I have been so guilty of this. For years I have seen new members fall away, and concluded that the missionaries were too hasty, and scheduled a baptism before the investigator really understood the gospel. Do they even have a testimony of Joseph Smith? Have they actually prayed about whether the Book of Mormon is true? Do they know what they’re committing to?
And, yes, I’ve even sighed that now there’s yet another person we have to try to reactivate.
And then one of our sons came home from a mission to Argentina and said it isn’t right to wait, if someone wants to be baptized. It made me think, but I didn’t change my mind entirely until our daughter came home from a mission to Norway and shared this quote by Howard W. Hunter, with two of the lines in boldface:
“Missionaries don’t teach the gospel; they cry repentance and instill in the people enough faith to have the desire to be baptized. At that moment, they are turned over to Christ, then, the Church teaches them. There are not many in the Church that understand this. They think that the missionaries haven’t spent enough time and haven’t taught them the gospel. Now, the missionaries aren’t to do that! We have six discussions. We take them that far, and that does not cover all the gospel, but then the Church spends the rest of this person’s life teaching them the gospel. We do the same thing with our eight-year-old children. No one in this Church should ever be heard to say, The missionaries baptized this person before they were ready!'”
Oh, my. Howard W. Hunter, no less. I read his words and knew in my heart that I had been completely wrong. Well, it was time for repentance. I have completely changed my tune and realized that the job of retention is entirely in the hands of the existing members. Nobody comes out of the waters of baptism a complete gospel scholareveryone will continue to learn and add to their testimony. And it is our duty as the rank and file, to assist them in that effort. Like President Hunter said, we certainly do it with 8-year-olds. Nobody expects them to have invested years of exhaustive research; they simply start with the desire to follow Christ. And then we patiently help them to fill in the blanks.
The good news is that we actually can fill in those blankswe really do have the answers and the fullness of Christ’s gospel, so that no one need fall away for lack of information. We need to buoy up and lead along new members, whether they’re 8 or 88, and stop worrying that the ordinance took place too soon.
Years ago Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, Elder Alvin R. Dyer, gave a mission conference address called The Challenging and Testifying Missionary. It’s a powerful sermon. Elder Dyer said, “The stressing of the gospel lessons right at first, before the purpose and intent of the missionaries’ presence can lead to confusion. Initial reaction is the result of the Spirit testifying to them, and where this is manifest, a challenge for baptism should be given ….as quickly as possible, otherwise the Holy Ghost will leave them. Let me reiterate this: If you have people who receive of the spirit of conviction and you don’t pursue their baptism, they will lose the spirit. This is why you should baptize them as quickly as possible, under these circumstances.”
Similar advice came from a friend’s mission president who says that we baptize whomever wants to get baptized, and then let the Lord make Saints out of them.
I’m excited about this new perspective, actually. I’m in a “roll up my sleeves” mode, no longer blaming enthusiastic missionaries, but accepting accountability myself. When someone gets baptized we don’t hang back to see if it “takes,” we step forward to teach and uplift. It’s been on our shoulders all along, it’s just that few of us have understood it. When we see someone falter we can stop assigning blame and simply get to work. We can reach out, show greater love and be more involved in helping the new member establish strong roots. They had a witness, they have the Gift of the Holy Ghost now, and we simply need to join the same team.
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