For President Ezra Taft Benson, missionary work was a family tradition. “My father’s family consisted of eleven children,” he explained. “All eleven of us have filled missions. My wife also filled a mission and had the pleasure of her widowed mother serving with her for the last six months [of her mission]. When my own father went on a mission, I remember, as the eldest son, the letters that he wrote from the mission field in the Midwest. There came into that home a spirit of missionary work that has never left it, for which I am humbly grateful.”1
President Benson served as a full-time missionary in the British Mission from 1921 to 1923, and the “spirit of missionary work” continued with him well beyond those two and a half years. For example, as United States secretary of agriculture from 1953 to 1961, he interacted with many people of other faiths. During general conference in April 1961, he told the Saints: “I have the names of some 9,000 men, approximately, with whom I have had personal contact in an official capacity. I hope to give referral cards for them. I would like to have every one of them hear the gospel. I wish that all of our Father’s children might enjoy the blessings that come through an acceptance and living of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”2
President Benson’s enthusiasm for missionary work continued in his later years, and he was eager for all members of the Church to adopt the same enthusiasm. He spoke directly to young men about preparing themselves for full-time missionary service. “Prepare now,” he said. “Prepare yourselves physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.”3 He urged parents to guide their sons in this preparation. He also counseled young sisters and older members of the Church to seriously consider full-time missionary service. And he exhorted all members of the Church to share the gospel with their neighbors.
President Thomas S. Monson told of a time when President Benson’s love for missionary work inspired a future missionary: “One Friday, he and Sister Benson followed their usual practice of attending a session at the Jordan River Temple. While there, President Benson was approached by a young man who greeted him with joy in his heart and announced that he had been called to fill a full-time mission. President Benson took the newly called missionary by the hand and, with a smile on his lips, declared, ‘Take me with you! Take me with you!’ That missionary testified that, in a way, he took President Benson with him on his mission, since this greeting demonstrated President Benson’s abiding love, his devotion to missionary work, and his desire to ever be found in the service of the Lord.”4
Love for all of Heavenly Father’s children was at the heart of President Benson’s dedication to sharing the gospel: “Our Father’s children need the gospel. … I know the Lord loves them, and as his humble servant I have a love in my heart for the teeming millions of this world.”5 Reflecting on the power of the Savior’s love, he testified, “Our blessings multiply as we share his love with our neighbor.”6
From a lifetime of participating in missionary work and encouraging his fellow Saints to do likewise, President Benson could affirm: “I have tasted the joy of missionary work. There is no work in all the world that can bring an individual greater joy and happiness.”7
Following the glorious appearance of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, it appears that the first great responsibility placed upon the restored Church was to carry the gospel to the world—to all our Father’s children.
It has truly been a great drama of transcendent importance—a drama of sacrifice, joy, hardship, courage, and above all, love of fellowmen. Nowhere upon the face of the earth will you find a human drama to equal it. Yes, it has cost blood, sweat, and tears to carry forth this labor of love. And why have we done it? Because the God of heaven has commanded it; because he loves his children, and it is his will that the teeming millions of the earth shall have opportunity to hear and, of their own free will, accept and live the glorious saving and exalting principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.8
It is my conviction that the world needs, as it needs no other thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the people of the world want what the gospel will give, but they do not realize it. They want the anchor which the gospel provides, which gives them the answers to the problems that face them; that brings them a feeling of security and a feeling of inner peace. The gospel is the only answer to the problems of the world, my brethren and sisters.9
Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family.10
The world is hungry for true religion, and we have it.11
This is the glorious message we desire to share with the world, that through God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God has been restored. It is the greatest message since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.12
We accept humbly, gratefully, this major responsibility placed upon the Church. We are happy to be engaged in a partnership with our Heavenly Father in the great work of the salvation and exaltation of his children. Willingly we give of our time and the means with which he may bless us to the establishment of his kingdom in the earth. This we know is our first duty and our great opportunity. This spirit has characterized the missionary work of the Church of Jesus Christ in all ages. It has been an outstanding mark of the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times—our time. Wherever faithful Latter-day Saints are to be found, this spirit of unselfish sacrifice for the greatest cause in all the earth exists.13
We have a great mission. We must be prepared, both young and old. We must stand as a leaven among the nations, true to the principles of righteousness.14
As members of the Lord’s Church, we must take missionary work seriously. If you are laboring as you should, if you love this work, you will be helping to save the souls of the children of men.15
Not only should sharing the gospel be regarded as a priesthood duty, but we should all look forward to this experience with great joy and anticipation. The real purpose in sharing the gospel is to bring souls unto Christ, to teach and baptize our Heavenly Father’s children so that we may rejoice with them (see D&C 18:15) in the kingdom of our Father.16
We all share this great responsibility. We cannot avoid it. Let no man or woman think that because of where we live, or because of our place in society, or because of our occupation or status, we are exempt from this responsibility.17
We hope that every young man has plans to be a messenger for the Lord.18
How do you build in boys a great desire to serve? You do not wait … to help them decide to serve a mission. You help them decide to go when they are nine, ten, or eleven! The home is the seedbed for the preparation of young men. And every young man should be prepared in his home to serve.
Early preparation consists of teaching a young boy how to pray, reading him stories from the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, having home evenings and giving him a portion of the lesson [to teach], teaching him principles of moral cleanliness, starting a savings account for his future mission, teaching him how to work, and providing opportunities to serve others.19
We want young men entering the mission field who can enter the mission field “on the run,” who have the faith born of personal righteousness and clean living that they can have a great and productive mission.20
The Lord wants every young man to serve a full-time mission. … A young man can do nothing more important. School can wait. Scholarships can be deferred. Occupational goals can be postponed. Yes, even temple marriage should wait until after a young man has served an honorable full-time mission for the Lord.
… Young women … may also have the opportunity to serve a full-time mission. I am grateful my own eternal companion served a mission in Hawaii before we were married in the Salt Lake Temple, and I am pleased that I have had three granddaughters serve full-time missions. Some of our finest missionaries are young sisters.21
We need increasing numbers of senior missionaries in missionary service.22
Many older couples could serve missions. In so doing, they will find that a mission blesses their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren in a way that could not otherwise be done. It will set a great example for their posterity.23
Many couples can attest that their missionary service was among their happiest times together because they were completely dedicated to one purpose—missionary work.24
We must emphasize the need for more member-missionary work. Experience has proven this is the most fruitful missionary work. Member-missionary work is one of the great keys to the individual growth of our members. It is my conviction that member-missionary work will raise the spirituality in any ward where applied.25
How long has it been since you have invited a neighbor to sacrament meeting or to a stake conference, to come into your home for a home evening? How long has it been since you had a real gospel conversation? These are choice experiences.26
The Lord will sustain members in their missionary responsibility if they just have the faith to try.27
It is time to raise our sights, to get a vision of the magnitude of this great work. The Lord expects it of us. It is not enough just to be members in the Church and go to sacrament meeting, pay our tithing, support the welfare program. That is all good—but that is not enough. The Lord expects us to be missionaries, to live the gospel—yes, wholly, and to help to build up His kingdom.28
The Book of Mormon is for both member and nonmember. Combined with the Spirit of the Lord, the Book of Mormon is the greatest tool which God has given us to convert the world. If we are to have the harvest of souls, we must use the instrument which God has designed for the task—the Book of Mormon.
And reading the Book of Mormon is one of the greatest persuaders to get us on missions. We need more missionaries. But we also need better-prepared missionaries coming out of the wards and branches and homes where they know and love the Book of Mormon. We need missionaries who have a burning testimony of its divinity, and who by the Spirit can challenge their investigators to read and ponder its pages, knowing with complete assurance that the Lord will manifest the truth of it to them by the power of the Holy Ghost. We need missionaries to match our message.29
The Book of Mormon is the great standard we are to use in our missionary work. It shows that Joseph Smith was a prophet. It contains the words of Christ, and its great mission is to bring men to Christ. All other things are secondary. The golden question of the Book of Mormon is “Do you want to learn more of Christ?” The Book of Mormon is the great finder of the golden contact. It does not contain things which are “pleasing unto the world,” and so the worldly are not interested in it. It is a great sieve. (See 1 Nephi 6:5.)
There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of the iron rod, and one who is not.30
We must not forget that the Lord Himself provided the Book of Mormon as His chief witness. The Book of Mormon is still our most powerful missionary tool. Let us use it.31
Missionaries sometimes ask, “How can I be successful? How does one become effective in missionary work?” Here are four proven keys to successful missionary work for both missionaries and members alike.
First, strive to obtain the Spirit.
To be successful, we must have the Spirit of the Lord. We have been taught that the Spirit will not dwell in unclean tabernacles. Therefore, one of our first priorities is to make sure our own personal lives are in order. The Lord declared, “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:42.)
The Savior has given us His law about teaching His gospel: “The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:14.)32
If there is one message I have repeated to my brethren of the Twelve, it is that it’s the Spirit that counts. It is the Spirit that matters. I do not know how often I have said this, but I never tire of saying it—it is the Spirit that matters most.33
Second, acquire humility.
The Lord has said that no one can assist with this work unless he is humble and full of love. (See Doctrine and Covenants 12:8.) But humility does not mean weakness. It does not mean timidity; it does not mean fear. [We] can be humble and also fearless. [We] can be humble and also courageous. Humility is the recognition of our dependence upon a higher power, a constant need for the Lord’s support in His work.34
We cannot do this work alone. This is His work. This is His gospel. We must have His help. Plead for it, live for it, pour out your soul to the Lord to receive it.35
Third, love the people.
We must develop a love for people. Our hearts must go out to them in the pure love of the gospel, in a desire to lift them, to build them up, to point them to a higher, finer life and eventually to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. We emphasize the fine qualities of the people with whom we associate, and love them as children of God whom the Lord loves. …
We will never be effective until we learn to have sympathy for all our Father’s children—until we learn to love them. People can feel when love is extended to them. Many yearn for it. When we sympathize with their feelings, they in turn will reciprocate good will to us. We will have made a friend.36
We … have a great obligation to love our neighbors. It is the second of the two great commandments. Many of our neighbors are not yet members of the Church. We must be good neighbors. We must love all our Father’s children and associate with them.
How I pray that we will be filled with the love of God for our fellowman!37
Fourth, work diligently.
If we want to keep the Spirit, we must work. There is no greater exhilaration or satisfaction than to know, after a hard day of work, that we have done our best.
One of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work. If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people, and he will be happy. … Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.38
I know that God lives. This is His work. He has again spoken from the heavens with a message for the entire world; not for a handful of Latter-day Saints only, but for all our brothers and sisters, both in and out of the Church. May God give us strength to carry that message to the world, to live the Gospel, to maintain the standards of the Church, that we may be entitled to the promised blessings.39
Why does the world need the gospel “as it needs no other thing”? (For some examples, see section 1.) What are some restored truths that you believe “the world is hungry for”?
As you review section 2, consider the counsel that applies to you and your family. In what ways can each of us, regardless of our circumstances, share the gospel? What can we do to prepare for full-time missionary service? What can we do to help others prepare for full-time missionary service?
President Benson said that the Book of Mormon is “the greatest tool which God has given us to convert the world” (section 3). When have you seen people become converted through a study of the Book of Mormon? In what ways might we improve our efforts to share the Book of Mormon?
President Benson shared “four proven keys to successful missionary work” (section 4). Why do you think these keys lead to success in missionary work? What examples have you seen of people following these principles?
“Share what you learn. As you do this, your thoughts will become clearer and your power of retention will increase” (Teaching, No Greater Call , 17).