When my husband and I were first married he got called to be the ward mission leader and I as one of his ward missionaries. I remember turning to my husband and saying that I had no clue what I was doing and nothing seemed to work. After talking to my husband I realized that member missionary work is different than full time missionary work. Here are four things I realized I was doing wrong because I was trying to be like a full time missionary:
1. The missionaries’ number one goal is to preach the gospel.
My sister on her mission in Georgia talked about how she had been taught to knock on a door and when they answer bear her testimony and invite them to join the church right then and there. If I did that my neighbor would think I was insane and never talk to me again!
As member missionaries, our number one goal should not be to preach the gospel. Our number one goal should be building relationships and friendships with those who are less active, nonmembers, or those that we know that are going through a hard time. Once we have created friendships then there could come an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
My mother is a wonderful example to me of this. Years ago a family moved in across the street and they were not members. My mom started forming a friendship with them before even knowing their religious status. Their children were the same age has most of my siblings and that allowed both families to become close friends to each other. After time this closeness allowed them to learn more about the gospel and eventually they were baptized and sealed together as a family for time and all eternity.
2. Missionaries have to get in and get out when it comes to teaching the gospel.
Missionaries only have two years or less to teach as many people as possible. That is not a lot of time! So, they are only able to work with so many people and for so much amount of time before they are transferred or leave for home. This means that they do not have time for those who are not interested in the gospel. A lot of people have to get dropped until they are truly ready to have the gospel in their life.
We as members have time on our side which allows us to spend a while building friendships with those that are not ready for the gospel. Since our first goal is not to convert them to the gospel it doesn’t matter that they are not ready to be taught about it since that is not our first priority. If we base our friendship with them off of their desire to join about the church we are going to lose them as a friend and turn them off to the gospel even more.
If you had told me when I was younger that one day those neighbors would be sealed together as a family I would have told you that you were crazy! They were not interested in the church and wanted nothing to do with it. But as time went on and as that close friendship formed it allowed seeds to be planted that eventually blossomed to interest in the gospel. From there it still took years before that interest turned into anything more but it eventually happened. If my mom had given up on their friendship due to the fact that they weren’t interested in the gospel and that it would take a long time for that to happen they would not be where they are now.
3. Missionaries are aggressive about teaching the gospel.
This goes hand in hand with the time statement. We as members are not in the same rush as missionaries and so we have time to take it slow and be gentle about sharing the gospel with them. Again, your friendship can not be dependent on them joining the church so don’t make them feel like it is. No one likes to feel like a project and especially in Utah nonmembers are very weary about people trying to convert them to the church.
So then how does one gently share the gospel? That is a fantastic question and Clayton M. Christensen wrote an amazing book about that called The Power of Everyday Missionaries. One of the big points he makes is being an example. We can be an example of our beliefs through our actions. Our friends are always watching us and can learn from our example what being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints truly is.
Another point the book makes that my mom was pro at with my neighbors was using Mormon words casually. Don’t be scared to mention that you went to church Sunday as you are telling them a story. Or that you are exhausted after girls camp. Or that crazy time you got chased by a similar dog on your LDS mission. Clayton M. Christensen explains that this creates opportunity for discussions about the gospel. It shows them that you don’t have a problem talking about your religion but are not forcing your beliefs on them.
Little ways of sharing the gospel can eventually develop into bigger ways and give you more of the opportunity to start inviting them to church events and sacrament meeting but again it takes time after building a friendship foundation for those little gospel seeds take hold.
4. Missionaries have a lot of guidelines to follow.
These guidelines are for the missionaries best interest but us members do not have the same guidelines. There is no rule against hanging out with an investigator or watching sports with them or getting together for a game night. In order for a friendship to build we need to be casual with them which is something missionaries cannot always do. Sometimes we are too proper in our efforts to reach out to others that just turns people away.
My family hung out with the neighbors almost every week because us kids always wanted to have them over to play. The shuttling of kids back and forth across the street built a friendship between our moms and they eventually became best friends. This led to my mom inviting their entire family over for holiday get-togethers, family outings, and movie nights. Our families truly became family to each other and we were there for each other in the fun and hard times. They were someone that our family could rely on and we were to them. Our moms created a friendship that allowed them to be able to talk and trust one another with deep stuff which helped root those seeds that had previously been planted.
Missionaries can be a great example to us but we have to remember that they have a different calling then ours so they are going to share the gospel differently . The reason for this is because our calling as an everyday missionary and theirs as a full time missionary go hand in hand.
When our neighbors were ready to hear the gospel after attending church with our family they were taught by the missionaries. As much as my family helped them, the missionaries were the ones that finished that conversion process were able to baptize them and help them become an eternal family. That is what the missionaries are there for, not to plant seeds. If the missionaries had knocked on the family’s door before then and shared the gospel they would not have been ready. It took both member missionaries and missionaries working together to make this possible.
Creating friendships allows people to find the gospel and stay in the gospel after baptism. When we focus on friendships we can make a difference in people’s life. It may not mean that they convert to the church but it’s about building relationships that will eventually allow us to scatter seeds. Just like we as members need the missionaries to teach the gospel, the missionaries need us to do our part of building friendships with those around us so there are people ready to be taught by the missionaries.