Both of President David O. McKay’s parents were converts to the Church, the result of proselyting efforts by missionaries called to labor in Great Britain. The family of his father, David McKay, joined the Church in Scotland in 1850 as some of the first converts to the Church in the area. The family of his mother, Jennette Evans, joined the Church in Wales at about that same time in spite of strong opposition from close relatives.
From the righteous heritage given to him by his parents, President McKay had a great testimony of the importance and far-reaching effects of missionary work. In 1953, on a tour of Europe, President McKay visited the humble Scotland home of his father’s childhood. President McKay’s son Llewelyn, who accompanied him on the trip, recorded the experience as follows:
“[As we approached the home], the sun broke through the clouds and smiled at us as though he were reflecting the joy and happiness in father’s heart. As we all gathered in front of the home, tears came to father’s eyes as he looked through the door. ‘If it had not been for two missionaries knocking on this door about 1850, I shouldn’t be here today!’”2
Teachings of David O. McKay
Church members have been commissioned to do missionary work.
“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. …” (Matt. 28:19–20.)
Such was the admonition given to the early twelve. Such is the admonition given to people in this age in the Doctrine and Covenants to be a light unto the world. “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” [See D&C 45:9.]
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was scarcely one year old when that declaration was given by inspiration to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He himself was in his twenty-sixth year. It is marvelous to make such a declaration, great in its potential, comprehensive in its scope. …
… Mormonism, so-called, has reared an ensign to the nations and, with words as comprehensive as those I have read in the revelation, invites the world to peace, to rest, to contentment.3
The text … “go ye unto all the world” is really the missionary injunction given by the risen Christ to his Apostles. In effect he says:
Consider this work unfinished until all nations shall have accepted the gospel and shall have enlisted themselves as my disciples. …
With the same direct commission from the risen Lord who with the Father appeared in person in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the proclamation of the gospel is being made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to “every nation, kindred, tongue and people” as fast as means and personnel can carry it forward.4
Every Latter-day Saint should be involved in missionary work.
If I were to couch in definite terms two of the most potent convictions in the hearts of the Latter-day Saints, I would name: First, an abiding assurance that the gospel, as taught by the Redeemer when he lived among men and which was later modified, changed and corrupted by men, has been restored by the Redeemer in its purity and fulness; and second, following naturally the first, a conviction in the heart of every member of this Church that the responsibility rests upon the membership of the Church to preach the restored gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.5
I am reminded that when Christ was on the earth, He said to some men who also knew of His divinity, that there was an obligation upon all such who possessed the knowledge of the existence of God and of the truths of the gospel of Christ. “He that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” [Luke 12:48.] So with this knowledge that the Latter-day Saints possess there comes a mighty obligation. God’s people are spoken of in scripture, ancient and modern, as a chosen people, as a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, as a light set upon a hill. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven.” [See Matthew 5:14–16.]6
What a responsibility … of leading good men and good women all over this world to know God, and to know what their mission is on earth! Fathers and mothers, fellow workers, do you fully realize today what it means to assume the responsibility of carrying the message of peace and good will to all men?7
The world is hungry to hear the truth as never before in its history. We have it. Are we equal to the task—to the responsibility God has placed upon us?8
Every member of the Church should be converted and have a knowledge of the gospel, including a knowledge of the scriptures. How wonderful it would be if every member of the Church could, as Peter of old, “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you. …” (1 Pet. 3:15.) …
The responsibility of the Church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith, not only to preach it and proclaim it by word, by distribution of literature, but more than anything else by living the gospel in our homes and in our business dealings, having faith and testimony in our hearts, and radiating it wherever we go. … There is nothing that can stop the progress of truth excepting only our weaknesses or failure to do our duty.9
Every member is a missionary. He or she has the responsibility of bringing somebody: a mother, a father, a neighbor, a fellow worker, an associate, somebody in touch with the messengers of the gospel. If every member will carry that responsibility and if the arrangement to have that mother or that father or somebody meet the authorized representatives of the Church, no power on earth can stop this church from growing. And personal contact is what will influence those investigators. That personal contact, the nature of it, its effect depends upon you. And that’s one thing that I wish to emphasize. There’s one responsibility which no man can evade, that’s the responsibility of personal influence. … It’s what you are, not what you pretend to be that will bring people to investigate.10
Every member of the Church should be a missionary. He is probably not authorized to go from house to house, but he is authorized, by virtue of his membership, to set a proper example as a good neighbor. Neighbors are watching him. Neighbors are watching his children. He is a light, and it is his duty not to have that light hidden under a bushel, but it should be set up on a hill that all men may be guided thereby. …
… If you will live in accordance with those humble principles under the covenants you made at the water’s edge, and since that time in Sacrament meetings, and many of you in the House of God, you will fill a noble mission, and God will reward you.
May every member of the Church experience this transformation in this life, and so live that others, seeing his good deeds, may be led to glorify our Father in heaven.11
The Gospel is our anchor. We know what it stands for. If we live it, feel it, and speak well of the Gospel, of the Priesthood, of the authorities in it, speak well even of our enemies, we shall feel happier ourselves, and we shall be preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everybody can do this. It is possible. God has not asked us to do it and then deprived us of the power of performing it.12
Full-time missionaries must be worthy to serve.
In Section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation that “behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.
“Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.” (D&C 4:1–2.) …
[A] significant feature of this revelation, and of others given about the same period, is the naming of essential qualifications of those who were to participate in the bringing about of this marvelous work. These qualifications were not the possession of wealth, not social distinction, not political preferment, not military achievement, not nobility of birth; but a desire to serve God with all your “heart, might, mind and strength”—spiritual qualities that contribute to nobility of soul. I repeat: No popularity, no wealth, no theological training in church government—yet “a marvelous work [was] about to come forth among the children of men.”13
There are certain standards by which [bishops and stake presidents] should be guided in calling our missionaries. First, call no [missionary] for the purpose of saving him or her. The young man is getting wayward and you think a mission would do him good. It would. But that is not why you are sending him out. Choose [missionaries] who are worthy to represent the Church, see that they are sufficiently mature, and, above all, that they have character.14
It is well for us to have in mind not so much the benefit to those representatives as their preparation and fitness to carry on the responsibilities entailed in a missionary call. In choosing a missionary it is well to keep in mind questions as follows:
Is he worthy to represent the Church?
Has he sufficient will power to resist temptation?
Has he kept himself clean while he has been home and by that standard proved himself capable of resisting possible temptation in the field?
Has he taken active part in Church organizations at home?
Does he at least glimpse what the Church has to offer the world?
Has he glimpsed that the Church is the greatest thing in the world, and the only authorized group to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in the salvation of mankind? …
Has he, through prayer, or experience, felt God’s nearness to him, so that he can approach the Lord as he would his earthly father?15
Every elder therefore who goes abroad to preach this gospel must first live the gospel to the best of his ability, and have a conviction in his heart that he is preaching the truth. True, at first this testimony may be somewhat indefinite; but all our children have it to some extent. … Through study, service, humility and prayer, this testimony will increase.
Another qualification is this: Every elder should be a Christian gentleman always. A gentleman—who is he? “Whoever is open”—nothing to hide, no downcast look because of the consciousness of guilt; “whoever is loyal”—loyal to the truth, to virtue, to the Word of Wisdom—“true, of humane and affable demeanor, honorable himself and in his judgment of others, faithful to his word as to law, and faithful alike to God and to man—such a man is a true gentleman,” and such a man the elder of this Church should be who goes out to Christianize the world.16
Every deacon, teacher, and priest, every elder in the Church understands that to be worthy to be a representative of the Church of Christ, he must be temperate in his habits and morally clean. He is taught that there is no double standard of chastity, that every young man, as well as every young woman, is to keep himself free from sexual impurity. …
These young men are instructed that they go out as representatives of the Church, and that a representative of any organization—economic or religious—must possess at least one outstanding quality, and that is: trustworthiness. He was right who said, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” And whom do these missionaries represent? First, they represent their parents, carrying the responsibility of keeping their good name unsullied. Second, they represent the Church, specifically the ward in which they live. And third, they represent the Lord Jesus Christ, whose authorized servants they are.
These ambassadors, for such they are, represent these three groups and carry in that representation one of the greatest responsibilities of their lives.17
Many blessings result from missionary service.
If you will have your testimonies strengthened, to have it revealed to you now individually that Christ is aiding you in your work, guiding his Church, well the best way to do that is … doing your duty, … attending to missionary work.18
To render service … in the mission field is a blessing to anyone. It is recognized as such by thousands of parents throughout the Church who appreciate the value of such labor to their sons and daughters, in whom this experience awakens an appreciation of home and of the gospel. Parents know also that missionary activity brings into the plane of consciousness a knowledge of the truth of the gospel, which the young men have perhaps felt but not expressed.19
Many of us fail to realize the value and potent possibilities of this great branch of Church activity [missionary work].
1—As an example of voluntary service in the cause of the Master, it is unexcelled.
2—As an incentive to clean living among youth, as a contributing factor to character building, its influence is immeasurable.
3—As an educative force and uplifting influence upon our communities, its effect is clearly manifest.
4—As a contributing factor to a better understanding among nations, and to the establishing of international friendship, it wields a significant influence.
5—As it is the purpose of the Almighty to save the individual, … the missionary service works most harmoniously in the consummation of this eternal plan!
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; …
“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 18:10, 15–16.)20
Men’s hearts must be changed. Christ came into the world for that very purpose. The principal reason for preaching the gospel is to change men’s hearts and lives, and you brethren who go from stake to stake and hear the evidence and testimony of those who have been converted recently … can testify how the conversion has changed their lives, as they have given their testimonies. By such conversion they bring peace and good will to the world instead of strife [and] suffering.21
Our missionaries … are now declaring to a troubled world that the message heralded at the birth of Jesus—“peace on earth, good will toward men” [see Luke 2:14]—may become a reality here and now by obedience to the principles of the gospel.22
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
President McKay often expressed gratitude for the efforts of the missionaries who taught his parents. How have you or someone you know been blessed by missionary work?
Where does the responsibility for missionary work rest today? (See pages 49–54.) What opportunities do we have to follow President McKay’s instruction that every member should be a missionary? How can we prepare ourselves to fulfill this responsibility?
What resources has the Church provided to help us share the gospel? In what ways have we been instructed to assist full-time and ward missionaries in our area?
What qualifications are required for full-time missionary service? (See pages 54–56.) Why are worthiness and trustworthiness essential to missionary service?
What can young people do to prepare themselves to serve missions? What can adults do to help youth prepare to serve missions?
How can individuals with physical or mental limitations advance the cause of missionary work? What alternative means of Church service are available to them?
In what ways can older couples be a significant resource in the mission field?
In Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 113–14.
Llewelyn R. McKay, Home Memories of President David O. McKay (1956), 15; paragraphing altered.
“Every Member a Missionary,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1961, 710–11.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1949, 118.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1927, 102.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1910, 47.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1927, 106.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 113–14.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 88–89; paragraphing altered.
“Talk by President David O. McKay Given to the North British Mission 1 March 1961,” Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2–3.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1958, 93–94.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1910, 110.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 86.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 176.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1961, 96.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1927, 106.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1949, 119–20.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1959, 89.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1961, 96.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1949, 117.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 11.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 87.