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Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are hindered in sharing the gospel with others because they do not know these three principles taught by modern prophets.
As I have taught and trained missionaries as an instructor at BYU, I have observed a common problem. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints want to share the gospel—they want to be great missionaries—but a few misunderstandings and false traditions stand in the way. These misunderstandings can become insurmountable barriers for many that paralyze them with fear and prevent them from opening their mouths and sharing the gospel (D&C 60:2). Perhaps even more unfortunate is that these false traditions have been debunked by Church leaders and yet continue to be entrenched in our culture and class discussions.
The following are three key principles that will help us conquer our fears and open our mouths:
1. Success is measured by invitations not by people’s response.
Too often we think that our success in sharing the gospel is measured by how people react to our message. When they reject it, we think we are a failure and get discouraged and quit. This misunderstanding may also cause us to wait indefinitely for the “perfect time” when they will “definitely accept.” Unfortunately, this “perfect time” never comes and so we never share our message.
Instead of assuming that our success is measured by how others react to our message, we need to reframe success as being measured by our efforts to extend invitations. President Dallin H. Oaks has taught that “success in sharing the gospel is inviting people with love and genuine intent to help them, no matter what their response” (Oaks, Ensign, Nov. 2016, emphasis added). That is a quote every member missionary needs to memorize and recite every morning! Success is inviting, no matter what the response.
If we view it that way, then we won’t limit our invitations based on what response we think we will get. Instead, we will just open our mouths and invite. We can invite people to Church meetings and activities, to our home for scripture study, or to personally read the Book of Mormon. We will not be discouraged or feel that we have failed if they turn us down, as long as we have invited them. We will recognize that the only time we fail is when we fail to invite.
I learned this powerful lesson years ago from a seminary student. One morning, Ashley came into class excited to share with me a missionary experience she had on a school field trip the day before. She explained in detail how she had met a young man on her trip, discussed her beliefs, and ultimately gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon. She was so excited! However, as her story concluded, her countenance fell and her voice softened as she concluded that it was “not a success story” because, in the end, “he wasn’t very interested.”
As I listened and observed, my heart broke for her. I wanted to say something to inspire her. I wanted to say something that would encourage her to continue to be the missionary she wanted to be and to keep sharing the Book of Mormon, despite this rejection. As I searched for what to say, I silently prayed for words to comfort her. Then, these inspired words left my mouth: “Ashley, every time you open your mouth to share the gospel, it is a success story. If they reject your message, that is a failure on their part, not yours. The only failure for us is when we fail to open our mouths. Whenever you share the restored gospel, it is always a success story!”
I knew as I spoke those words that they were inspired from the Lord, because I had never thought them before. We cannot control the agency of others, so we should not measure our success based on their choices. As Preach My Gospel states, “your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people … remember that people have agency to choose whether to accept your message” (Preach My Gospel, 10). This is why President Dallin H. oaks has counseled that “a missionary’s goals ought to be based upon the missionary’s personal agency and action, not upon the agency or action of others” (“Timing,” Ensign, October 2003, 15). Consequently, our goal should be to invite everyone we can. When we do, we are successful, regardless of the outcome.
2. You can invite anyone, not just close friends.
Another common but false assumption is that before you can invite someone, you must first build a strong friendship with them. Again, this becomes an obstacle preventing people from inviting others and sharing the gospel because it often leads people to postpone that invitation indefinitely, always assuming that they still need to be “better friends” before they invite them or that people will be offended if they invite too soon.
But these assumptions are faulty and contradict the teachings of prophets. For example, President Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “Our efforts to share the gospel should not be limited to our circle of friends and associates. During the Olympics we learned of an LDS taxi driver in Rio de Janeiro who carried copies of the Book of Mormon in seven different languages and gave one to whoever would receive them. He called himself the ‘cab driving missionary.’ He said, ‘The streets of Rio de Janeiro … are [my] mission field.’ Clayton M. Christensen, who has impressive experience as a member missionary, states that ‘over the past twenty years, we have observed no correlation between the depth of a relationship and the probability that a person will be interested in learning about the gospel’” (Oaks, Ensign, Nov. 2016, emphasis added).
Again, this is a principle that needs to be better understood by member missionaries everywhere. There is no correlation between how well you know someone and how interested they are in the gospel. As a result, we should not hesitate to share the gospel and invite others whom we may have just met or do not know very well. These invitations should not be forced or awkward. But as opportunities naturally arise and the Spirit directs, we should invite neighbors and acquaintances to worship with us or participate in Church activities we are attending.
Think of it like this: If you saw someone in need of assistance on the side of the road, would you offer to help them or decide you needed to be their friend for a few years first? Of course, we would offer to help them immediately. The same should be true for those people the Lord puts in our path. They need the help that only the restored gospel of Christ can provide, and we should be quick to offer it and assist them.
One reason some Church members are slow to invite others is that they assume that inviting people you don’t know very well is offensive and that they will think you only care about getting them to go to Church. Ironically, many of these same Church members assume the opposite is true also. They fear that inviting a close friend will be offensive and hurt their friendship. Can we not see that these contradictory assumptions can prevent us from ever inviting anyone? We need to remember that a natural invitation out of love is not offensive, as the following analogy by Elder Robert C. Oaks beautifully illustrates. He explained:
“Consider that you are invited to [someone’s] house for breakfast. On the table you see a large pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice from which your host fills his glass. But he offers you none. Finally, you ask, “Could I have a glass of orange juice?”
He replies, “Oh, I am sorry. I was afraid you might not like orange juice, and I didn’t want to offend you by offering you something you didn’t desire.”
Now, that sounds absurd, but it is not too different from the way we hesitate to offer up something far sweeter than orange juice. I have often worried how I would answer some friend about my hesitancy when I meet him beyond the veil.
… One day some friend might ask me, “Why have you kept this Book of Mormon, with its message of truth and salvation, a secret?”
My reply, “I was afraid I would damage our friendship,” will not be very satisfying to either me or my friend.
Brothers and sisters, I pray that we may put our fears and our hesitancy behind us and no more keep secret the great treasure that is ours.” (Robert C. Oaks, Ensign, Nov. 2000).
3. Share what is unique about our Church not just what we have in common.
Another common misunderstanding is that in sharing the gospel we should focus on those things we have in common with other churches and avoid talking about our differences. It is true that we share common beliefs with other faiths and there is a time to talk about these, especially when we are trying to form allies with other religions on social issues. However, if our goal is conversion then we must also share those things that are different and unique about our faith. Those are the things that attract people to our Church and inspire them to join it.
As President Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches. But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians, why we build temples in addition to churches, and why our beliefs bring us such happiness and strength to deal with the challenges of life and death” (Oaks, Ensign, May 1995). Those differences include such inspiring and fundamental truths as the Fatherhood of God, modern revelation, living prophets, additional scripture, restored priesthood authority, and temple ordinances.
I know it can be scary to be different. This is one reason some Church members may feel more comfortable talking about similarities and avoiding differences. But you can’t be the only true Church and still be like everyone else. People don’t leave their church to join a new one that is just like the one they already belong to. People join a new church because they believe it offers something more and that the sacrifice is worth it. This is why every similarity we offer is one more reason not to join our church. We must confidently share our unique differences.
The power and importance of openly sharing our unique differences is beautifully illustrated in a parable shared by Elder James E. Talmage. It is called The Parable of the Two Lamps:
Among the material things of the past—things that I treasure for sweet memory’s sake and because of pleasant association in bygone days—is a lamp. …
The lamp of which I speak, the student lamp of my school and college days, was one of the best of its kind. I had bought it with hard-earned savings; it was counted among my most cherished possessions. …
One summer evening I sat musing studiously and withal restfully in the open air outside the door of the room in which I lodged and studied. A stranger approached. I noticed that he carried a satchel. He was affable and entertaining. I brought another chair from within, and we chatted together till the twilight had deepened into dusk, the dusk into darkness.
Then he said: “You are a student and doubtless have much work to do of nights. What kind of lamp do you use?” And without waiting for a reply, he continued, “I have a superior kind of lamp I should like to show you, a lamp designed and constructed according to the latest achievements of applied science, far surpassing anything heretofore produced as a means of artificial lighting.”
I replied with confidence, and I confess, not without some exultation: “My friend, I have a lamp, one that has been tested and proved. It has been to me a companion through many a long night. It is an Argand lamp, and one of the best. I have trimmed and cleaned it today; it is ready for the lighting. Step inside; I will show you my lamp; then you may tell me whether yours can possibly be better.”
We entered my study room, and with a feeling which I assume is akin to that of the athlete about to enter a contest with one whom he regards as a pitiably inferior opponent, I put the match to my well-trimmed Argand.
My visitor was voluble in his praise. It was the best lamp of its kind, he said. He averred that he had never seen a lamp in better trim. He turned the wick up and down and pronounced the adjustment perfect. He declared that never before had he realized how satisfactory a student lamp could be.
I liked the man; he seemed to me wise, and he assuredly was ingratiating. “Love me, love my lamp,” I thought, mentally paraphrasing a common expression of the period.
“Now,” said he, “with your permission I’ll light my lamp.” He took from his satchel a lamp then known as the “Rochester.” It had a chimney which, compared with mine, was as a factory smokestack alongside a house flue. Its hollow wick was wide enough to admit my four fingers. Its light made bright the remotest corner of my room. In its brilliant blaze my own little Argand wick burned a weak, pale yellow. Until that moment of convincing demonstration, I had never known the dim obscurity in which I had lived and labored, studied and struggled.
“I’ll buy your lamp,” said I; “you need neither explain nor argue further.” I took my new acquisition to the laboratory that same night and determined its capacity. It turned at over 48 candlepower—fully four times the intensity of my student lamp. …
Such is the story. Now consider the application of a part, a very small part, thereof…
The man who would sell me a lamp did not disparage mine. He placed his greater light alongside my feebler flame, and I hasted to obtain the better.
The missionary servants of the Church of Jesus Christ today are sent forth, not to assail or ridicule the beliefs of men, but to set before the world a superior light, by which the smoky dimness of the flickering flames of man-made creeds shall be apparent. The work of the Church is constructive, not destructive. (Talmage, Ensign, Feb. 2003).
As this powerful parable shows, people are attracted when we shine the additional light that we have, not when we merely talk about the light they already have. We don’t need to insult or criticize their light to reveal ours. As we shine and share the additional light and truth that we have through the Restoration, the honest in heart will be attracted and receive it. We must never forget that our message is special. There is nothing common about it.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a great commission to take the restored gospel to every nation (Matt. 28:19, D&C 112:1). To do this, we must open our mouths (D&C 60:2). We must have the courage to share the unique message of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must invite all to receive it. We must cast aside the assumptions and excuses that discourage us. May we always remember that success is measured by invitations not their response, that we can invite anyone not just close friends, and that we must share what is unique about out religion not just what we have in common. As we do so, we will gather the elect to Christ and his restored Church.
For more from Mark Mathews on this subject, see his book Open Your Mouth: What to Say When Sharing the Gospel. Found here: https://www.amazon.com/Open-Your-Mouth-Sharing-Gospel/dp/1462118925