Sunday, October 7, 2007
It was while I was on my first mission that I discovered the constant need for dependence on the Lord. I learned through experience that I could not convince another soul to come unto Christ. I learned that one cannot convert another by just quoting scripture. Conversion comes when another is touched by Spirit of the Lord and receives a witness, independent of the missionary, that what he or she is being taught is true.
I learned that a missionary is only a vessel through whom the Lord can transmit his Spirit. To acquire that Spirit, a missionary must humble himself in prayer and ask our Heavenly Father to use him to touch the hearts of investigators. (Ezra Taft Benson, Come Unto Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983, p. 95).
Actually, the missionary does not convert anyone; the Holy Ghost does the converting. The power of conversion is directly associated with the Holy Ghost, for no person can be truly converted and know that Jesus is the Christ save by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. by Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 570).
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. (David O. McKay, Conference Report, October 1953, 11).
As to missionary work, we will wish to remember that in April of 1836, the Lord, speaking to Joseph and Oliver said:
Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed. (D&C 6:9.)
The same instruction was given to Joseph and Hyrum a little later (May, 1829) in the same words (D&C 11:9).
The instruction was repeated a third time (about a year later, March, 1830), now to Martin Harris (through a revelation given to him through the Prophet Joseph). In this revelation, the Lord added, after instructing Martin as to his missionary work which was to be prosecuted diligently and “with all humility, trusting in me, reviling not against revilers”:
And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost. (D&C 19:32.)
The Lord seems just a little impatient here. It may be the Brethren had been talking about tenet, about which at that time they were scantily informed. The Church had not yet been organized.
Assuming that the revelation regarding the scriptural character and status of the words of the Brethren when “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” referred, at the time, to missionary work, and reminding ourselves of our question—how shall we know when the Brethren so speak?-—we should recall the quotation we have just made from an earlier revelation, when the Lord said:
“Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together,”-—that is, both are led and inspired by the Comforter, the Spirit of truth (D&C 50:32). Both are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”
Again considering missionary work, this mutual understanding between preacher and investigator is surely that which brings conversion, one of the prime purposes of missionary work. It would not be easy to preach false doctrines, undetected, on the first principles of the Gospel. So we need say no more about that. (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., J. Reuben Clark: Selected Papers, edited by David H. Yarn, Jr., Provo, UT.: Brigham Young University Pr., 1984, pp. 99-100).
There is no miracle like the miracle of conversion. It is the great process by which those with responsive hearts listen to the teachings and testimonies of missionaries and change their lives, leaving the past behind them, and moving forward into a new life. There is no miracle quite like it in all the world. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Stand A Little Taller, Salt Lake City: Eagle Gate, 2001, p. 30).
Some may question as to how we convert others to the truth. The answer is, we do not.
Conversion comes from above. Our part in this work is to plant the seeds of truth. These seeds are born of conviction when we testify of the divine mission of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, who offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. We rely upon the gift and power of the Holy Ghost to carry our message into the hearts of our listeners and witness upon them the truthfulness of our stated conviction. (Henry D. Moyle, Conference Report, April 1961, pp. 101-102).
Once missionaries have their own conversion experience with the Spirit of this work, they can then be the kind of missionary God wants them to be, that they themselves want to be, and that their parents believe they are. But it won't happen in any permanent sense until they are as converted as they want their investigators to be. That theme is written into Preach My Gospel from the opening cover to the back page. (Jeffrey R. Holland, More astonishing in preaching gospel: Missionary success comes with teaching by power and authority,” Church News [Saturday, January 26, 2008]: 4).
The power of the Holy Ghost is central to conversion. Strive to understand the doctrine of conversion and also the experience of conversion. President Boyd K. Packer explained the central role of the Spirit in conversion:
“When conversion takes place, it is through the power of the Spirit. In order to succeed in missionary work, these three things must occur:
“We must understand what an investigator must feel in order to receive conversion.
“We must understand how a missionary must feel in order to receive conversion.
“And then we must understand how a member must feel to succeed in participating in the conversion experience” (mission presidents’ conference, 3 Apr. 1985).
The better you understand how investigators, missionaries, and members feel when they receive the witness of the Spirit, the better you will understand your own role, which is to:
Be edified and have your mind enlightened as you search the scriptures and teach the doctrine.
Create a climate when you teach in which the Holy Ghost can bear witness. You do this by teaching and testifying of the message of the Restoration. Teach as directed by the Spirit, and testify that you know by the power of the Holy Ghost that what you teach is true.
Follow the guidance of the Spirit in adapting the message to each person’s needs.
Invite people to act. Their faith will grow as they repent, obey the commandments, and make and keep covenants. (Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, p. 92).
One is converted when he sees with his eyes what he ought to see; when he hears with his ears what he ought to hear; and when he understands with his heart what he ought to understand—-then he is converted. And what he ought to see, hear, and understand is truth—-eternal truth-—and then practice it. (Harold B. Lee, New Era, [February 1971]: 3).
Sometimes the word converted is used to describe when a sincere individual decides to be baptized. However, when properly used, conversion means far more than that, for the new convert as well as the long-term member. With characteristic doctrinal clarity and precision, President Marion G. Romney explained conversion:
“Converted means to turn from one belief or course of action to another. Conversion is a spiritual and moral change. Converted implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and his teachings but also a motivating faith in him and his gospel. A faith which works a transformation, an actual change in one’s understanding of life’s meaning and in his allegiance to God in interest, in thought, and in conduct. In one who is really wholly converted, desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died. And substituted therefore is a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.”
To be converted, you must remember to apply diligently in your life the key words “a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.” Your happiness now and forever is conditioned on your degree of conversion and the transformation that it brings to your life. How then can you become truly converted? President Romney describes the steps you must follow:
“Membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous. Being converted and having a testimony are not necessarily the same thing either. A testimony comes when the Holy Ghost gives the earnest seeker a witness of the truth. A moving testimony vitalizes faith. That is, it induces repentance and obedience to the commandments. Conversion is the fruit or the reward for repentance and obedience.” (In Conference Report, Guatemala Area Conference 1977, 8–9.).
Stated simply, true conversion is the fruit of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (See Rom. 10:17; Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 99.) and responding to it. You will receive from the Holy Ghost a confirming witness of things you accept on faith by willingly doing them. (See Ether 12:6.) You will be led to repent of errors resulting from wrong things done or right things not done. As a consequence, your capacity to consistently obey will be strengthened. This cycle of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience will lead you to greater conversion with its attendant blessings. True conversion will strengthen your capacity to do what you know you should do, when you should do it, regardless of the circumstances. (Richard G. Scott, “Full Conversion Brings Happiness,” Ensign, [May 2002]: 24).
After King Benjamin’s great sermon, many of his hearers cried out that the Spirit of the Lord “has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). If we are losing our desire to do evil, we are progressing toward our heavenly goal.
The Apostle Paul said that persons who have received the Spirit of God “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). I understand this to mean that persons who are proceeding toward the needed conversion are beginning to see things as our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see them. They are hearing His voice instead of the voice of the world, and they are doing things in His way instead of by the ways of the world. (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” New Era, [Aug 2002]: 12).
Jesus’ challenge shows that the conversion He required for those who would enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 18:3) was far more than just being converted to testify to the truthfulness of the gospel. To testify is to know and to declare. The gospel challenges us to be “converted,” which requires us to do and to become. If any of us relies solely upon our knowledge and testimony of the gospel, we are in the same position as the blessed but still unfinished Apostles whom Jesus challenged to be “converted.” We all know someone who has a strong testimony but does not act upon it so as to be converted. For example, returned missionaries, are you still seeking to be converted, or are you caught up in the ways of the world?
The sequence of His pattern is significant. Faith, repentance, baptism, a testimony, and enduring conversion lead to the healing power of the Lord. Baptism is a covenant act—a sign of a commitment and a promise. Testimony develops when the Holy Ghost gives conviction to the earnest seeker of the truth. True testimony fosters faith; it promotes repentance and obedience to God’s commandments. Testimony engenders enthusiasm to serve God and fellow human beings. (Thus keeping the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27).) Conversion means “to turn with.” (Conversion comes from two Latin roots: con, meaning “with,” and vertere, meaning “to turn.”) Conversion is a turning from the ways of the world to, and staying with, the ways of the Lord. Conversion includes repentance and obedience. Conversion brings a mighty change of heart. (See Mosiah 5:2; Alma 5:12–14.) Thus, a true convert is “born again,” (See John 3:3–7; 1 Pet. 1:23; Mosiah 27:24–26; Alma 5:49; Alma 7:14; Moses 6:59; Joseph Smith Translation, Gen. 6:62.) walking with a newness of life. (See Rom. 6:3–4.)
As true converts, we are motivated to do what the Lord wants us to do (See Mosiah 5:2–5.) and to be who He wants us to be. (See 3 Ne. 27:21, 27.) The remission of sins, which brings divine forgiveness, heals the spirit.
How do we know if we are truly converted? Self-examination tests are available in the scriptures. One measures the degree of conversion prerequisite to baptism. (See D&C 20:37; Mosiah 18:10.) Another measures our willingness to serve others. To His disciple Peter, the Lord said, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32.) Willingness to serve and strengthen others stands as a symbol of one’s readiness to be healed. (Russell M. Nelson, “Jesus Christ—the Master Healer,” Liahona, [November 2005]: 85–88).
The needed conversion by the gospel begins with the introductory experience the scriptures call being “born again” (e.g., Mosiah 27:25; Alma 5:49; John 3:7; 1 Pet. 1:23). In the waters of baptism and by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, we become the spiritual “sons and daughters” of Jesus Christ, “new creatures” who can “inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25–26). The gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan by which we can become what children of God are supposed to become. This spotless and perfected state will result from a steady succession of covenants, ordinances, and actions, an accumulation of right choices, and from continuing repentance. “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32).
Now is the time for each of us to work toward our personal conversion, toward becoming what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.
We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason—for the pure love of Christ. (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, [November 2000]: 32),
It is not an easy thing to become a member of this Church. In most cases it involves setting aside old habits, leaving old friends and associations, and stepping into a new society which is different and somewhat demanding. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 66; Ensign,[ May 1997]: 47).
I was in a meeting not long ago and I asked how many were converts. Probably 50-percent raised their hands. I said, “I advise the rest of you to get converted.” . . . In the years that have passed, and they are many, I have continued to be a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and for that I thank God. (Hugh B. Brown, Brigham Young University Fireside Address, 8 October 1967).
Our missionaries worldwide frequently have contacts who would be willing to accept baptism and the gospel of Jesus Christ, but who fear the process. Many are afraid to change. Other less active members of the Church resist the invitation to come back because they fear being incompatible in his paths and with new associates.
We remind all to not fear and to be of good cheer because the Son of the living God, even Jesus Christ, shall stand by you. (Marvin J. Ashton, CR A'86, Ensign, [May 1986]: 66-67).
Conversion does not always happen immediately. Nevertheless, it comes as a quiet thing. It is a still, small voice. There are these very interesting verses in the book of Alma:
“Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
“Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe” (Alma 32:16–17; emphasis added).
Investigators may say: “It looks right and feels right. I still don’t know about it. It just feels good.” Reason is prompting them, and they are baptized without stubbornness of heart. So the conversion comes.
Others may say: “You talk about this gift of the Holy Ghost and baptism by fire. Show me! Give me the witness, and then I will be baptized.”
For some it will take time. They may be disappointed when you say: “You will know after you decide! It takes an exercise of faith. You may not know at first and have that firm conviction, but it will come.” (Boyd K. Packer, The Gift of the Holy Ghost: What Every Member Should Know,” Liahona [August 2006]:23; Mission Presidents’ Seminary, Provo, Utah, 24 June 2003).
It is the miracle of conversion. It is the great process by which those with responsive hearts listen to the teachings and testimonies of missionaries and change their lives, leaving the past behind them, and moving forward into a new life. There is no miracle quite like it in all the world. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Arlington Hills Ward Sacrament Meeting, Salt Lake City, Utah, 9 June 1996).
In one who is wholly converted, desire for things inimical to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died, and substituted therefore is a love of God with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments. (Marion G. Romney, Improvement Era, [December 1963]: 1065).
The labor of the Latter-day Saints is to preach the gospel throughout the earth, to all nations, and with the help of the Lord we shall do that; we shall do it in due time, but the Lord will make every conversion, and the Lord will prepare every soul by bestowing the spirit of Christ upon those who open their hearts to receive the truth. Men cannot do it. You cannot do it, and I cannot do it. It cannot be done by men. It was not done by the Prophet Joseph Smith, God has made every convert. You have not made a convert. The conversions have been made by the Lord. (Francis M. Lyman, "Obedience to Commandments Necessary to Salvation," Deseret News, [Saturday, 26 June 1915]: Section 3, VII).
Somebody recently asked how one could know when he is converted. The answer is simple. He may be assured of it when by the power of the Holy Spirit his soul is healed. When this occurs, he will recognize it by the way he feels, for he will feel as he people of Benjamin felt when they received remission of sins. The record says, “…the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience.” (Mosiah 4:3.) (Marion G. Romney, Improvement Era, [December 1963]: 1066).
I had only traveled a short time to testify to the people, before I learned this one fact, that you might prove doctrine from the Bible till doomsday, and it would not convert them. You might read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and prove every iota that you advance, and that alone would have no converting influence upon the people. Nothing short of a testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost would bring light and knowledge to them--bring them in their hearts to repentance. Nothing short of that would ever do. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, London: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1855-1886, 7 October 1857, 5:327).
The Lord has graciously provided the means for conversion even in the most simple and humble of circumstances. Unfortunately, some of us look beyond the mark and depend too much on buildings, budgets, programs, and activities for conversion rather than on the small and simple things that are central to the gospel. We need to look beyond our own hearts to experience the sweet spiritual feelings promised to those who obey God. That is why a new member in the most humble conditions can experience the gospel as deeply as a lifetime member who was raised in the shadow of Church headquarters. (M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, [May 1990]: 6).
You might prove doctrine from the Bible till doomsday, and it would merely convince a people, but would not convert them. You might read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, and prove every iota that you advance, and that alone would have no converting influence upon the people. Nothing short of a testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost would bring light and knowledge to them--bring them in their hearts to repentance. Nothing short of that would ever do. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, London: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1855-1886, 7 October 1857, 5:327).
It makes me think of an old Baptist preacher in Virginia. He came and preached in a certain place; the next time he came round, a drunken man came staggering up to him and said, "Brother Jones, when you was last in our settlement, you converted my soul." "Well," said Brother Jones, "I should think I did, for I do not believe the Lord had anything to do with it." (Jedediah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses, London: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1855-1886, 7 October 1854, 7:72).
Some individuals have been baptized only, they have not been fellowshipped, and in two or three months they say goodbye. It is important, my brethren and sisters, to see that they are converted, that they have in their hearts a conviction concerning this great work. It is not a matter of the head only. It is a matter of the heart and its being touched by the Holy Spirit until they know that this work is true, that Joseph Smith was verily a prophet of God, that God lives and that Jesus Christ lives and that they appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, that the Book of Mormon is true, that the priesthood is here with all of its gifts and blessings. I cannot emphasize this too strongly. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Columbia Bogota North, South, and Missionary Training Center Meeting, 8 November 1996).
True conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ produces a compelling influence for good. It makes one more agreeable to live with, more kindly, more tolerant of others; less prone to criticize or find fault; more apt to strive for the better things in life, shunning the base and carnal; seeking always to restrain sordid inclinations, and replacing them with gentle and righteous ones. (Alvin R. Dyer, The Challenge, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977, p. 68).
True conversion comes through the power of the Spirit. When the Spirit touches the heart, hearts are changed. When individuals . . . feel the Spirit working with them, or when they see the evidence of the Lord’s love and mercy in their lives, they are edified and strengthened spiritually and their faith in Him increases. These experiences with the Spirit follow naturally when a person is willing to experiment upon the word. This is how we come to feel the gospel is true. (M. Russell Ballard, “Now Is the Time,” Ensign, [November 2000]: 75).
We have the great need to see that the power of the Spirit gets through this work because it is a work of the Spirit. I think we all understand that. Conversion is a process of the Holy Ghost being able to work through a missionary and touch hearts and bring a feeling within the heart that causes people to want to change their lives and to come unto Christ and to repent and give up their sins. (M. Russell Ballard, "Mission Presidents’ Seminar: Apostles Counsel Embarking Leaders," Church News, [2 July 1994]: 5).
Converts are not peas in a pod, they are not automobiles on a production line; they are men and women, sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven, into whose hearts have come the truths of the restored gospel of the Master. Nobody knows, nobody can predict the consequences of those . . . conversions. (Gordon B. Hinckley, BYU Student Body Address, 28 January 1959, p. 3).
One week ago last Wednesday I was privileged to set apart William Agnew for his mission. I reviewed with him his conversion and that of his family, some five years ago in eastern Canada. The family had been seeking truth. The missionaries called and presented the teachings of the gospel. The members of the family studied. They loved what they learned. They were approaching the decision to be baptized. One Sunday morning the family, by previous appointment, was preparing to attend the "Mormon" Sunday School. Mother and the children readied themselves but were disappointed when Dad concluded not to attend. They even argued somewhat about the decision. Then Mother and the children went to Sunday School, and Dad angrily stayed at home. He first attempted to forget the misunderstanding by reading the newspaper, but to no avail. Then he went to his daughter Isabelle's room and turned on the radio which occupied her night stand, hoping to hear the news. He didn't hear the news. Rather, he heard the Tabernacle Choir. Elder Evan's message, it seemed, was directed personally to him. Brother Agnew realized the futility of his anger. He was now overpowered by a feeling of gratitude for the message he had just received. When his wife and family returned home, they found him pleasant and happy. His children asked how this change had come about. He told them how he had turned on the radio, hoping to get the news, only to be humbled by the message of the choir in word and song. His daughter said, "Which radio did you use, Dad?" He answered, "The one on your night stand." She replied, "That radio is broken. It hasn't played for weeks." He led them to the room to prove that this radio did indeed function. Hadn't he just heard the choir and a message that had inspired and humbled him? He turned the proper dial. But that radio didn't play. Yet when an honest seeker after truth needed the help of God, that radio did play. The message which led to conversion was received. Needless to say, the family became members of the Church. (Thomas S. Monson, Conference Report, October 1964, p. 19).
We call upon every member of the Church to reach out to new converts, to put your arms around them and make them feel at home. Bless them with your friendship. Encourage them with your faith. See that there are no losses among them. Every man, woman, or child who is worthy of baptism is worthy of a secure and friendly situation in which to grow in the Church and its many activities. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, 5 April 2003).
I want to say that when we started emphasizing in our missionary program the truth about God as a basic and fundamental and primary principle, and began to encourage those who were willing to listen to get on their knees and ask him. . .concerning the truth of that teaching, we began to get converts in such numbers as we had not had in many, many years. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Cornerstone,” Improvement Era, [June 1969]: 425).
The individual testimony is a personal possession. One cannot give his testimony to another, yet he is able to aid his earnest brother in gaining a true testimony for himself. The over-zealous missionary may be influenced by the misleading thought that the bearing of his testimony to those who have not before heard the gospel message, is to convince or condemn, as the hearers accept or reject. The Elder is sent into the field to preach the gospel--the good news of its restoration to earth, showing by scriptural evidence the harmony of the new message with the predictions of earlier times; expounding the truths embodied in the first principles of the gospel; then if he bears his testimony under divine inspiration, such a testimony is as a seal attesting the genuineness of the truths he has declared, and so appealing to the receptive soul whose ears have been saluted by the heaven-sent message. (Joseph F. Smith, Juvenile Instructor, [1 August 1906]: 465).
As a vital link in the conversion process, we should bear our testimonies that the gospel is true; our testimonies may well be the spark that ignites the conversion process. Consequently, we have a double responsibility; we must testify of the things we know, feel, and have felt, and we must live so the Holy Ghost can be with us and convey our words in power to the heart of the investigator. (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. by Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 138).
Before he left [a young missionary] said to his mother: "If I do not receive a testimony before I have been in the mission one month, I am going to return home." The mother sweetly answered: "My son, you have a testimony. My prayers will ascend unto God that you will be made conscious of that testimony before you have been in the mission field one month." The young man was put to labor in the Georgia conference. Three weeks after he arrived there, he and his companion were chased by a mob of angry men. The elders discarded their mission grips. They found that their coats impeded their flight, and they threw them aside; but when they had outdistanced their pursuers this young man who had told his mother he would return home within a month if he did not receive a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, shook his fist in the direction of the mob and said: "I know this Gospel is true." But it took a mob to make him conscious of his testimony. (Charles A. Callas, Conference Report, April 1929, p. 23).
How to preach? Store up your minds with useful information; seek wisdom from all good books; search the scriptures diligently; be humble and prayerful; keep your minds filled with prayerful thoughts; make God your friend; observe Fast Days; partake of the sacrament unless a few tears flow. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is not necessary or needful for a person to have tears streaming down their face to have a testimony of the gospel.
I remember a missionary once who used to cry so badly when he bore his testimony that I finally told him, "Elder, I think you are making a demonstration of yourself. Why don't you try bearing your testimony without crying. You don't have to shed tears." I know that there are occasions when our hearts are close to the surface, and tears come. I've seen that in President McKay. But, I tell you, the serenity of the gospel of Jesus Christ does not depend upon emotionalism to bring forth a testimony. These things are firmly fixed under the power of the spirit. They don't require a physical emotionalism to demonstrate testimony because they are born of a solid conviction by the power of truth! I found out with this missionary that as a young man he had borne his testimony for the first time and it had caused him to cry and everyone had come up and told him what a wonderful testimony it was. That was the springboard. From then on he cried every time he bore his testimony, so people would come up and say what a wonderful testimony he had.
I went to a meeting with Spencer W. Kimball and a man got up and bore his testimony and he cried all the way through it. After the meeting, Brother Kimball called him over and said, "Brother, I wish you'd stop crying when you bear your testimony. You don't have to do that to tell people that you love the Lord."
I felt embarrassed for another missionary who bore his testimony and said, "If you'll pardon me, I'm overcome" and he really wept, and when he got through, Brother Bennion really took him apart. He wasn't trying to be unkind to the missionary, but sometimes you can be misled by over-emotionalism, which is merely a surging of the blood. It is not a conviction! I think we ought to bear our testimonies without tears, and stand strong and honorably before our fellow men and tell them the truth, born of the spirit that comes to us. Now I know that isn't always easy, and I know I have had to struggle many times to keep back the tears, and I don't think we ought to fight that either. I hope you understand what I mean, but there are people who can bring tears pretty fast, and sometimes it is an indication of a lack of sincerity. (Alvin R. Dyer, quoted in Testimony, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980, p. 141).
Some may ask the question as to how we convert others to the truth. The answer is, we do not. Conversion comes from above. Our part in this work is to plant the seeds of truth. These seeds are born of our conviction when we testify of the divine mission of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, who offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. We rely upon the gift and power of the Holy Ghost to carry our message into the hearts of our listeners and witness unto them the truthfulness of our stated conviction. (Henry D. Moyle, Conference Report, April 1961, pp. 101-102).
Some years ago there grew up an error in the method of proselyting and many people were baptized who were not converted. This caused concern among the Brethren. We want people to have a testimony, but, when we expressed some concern about many of these baptisms, the pendulum swung the other way, all the way across, and there were many mission Presidents who came to feel, mistakenly, that they should never discuss baptism with investigators at all. That is the trouble with pendulums--they nearly always swing all the way in one direction or the other. That problem has been corrected. We have had some difficulty, however, in getting the pendulum to stay in the center. From now on, brethren, we expect that every year there will be a great increase in conversions and baptisms. We hope that stake and full-time mission presidents will understand this. We do believe in setting goals. We live by goals. In athletics, we always have a goal. When we go to school, we have the goal of graduation and degrees. Our total existence is goal-oriented. Our most important goal is to bring the gospel to all people. We must convert more people. We must find ways and means. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 3 April 1975, p. 6).
We do believe in setting goals....we must have goals to make progress, encouraged by keeping records...Laboring with a distant aim sets the mind in a higher key and puts us at our best...Goals should always be made to a point that will make us reach and strain. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 3 April 1974).
We'd like to get back into baptizing many, many people...What we want you to do is to establish goals. Now somebody also got mixed up and they thought goal was spelled, “q-u-o-t-a,” and it isn't, that's another word. Now there's a tremendous difference between a goal and a quota...We hope that every one of you will have a goal and have a goal every month. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 3 April 1974).
If we would improve the world in which we live, we must first improve the lives of the people. Conversion is never a mass process. It is an individual thing. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Wonders of Jesus,” Improvement Era, [June 1969]: 74).
As we go forward in the special work of the priesthood, which is missionary work both for the living and the dead, and as we carry the gospel to our friends who are not members of the Church, let us try to keep things in proper balance. The revealed order is faith and then repentance and then baptism. A Baptist minister was heard to say about some of his own people that they had been starched and ironed before they were washed. I think we might take a lesson from that thought and convert the people before we baptize them. (Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965, p. 146).
Missionaries should exercise care before administering this ordinance. A case came up recently, illustrating the need of proper teaching, in which a person had been baptized possessing no knowledge at all of the Church into which he thereby had gained membership. When he later learned that it was the Church founded by Joseph Smith, and that authority to baptize came through him, he demanded a release from his obligation. He had not been taught right. (Joseph F. Smith, "Baptism," Improvement Era, 14 [April 1911]: 267).
Our mission is not to go out for the sole purpose of seeing how many we can baptize. Our mission is to convert people, and we want to be sure they are converted before they are led into the waters of baptism. We do not want people to accept the gospel and afterwards turn from it. Better that they had never received it. (Abraham O. Woodruff, Conference Report, October 1903, p. 22).
We can increase our production and that's what we're talking about, and we want it to be real production of course. We're not talking about baptisms--we're talking about conversions. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 2 October 1975, p. 17).
I vividly recall the great and moving experience it was to participate in [the dedication of the Guatemala City Temple].
In ten dedicatory sessions, thousands of wonderful people joined in presenting this sacred house to God our Eternal Father and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ. Those familiar with the people estimated that more than 75 percent of those who were there were descendants of Father Lehi.
What an inspiration it was to look into their faces—handsome men and women with lovely children. Yet behind their stoic expressions, I felt I could see, almost in vision, generations of their forebears—the glorious days of their strength and goodness when they knew and worshipped the Christ, and then the tragic, miserable years, reaching through many generations, when, having rejected Him, their blood ran from the wounds of conflict, and they lived in pain, filth, poverty, and oppression.
Hundreds of those who came to the dedicatory services lived in the mountains and jungles of Guatemala and other areas of Central America. They came because their lives have been touched by faithful missionaries who have walked from humble home to humble home and told these people of their forebears and read to them from their own forgotten testament of Christ. They have been touched by the power of the Holy Spirit. The scales of darkness have slowly but surely fallen from their eyes. . . It is a latter-day miracle, a wonderful thing to behold. How did it happen? How did it all come to be?
One need look no further than to the many missionaries who have labored in that part of the world, who in obedience to the Lord, accepted a call from His prophet to serve a mission. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Giving Ourselves to the Service of the Lord,” Ensign, [March 1987]: 2).
We must increase our real conversions, not just the baptisms, but the real conversions. We must do a better work in convincing them of the truths of the gospel enough to change their lives. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 2 October 1975, p. 8).
We must remember that while we are encouraging increase in baptisms, we must also at the same time encourage that every baptism must be a conversion, remembering the requirements of one who is to be baptized. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 3 October 1974]: 11).
We are concerned with the fact that we lose too many of our good folks who hear the message, receive it, and then fall away. We must find ways to hold converts through better teaching, better fellowshipping and otherwise. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 2 October 1975, p. 1).
It was the truth which Joseph Smith announced which led many to investigate the startling doctrines which he and others went forth to proclaim--that those who would do the will of Go; in other words; those who would receive the doctrines which they declared, might know for themselves whether or not God lived, whether he had spoken, and whether or not he had made Joseph Smith his Prophet. The fact that many who hearkened unto those counsels received a testimony in their hearts was what induced the growth of this great latter-day work and so firmly established the people that in the midst of trial, opposition and calamity they were enabled to remain steadfast in this unpopular cause. This was the secret of the strength of the Latter-day Saints today and of their wonderful growth in the earth, the secret of the success which followed the elders wherever they went to preach. Numbers had put the words of the elders to the test; they had tried God and proven His word; they had received a testimony and knew for themselves that this was the gospel of the Son of God. (Abraham H. Cannon, "Revelation," Deseret Weekly, [Saturday, 22 August 1891]: 281).
New converts to the Church repeatedly say that one of the main factors in their conversions was the earnest testimony of the missionaries. And the testimony of the missionary is likewise based on experience--a spiritual experience which has convinced him of the truth of the gospel himself and enabled him to tell others that it is true. (Mark E. Petersen, Church News, (1 November 1969): 16).
There are perhaps, more inquirers, more earnest investigators of the truth and doctrines of the gospel than ever before in the history of this church, and I may say, with equal force and truth, that there are more converts than ever before. (George F. Richards, Conference Report, October 1907, p. 42).
We must continue to remind ourselves of the great change that occurs as the investigator goes from non-member to member. They must change in their knowledge and understanding of the gospel; their attitude must change from one of quest to one of belief. Most difficult of all, their behavior must change. And we must make this as easy as possible for them. They will feel alone. We must give them new friendships. (L. Tom Perry Mission Presidents’ Seminar, Church News, [8 July 1989]: 7).
Brothers and sisters, we must ever keep in mind that missionary work throughout the world requires great sacrifice, and all of this sacrifice, effort, and exhaustive preparation of missionaries may be in vain if those who accept the gospel do not receive a loving and warm welcome by the members of the Church.
We know from years of experience that the first contacts new converts have with members in wards or branches are critical to the conversion process. (M. Russell Ballard, CR O'88, Ensign, (November 1988): 28).
After conversion comes the desire to share--not so much of a sense of duty, even though that responsibility falls on the priesthood, but out of a sincere love and appreciation for that which has been received. When such a "pearl of great price" comes into our lives, we cannot be content just to admire it by ourselves. It must be shared! And here is the great joy and happiness of the gift! (L. Tom Perry, "Go Ye Therefore, and Teach all Nations," Ensign, [May 1984]: 78-80).
When I was presiding over the New England Mission, I attended a zone conference; and as we entered the room where the young elders were waiting, I saw, sitting in the back row, a tall and elderly man.
"I was baptized a few days ago," he said to me. "I'm 74 years old, and I found the gospel only now in my life."
In a pleading voice he asked if he might attend the meeting. "I just want to be here to learn," he said. "I'll sit on the back row. I won't interrupt."
Then, almost in tears, he poured out his regret. "Why did I not find it until now? My life is over. My children are all raised and gone, and it is just too late for me to learn the gospel."
What a joy it was to explain to him one of the great miracles that occurs over and over again is the transformation of those who join the Church. (Or I might say of those who rejoin the Church). They are in the world and they are of the world, and then the missionaries find them. Though they are in the world thereafter, they are not of the world. Very quickly in their thinking and in their feelings and in their actions, it is as though they had been members of the Church all of their lives.
This is one of the great miracles of this work. The Lord has a way of compensating and blessing. He is not confined to the tedious processes of communication and He is not limited to Japanese or English. (Boyd K. Packer, CR A'75, Ensign, [May 1975]: 105).
A convert is not simply a figure on a page of statistics. A convert is a man, or a woman, or a child. A convert is a living soul into whose life has come new knowledge, light, and understanding.
Converts are those who have been taught and have accepted the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They are those into whose hearts has come a new faith and into whose minds has come a new understanding. They are those into whose lives has come a new desire to live up to higher standards of behavior. They are those who have come to know a new happiness and an enlarged circle of friends. They are those whose sights have been raised to a new understanding of the eternal purposes of God. Converts are tremendously important because they are men, women, and children who have repented of past ways and adopted new patterns of living.
There likely will be more than 200,000 converts in 1986. How much more wonderful if this gospel had touched the lives of an additional 50,000--or an additional 100,000. Yet I am one who believes that this is well within our reach. (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Field is White Already to Harvest," Ensign, [December 1986]: 3-4).
The prime element of any conversion is personal prayer. When a person gets down on his or her knees and prays to Heavenly Father about the message that he or she has heard, that's when conversion really starts to take place. There cannot be conversion without prayer, without recognition of a power higher than our own. Until a person comes to the point where he or she desires to really communicate with our eternal Heavenly Father, conversion will always be elusive. But it can be conclusive once powerful, personal prayer takes place. In a sense, our role through all of our exposures and introductions of the Church to others through member missionaries, books, magazines, films, lessons, meetings, etc., is simply to stimulate individuals to receive personal revelation from our Heavenly Father. Once that happens, all the rest falls into place. ("Status Report on Missionary Work: A Conversation with Thomas S. Monson," Ensign, [October 1977]: 13).
A natural consequence of conversion is the continued remission of sin by living the gospel, which includes sharing the gospel with others. President Spencer W. Kimball declared, "The Lord has told us that our sins will be forgiven more readily as we bring souls unto Christ and remain steadfast in bearing testimony to the world, and surely every one of us is looking for additional help in being forgiven of our sins." (Ensign, October 1977, p. 5).
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: "For I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment--that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer, in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto you" (D&C 84:61). And also in the Doctrine and Covenants: 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).
A former prophet of God, President George Albert Smith, said, "My understanding is that the most important mission that I have in this life is: first, to keep the commandments of God, as they have been taught to me; and next, to teach them to my Father's children who do not understand them." (In Conference Report, Oct. 1916, p. 50).
The doctrine seems quite clear to me; the remission of sins is an ongoing process. As each one of us strives to become clean, pure, and even sanctified, i see no better way for us to do this than to help others of our Heavenly Father's children find the truth. (M. Russell Ballard, CR O'84, Ensign, [November 1984]: 16).
Remember the "unto such" promise given in the missionary work, that "he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing-unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such is shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance." (Alma 26:22). And we are thinking and hoping for thousands of conversions by individual missionaries and missions. (Spencer W. Kimball, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 20 June 1975).
My brethren, our effort must be well planned, well governed, well directed. The reservoir of power and authority is full to overflowing. We must learn to tape it. Remember, the Prophet Joseph said, "After all that's been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel." And remember also that the Lord emphasized to the Whitmers that "the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel." And remember also that the Lord emphasized to the Whitmers that the greatest blessing that could possibly come to a preacher of righteousness is that he convert souls and change lives and inspire people so they could enjoy eternity with him, the missionary. Remember, President John Taylor said on one occasion, "If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those you might have saved had you done your duty." (Spencer W. Kimball, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 27 June 1974).
I know now that I had a testimony, a deep conviction of the Truth; but it was latent, undeveloped, like a gold mine in the depths of the earth. Something had to occur to bring it out. That something was my mission. It bored the tunnel, sunk the shaft, and brought the precious ore to the surface.
I cannot but believe that in the heart of every "Mormon" boy and every "Mormon" girl there is a spiritual gold mine, awaiting development. To some, the development comes early; to others, late. But come it will, sometime, somewhere. They are children of the Covenant; in their veins is the blood of Israel; and they have received, if baptized, the gift of the Holy Ghost, which manifests the things of God. (Orson F. Whitney, Through Memories Halls, Independence, Missouri: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1930, p. 68).
Our main task is to declare the gospel and do it effectively. We are not obligated to answer every objection. Every man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there he must make his stand. "And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye," said Nephi, "for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things." (2 Nephi 33:11). Every man must judge for himself, knowing God will hold him accountable. (Ezra Taft Benson, "The Book of Mormon is the Word of God," Regional Representatives’ Seminar, Salt Lake City, Utah, 4 April 1986).
Remember This . . .
Your purpose is to bring souls to Christ.
Prepare people to meet the qualifications for baptism in Doctrine and Covenants 20:37 and the baptismal interview questions.
Pray often for yourself and for others.
Rely on the Spirit to show you where to go, what to do, and what to say.
Be exactly obedient.
Study the language of your mission each day.
Plan every day and focus on key indicators.
Work effectively all day, every day.
Ask for referrals from everyone!
Teach when you find; find when you teach.
Read the Book of Mormon with those you teach.
Teach people that an important way to know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God is to read and pray about the Book of Mormon.
Contact every investigator daily.
Bear testimony frequently.
Have a member at every lesson possible.
Always set specific dates and times for the next lesson.
Invite all investigators to baptismal services.
After each lesson, provide investigators with something to read and ponder in preparation for the next meeting.
Build relationships with members by serving them and working with the leadership of the ward.
Help ward leaders with retention and activation activities.
Help everyone you teach make commitments that will bring about repentance and will strengthen their faith in the Savior.
Love the Lord and serve Him the very best you can. (Preach my Gospel: A guide to missionary service. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004, p. 229).
Let me tell you of a man I know. I will not mention his name lest he feel embarrassed. His wife felt there was something missing in their lives. She spoke with a relative one day who was a member of the Church. The relative suggested that she call the missionaries. She did so. But the husband was rude to them and told them not to come again.
Months passed. One day another missionary, finding the record of this visit, decided that he and his companion would try again. He was a tall elder from California who carried a big smile on his face.
They knocked on the door; the man answered. Could they come in for a few minutes? they asked. He consented.
The missionary said, in effect, “I wonder if you know how to pray.” The man answered that he knew the Lord’s Prayer. The missionary said, “That is good, but let me tell you how to give a personal prayer.” He went on to explain that we get on our knees in an attitude of humility before the God of heaven. The man did so. The missionary then went on to say, “We address God as our Father in Heaven. We then thank Him for His blessings. We express our innermost hopes and desires. We ask Him to bless those in need. We do it all in the name of His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, concluding with ‘amen.’”
It was a pleasant experience for the man. He had gleaned a little light and understanding, a touch of faith. He was ready to try another step.
Line upon line, the missionaries patiently taught him. He responded as his faith grew into a dim light of understanding. Friends from his branch gathered around to reassure him and answer his questions. The men played tennis with him, and he and his family were invited to their homes for dinner.
He was baptized, and that was a giant step of faith. The branch president asked him to be a Scoutmaster to four boys.
Think of the success of a boy from your ward who is called by the authority of the priesthood and leaves home with the prayers of his father, mother, brothers, and sisters and goes into the world. Soon he writes to his family that this is the first time "I've really come to know what it means to be alive with the Spirit of the Lord." That is success--the greatest success story in the world. I never get over the miracle of it. I thank the Lord for it." (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, [May 1985]: 98).
As a people we have problems, yes. We’re not doing all that we ought to be doing, that’s true. Yet I want to say to you that this is the greatest success story on the face of the earth—the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no other story in all the world quite like it. You leaders gathered from more than ninety nations of the world, speaking numerous languages, all testify to the great power and strength of the work of God.
Last year, more than 192,000 convert baptisms were performed, the equivalent of sixty-four new stakes of Zion in one year. It is a success story. Think of the success of a boy from your ward who is called by the authority of the priesthood and leaves home with the prayers of his father, mother, brothers, and sisters and goes into the world. Soon he writes to his family that this is the first time ‘I’ve really come to know what it means to be alive with the Spirit of the Lord.’ That is success—the greatest success story in the world. I never get over the miracle of it. I thank the Lord for it. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Stake Presidents’ Meeting, 5 April 1985).
I met a naval officer from a distant nation, a brilliant young man who had been brought to the United States for advanced training. Some of his associates in the United States Navy, whose behavior had attracted him, shared with him at his request their religious beliefs. He was not a Christian, but he was interested. They told him of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, who gave his life for all mankind. They told him of the appearance of God, The Eternal Father, and the resurrected Lord to the boy Joseph Smith. The spoke of modern prophets. They
taught him the gospel of the Master. The Spirit touched his heart, and he was baptized.
He was introduced to me just before he was to return to this native land. We spoke of these things, then I said: “Your people are not Christians. What will happen when you return home a Christian, and, more particularly, a Mormon Christian?”
His face clouded, and he replied, “My family will be disappointed. They may cast me out and regard me as dead. As for my future and my career, all opportunity may be foreclosed against me.”
I asked, “Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?”
His dark eyes, moistened by tears, shone from his handsome brown face as he answered, “It’s true, isn’t it?”
Ashamed at having asked the question, I responded, “Yes, it’s true.”
To which he replied, “Then what else matters?”
These are questions I should like to leave with you. “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else really matters?” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “’It’s True, Isn’t It?’” Ensign, [July 1993]: 2).
The men who have had the greatest success in converting souls to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been men who have been taught of God, who have been God-fearing, humble, and willing to give unto Him the honor and the glory for all they were able to accomplish. (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1975, p. 95).