Becoming a Preach My Gospel Missionary

 

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

From a devotional address given at the Provo Missionary Training Center on June 24, 2011.

I am delighted to be with you in this sacred setting. Thank you for your faithfulness, for your preparation, and for your goodness. The entire world will be influenced for good because of you and the work of the Lord in which you are now and will continue to be engaged.

I bring to you the love and blessings of President Thomas S. Monson, his counselors, and of all my associates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. An Apostle is first, foremost, and always a missionary. For that reason, I am especially pleased to greet you as fellow servants in this magnificent latter-day work.

The topic I have chosen to address in this devotional is “Becoming a Preach My Gospel Missionary.” I will begin by briefly defining what a Preach My Gospel missionary is and then describing five fundamental requirements for becoming Preach My Gospel missionaries.

I earnestly pray the Holy Ghost will inspire and help each of us to learn what is needful in our lives as we consider together this important topic.

What Is a Preach My Gospel Missionary?

Preach My Gospel missionary is a servant of the Lord, called by prophecy and authorized by the laying on of hands, who proclaims the Savior’s everlasting and restored gospel (see D&C 68:1) in His way (see D&C 50:13–1417–24).

Please note the similarity between this definition and your overarching purpose as a missionary described in Preach My Gospel: “Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end” (Preach My Gospel, 1).

The prophet Mormon used slightly different language to describe the essence of a Preach My Gospel missionary in his generation: “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life” (3 Nephi 5:13).

Thus, elders and sisters, the basic purpose and functions of missionaries always have been and always will be the same. Today we frequently use the term “a Preach My Gospel missionary,” but the sacred responsibility to proclaim authoritatively the gospel and administer the saving ordinances has been in operation since Adam was driven from the Garden of Eden and will continue until “the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 4:540).

Requirements to Become Preach My Gospel Missionaries

I now want to discuss five basic requirements for becoming Preach My Gospel missionaries. Preach My Gospel missionaries:

1.   Understand that they serve and represent Jesus Christ.

2.   Are worthy.

3.   Treasure up the words of eternal life.

4.   Understand the Holy Ghost is the ultimate and true teacher.

5.   Understand teaching is much more than talking and telling.

Requirement #1: Preach My Gospel missionaries understand that they serve and represent Jesus Christ.

Preach My Gospel missionaries know and understand whom they represent, why they serve, and what they are to do. Full-time missionaries are called to serve and properly set apart “by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof” (Articles of Faith 1:5). In this sacred calling, we are servants and representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. We pledged in the waters of baptism our willingness to take upon ourselves His name. We pray to our Heavenly Father in His name. By virtue of the holy priesthood, the brethren perform saving ordinances and bless in His name. And as full-time missionaries, we bear witness of His name and of the reality, divinity, and mission of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (see D&C 133:37). We authoritatively “bind up the law and seal up the testimony” (D&C 88:84) among the inhabitants of the earth in preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior.

We love the Lord. We serve Him. We follow Him. We represent Him.

As we serve, we do not represent our families, our friends, our branches or wards, or our communities or nations. Rather, we represent Him. His purposes must be our purposes. His interests should be our interests. His work should be our work. His ways should be our ways. His will increasingly should become our will.

As representatives of the Redeemer, we preach the fundamental doctrines and principles of His restored gospel simply and clearly. We do not present personal opinions or speculation. We do not dwell upon the unknowable mysteries in our personal study or in lessons with investigators. We proclaim and testify of simple restored truth in the Lord’s way and by the power of His Spirit.

Preach My Gospel missionaries understand that the responsibility to represent the Savior and to bear testimony of Him never ends. When the day arrives for an honorable release as a full-time missionary, you will depart from a field of labor and return to your family—but you will not cease being and becoming a missionary. A release as a full-time missionary is a call to serve as a lifelong missionary. And Preach My Gospel missionaries honor, always, this sacred obligation.

Please remember Him in all that you think, in all that you do, and in all that you strive to become, and represent Him appropriately to all of Heavenly Father’s children with whom you interact now and always.

Requirement #2: Preach My Gospel missionaries are worthy.

In the 18th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer the calling and mission of the Twelve Apostles in the latter days. The revelation includes this direct and powerful admonition: “You must walk uprightly before me and sin not” (v. 31). This inspired instruction applies equally to you. Thus, an essential prerequisite to becoming Preach My Gospel missionaries is personal worthiness before the Savior.

Proclaiming the gospel is priesthood work and is dependent upon the powers of heaven.

“The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and … the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

“That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:36–37).

The fact that proclaiming the gospel is a priesthood responsibility and duty does not in any way overlook nor minimize the consecrated service of you faithful sisters. Rather, it highlights the divine authority by which this holy work is governed and directed and emphasizes the sacred obligation that rests upon all men who receive the holy priesthood (see Abraham 2:8–11). I thank you sisters for all you have done and will yet do to build and strengthen the Lord’s kingdom.

Now, let me state several simple truths just as clearly as I know how.

•    We are authorized representatives of the Redeemer and Savior of the world.

•    We are called to declare His restored and everlasting gospel.

•    We cannot be stained with the spots of the world and authoritatively represent Him and act with power in His holy name.

•    We cannot help others to overcome the bondage of sin if we ourselves are entangled in sin (see D&C 88:86).

•    We cannot help others learn to repent if we ourselves have not learned to repent properly and completely.

•    We can proclaim and preach with power only that which we are striving to become.

•    We will be held accountable before God for our righteous desires and worthiness to act as His agents.

Elders and sisters, we obviously are not required presently to be perfect. But we are commanded to be clean and to walk uprightly before the Redeemer of Israel. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (D&C 38:42).

Repentance is a principle of hope and healing—not of discouragement and despair. Repentance indeed is humbling—but not frightening. Repentance is simultaneously demanding and comforting, rigorous and soothing. Repentance is a priceless gift made possible through the Atonement of Him whom we love, serve, and follow. As we exercise faith in the Savior and apply the principle of repentance in our own lives, we become new creatures in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), “have no more disposition to do evil” (Mosiah 5:2), and are filled with a desire to “serve him with all [our] heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2; see also D&C 59:5).

If you have committed serious sins, I declare my apostolic witness that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and sincere repentance you have been or can again be made clean and worthy—even “clean every whit” (John 13:10). “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Within the sound of my voice are elders and sisters who yet need fully to repent. The time is now. Please, please, please do not procrastinate the day of your repentance.

Within the sound of my voice are elders and sisters who have repented and are continuing to repent and who wonder if they have done all that is necessary to be accepted of the Lord (see D&C 97:8). Please remember, the Lord requires you to be clean but not perfect. The Holy Ghost operating again in your life is the surest indicator of forgiveness by the Lord because “the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples” (Helaman 4:24). And recognize that the mandate to “forgive all men” (D&C 64:10) includes forgiving yourself.

My beloved elders and sisters and couples, as you become clean vessels you can with appropriate assurance invite all to come unto Christ (see Moroni 10:30–32), to receive the ordinances of salvation, and to endure in faith to the end.

Preach My Gospel missionaries are covenant-honoring and commandment-obeying disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Please always remember Him and be pure and worthy to represent Him.

Requirement #3: Preach My Gospel missionaries treasure up the words of eternal life.

In the early days of this dispensation, the Lord counseled His missionaries to “treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (D&C 84:85). I invite you to consider the importance of the active admonition to “treasure up.”

Treasuring up the words of eternal life is more than merely studying or memorizing, just as “feasting upon the word[s] of Christ” (2 Nephi 31:20; see also 2 Nephi 32:3) is more than simply sampling or snacking. Treasuring up suggests to me focusing and working, exploring and absorbing, pondering and praying, applying and learning, valuing and appreciating, and enjoying and relishing. (Do you have a favorite dessert or treat in which you take great delight and pleasure? That is exactly what I mean by “relish.”)

Recall how the sons of Mosiah—four truly remarkable missionaries named Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni—“had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:2–3). These valiant missionaries truly treasured up continually the words of eternal life.

And because the sons of Mosiah did not neglect or simply go through the motions of individual and companion scripture study, because the doctrines and principles of the gospel were confirmed in their hearts as true by the power of the Holy Ghost, because this spiritual knowledge and understanding penetrated deep into their own souls, they became Preach My Gospel missionaries. As Ammon described:

“Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

“Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?” (Alma 26:12–13; emphasis added).

Ammon was a Preach My Gospel missionary who treasured up continually the words of eternal life and had the power of the word in him. And you and I need to follow the example of Ammon.

As representatives of the Savior, you and I have the ongoing responsibility to work diligently and to implant in our hearts and minds the fundamental doctrines and principles of the restored gospel, especially from the Book of Mormon. As we do so, the promised blessing is that the Holy Ghost will “bring all things to [our] remembrance” (John 14:26) and empower us as we teach and testify. But, elders and sisters, the Spirit can work with and through us only if we give Him something with which to work. He cannot help us remember things we have not learned.

“And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5; emphasis added).

Preach My Gospel missionaries treasure up continually the words of eternal life, they rely upon the virtue of the word, and they have the power of the word in them. Please always remember Him, always be worthy to represent Him, and treasure up and rely upon the virtue of the word.

Requirement #4: Preach My Gospel missionaries understand the Holy Ghost is the ultimate and true teacher.

The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead, and He is the witness of all truth and the ultimate and true teacher. We should always remember that the Spirit of the Lord can enter into an investigator’s heart, when invited through sincere desire and faithfulness, and confirm the truthfulness of the doctrines we preach and the principles he or she is endeavoring to learn and live. Indeed, you and I as missionaries have the responsibility to preach the gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter, as a prerequisite for the learning by faith that is obtained only by and through the Holy Ghost (see D&C 50:14). But the lessons we teach and the testimonies we bear are preparatory to an investigator acting and learning for himself or herself.

As missionaries, one of our most important roles is to invite investigators to exercise their moral agency and act in accordance with the teachings of the Savior. Making and keeping spiritual commitments, such as praying for a witness of the truth, studying and praying about the Book of Mormon, attending Church meetings, and keeping the commandments, require an investigator to exercise faith, to act, and to change.

Regardless of how worthy we are and how earnestly we serve, you and I simply cannot push or force truth into the hearts of investigators. Teaching, exhorting, explaining, and testifying, as important as they are, can never convey to an investigator a witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. Our best efforts can only bring the message of truth unto the heart (see 2 Nephi 33:1). Ultimately, an investigator needs to act in righteousness and thereby invite the truth into his or her own heart. Only in this way can honest seekers of truth and new converts develop the spiritual capacity to find answers for themselves and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9).

Preach My Gospel missionaries obviously must learn to teach by the power of the Spirit. Of equal importance, however, is the responsibility to help investigators learn by faith and by the power of the Holy Ghost. In this regard, you and I are much like the long, thin strands of glass used to create fiber optic cables through which light signals are transmitted over very long distances. Just as the glass in these cables must be pure to conduct the light efficiently and effectively, so we should become and remain worthy conduits through whom the Spirit of the Lord can operate. But elders and sisters, we must be careful to remember in our service that we are conduits and channels; we are not the light. “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matthew 10:20).

This work is never about me and it is never about you. We need to do all in our power to fulfill our missionary responsibility and simultaneously “get out of the way” so the Holy Ghost can perform His sacred function and work. In fact, anything you or I do as representatives of the Savior that knowingly and intentionally draws attention to self—in the messages we present, in the methods we use, or in our personal demeanor and appearance—is a form of priestcraft that inhibits the teaching effectiveness of the Holy Ghost.

“Doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:17–18).

For example, goals are worthwhile and help in accomplishing the Lord’s work. But if we achieve goals primarily to receive praise and recognition from our families and friends, from other missionaries, or from Church leaders, then we are practicing priestcraft—and we need to repent. Preach My Gospel missionaries are focused upon helping Heavenly Father’s children worthily receive the covenants and ordinances necessary to return to Him, and they are not focused on compiling impressive statistics that supposedly make them look good.

Righteous influence is important in building the Lord’s kingdom on the earth. But if we aspire to leadership positions in the mission and believe the principal measure of a missionary’s success is reflected in serving as a district or zone leader or as an assistant to the president, then we are seeking to gratify our pride and vain ambitions—and we need to repent. Preach My Gospel missionaries serve well wherever and whenever they are assigned and are not unduly concerned about prominence, position, or prestige.

Persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness, and love unfeigned (see D&C 121:41) are the Lord’s ways of inviting all to come unto Him. But if we preach, invite, and testify in ways that control, manipulate, or exploit an investigator, then we are exercising unrighteousness dominion and compulsion— and we need to repent. Preach My Gospel missionaries strive to accomplish the Lord’s work the Lord’s way—and do not stubbornly insist on doing things their own way. As John the Baptist testified, “He [the Lord] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Strive to apply in your ministry this timeless counsel from Paul:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

“And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

“And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5).

Preach My Gospel missionaries understand the Holy Ghost is the ultimate and true teacher, consistently do their best to “get out of the way,” and avoid and overcome priestcraft, vanity, and unrighteous dominion as they serve and represent the Lord.

Please always remember Him, be worthy to represent Him, treasure up His word, and allow the ultimate and true teacher, the Holy Ghost, to witness of all truth.

Requirement #5: Preach My Gospel missionaries understand teaching is much more than talking and telling.

As the Savior sat on the Mount of Olives over against the temple with Peter, James, John, and Andrew, He declared: “And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost” (Mark 13:10–11).

This same pattern for preaching was reiterated repeatedly by the Savior in the early days of this dispensation as He instructed missionaries to “open your mouths and they shall be filled” (D&C 33:8, 10) and to “lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men; for it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say” (D&C 100:5–6).

Please notice in these scriptural instructions the important sequence of first acting in faith (“open your mouths” or “lift up your voices”) before receiving a promised blessing (“they shall be filled”; “you will not be confounded”). Interestingly, many of us routinely seek for precisely the opposite; we pray and ask for the blessing so we can act in faith (first fill our mouths so we can open them). But that is not the Lord’s way or pattern. Faith precedes the miracle, and “ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6).

These scriptures emphasize a most demanding and exacting pattern for preaching and helping investigators to learn truth. Preach My Gospel missionaries know we do not teach lessons; we teach people. We do not merely recite or present memorized messages about gospel topics. We invite seekers of truth to experience the mighty change of heart. We understand that talking and telling alone are not teaching.

Preaching the gospel the Lord’s way includes observing and listening and discerning as prerequisites to talking. The sequence of these four interrelated processes is significant. Please note that active observing and listening precede discerning and that observing, listening, and discerning come before speaking. Employing this pattern enables missionaries to identify and teach to the needs of investigators.

As we observe, listen, and discern, we can be given “in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (D&C 84:85)—the truths to emphasize and the answers to give that will meet the specific needs of a particular investigator. Only by observing, listening, and discerning can we be guided by the Spirit to say and do the things that will be most helpful to those whom we serve.

I hope you are beginning to appreciate why (1) understanding whom we represent, (2) worthiness, (3) treasuring up, and (4) getting “out of the way” so the Holy Ghost can teach are essential to using effectively the Lord’s pattern of preaching.

Mormon, the principal compiler of the Book of Mormon, is described as being “quick to observe” (Mormon 1:2). Recall that Ammaron counseled the youthful Mormon to both remember and record all of the things he had observed concerning his people (see Mormon 1:1–5). His ability to look, to notice, to respond, and to obey provides an impressive example for us to study and follow.

Being quick to observe is a vital preparation to receive the spiritual gift of discernment. Discernment is seeing with spiritual eyes and feeling with the heart—seeing and feeling the falsehood of an idea, the goodness in another person, or the next principle that is needed to aid an investigator. Discerning is hearing with spiritual ears and feeling with the heart—hearing and feeling the unspoken concern in a comment or question, the truthfulness of a testimony or doctrine, or the assurance and peace that come by the power of the Holy Ghost.

I frequently have heard President Boyd K. Packer counsel members and priesthood leaders: “If all you know is what you see with your natural eyes and hear with your natural ears, then you will not know very much.” His penetrating observation should help all of us to appropriately desire and seek for these spiritual gifts of observing, listening, and discerning.

Many of us have learned to teach without conscientiously observing, listening, or discerning. We simply talk and tell. Missionaries who talk without observing, listening, and discerning teach neither lessons nor people. Rather, they talk to themselves in front of investigators.

Preach My Gospel missionaries act in faith and are guided by the Spirit to help investigators learn truth. Please always remember Him, be worthy to represent Him, treasure up His word, allow the Holy Ghost to witness all truth, and observe, listen, and discern as you testify of Jesus Christ to honest seekers of truth.

You Can Do This!

You may listen to and ponder my message, look around at this vast army of missionaries, and believe that all of the other elders and sisters and couples are doing and will do what I have been describing. But you may be wondering if you can do it! Please listen. You can do this!

Several years ago I was invited to counsel a man who was struggling to live the Word of Wisdom. We met and talked about his challenges following a Saturday evening session of a stake conference. As I walked into the stake president’s office and greeted this man, I shook his hand and drew him close to me. I then said, “I am an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He sent me to this stake this weekend to tell you that you can do this. The Savior knows you can do this. As His servant, I know you can do this. And as His representative, I promise you will have His help.” The man was sincere and conscientious in applying the principles we discussed and was blessed to make great progress in keeping the commandments.

If I had the wish of my heart, I would take a few moments with each of you individually. I would shake your hand, draw you close, look you in the eyes, and say, “You can do this! The Lord you represent and serve knows you can do this. I know you can do this. And as His servant, I promise you will have His help. Please remember always that with His help and in His strength, you can do this!”

I love you and pray you truly will become powerful and effective representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. To you, my fellow servants, I declare my apostolic witness that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live. I know and witness Jesus is the Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father; He is our Savior and Redeemer. I testify the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove and that the fulness of the gospel has been restored to the earth in these latter days. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. I witness priesthood authority and keys also have been returned to the earth by heavenly messengers. I know President Thomas S. Monson is the senior Apostle and the only person on the earth who both holds and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys. My beloved associates in this work, all of these things are true; they are all true.

I invoke upon you every spiritual capacity and blessing that you may need to more fully understand that you represent and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. And I promise that as you strive to become what you need to become, you will recognize and respond in faith to His voice and guidance. You can do this!

I declare my witness and invoke these blessings and promises upon you in the sacred name of Him whom we serve and represent, even the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.