Thursday, January 8, 2009

Henry Eyring's First Presidency Message Calls for Members Proclaiming the Gospel

It is reassuring to see that our leaders are reinforcing the need of members to be involved in missionary work as being vital to the lifeblood of the Church. Henry B. Eyring's recent "Let Us Raise Our Voice of Warning" is another nudge in getting members to help pick up the slack in missionary work. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been growing despite a slow down in missionary work over the past decade. One of the reasons that it continues to grow is that despite the fact that members are being lost on a constant basis new members and a slightly higher family size replenishes the numbers. Talks like his keep the subject on our minds.

Over the years we have been reminded by various apostles such as M. Russell Ballard, Quentin L. Cook, Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland, and Thomas S. Monson. Thomas S. Monson for the past thirty years has stressed: "When you compare three-to-one with a thousand-to-one, you can see why we pray for energetic member involvement in this kind of member missionary activity."

I think that Elder Eyring in his talk asks some hard questions of himself and by association all of us as members:

The duty to warn our neighbor falls on all of us who have accepted the covenant of baptism. We are to talk with nonmember friends and relatives about the gospel. Our purpose is to invite them to be taught by the full-time missionaries, who are called and set apart to teach. When a person has chosen to accept our invitation to be taught, a “referral” of great promise has been created, one far more likely to enter the waters of baptism and then to remain faithful.

As a member of the Church, you can expect that the full-time or the ward or branch missionaries will ask for the opportunity to help you make a list of people with whom you could share the gospel. The missionaries may suggest you think of relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances. They may ask you to set a date by which you will try to have the person or family prepared to be taught by the missionaries. I’ve had that experience. Because we in our family accepted that invitation from the missionaries, I was blessed to perform the baptism of a widow in her 80s, taught by sister missionaries.

When I placed my hands on her head to confirm her a member of the Church, I felt impressed to say that her choice to be baptized would bless generations of her family, after and before her. Even after she passed away, I was able to be in the temple with her son as he was sealed to her.

You may have had such experiences with people you have invited to be taught, and so you know that few moments in life are sweeter. The Lord’s words are true for the missionaries and for all of us: “And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:16).

The missionaries will help and encourage us, but whether such moments at the baptismal font and in the temple come more often will depend largely on how we see our charge and what we choose to do about it. The Lord would not use the word warn if there was no danger. Yet not many people we know sense it. They have learned to ignore the increasing evidence that society is unraveling and that their lives and family lack the peace they once thought was possible. That willingness to ignore the signs of danger can make it easy for you to think: “Why should I speak to anyone about the gospel who seems content? What danger is there to them or to me if I do or say nothing?”

Well, the danger may be hard to see, but it is real, both for them and for us. For instance, at some moment in the world to come, everyone you met in this life will know what you know now. They will know that the only way to live forever in association with our families and in the presence of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, is to choose to enter into the gate by baptism at the hands of those with authority from God. They will know that the only way families can be together forever is to accept and keep sacred covenants offered in the temples of God on this earth. They will know that you knew. And they will remember whether you offered them what someone had offered you.

It’s easy to say, “The time isn’t right.” But there is danger in procrastination. Years ago I worked for a man in California. He hired me; he was kind to me; he seemed to regard me highly. I may have been the only Latter-day Saint he ever knew well. I don’t know all the reasons I found to wait for a better moment to talk with him about the gospel. I just remember my feeling of sorrow when I learned, after he had retired and I lived far away, that he and his wife had been killed in a late-night drive to their home in Carmel, California. He loved his wife. He loved his children. He had loved his parents. He loved his grandchildren, and he will love their children and will want to be with them forever.

Now, I don’t know how the crowds will be handled in the world to come. But I suppose that I will meet him, that he will look into my eyes, and that I will see in them the question: “Hal, you knew. Why didn’t you tell me?”

When I think of him and when I think of the widow I baptized and her family who will now be sealed to her and to each other, I want to do better. I want to increase my power to invite people to be taught. With that desire and with faith that God will help us, we will do better.

I wonder if his talk will have much impact on the members of the church despite the fact that every home teacher and visiting teacher will be using this as their message for one month. For one hundred and thirty-eight years prophets and apostles have constantly stressed the consequences of not sharing the gospel and yet members have not as a cumulative body stepped up their referrals. There is evidence of individual member being motivated but not since the Spencer W. Kimball era has there been the focus or intensity of a church-wide effort.

During the Benson and Hinckley era we had consistent results but not with the same fervor as the Kimball era when smaller numbers of missionaries had as good or superior results in numbers of new converts. I have not read nor seen in the past year President Thomas S. Monson taking up the charge. I keep expecting the charismatic Monson to light some new fires. Even if it is rhetorical in nature I believe the missionaries and members need a constant reminder of our missionary responsibility. Elder Eyring's talk coming from a member of the First Presidency keeps that fresh in our minds. But I have an expectation for a newer and more concerted effort from all of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.

I am not sure that the warning theme will impel members to action as forcefully as a worldwide campaign spearheaded by the Prophet that could include a series of conferences or satellite broadcasts focusing on our missionary responsibilities. Personally I would like to attend a general authority attended conferences devoted to this subject with a uniform and systematic outline of how we are to really do it that includes member participation. The focus group report put out by the church should have been used as a tool to drive member missionary work on a global basis. I still feel we need to use LDS brain power to revitalize member missionary work.

I would like to sit at the feet of the general authorities and really discuss how to revitalize the member missionary program of the Church. Being told to go and do something doesn't always cut it. I don't buy in to the argument that I should just plain do it if I had sufficient faith. I have had results over the years but they have been uneven as has my family's efforts. Past efforts don't speak to the hundreds of millions yet to be converted. It is an overwhelming responsibility.

1 comment:

Bookslinger said...

“..., you knew. Why didn’t you tell me?”

That thought has often crossed my mind the past few years.