"Every Member a Missionary"
An important principle of missionary service is the members-those who constitute a "cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) and who may become multiplying factors in building the kingdom of God on the earth.
A Model of
At a conference I heard a recent convert to the Church say, while pointing to the stake president sitting nearby: "I am a member of the Church today because this man is a model of righteousness." He explained that the stake president was one of the first men he met after being transferred to his company's home office. During his first days on the job, he mingled with a number of talented business executives; however, it didn't take him long to conclude that the stake president was the most honest, most positive, and most pleasing individual in the group.
One day the convert asked his coworker why he lived such a circumspect life and why he seemed to be a cut above the rest. The response was: "If there is anything distinctive about me, it is my faith-my commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ." Then the stake president added: "Would you like to know more about my beliefs and way of life?"
The invitation was accepted, and the lives of a young man and several family members were changed. All grew to love the one who shared with them precious truths about God and the plan of salvation and other information that constitutes the foundation of a purposeful and happy life. In the process, the stake president provided saving services and advanced the Savior's work by helping to bring one more family into the kingdom of God.
Even a casual review of the scriptures reminds us that those who have received the gospel have the responsibility and opportunity to share it with others. Following are but a few references worthy of consideration.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached: "Ye are the salt of the earth. . . . Ye are the light of the world. . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:13-14,16)
A modern version of this commission reads: "For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; and inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men." (D&C 103:9-10)
There is a saying that where much is given, much is expected (see Luke 12:48; D&C 82:3). A related statement is "That which we willingly share, we keep; and that which we selfishly keep to ourselves, we lose" ("Status Report on Missionary Work", Ensign, October 1977, p. 11). These truisms certainly apply to those who have been privileged to hear and accept the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He who expects his followers to become perfect, "even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48), also expects them to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and saviors of men.
True believers, however, cannot share or give away that which they do not already possess. For instance, the sharing of a testimony is merely lip service unless it is an expression of faith that surges from the depths of one's soul. A casual act of kindness has its merits, but when that act is motivated by love and genuine concern for others, it becomes Christian serviceservice that blesses the receiver and sanctifies the giver.
When one considers thoughtfully the blessings associated with sharing the gospel, one understands the need to fulfill divine expectations.
A modern revelation includes this instruction: "I give unto you a commandment, that every man, both elder, priest, teacher, and also member, go to with his might, with the labor of his hands, to prepare and accomplish the things which I have commanded. And let your preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness." (D&C 38:40-41.)
I have wondered over the years whether this scripture inspired President David O. McKay to declare: "Every member a missionary" (in Conference Report, April 1959, p. 122). The words "every man, also member", and "every man to his neighbor" are all-inclusive. No member of the Church, it seems, is exempt from the requirement to share the restored gospel. All are expected to labor, preach, and warn others. A prophet coined the phrase "Every member a missionary", but have the members adopted the practice? This is the real issue.
There is a vast difference between an idle suggestion and a commandment. One is optional, and the other is not. One implies action if time is available and the inclination is strong enough. The other requires action whatever the circumstance, because the Lord provides "means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them" (1 Ne. 17:3). Therefore, it is important that members of the Church remember that it is a commandment, not a suggestion, that they become active participants in missionary service.
Sometimes Church members feel overwhelmed with the assignment to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. "We are so few in numbers," they say, "and there are so many millions among the nations." They wonder whether the work can be done. With such doubters in mind, Elder Boyd K. Packer wrote: "We are commanded to preach the gospel to all the living. . . . We see no way to accomplish this task in our lifetime. Many refuse to listen, some turn away, others resent and even persecute us. Nevertheless we are not released from the assignment to try. We are to do the best we can. If we do, the honest in heart can be found and sifted out of the world." (The Holy Temple [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980], p. 211.)
A Baptismal Commitment and Covenant
At the Waters of Mormon, Alma taught his humble followers the meaning and significance of baptism. He cited to his listeners a number of commitments made by those who submit to baptism and become members of the Church. Among other things, he emphasized the need for baptismal candidates to demonstrate a willingness "to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in." (See Mosiah 18:8-11; emphasis added.)
I emphasize the "all-ness" of the baptismal commitment. Witnessing of God is not confined to a specific time, place, or circumstance. It is not something to be done once and then forgotten. It is not something to be reserved for a select few. It is not something to be jealously hoarded. Those who enter the Church through the waters of baptism covenant to do what Nephi declared: "For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. . . . And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Ne. 25:23, 26.)
In Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith set forth the duty of Church members in relation to those who had persecuted them so badly. Three times the expression "imperative duty" is used in the instructions given. The third use of the expression seems to carry missionary connotations. It reads: "And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart-for there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it-therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven." (D&C 123:11-13)
While it is true that Church members were counseled to publish the facts pertaining to their persecutions and to overcome the falsehoods circulated about their faith, it is also true that they were obligated to share the truth with those who knew not where to find it. Such action was not to be approached casually but as an urgent and compelling duty. Hence the concluding reminder: "For there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things. . . . Therefore . . . let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power." (D&C 123:15, 17.)
"Behold, said the Lord, "I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads. "(D&C 88:81- 82; see also Ezek. 33:6-9.)
The above warning is reminiscent of the warnings given to ancient Israel. In one instance the watchmen were commanded to open their mouths and "to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life. It was emphasized that if the warning were not given, and the man died in his iniquity, the watchman would be held accountable. (See Ezek. 3:17-21, 27.)
In the other instance the "shepherds of Israel were sorely chastised because they fed and clothed themselves but neglected to reach out to the scattered sheep. The indictment against the people of the Lord was as follows: "My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. The Lord's response and resolve was: "I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. (See Ezek. 34:1-11.)
It is crystal clear that members of the Church are expected to serve as God's watchmen and shepherds. If they don't raise the warning voice, who will? If they don't seek out the scattered and feed them living waters and nourishing truths, who will?
Nearly a century ago Orson F. Whitney made this timeless statement: "The obligation of saving souls rests upon every man and woman in this Church-if not with equal weight, at least proportionately, according to their strength, their time, their opportunities, their abilities; and they cannot get out from under this responsibility on the plea that it belongs only to such and such persons. Did not the Lord say, through Joseph the Seer, at the beginning of this work, 'Behold, it is a day of warning, and not of many words: Therefore, let every soul that is warned, warn its neighbor'?" (In Conference Report, October 1913, p. 99.)
A Thing of Most Worth
John and Peter Whitmer wanted to know that which would be of most worth to them. Both were told: "I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father." (D&C 15:6)
This scripture, along with the teachings of modern prophets, verifies two related facts: (1) our salvation is intertwined with the salvation of others, and (2) every member of the Church should be a missionary or a savior of men (see D&C 103:9-10). It also brings to mind the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier: "Heaven's gates are closed to he who comes alone; save thou a soul and save thine own" ("The Two Rabbins", The Complete Poetical Works of Whittier [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1894], pp. 91-92; see also 1 Tim. 4:16).
I have used six references which constitute a scriptural foundation for member participation in missionary service. Many other references could be cited. Let it be understood by all Saints that sharing the gospel with others is:
*A baptismal commitment and covenant
*An imperative duty
*A thing of most worth
I have a thesis that the spirit of missionary service grows as one becomes more and more involved in reaching out to others. One's desire to open his or her mouth or to extend the hand of friendship to another person may be weak or tentative to begin with. But as one engages in a gospel- sharing activity, however insignificant it may seem, a desire to do more bubbles up within one's heart. This is especially true if one's efforts result in the slightest measure of success. As the participation increases from general to more specific actions, the missionary spirit grows stronger and stronger.
My thesis is illustrated in the checklist included here, entitled "How Am I Doing as a Member Missionary?"
1. Live: The missionary spirit stirs and grows when one begins to live the commandments and model the gospel of Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that President Spencer W. Kimball said: "No greater service can be given to the missionary calling of the Church than to exemplify positive Christian virtues in our lives" (in Conference Report, October 1978, p. 7). Moreover, the Apostle Paul advised Timothy: "Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Tim. 4:12).
The first chapter in many conversion stories begins with the words, "I met a Church member who was a model of righteousness. We must give credit to those who consciously strive to live and practice pure religion. They are performing a missionary service worthy of recognition. Consider the following letter:
I'm sure this letter comes as quite a surprise, as we haven't seen each other in six months. I'm writing to give you some very exciting news. I was baptized a member of the Church last Saturday night. I'm sure that comes as quite a shock to you, as you knew the type of life I led and the troubles I was in. Well, my life sure has changed for the good. And I wanted to tell you that you had a big part in it. You may not realize it, but your example played a big part in my conversion. While I never said anything, and you probably never knew, I had been watching you very closely, to see if you really lived your religion. And you did. Your example provided for me the strength I needed to change. After I moved away, I often thought of you and the life you led. Because you made the gospel come alive in your life, you made it possible for me to see it in action. Thanks for the help you probably didn't even know you were giving.
("Seek to Obtain My Word", Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide 1989, pp. 206-7)
But is living the gospel enough and the desired end of our missionary activity? The obvious answer is no. We can and must do more!
2. Pray: A step up the involvement scale is to pray that the doors to nations will open and the hearts of men will soften so that the gospel may be preached and received. There was an instance when "the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God" (Alma 6:6). This commandment was echoed by President Spencer W. Kimball years ago: "We... hope that all peopleparents, youth, childrenwill join in a serious continuous petition to the Lord to open the gates of the nations and soften the hearts of the kings and the rulers to the end that missionaries may enter all the lands and teach the gospel" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], p. 586).
The preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the conversion of people young or old is not mortals' work alone. It is God's work, and his spirit dwells among those who are honestly invested in it, whether they be preachers or humble hearers of the word (see Moses 1:39). Like one member-missionary observed: "I do all that I can possibly do before placing the matter into the hands of the Lord and trusting that he will do the rest."
I have the conviction that many miracles have occurred in times past and that many are now occurring as Church members share the gospel with others. The doors to nations are opening; walls of prejudice are tumbling down. Why is all of this happening? I believe that the continuous appeals voiced by faithful Saints are being heard and answered by a loving God.
3. Send: Another step up the missionary involvement scale is to send materials that will advance the missionary causesomething that any timid soul can do. Send contributions to the Church's general missionary fund. These monies will enable others in underdeveloped countries to serve in missionary callings. Send copies of the Book of Mormon to nonmember friends. The book will teach and convert as it is read and prayed about. Send Church magazine subscriptions to truth-seeking friends. Many people hunger for wholesome reading materials, especially materials that include messages from living prophets. Send names and addresses of friends to the missionaries; it is, however, important that you obtain permission from your friends to submit their names as referrals. Send Tabernacle Choir tapes, Church videos, and other audiovisual items to interested friends. Many times these professional presentations will provide spiritual experiences that lead to conversion.
Send, send, send! Each of us has a circle of acquaintances. Moreover, many of us travel and enjoy brief visits with others on airplanes, on trains, on buses, and in public places. Oftentimes, these brief visits lead to discussions of religion. Why not follow up these brief visits and conversations with a note and enclosure such as a tape or book. Each item you send to represent your faith, if handled discreetly, carries the messages "I care about you"; "I'm interested in your welfare"; "I want to share with you something very precious." This is especially true of referrals.
4. Prepare: Still another step up the missionary involvement scale is to prepare. Every home should be a missionary training center, wherein parents and children are constantly strengthening the desire to serve and developing the abilities to share the gospel effectively.
Some years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball gave this inspired instruction:
No person who has been converted to the gospel should shirk his responsibility to teach the truth to others. This is our privilege. This is our duty. This is a command from the Lord. . . .
I was asked a few years ago, "Should every young man who is a member of the Church fill a mission?" And I responded with the answer the Lord has given: "Yes, every worthy young man should fill a mission. The Lord expects it of him. And if he is not now worthy to fill a mission, then he should start at once to qualify himself. . . ."
Someone might also ask, "Should every young woman, should every father and mother, should every member of the Church serve a mission?" Again, the Lord has given the answer: Yes, every man, woman, and child-every young person and every little boy and girl-should serve a mission. This does not mean that they must serve abroad or even be formally called and set apart as full-time missionaries. But it does mean that each of us is responsible to bear witness of the gospel truths that we have been given. We all have relatives, neighbors, friends, and fellow workmen, and it is our responsibility to pass the truths of the gospel on to them, by example as well as by precept. ("It Becometh Every Man, Ensign, October 1977, p. 11.)
Every home should be a center of strength and the hub of many missionary activities. It should be a place where young men (and young women who so desire) are preparing to serve full-time missions. It should be a place where parents are planning and preparing to serve missions after retirement. And it should be a place open to cottage meetings, community service, and other activities intended to share virtue and truth with others.
5. Testify: The fifth step up the scale of involvement, one that expands dramatically the missionary spirit, is to testify.
The story is told of one Church leader who asked a group of men: "Do you bear your testimonies each day?" Most admitted that they tried, the leader responded: "I don't try. I do! I do because of something the Lord said." He proceeded to read the following verse of scripture: "Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you." (D&C 62:3)
After a brief pause, he continued: "I want my testimony recorded in heaven. I want angels to look over me. You may not have as many sins as I do, but I want my sins forgiven."
In his epistle to the Hebrews, Paul the Apostle wrote: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. (Heb. 12:1-2;)
If each member of the Church was looking for opportunities to bear his testimony on a daily basis, what a cloud of witnesses would form over our communities! This cloud would rain goodness upon people and bring about a cleansing that could not be achieved in any other way.
One caution: Precious declarations of faith should not be shared indiscriminately. Pearls should not be cast before swine. Something as sacred as one's testimony should not be voiced so frequently that it becomes a trite statement. However, I am convinced that we should and can preach "the word by the way" and find proper opportunities to testify, if we are prayerful and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit (see D&C 52:9-27).
6. Serve: At the very apex of the missionary involvement scale is to serveserve as member-missionaries. It is good to live, pray, send, prepare, testify, and do other things that cause people to act more righteously. Each action is virtuous and will bolster missionary service in any part of the world. However, all of these actions should not be regarded as the end of your contribution to the missionary effort. Rather, each should be regarded as a stepping-stone toward a stronger spirit and more productive involvement in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When a family (1) prayerfully selects a friend or family to work with, (2) plans and conducts friendshipping activities to interest them in the gospel, (3) invites them to learn more about the Church and to participate in Church activities, (4) refers them to the missionaries and assists in the conversion process, and (5) continues friendshipping those who are not yet ready to accept the gospel and fellowshipping those who become members of the Church, then they are serving as real member-missionaries.
Someone searched his own soul by asking: "What kind of church would this be if all the members were just like me?" Let me restate the question to fit this discussion: "What kind of a missionary church would this be if all the members were missionaries just like me?"
Why Has It Taken Me So Long?
Several years ago, I presided over a stake conference in the western part of the United States. The assigned theme for the Saturday evening session was missionary service. Some speakers talked about scriptural foundations for the work. Others spoke about ways and means of accomplishing the work and claiming the promised blessings. I felt prompted to encourage the members to be not only hearers but also doers of the word. Therefore, I challenged them to invite a nonmember friend to attend Church with them on Sunday morning.
More than a few accepted my challenge and brought friends with them to the worship service. Before the meeting started, one woman went out of her way to introduce her friend to me. Among other things she said: "Elder Asay, this is my very best friend. We have known each other for twenty years. But this is the first time that she has ever attended one of our meetings."
I thanked both women for coming to the conference, and I expressed my hope that the nonmember would enjoy her first experience in a Latter-day Saint gathering.
Throughout the meeting I carefully watched the nonmember. At first she appeared to be self-conscious and ill at ease. Later on she became absorbed in the proceedings and intrigued by the music and spoken word.
Immediately following the closing prayer, the nonmember friend rushed to the pulpit, leaving the member standing by herself and wondering what was happening, and said to me: "I have never heard such beautiful teachings. I have never felt this way before. Please tell me, why has it taken me all these years to find the truth?"
I could have pointed an accusing finger at her member friend who had waited twenty years to invite her to church. But I didn't. I simply assured her that she had found the truth and invited her to respond to her innermost feelings by receiving the missionaries and joining the Church. And she did so in a relatively short time.
"If the Good Will Lock Themselves Up . . ."
There is an interesting exchange between a perceptive woman and a prospective monk in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. The conversation proceeds as follows:
"God help me! I am the weakest of the weak," groaned Alleyne. "I pray that I may have more strength."
"And to what end?" she asked sharply. "If you are, as I understand, to shut yourself forever in your cell within the four walls of the abbey, then of what use would it be were your prayer to be answered?"
"The use of my own salvation."
She turned from him with a pretty shrug and wave. "Is that all?" she said. "Then you are no better than Father Christopher and the rest of them. Your own, your own, even your own! My father is the king's man, and when he rides into the press of fight he is not thinking ever of the saving of his own poor body; he recks little enough if he leave it on the field. Why then should you, who are soldiers of the Spirit, be ever moping or hiding in cell or in cave, with minds full of your own concerns, while the world, which you should be mending, is going on its way, and neither sees nor hears you? Were ye all as thoughtless of your own souls as the soldier is of his body, ye would be of more avail to the souls of others."
"There is sooth in what you say, lady," Alleyne answered; "and yet I scarce can see what you would have the clergy and the church to do."
"I would have them live as others and do men's work in the world, preaching by their lives rather than their words. I would have them come forth from their lonely places, mix with the borel folks, feel the pains and the pleasures, the cares and the rewards, the temptings and the stirrings of the common people. Let them toil and swinken, and labor, and plough the land, and take wives to themselves."
"Alas! alas!" cried Alleyne aghast, "you have surely sucked this poison from the man Wicliffe, of whom I have heard such evil things."
"Nay, I know him not. I have learned it by looking from my own chamber window and marking these poor monks of the priory, their weary life, their profitless round. I have asked myself if the best which can be done with virtue is to shut it within high walls as though it were some savage creature. If the good will lock themselves up, and if the wicked will still wander free, then alas for the world!" (The White Company, quoted in Carlos E. Asay, In the Lord's Service [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1990], pp. 41- 42.)
Why was the young lady in the story displeased with the young man Alleyne? She assumed that he would one day return to the monastery, close himself away from the world, and become consumed with his own salvation. Such action she judged to be very selfish, especially for one who was spiritually inclined.
Why was the young lady critical of Father Christopher and the other men of the cloth? She referred to them as "soldiers of the Spirit, yet their minds were full of their own concerns and they were hiding in cell or cave and preaching by their words alone." In the meantime, the world around them was falling apart because they did not make themselves available to sinners.
What kind of a religious leader did the young lady desire? She wanted one who would mix with the rural folks, toil and sweat with the common people, and share the pains and pleasures of friends.
What did she accuse the monks of doing with virtue? She accused them of shutting it up within the walls of the abbey as if it were a savage creature. Then, her stinging conclusion: "If the good will lock themselves up, and if the wicked will still wander free, then alas for the world!"
Members of the Church are expected to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ or soldiers of the Spirit (see 2 Tim. 2:3). They should be models of moral excellence and righteousness. Their virtue can be an effective power to produce goodness in the lives of associates, if they make themselves available to others. How tragic it is when testimonies are never expressed, when service is withheld, or when virtue of whatever form is allowed to shrivel up and die within one's soul!
We read of a time when wickedness among members was "a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress (Alma 4:10). Stumbling blocks are turned into stepping-stones when Church members willfully live, pray, send, prepare, testify, and serve with the salvation of all mankind planted in their minds and hearts.
"All of this means," said President Spencer W. Kimball, "that we cannot share the gospel with every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (using only full-time) missionaries (as wonderful as they are), but we must have several million more to help them. We must, therefore, involve the members of the Church more effectively in missionary work. Member-missionary work is the key to the future growth of the Church." (Regional Representatives Seminar, October 1980)
The full-time missionary force will increase as the Church grows in membership. You can count on it. Proselyting efforts will become more productive as training programs and supportive materials are perfected to meet the demands of the day. Nonetheless, the real multiplying factors of missionary service are and always will be the members themselves. When their support and participation is rallied, the work will accelerate forward under the watchful eyes of prophets past and present and under the all-seeing eye of a pleased Lord who "knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words." (1 Ne. 9:6)
In the discharge of this duty every member of the Church should be a missionary; not necessarily to go forth into the world, but to preach the gospel to our neighbors and friends who are not in the Church. Moreover, by our example and our faithfulness to every commandment the Lord has given us to show our friends and the strangers within our gates the way to eternal life through our actions as well as through our words, that is, to be humble missionaries and advocates of the truth in our daily acts and conversations.
Carlos E. Asay, Seven M's of Missionary Service: Proclaiming the Gospel as a Member or Full-time Missionary.