Love lasts. Believe it or not, those are some of the most important words to remember when it comes to sharing the gospel. Ask anyone who has had a positive experience with the Church what stands out most in his mind, and you can bet the answer will have something to do with love.
That’s what impressed Aaron, 17, when he was investigating the Church. Aaron’s your typical high school senior. He’s into sports, “hanging out” with the guys, and reading the Book of Mormon. But if it hadn’t been for the love his friends showed him by inviting him to play on church athletic teams, to attend priesthood meetings, and to join them in family home evenings, he never would have realized there was more to life than friends and sports.
By the same token, a lack of that love is a major factor in keeping some people away from the Church. For example, Pam, 18, said, “The Mormon kids in the neighborhood used to make fun of my parents and tell me they would go to hell because they smoked. They said they didn’t want to play with me because my clothes and house smelled like cigarettes. Why would I be interested in a church where the parents teach the kids to be prejudiced like that?”
Indifference doesn’t help much, either. “Yeah, there are some Mormons at our school,” said Scott, 15. “But they pretty much keep to themselves. I never really think that much about them, and I’m sure they never really think that much about me.”
The Savior made it clear how we’re supposed to treat each other, regardless of religious affiliation, when he said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).
Elder M. Russell Ballard said in October 1988 general conference: “As disciples of Christ, we need to feel genuine charity for one another. … I encourage you to build personal, meaningful relationships with your nonmember friends and acquaintances. Interest in the gospel may come later as a natural extension of a good friendship. … If they are not interested in the gospel, we should show unconditional love through acts of service and kindness, and never imply that we see an acquaintance only as a potential convert” (“The Hand of Fellowship,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 30).
The secret, then, is to want to share the gospel with our friends because we love them, not to love them only because they want us to share the gospel with them. That way, if they do decide that they’re not ready to join the Church, we’ll still be able to share a solid friendship. The love will last.
When your friend understands that your love is unconditional, he might not be so wary of checking into something that means so much to you. Being sensitive of his beliefs, and his right to accept or reject yours, is important.
“If you want to share the gospel in a meaningful way, the approach is really important,” said Tara, who investigated and joined the Church while she was in junior high. “If my friends had told me, ‘Ours is the only true church. Yours is wrong, and you’re going to go to hell if you don’t get baptized,’ I would have been totally turned off. Instead, they invited me to some of the activities. When I went, I felt this great, warm love, like Heavenly Father was trying to reach out to me—trying to tell me something. I felt it when I was with those friends too, and I wanted to find out why they were like that.”
You might think you’re being too pushy by inviting your friends to church oriented activities. And you don’t want to offend them. But they might be feeling left out if you haven’t invited them.
Just look at how much time you spend at church—there are Sunday meetings, firesides, seminary, activities, dances, service projects, sports events, etc. If you’re close to someone and you don’t share that huge part of your life with them, they’re probably wondering why.
“I grew up in Salt Lake City,” said Jerry, 18. “I used to feel kind of bad when all the guys would go over and play church ball, and I wouldn’t be invited.”
It’s important to be thoughtful of your friends’ frames of reference, too. Remember that LDS culture, beliefs, and even language can be very foreign to people who are not familiar with it. A little Muslim girl, for example, was invited to go to Primary with her friends. When she got home, she quickly announced to her mother that she was never going back to the Mormon church. “Why not?” inquired her mother. “Because it’s haunted,” the girl replied.
“What do you mean it’s haunted?” her mother asked. “What makes you think that?”
“They told me so,” she said. “They said there was a Holy Ghost there, and that you could feel the spirit all around.”
Her friends didn’t drop her just because she was scared, though. They continued extending invitations to her, and, most important of all, they continued being her friend. When she was 19, she decided to embrace the gospel and was baptized.
A group of non-LDS high school students were asked what would be the most important thing an LDS friend could do for them. They overwhelmingly responded: “Don’t judge us.”
“They need to remember that our religion is as important to us as theirs is to them,” said LuAnn, 17. “They shouldn’t look down on us just because our beliefs are different.”
“My standards are the same as the ones the Mormons go by—I don’t smoke and I don’t drink,” said John, 17. “I don’t think it’s really right when Mormon parents won’t let their kids do things with me just because I don’t go to church with them.”
“My Mormon friends don’t exclude me because I’m not LDS, and that’s the way it should be,” says Carol, 17. “I go to activities and dances with them, and they’re really fun. I still haven’t decided which church I want to belong to, but the Mormons treat me well. Sometimes their parents are kind of judgmental, though.”
Everyone wants to be loved and appreciated for what they are. A good friend will respect and appreciate the good qualities in others, no matter what their religion happens to be.
Having a Christ-like love for your friends will also help them stay active if they do decide to join the Church. You’ll continue being concerned about their needs, which don’t stop when they’re baptized. Sometimes that’s an easy thing to forget. Just ask Lisa.
Lisa was relatively young at when she joined the Church. She attended meetings with her friends and their families. One day her class got up to sing a special musical number in sacrament meeting. No one had told her anything about it. She’d never heard the song before, and she sat in agonized silence as the rest of her class smiled and sang from the pulpit.
After church, she asked why she hadn’t been included. She was informed that since her parents were not members and she lived several blocks away, they didn’t think anyone would bring her to rehearsals, so they hadn’t invited her to participate. Lisa was devastated, and her parents weren’t very impressed with the lack of compassion that was shown either.
Contrast that experience with Stacey’s. Stacey has been going to church for about a year and will be baptized as soon as she’s 18. She has no trouble attending all her meetings faithfully. “Everyone is really nice to me,” she says. “They’re understanding, and they accept me, and they always help me. I just feel comfortable here.”
The Book of Mormon tells us that in Christ’s true church new members are to be “remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer” (Moro. 6:4). It’s easier to follow that counsel when we love the people we’re helping.
As members of the Church, we should be very loving people. We not only have Christ’s example of love in the Bible, but we have the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the words of living prophets and Apostles to give us extra guidance and advice on caring for those around us.
“Of course, there will be differences in the personal standards and social activities of faithful Latter-day Saints and members of other groups. But these differences are no excuse for ostracism, arrogance, or unkindness by LDS people,” says Elder Dallin H. Oaks (“Always Remember Him,” Ensign, May 1988, p. 32).
It’s basically a matter of following the example of the Savior. Heavenly Father has many ways of reaching out to his children, and he might be reaching out to them through you. If you work on loving and caring for everyone, you could be an important factor in helping some of them find joy in this life and in the hereafter.
And even if you’re not, your friends will appreciate the kindness and friendship you’ve shown. The love will last.