Take Our Missionaries, Please.

It is rare for me to come across full-time missionaries that I really like. Most of the missionaries I come across are quite forgettable, others are memorable for the wrong reasons. Living in a small and somewhat isolated ward missionaries are hard to avoid. There was a long stretch when we had three sets serving just in our ward. And when you get a few coming around that are into member guilt trips they can get to be a real drag.

There have been a set of overused statistics that have been around for decades. I don’t know where they come from, but you all know what they are. When missionaries contact somebody there is apparently this 1 out of 1000 chance of their getting baptized (when? In two weeks? In a year? ever? Where?). And if a member invites someone to their home then the chances are 1 out of two.

I am highly suspicious of these statistics. They were old news when I was a missionary 20 years ago. But if we assume that they are generally correct, I would say that there are reasons for these results. The members are patient in their preparation. If members just invited people to hear the discussions left and right eventually their chances of success would be no better than the missionaries inviting at random.

I am not quite through ranting yet.

It is my understanding that in Central and South America missionaries are baptizing by the dozens, or hundreds. New missions, stakes, and temples popping up all over. Yet in many Scandinavian countries missionaries are rarely baptizing anyone. What is the reason for this great difference?

I have never been to the countries I just brought up. So I can only throw out my impressions.

I do not believe that the missionaries serving in South America are more righteous or faithful than missionaries serving in Scandinavian countries. I do not believe that there are gimmicks or programs being used in South America that if used in Norway would yield dramatic increases in baptisms. I do not believe that the members in South America are more brave and smart in doing missionary work than folks in other parts of the world.

I do believe that in places where there are large numbers of baptisms the general population tend to be more humble and teachable. They would also tend to not be satisfied with their life as it is. They probably tend to place a higher level of importance on religion, and may not have strong traditional ties to a particular church. Just add missionaries and stir.

In places where baptisms are low, the opposite conditions likely exist:

Lack of humility.

A sense of satisfaction.

Little interest in religion.

If interested in religion, then strong ties to a religion.

Just add missionaries. Or don’t.

This leads me to believe that the three most important aspects of successful missionary work judged in terms of number of baptisms are:

Location. Location. And location.

Oh, and timing. Maybe there are four aspects.

When Ammon was having his famous and successful missionary experience, his brothers were naked and starving in a prison. They should have tried the set-a-date program. Again. But it seems to me that there are areas of the world that are much more prepared to receive the message of the gospel than other places are. And that this preparation is the most important factor in missionary success.

Will someone please kick me in the butt and straighten me out?

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36 Responses to “Take Our Missionaries, Please.”


  1. 1 Wade September 18, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    Yet in many Scandinavian countries missionaries are rarely baptizing anyone. What is the reason for this great difference?

    It’s rather simple: people in European coutries (particularly Scandinavian ones) see the state as their great protector, guardian, and provider and thus they see no need for religion; their religion is secular government.

  2. 2 Bookslinger September 18, 2006 at 10:12 pm

    I think the “random contacts” thing is more like 1 baptism per every 200 to 300 contacts. I think two of my contacts would have been baptized if I hadn’t screwed up, and there is a third who is taking the missionary lessons, and looks like he’s on track. So that would be, or would have been, 3 per 725 contacts. I’m located in the Midwest USA.

    I think you’ve identified the most meaningful factor: some locations just have lots of people who are ready to receive the gospel.

    Other factors are:

    1) Is the ward ready to receive them? My personal opinion is that the Lord might actually keep some fragile or delicate people away from the church, because when they are exposed to ward members during investigating, or after baptism, they might not receive the fellowshipping and support they need. They’ll get turned off and won’t come back. Better that they get introduced when they or the ward are stronger, and can maintain the relationship.

    2) Actually part of #1. Does the ward do their home-teaching and visiting-teaching? If the ward isn’t taking care of the members they have, then it’s my personal belief that the Lord probably won’t give them more members to take care of. But I also believe if the ward makes an effort to really do home-teaching, then the Lord will bring in adult male converts to that ward, who will in turn catch the vision, follow the example, and then help out with home-teaching. In other words, if you want to reduce your home-teaching load, do 100% home-teaching, and the Lord will bring in helpers (converts) to lighten your load. Same relationship for visiting-teaching, too.

    3) Does the ward take care of the teens? If the ward isn’t taking care of the teens, why would the Lord bring more families with teenagers into the ward just to get them turned off to the church and lose them?

    #2 and #3 are examples of the parable of the talents. If you do well with what the Lord has already given you, then the Lord gives you more to work with.

    4) Are members and missionaries really making contacts? If the ratio is 1 out of 300 random contacts gets baptized, then if 90 adults in the ward make 10 random contacts per month, for 900 contacts, that would be 3 baptisms per month. Even if 60 people in the ward made 5 random contacts per month, that might still translate into one baptism per month.

    5) Don’t envy the South American “Baptism Machines.” The majority of those converts are inactive within a few months, sometimes as soon as the missionaries who baptized them are transfered. I saw it in Ecuador, did it a few times myself, and I’ve read about similar situations in other countries. Many mild, meek, and timid people are pressured into baptism by over-eager elders who use the power of their personality to arm-twist instead of teaching by the Spirit. I believe the overall activity rate in South America is less than 25%. Though, granted, even the number of “retained converts” in South America is usually greater than the total number of converts in Northern Europe.

    The Lord said the gospel is like a fishing net that brings in all sorts of fish, good and bad, and not all the fish are kept.

    Aside from “Preach My Gospel“, here’s the 2nd best book for missionary work. “Always Talk to Strangers, 3 Simple Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life.”

    The rule, for members and full-time missionaries is: Always Talk To EVERYONE. When you can get to that point, things happen.

  3. 3 mullingandmusing (m&m) September 19, 2006 at 12:41 am

    Eric,

    Here are some real stats for you. 🙂


    Currently, of all investigators participating in a first discussion in the
    United States and Canada, only one in 10 is member-referred. In other words, only one in 10 of those beginning investigation is found through member efforts. But among those who progress through the discussions and get baptized, more than half are found through the members. Member referrals are dramatically more likely than other types of investigators to be baptized—about 10 times more likely, according to our latest research!

    M. Russell Ballard, “Members Are the Key,” Ensign, Sept. 2000, 8

    Three years later, Elder Oaks shared this:

    59 percent of investigators who were baptized started investigating the Church because a member had invited them to be taught or had given their name to the missionaries as a referral. In other words, most teaching opportunities come from the missionaries’ own contacting, but most convert baptisms come from the members’ efforts.

    To look at these findings from a different angle, another study showed that:

    1. Of investigators found through media campaigns, about 1 to 2 percent are baptized.

    2. Of investigators found through the missionaries’ efforts, about 2 to 3 percent are baptized.

    3. Of investigators found through the members, 20 to 30 percent are baptized.

    In other words, an investigator who is brought to the missionaries through the members is 10 times more likely to be baptized than one the missionaries have found through their own contacting efforts. Do these figures catch your attention on the importance of the members’ role in finding people for the missionaries to teach?
    Dallin H. Oaks, “The Role of Members in Conversion,” Ensign, Mar. 2003, 52

    Elder Oaks also reminds us that Pres. Hinckley challenged us to double the number of people we help bring into the Church. Double. We have hovered at or below about 300,000. We haven’t come close to responding to Pres. Hinckley’s challenge. (Sad.)

    Therefore, I assert that location is not everything, otherwise we wouldn’t have the prophet telling us we need to do more. 🙂

    Elder Ballard addresses the fact that baptism isn’t the only element. And Pres. Hinckley has been emphatic about the importance of retention. New members need three things, he says– a friend, a calling and nurturing in the good word of God. If a convert already has the friend built in (the member who introduced him or her to the gospel), the chances of that person staying strong are so much better because there is someone who knew him/her and cared about him/her before the baptism even took place. The nurturing will also be better because typically if you help bring someone into the Church, you will be more motivated to help that person stay spiritually fed. You will probably help them toward the temple. You will be invested in their spiritual well-being. Missionaries can’t provide the close relationship of a convert because they change all the time and they aren’t charged with retention responsibilities. The members are.

    The talks I referenced about might be good ones to read. (I’ve been feeling like I need to step up my missionary efforts…and this is a good reminder!!) There is much more to the work than location. It’s true that hearts have to be ready. But we have to be willing to help the Lord find those who are honest in heart. 🙂 The prophet called on us to increase our efforts so that our conversion numbers would double. Think of how if each family could bring one person in this year…. If we each did a little, it would help the Lord’s work a lot!

    (Sorry for the soapbox, Eric. Like I said, I need to be reminded of this.)

  4. 4 Eric Nielson September 19, 2006 at 6:43 am

    Very nice comments, thanks for helping me out.

    Wade:

    I think your comment is similar to what I am saying. This looking to the state is perhaps an evidence of a lack of humility, easily satisfied, no interest in religion. Whatever the source, It seems the condistions of the people are about the same.

    Bookslinger

    You speak a lot of members taking care of new converts. This is part of pure religion – hopefully. But do not new converts have their own responsibilities as well? Would a truly converted, intelligent, talented individual be able to take care of themselves most of the time. Should they not be as much a part of the effort than the object of the effort?

    M&M

    The prophet always wants more. Do the results in terms of numbers point to the right things happening? I have always disliked missionary goals based on results that are out of our control. I actually like Bookslingers approach (as I understand it). Set goals for things you can control, and allow the results to be whatever they are. Let’s not beat ourselves up so bad all the time.

  5. 5 jm September 19, 2006 at 7:05 am

    I agree with the idea of setting goals for things you can control. Perhaps that approach lacks faith. So be it.

    Instead of having goals to:

    Baptize
    Place Books of Mormon
    Investigators at Church

    Lets change it to:

    Baptizmal Invitations
    Books of Mormon Offered
    Invitations to attend church.

  6. 6 Tim J. September 19, 2006 at 7:38 am

    “It is my understanding that in Central and South America missionaries are baptizing by the dozens, or hundreds.”

    Not hundreds. At least, not anymore. I would be very, very suspicious of the missionary that baptizes into the triple digits. Betting 50 people baptized was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I served in Guatemala less than 10 years ago. The average missionary went home with around 17 baptisms.

    I only tracted a handful of times, yet was able to baptized an entire family because of it–though it wasn’t really a random contact–it was more of the inspired kind. Instead of tracting, we could go over to several members’ houses and simply ask for someone to teach. One key is to have a solid relationship with the members.

  7. 7 Bookslinger September 19, 2006 at 8:41 am

    But do not new converts have their own responsibilities as well?

    Sure. But remember that according to Paul, converts are “babes in Christ.” They’re usually still spiritually weak, still feeding on the milk of the gospel. They’re usually unsure of themselves, and often over-whelmed by all the new things.

    Adult converts often feel “left behind” or starting out at a disadvantage because most other adults their age are so far ahead of them in gospel knowledge. Newcomers can feel overwhelmed and out-shined by all the Peter Priesthood types and the Molly Mormon types.

    Let’s face it, the vast majority of the human population is not the Type-A “go-getter” personality that goes out, learns on their own, and makes things happen. Most people are the “go with the flow” types. It takes many years, sometimes decades for people to convert from “go with the flow” to a “make things happen” type person. Sometimes it never happens.

    The beehive or “ant colony” atmosphere of the church, where everything is organized in an official hierarchy, and the (correct) spoken policy is “do what you’re told” and the (incorrect) unspoken policy is “do only what you’re told” sends a BIG WRONG MESSAGE. That atmosphere leads newcomers to think everything is going to be handed to them, and everything is going to be spoon fed to them. When in fact, the opposite is true. So when things aren’t spoon fed, and communication breaks down and they aren’t told exactly what to do, the newcomer thinks they are being “shunned” or purposely left behind due to unpopularity or unworthiness.

    It is very easy, in a church where we make everything into “A PROGRAM” and “OFFICIALLY” approved, and “OFFICIALLY” this, and “OFFICIALLY” that…. if someone is NOT “OFFICIALLY” invited and hand-held and led along, they LOGICALLY (and rightfully perhaps) think “I’m being excluded” or “They don’t want me.”

  8. 8 Eric Nielson September 19, 2006 at 9:34 am

    JM:

    I’m with you here. Thanks for your comment.

    TimJ:

    Thanks for the info. Sounds like you had a great mission. I baptized what would be considered an average amount for my mission. Every one of them I knocked on their door. Trackting works.

    Bookslinger:

    I really like your thoughts on this latest comment. I don’t think this only affect new converts either. Thanks again for your comments and on your missionary example you set.

  9. 9 Tim J. September 19, 2006 at 9:37 am

    “GETTING 50 people baptized…”

  10. 10 Tim J. September 19, 2006 at 9:57 am

    By the way, I’m not saying that I’m awesome because I baptized so many, I’m simply saying that getting that many people ready for baptism (the right way) was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done.

    So when somebody claims to have baptized 100+, I always question the methods that were used. While it is certainly possible, it is so hard to do.

  11. 11 Ryan September 19, 2006 at 10:53 am

    “GETTING 50 people baptized…”

    Thank you for clearing that up.. you had me wondering about you for a second there. I was imagining some chart on President’s wall where new greenies had to make a bet on how many they would baptize and then wager a portion of their monthly allowance or something.

  12. 12 Tim J. September 19, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Hah! Nice one, Ryan.

    In all seriousness, though, it’s not the goals that I have problems with, it’s the enforcement thereof. Our MP asked each month for our baptismal goal, which wasn’t so much how many people we wanted to baptize, but rather how many we should baptize. Not howmany charlas we wanted to teach, but how many we should teach based on the # of investigators we had, etc.

    This way, if our goal was 3, and we baptized 1, he could ask about the other 2 in a specific way, since they most likely had a baptismal date set. He could ask what happened, how to avoid problems, what to do the next time, etc. It was all about accountability.

    My MP was a statitician with the Air Force, so statistics and numbers were a large part of our mission. But they were never overbearing because they were used the right way.

  13. 13 Eric Nielson September 19, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    That’s great Tim J.

    Unfortunately church leaders who use statistics the right way appear to be a rare thing.

  14. 14 mullingandmusing (m&m) September 19, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    I agree with the idea of setting goals for things you can control. Perhaps that approach lacks faith.

    I am confused. What I am hearing the prophet say is that we CAN control some elements of this issue. I actually was trying to suggest that there are things we can control to respond to what the prophet has said. Numbers aren’t the most important thing — but the people behind the numbers are.

  15. 15 alyosha September 19, 2006 at 2:13 pm

    When Ammon was having his famous and successful missionary experience, his brothers were naked and starving in a prison. They should have tried the set-a-date program. Again. But it seems to me that there are areas of the world that are much more prepared to receive the message of the gospel than other places are.

    I think Ammon and his brothers is a bad example of what you are trying to say. Their issue didn’t rely much on location, but rather depended on method. Ammon went out the the goal to serve (materially, not spiritually) the Lamanites. It wasn’t until he was directly asked that he began talking about spiritual things. His brothers on the otherhand began with telling people they were going to go to hell if they did not accept their message. The Lamanites threw them in jail. After being freed by Ammon, the brothers took on Ammon’s method of love and also found the same success that Ammon found.

    The Church today largely takes on the unsuccessful approach of Aaron in missionary work (though there are various pockets of inspired missionaries who have it figured out). I’m not saying that this will make any changes in the European vs. S. American rates, but it will better follow the examples of the most successful missionaries in the BofM. Missionaries need to focus less on preaching the gospel (which can come across as very prideful – ‘we have the truth’) and focus more on showing the gospel.

  16. 16 Okie September 19, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    I’m so glad I finally got off my but and served a mission. I might have been doing the Lords work, but I learned that the work being done was in me. The converts found me despite my best efforts. –

  17. 17 Bookslinger September 19, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Alyosha,

    You’re right. Fortunately the church’s full-time missionary program is focusing more and more on service. You read about it in the Church News almost all the time. The change from when I was a missionary 20 years ago is remarkable.

    There are times and places for both approaches. There’s a time to change a flat tire for the little-old-lady, there’s a time to help flood victims clean up, and there’s a time when you knock on someone’s door and ask if they’ll hear your message.

  18. 18 mullingandmusing (m&m) September 19, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    Okie,
    You said it. Miracles never cease, huh? It’s amazing that the work can go forward at all with imperfect people, but the Lord gives us the chance to participate and it’s a blessing!

  19. 19 John Mansfield September 20, 2006 at 5:55 am

    Amen and amen to this post and others’ comments. Paul said “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” I was a stake missionary in a ward that had 74 convert baptisms one year. The year before was nothing like that and neither was the year after, and I can’t anything we did differently that one special year.

    Also, I served as a missionary in Argentina, and my wife did in Germany and Austria. A difference we’ve discussed is that in Argentina we spontaneously dropped in on people we knew. Often friends of the people would also have dropped in, and thus someone new would get to met and chat with missionaries. In Germany, visiting was formal; always call first. That stifles what was an important avenue for contacts in Argentina.

  20. 20 Eric Nielson September 20, 2006 at 6:40 am

    M&M

    ‘I am confused’. It just makes me bristle a little bit when somebody says something like -we want to double the number of baptisms. And lays that imposed goal on others with an implied accountability. This type of thing happens to much in my opinion.

    Alyosha

    I like your point here. Can you help me out with the initial approach of Aaron? Can you point me to the reference? I agree with what you are saying, I just don’t remember reading that.

    Okie

    I’m glad you served a mission as well. It was a time of great improvement for me. I think I would like you as a missionary more than the set I am dealing with now.

    Bookslinger

    Right again – things are a changing. Most of these changes are in the right direction. I just hope missionaries don’t completely give up on the old tracting. It works sometimes.

    John Mansfield

    You bring a great perspective here! I am glad you are in general agreement. Timing, location, culture seem to be some of the most important factors of all to me.

    Thanks for the great comments all.

  21. 21 John Dehlin September 20, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    One very important (but little known) event in LDS history was Elder Jeffrey Holland’s closing of over 30 stakes in Chile alone during his years there as an apostle. 2 years ago I met a Chilean member in Logan who experienced the “growth” to which this blog refers (as a CES instructor in Chile), but had very strong frustrations about how things went down. In his experience, 1) missionaries, driven at least in part to achieve aggressive baptismal quotas, focused on the poorest of citizens, broken families (adult males were super rare), and children (lots of children), 2) bishops and stake presidents had deep anger for missionaries and mission presidents, for filling the unit roles with members, very few of which would hang around longer than a few weeks (not by fault of the members, but instead, of baptising people who were extremely unlikely to be able, or in some cases want, to remain an active member, 3) units and stakes were created and expanded based on these techniques/stats, dramatically shrinking the # of active members per unit (some wards had as little as 10 or 20 people attending, as he confessed to me), 4) such anemic units also led to inactivity of traditional members as well, because the quorums were so small and lacking of support.

    Elder Holland’s closing of 30+ stakes was an attempt to consolidate and strengthen the units that were literally whithering away (though the roles were bulging at the seams).

    My understanding is that activity rates in Latin American hover around 15% today. More than 33% of those on the roles we don’t even know where they are, or if they actually exist.

    I’ve spoken at length about my own mission experience in Guatemala (88-90), where some companionships were baptising upwards of 40+ people per month, at times by playing soccer with 8-10 children in an afternoon, and then taking them back to the church to “cool off” in the baptismal font (no discussions, and no parental consent). We were the 2nd highest baptising mission in the world (after the Chile, Vina del Mar mission).

    Anyway, I don’t think that the bretheren would hold Latin America up necessarily as the model for global missionary work (not that this was suggested here). There is clearly good going on there, but I think they’d (the bretheren) be the first to say that high statistical success sometimes is actually INVERSELY beneficial to church health in some of these countries.

    I’m encouraged by some efforts made in “Preach my gospel,” and by some statements made by Elder Oaks and others about goals for bapstism being inappropriate, and retention being of maximum importance.

  22. 22 Eric Nielson September 20, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    Interesting points John. Thanks for stopping by.

  23. 23 Eric Nielson September 20, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    I think the Oaks talk John mentions is found here

    In particular this quote:

    ‘I hope the importance of conversion and becoming will cause our local leaders to reduce their concentration on statistical measures of actions and to focus more on what our brothers and sisters are and what they are striving to become.’

  24. 24 Tim J. September 20, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    Did I have acomment deleted?

    John, were you in the North mission by chance? I served in the Central mission from 97-99, and let me tell you, the stories from the old Guatemala missions are LEGENDARY. From what I hear two of the Guatemala Mission Presidents were fairly competetive and it got a little out of hand to say the least.

    Do you have any source for the number of Stake closures in Chile? I’m not doubting it happened, just looking for a reference. I was in the MTC with a guy who went to Santiago. He wrote me and said at one point they weren’t even allowed to proselyte, and they were to focus on retention/reactivation. He said that most everybody he ran into had already been baptized anyway.

  25. 25 Alyosha September 21, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Eric:

    Ammon’s method:
    (Alma 17)
    21 And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.
    22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
    23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to adwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.
    24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.
    25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

    Aaron’s method #1:
    (Alma 21)
    4 And it came to pass that Aaron came to the city of Jerusalem, and first began to preach to the Amalekites. And he began to preach to them in their synagogues, for they had built synagogues after the border of the Nehors; for many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors.
    5 Therefore, as Aaron entered into one of their asynagogues to preach unto the people, and as he was speaking unto them, behold there arose an Amalekite and began to contend with him, saying: What is that thou hast testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?
    6 Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a arighteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God.
    We do believe that God will save all men.
    7 Now Aaron said unto him: Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?
    8 And the man said unto him: We do not believe that thou knowest any such thing. We do not believe in these foolish traditions. We do not believe that thou knowest of things to come, neither do we believe that thy fathers and also that our fathers did know concerning the things which they spake, of that which is to come.
    9 Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood.
    10 And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake.
    11 Therefore, when he saw that they would not hear his words, he departed out of their synagogue, and came over to a village which was called Ani-Anti, and there he found Muloki preaching the word unto them; and also Ammah and his brethren. And they contended with many about the word.
    12 And it came to pass that they saw that the people would harden their hearts, therefore they departed and came over into the land of Middoni. And they did preach the word unto many, and few believed on the words which they taught.
    13 Nevertheless, Aaron and a certain number of his brethren were taken and cast into prison, and the remainder of them fled out of the land of Middoni unto the regions round about.

    I put Ammon’s and Aaron’s methods in italics and the peoples’ responses in boldface. Ammon begins with love and service – he doesn’t even start preaching to them – and receives a warm welcome. Aaron begins with preaching and gets what anyone would receive who goes around telling people that they were wrong and he is out to set them straight.

  26. 26 Eric Nielson September 21, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    Outstanding analysis Alyosha! I had never considered the differences in the approach.

    Thank you for covering my laziness and providing the reference. It fits in very well.

  27. 27 mullingandmusing (m&m) September 21, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    I think that is a really interesting analysis.

    I am a bit hesistant to attribute all weaknesses in the missionary program to the missionaries or others doing the work, however. I am still trying to figure out if that story is really about the teachers or those being taught. Think of Abinadi or Alma or other examples in the scriptures, and you will see an awful lot of pure preaching, calling to repentance, etc. I think the key is to be in tune with the Spirit to know what the listener really needs. But I am convinced that sometimes we need to simply be teaching truth, and doing it directly. (Yeah, easier said than done now that I don’t have a black nametag and that mantle I had as a missionary.)

    Just a few scriptures follow:

    Alma 31: 5
    5 And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.

    Alma 4: 18-19
    18 Now Alma did not grant unto him the office of being high priest over the church, but he retained the office of high priest unto himself; but he delivered the judgment-seat unto Nephihah.
    19 And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.

    Al. 8:24-25
    24 And behold, I have been called to preach the word of God among all this people, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy; and I was in this land and they would not receive me, but they cast me out and I was about to set my back towards this land forever.
    25 But behold, I have been commanded that I should turn again and prophesy unto this people, yea, and to testify against them concerning their iniquities.

    Al. 9:1
    1 And again, I, Alma, having been commanded of God that I should take Amulek and go forth and preach again unto this people, or the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, it came to pass as I began to preach unto them, they began to contend with me…. [God commanded him to go in and preach boldly, not to serve. I think both approaches can be right; it depends on what the Lord commands/directs].

    D&C 11: 9.
    9 Say nothing but repentance unto this generation.

    D&C 52: 9
    9 And let them journey from thence preaching the word by the way, saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith.

    Just s’more food for thought…. 🙂

  28. 28 Bookslinger September 21, 2006 at 11:47 pm

    Let’s try this. Did that un-bold it?

    I think Alma liked Ammon and his approach better. When Alma Jr wrote the book of Alma, or maybe when Mormon abridged it, Ammon’s commentary got the majority of what we now have as chapter 26. Aaron only got one verse in that summary chapter.

  29. 29 Bookslinger September 21, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    John Dehlin:

    I think your observations, and perhaps your lamentations too, bear truth. In the October Ensign, your mission country, Guatemala, and my mission country, Ecuador, are in the top 10. (#8 and #10 respectively.) And they really shouldn’t be.

    When I served in the office, I remember once having access to a Regional Representative (they were like one step down from a 70), and to one of the 70’s, Loren Dunn, during their visits. The RR even posed a rhetorical question when I was in earshot, and I almost, but didn’t, have the guts to ask “Sir, do you really want an answer to that? Would you really like to know what’s going on out in the trenches?”

    But your experience as related in your letter to Elder Oaks, leads me to believe that my mission president would have worked to quash the unfortnuate facts just as yours did.

    The response you shared that came from Elder Oaks indicates to me that the GA’s really didn’t know what was going on at the grass roots missionary level until a lot of damage had been done. But that’s the nature of all organizations, not to pass bad news back up the line. It’s human nature too.

  30. 30 the narrator September 22, 2006 at 12:24 am

    m&m:

    ammon was far, far, far more successful than alma. ammon’s converts were also better missionaries than alma… and prevented more deaths and battles than the righteous moroni.

  31. 31 Eric Nielson September 22, 2006 at 6:46 am

    M&M:

    That is good as well. Is it possible that some people need one approach while other groups may need a different approach. It seems that way to me. Hopefully missionaries can do whatever the spirit leads them to do. Preach the word with boldness when that is called for, and serve in love when that is called for.

  32. 32 Okie September 22, 2006 at 10:18 am

    Well, at what point does the Spirit that testifies on behalf of over zealous missionaries put the responsibility for testimony on the new converts? It’s one thing to say good missionary/ bad missionary but the sheep still must hear the Shepherds call. –

  33. 33 Eric Nielson September 22, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    I think you are right Okie. I think this is a very understated aspect of missionary results.

    You could also add good member / bad member to this as well I think.

  34. 34 mullingandmusing (m&m) September 22, 2006 at 11:44 pm

    Okie,
    I agree…that’s part of why I said I wasn’t convinced that the Aaron/Ammon stories are about the missionaries as much as about those hearing the message. Perhaps they are about both, but certainly those who hear the word have to do so with the Spirit and be ready, prepared, softened, whatever.

    Eric,
    I agree that both elements have a place.

    Narrator:
    Remember that we only have a small portion of what happened in the BoM. And, also, I would ask how we should measure “success.” There isn’t a book of Ammon in the BoM, for example. Alma’s teachings live on and continue to touch, teach and even convert. (One of my dearest friends on my mission was converted by reading Alma 36.)

  35. 35 Bookslinger September 24, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    Okie wrote: Well, at what point does the Spirit that testifies on behalf of over zealous missionaries put the responsibility for testimony on the new converts? It’s one thing to say good missionary/ bad missionary but the sheep still must hear the Shepherds call.

    Must hear the Shepherd’s call for what? You don’t have to hear the Shepherd’s call in order to be baptized. You can get baptized without hearing anything other than some pushy gringos who aren’t going to leave you alone until you get baptized. Then they’ll move on and leave you alone.

    Maybe I’m misreading you. Perhaps the missing component in the low-baptizing countries is that the people there aren’t listening for and aren’t hearing the Shepherd’s call. But the flip side to the coin, is (or was) that in the “over-baptizing” countries, a tremendous amount of people were getting baptized (ostensibly because the missionaries were pushing them into it), but were not hearing the Shepherd’s voice.

  36. 36 Okie September 25, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    I’m always being misread… 🙂
    I’ve always believed when the truth is spoken the Holy Gjost testifies to it. In the case of over eager gringos (I’m 1/2 latino so I can say that too) or under eager investigators I would think it especially so. We know that’s not the best situation, the best situation would be teaching with the Spirit to those who are looking for the truth. But those who are hard hearted and opposed to the message will still have the message proclaimed from the Spirit I think. If the light of Christ is in all men, then on some level there is a witness there to be held accountable too. –


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