Sunday, May 11, 2008

Thoughts on Elder David Bednar's Conference Address about Members Praying for the Missionaries

I read a very insightful post by Michelle at the Blogger of Jared entitled "I Need to Be a Missionary Now" where she was moved by Elder David Bednar's recent conference talk where he talked about not only praying for the missionaries but about doing something to help them succeed. Michelle rightly asks for others to suggest things we can do to make that possible. The LDS General Authorities however have given us several helpful suggestions in what to do for the last couple of decades.

In the LDS temples throughout the world members often pray for the missionaries that they will be lead to the honest in heart. Members also pray that the hearts of the rulers will be softened so that we can spread the gospel.

Most prophets during this last century have encouraged members to help out. David O. McKay is known for his member missionary platform. Spencer W. Kimball in 1975 stepped up the pace and it has been the subject in general conference every few year until 2008 when Elder Bednar spoke. President Kimball said:

"We have launched a prayer campaign throughout the Church and hope that all people, parents, youth, and children, will 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 in the approved way.

Perhaps the Lord is testing us to see if we can supply the missionaries. So our universal prayer should have the two requests: (1) that we may get all of the missionaries that are needed to cover the world as with a blanket; and (2) when we are prepared, the Lord will open the gates. Is anything impossible for the Lord? We shall do our part and know firmly that the Lord will do what he has promised when the time is right." (Spencer W. Kimball, "Insights from June Conference," Ensign, [October 1975]: 70).

Elder David Bednar in the last conference added his witness to what other prophets and apostles said about members helping the missionaries. Instead of just praying and sitting by passively members are encouraged to do something active to help the missionaries:

"We properly pray for the safety and success of the full-time missionaries throughout the world. And a common element in many of our prayers is a request that the missionaries will be led to individuals and families who are prepared to receive the message of the Restoration. But ultimately it is my responsibility and your responsibility to find people for the missionaries to teach. Missionaries are full-time teachers; you and I are full-time finders. And you and I as lifelong missionaries should not be praying for the full-time missionaries to do our work!

If you and I would truly pray and ask in faith, as did Joseph Smith—if we would pray with the expectation to act and not just to express—then the work of proclaiming the gospel would move forward in a remarkable way. Such a prayer of faith might include some of the following elements:

  • Thanking Heavenly Father for the doctrines and ordinances of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, which bring hope and happiness into our lives.
  • Asking for courage and boldness to open our mouths and share the gospel with our family and friends.
  • Entreating Heavenly Father to help us identify individuals and families who will be receptive to our invitation to be taught by the missionaries in our homes.
  • Pledging to do our part this day and this week and petitioning for help to overcome anxiety, fear, and hesitation.
  • Seeking for the gift of discernment—for eyes to see and ears to hear missionary opportunities as they occur.
  • Praying fervently for the strength to act as we know we should.

Gratitude would be expressed, and other blessings might be requested in such a prayer, which would be closed in the name of the Savior. And then the consecrated work of that prayer would continue and increase.

This same pattern of holy communication and consecrated work can be applied in our prayers for the poor and the needy, for the sick and the afflicted, for family members and friends who are struggling, and for those who are not attending Church meetings.

I testify that prayer becomes meaningful as we ask in faith and act. I invite all of us to pray in faith about our divinely given mandate to proclaim the gospel. As we do so, I promise doors will open and we will be blessed to recognize and act upon the opportunities that will be provided."

I thought it would be interesting to trace a few similar statements during the last couple of decades and see what some of the LDS General Authorities have had to say about members praying for missionaries and what they can do actively about it. I think many of them encourage us to get off our duffs and do anything as long as we try people will be touched by our efforts.

In 1977 Thomas S. Monson said: "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).

In 1997 Richard G. Scott talked about member's missionary responsibility: "

How seriously have you personally taken the Lord’s charge to share His gospel? It is a lifelong responsibility. It is to be addressed differently according to the various seasons of your life. Not everyone can be a full-time missionary. If you can, do it. If not, seek other ways to serve that meet your present circumstances.

As you ponder how to serve, consider where you can best participate in the steps that must unfold for a family or an individual to receive enduring conversion and full gospel blessings. First, the family or individual needs to be identified and prepared to receive the gospel. There follows a doctrinal conversion. That is, an understanding of new doctrines and prayer for confirmation of their truthfulness. As the teachings are practiced and the commandments lived, a testimony is gained, and conversion and baptism result. This effort is best performed by full-time missionaries working with stake missionaries supported by caring members. They systematically present doctrinal principles and are carefully trained to teach and testify of these truths.

Simultaneously with doctrinal conversion there must be a social transition. Friends, habits, customs, and traditions not in harmony with the life of a Latter-day Saint are abandoned, replaced by new friends and activities that support a new life. Of the two important changes that must occur in a convert’s life—the gaining of a testimony, or doctrinal conversion, and learning how to live as a Latter-day Saint, or the social transition—the latter is the most difficult to achieve. It is best accomplished with the love and support of members. Your worthy example and caring support can lead them through each step required to learn to live as a Latter-day Saint.

This social transition requires careful nurturing and help to teach new patterns of life, to introduce new friends, and to assist the new converts to be obedient and begin to serve in the Church. In his last conference message, as the representative of the Lord, President Hinckley stressed this vital role of members and leaders to help each new convert feel comfortable and be sustained in living the requirements of a new life. He said, “With the ever-increasing number of converts, we must make an increasingly substantial effort to assist them as they find their way.”

As you ponder and pray about how you can serve as a member missionary, consider three categories of service available to you and determine which best meets your current circumstances. I will review each category briefly.

  1. Serving without a Formal Call

  2. Serving a Part-Time Mission

  3. Serving a Full-Time Mission

In 2001 M. Russell Ballard in his book When Thou Art Converted said:

"Take an active part in building the kingdom of God through service. Once we have nourished ourselves with the good word of Christ and feasted at His table so that our testimony is strong and vibrant, we are obligated to join with the missionaries in a balanced effort to invite others—beginning with our families—to the spiritual banquet. As the Lord said to His beloved Apostle Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen they brethren” (Luke 22:32).

Feeding the Lord’s sheep requires each of us to awaken our interest in others. The duty to invite others to partake of the gospel feast does not rest only on the shoulders of our missionaries. That sober and significant duty belongs to each member of the Church, for “it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81).

Today, our prophet is calling for enthusiastic and dynamic love for our Heavenly Father’s children. He asks us to see the spiritual hunger around us and to respond by willingly sharing our abundance. No power on earth can accomplish as much as one righteous man or woman or boy or girl. And if you think you’re just too busy for that kind of dedication of your time and talents, or if you’re waiting to devote yourself to God’s service more completely “later,” may I suggest that you review this with the Lord in prayer and be willing to listen to His counsel. Don’t allow yourself to be so busy with temporal experiences that you lose the opportunity for spiritual experiences." (M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001], p. 69).

In 2001 Jeffrey R. Holland also gave his own suggestions on how members can help in the work:

"Now, you are already wonderful missionaries, better than you think you are, and there is more where that comes from! The 12-hour-a-day, heavy-duty effort we’ll leave to the full-time missionaries, but why should they have all the fun? We are entitled to a seat at the abundant table of testimony as well, and fortunately a place has been reserved there for each member of the Church.

Indeed, one of the axioms of our day is that no mission or missionaries can ultimately succeed without the loving participation and spiritual support of the local members working with them in a balanced effort. If today you are taking notes on a stone tablet, chisel that one in deeply. I promise you won’t ever have to erase it. Initial investigators may come from many different sources, but those who are actually baptized and who are firmly retained in activity in the Church come overwhelmingly from friends and acquaintances known to members of the Church."

Elder Holland went on to suggest seven things that a member could do to help the missionaries:

  1. Above all else we can live the gospel.
  2. Thank you also for praying for the missionaries. Everyone prays for the missionaries. May it ever be so. In that same spirit, we should also pray for those who are (or who need to be) meeting the missionaries.
  3. We can also pray daily for our own personal missionary experiences.
  4. When the Lord delivers this person to your view, just chat—about anything.
  5. But perhaps even more important than speaking is listening. These people are not lifeless objects disguised as a baptismal statistic. They are children of God, our brothers and sisters, and they need what we have. Be genuine. Reach out sincerely.
  6. For those who find it difficult to initiate missionary conversations—and many do—the Church’s newly produced pass-along cards are a lovely, effortless way to let others know some of your basic beliefs and how they may learn more. For example, this is the easiest way I personally have yet found to offer people a copy of the Book of Mormon without my needing to carry a knapsack full of books as I travel.
  7. Serve as senior missionaries.
Elder Holland also quoted President Gordon B. Hinckley who taught a couple of years earlier in 1999:

“My heart reaches out to you missionaries. You simply cannot do it alone and do it well. You must have the help of others. That power to help lies within each of us. …

“Now, my brethren and sisters, we can let the missionaries try to do it alone, or we can help them. If they do it alone, they will knock on doors day after day and the harvest will be meager. Or as members we can assist them in finding and teaching investigators. …

“Brothers and sisters, all of you out in the wards and stakes and in the districts and branches, I invite you to become a vast army with enthusiasm for this work and a great overarching desire to assist the missionaries in the tremendous responsibility they have to carry the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.”

In 2003 M. Russell Ballard talked about raising the bar for member missionary involvement when he said:

"Throughout the Church we are working hard to help all of our missionaries to increase their spiritual maturity. This worldwide effort has been referred to as “raising the bar” or “raising the standard.” We thank you parents, bishops, and stake presidents for your support in this effort. We also thank the faithful youth of the Church for your willingness to live up to the Lord’s standard. May our Heavenly Father continue to bless you as you prepare to serve Him in this troubled world.

But as we raise the level of expectation for the performance of our missionaries, we must also raise the level of expectation for the performance of all of the members of the Church in fulfilling our missionary duties. We need your help, brothers and sisters, to support and assist our missionaries in finding and baptizing many more of our Heavenly Father’s children. We need you to watch over, protect, and inspire the missionaries, who are servants of the Lord. If the standard is to be raised, it is raised for all of us. We must be more faithful. We must be more spiritually in tune. We must prepare ourselves to assist the missionaries in finding those of our Heavenly Father’s children who will embrace the message of the Restoration.

Remember, brothers and sisters, we’re not marketing a product. We’re not selling anything. We’re not trying to impress anyone with our numbers or our growth. We are members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, empowered and sent forth by the Lord Himself to find, nourish, and bring safely into His Church those who are seeking to know the truth.

Viewed from that eternal perspective, what we are to do seems so simple and clear, but I know that member missionary work can be challenging and sometimes frightening. Please allow me to suggest three simple things that we can do to assist in this divinely commissioned responsibility.

First, we should exercise our faith and pray individually and as families, asking for help in finding ways to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Ask the Lord to open the way. Prayerfully set a date with your family to have someone in your home for the missionaries to teach. Remember, brothers and sisters, this is the Lord’s Church. Let Him guide you through constant prayer. With a prayer in your heart, talk to everyone you can. Don’t prejudge. Don’t withhold the good news from anyone. Talk to everyone, and trust in the promised power of the Spirit to give you the words you should say. Let them make the decision to accept or reject your invitation. Over time, the Lord will put into your path those who are seeking the truth. He is the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep, and they will know His voice, spoken through you, and they will follow Him (see John 10). . . .

Second, leaders must lead by example. The Spirit will prompt and guide you in finding those interested in our message. Your personal worthiness will give you the courage and the spiritual power to inspire your members to actively help the missionaries. . . .

Third, member missionary work does not require the development of strategies or gimmicks. It does require faith—real faith and trust in the Lord. It also requires genuine love. The first great commandment is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. … The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:37, 39).

So let the power of love guide us in sharing the gospel with family members, friends, neighbors, business associates, and any other people we encounter as we go through life. Most everyone wants to enjoy peace and happiness. That is a natural human desire. People want to find answers to the problems they face. This is increasingly true in the world we now live in."

The brethren have not only asked the question but given us a lot of ways of doing the work. I am sure there are other things that we can and must do. Let us start doing some missionary work so we can be like Bookslinger out there handing out books and finding people for the missionaries to teach. The most important thing is to remember to pray for the missionaries and to pray that we will have missionary opportunities each and every day.

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