother was invited and he then took an essential step in coming unto Christ. Baptism was the gate (see 2 Ne. 31:17), but he needed to press forward after baptism. I returned to Fiji a few months later and found that our new member was already an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. A year after his baptism, he and his wife were endowed and sealed.

We are supported in keeping covenants as we receive the sacrament weekly in sacrament meetings. Participating in this continuing ordinance refreshes and renews us and is part of the process of strengthening our faith in Christ. The sacrament is a vital part of the ongoing process of repenting. Repentance is the continuous, lifelong process of aligning, correcting, and tying ourselves with the Father and His desire to bring us back into His presence, to help us become even as He is.

Thus, we come unto Christ.

Invite All

Now, let’s go back to the mission statement: “Invite all to come unto Christ.” The mission statement of any organization defines the ends and the reasons for the organization’s being. The Church’s mission statement not only defines our purpose—to come unto Christ—but also contains the instruction for its implementation—to invite all. The statement is immensely profound. It contains both ends and means.

What does it mean to invite all? Under the direction of inspired priesthood leaders, every accountable soul must be invited to come unto Christ: “For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated” (D&C 1:2). There are many “golden contacts” among the all who live with existing members, those whom President Hinckley has pleaded with us to reach out for and invite back.

While assigned to the Pacific Area Presidency and living in Sydney, Australia, I made a long trip across the continent to Perth, in Western Australia. Perth had two small stakes, the last organized 17 years earlier. For years local leaders had been hoping for a third stake, although even as we met they were barely qualified for the two. We knew that the growth of the Church required considerable individual spiritual progress. We discovered that many members were lost and their addresses unknown; others had requested that the Church not contact them; others were part-member families; and too many families were headed by prospective elders and were without the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The two stake presidents and the mission president in Perth committed to find and invite all of the lost or wavering souls, including those just mentioned, to come and each receive essential priesthood ordinances. Full-time missionaries joined with the members in this process. Each week this effort was correlated in the ward priesthood executive committee meetings.

After just a few months, many families had been found and invited to come and complete all priesthood ordinances. A large majority of those newly contacted families were taught the missionary discussions, and many, many of those families came back to the Church. Many miracles were evident. In just five months they were amply qualified for the third stake. After two years there were four stakes in Perth, and they are now preparing for the fifth.

Under the direction of the bishop or branch president, we must invite all prospective elders, all less-active members, all un-baptized family members. All includes the unendowed, those who are not sealed, those young men not ordained at the appropriate age, those without current temple recommends. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have told Church leaders that all includes families, adults, young men, young women, children, all members and nonmembers now living, and all who have lived or who will yet be born into mortality in this earth. All means all.

Some of the all who need to be invited are in our chapels with us but are missing essential priesthood ordinances. Many are less active, those whom we seldom see. All includes many who are near and dear to us. When I returned to the United States, I asked faithful sisters in the East Montana District to give us the names of those they loved who lacked essential priesthood ordinances and for whom they had been praying—their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. The priesthood leaders and full-time missionaries then focused their combined service on each of the 104 men identified by those sisters, and within six months 52 of these brethren and more than 20 others had been ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, and the district became a stake.

Literally, all are invited; all must be invited and nurtured to come unto Christ.

Invite under Priesthood Direction

So that the work of the Lord can be done in order, he has established presidencies, quorums, councils, auxiliaries, committees, and so forth. It is in meetings of these bodies that we are trained, lists are shared, names are reviewed for invitations, and interview times are scheduled. There priesthood leaders set in motion a host of disciples who invite members and nonmembers to come partake of all the Father wants us to receive. Occasionally, some invitations might be delayed for confidential reasons.

The Lord has also appointed judges in Israel to give approval or to recommend. Anyone may invite, but only those with priesthood keys may recommend or authorize one to receive a priesthood ordinance. We are all to teach, prepare, and open the door. The one who interviews determines readiness to enter and helps every desirous soul prepare to become worthy. No priesthood leader interviewing as a judge would ever discourage one who has been invited.

Some priesthood leaders and full-time missionaries have, after proper authorization, visited the homes of prospective elders with a simple, direct question: “Will you come for an interview with the bishop for the Melchizedek Priesthood?” They have also gone to less-active sisters with the question, “Will you come for an interview with the bishop for a temple recommend?” To both questions, most have answered yes. I am convinced that those who honestly answer yes intend to qualify. We have also learned that many of those invited have never before been invited to come for an interview for the priesthood or for the temple. They must be invited. That is our commission.

Thus, we invite under the guidance of those leaders the Lord has called and given keys to direct the work of the Church. Through this revealed means, the mission of the Church is implemented with vision, commitment, and results in an orderly way.

Invite with “Will You?”

We are to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach” (D&C 20:59), that all may learn and understand the pure doctrine of Christ and be invited to come unto Christ. We invite by asking a person, “Will you?” To invite with “Will you?” evokes a yes or no answer, which is an exercise of individual moral agency. Individual moral agency is at the heart of Heavenly Father’s plan. The War in Heaven was fought over the principle of agency, and a third part of the sons and daughters of Heavenly Father made a different decision than our Father would have preferred.

Is the phrase “You should” acceptable as an invitation, as in “You should go to church”? No. “You should” is assertive, telling—maybe even pushy or demanding—and therefore often arouses passive or active resistance. “You should” is a challenge, not an invitation.

Another option—“Would you?”—is tentative or contingent. Asking “Would you?” may elicit a yes, but it might be with a condition—“if you paid me enough,” “if I believed.” If we say, “I would like to invite you to,” it may seem like an invitation but could receive the response “That’s nice, thank you.” The person remains uninvited.

Satan’s “You will!” demands compliance. It is coercive. In fact, we are instructed that the “powers of heaven” can be “handled only upon the principles of righteousness” and that our influence will be ineffective and unacceptable if it is exercised in “unrighteous dominion.” To invite with a loving “Will you?” meets the standards for power and influence in the Lord’s service (see D&C 121:36–44).

Ammon’s approach to King Lamoni is a great example of inviting: “Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou [will you] hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? … And the king answered him, and said: Yea, I will believe all thy words” (Alma 18:22–23; emphasis added).

The question “Will you?” triggers moral agency and promotes genuine spiritual progress by the one responding yes. If the one invited answers no, a witness is established of the response. “Will you?” lays spiritual matters on the table. It defers properly to the person’s agency. “Will you?” respects intelligence. In fact, it is possible that the very nature of intelligence with which we were formed and born as spiritual children of Father in Heaven is most fundamentally “free to choose” (see D&C 93:29–30).

Seek Those Who Need Help

Responsibility for inviting is shared broadly in the Church—by leaders, teachers, home and visiting teachers, parents, and others. We must invite! Will you join us for family prayer? Will you come to seminary tomorrow? Will you come to institute? Will you come to sacrament meeting? Will you come to Young Women? Will you come for the missionary discussions? Missionaries can ask, Will you be baptized?

We must be certain that all are invited to receive each essential priesthood ordinance. Our inviting should lead them to obtain each of these ordinances and to be faithful in keeping the covenants associated with those ordinances.

When teachers present a doctrine or a historical event, they should teach a related principle—something hearers should do, something they should apply to their lives. Then what? We invite! Will you live according to this principle? Will you pray? Will you live revealed moral standards? Will you tithe your income? Will you show by your smile and friendliness the joy of the gospel?

Although our personalities, gifts, and callings differ, our inviting will not fall on neutral ears, especially when prompted by the Spirit. For when we invite with “Will you?” the Holy Ghost will testify of our invitation and encourage others to say yes. Everyone who has come to earth has already responded positively to the Father’s plan in the premortal world. We must give them the opportunity to respond positively again. As you teach and invite, remember this: The Savior has promised that His Spirit will go before your face. His Spirit will be in your heart. His words will come forth from your mouth. Angels will be round about you to bear you up. The veil of heaven will be penetrated tenderly, and the Holy Spirit will whisper to the one invited to remember from heaven’s days the truths you speak. Heavenly Father will help the person feel the earlier heavenly decision and encourage him or her to say yes to your invitation.

As members and leaders invite all to come to Christ, President Hinckley has focused us squarely on our responsibilities: “My brethren and sisters, I would hope, I would pray, that each of us … would resolve to seek those who need help, who are in desperate and difficult circumstances, and lift them in the spirit of love into the embrace of the Church, where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them, comfort them, sustain them, and put them on the way of happy and productive lives” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 86).

Will you follow the prophet? Will you assist in accomplishing the mission of the Church? Will you “invite all to come unto Christ”? Will you invite? Will you ask “will you” questions?

The greatest joy I have as a Church member is inviting brothers and sisters to come unto Christ. I testify that if you will invite others to come unto Christ, you will experience this same joy.

Let’s Talk about It

Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:

  1. 1.

    How can we be more effective in inviting others to come unto Christ?

  2. 2.

    When have you invited others to Christ? Were those experiences positive or negative?

  3. 3.

    What steps can we personally take to draw nearer to the Savior?

[photo] Photo © Eyewire

[photos] Photos by Steve Bunderson

V. Dallas Merrell, a former member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, is a member of the Murray 24th Ward, Murray Utah Stake.