Maybe we’re going about member missionary work all wrong

We spent about an hour in Priesthood Executive Committee this morning discussing the work of our ward and full-time missionaries. For part of the meeting, we talked about how we might be able to get the ward members more involved in sharing the gospel. Some of the ideas passed around were:

  • have members invite friends into their homes
  • have members invite friends to church when they give a talk
  • have members participate in missionary discussions

These ideas seemed to be pretty standard in other wards I have attended (and I have been in over 100), as well as things like having joint priesthood–Relief Society meetings and special talks in Sacrament.

I wonder if we’re going about it the wrong way though.

Consider this famous missionary scripture (1 Nep 8:10–13):

And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.

And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.

And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.

Normally, missionaries (both full-time and ward) use this scripture to support the idea that because we have the gospel, we have a responsibility to share it with others. I don’t really have a problem with the idea that we should share with others what we have, but that scripture actually doesn’t say that.

Ignoring the fact that the fruit actually represents eternal life and not specifically the gospel, Lehi didn’t share the gospel with his family simply because he had received it.

Lehi wanted to share the fruit because of the following:

  • It filled his soul with exceedingly great joy.
  • It was the sweetest thing he ever tasted.
  • He desired to share it with his family.

Do I desire to share the gospel with my family? Sure. Is it the sweetest thing I have ever tasted? I doubt it. Has it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy? No. Sure it makes me happy and brings me peace, but I can honestly say I don’t think it has ever filled my soul (even just halfway) with exceeding great joy). And I wonder how many others in my ward feel the same way.

It seems to me that we focus our efforts on trying to increase the number of contacts members make with non-members (inviting them into their home, giving them a Book of Mormon, inviting them to an activity, inviting them to church, etc). I wonder though if we would see better results if we focused on what 1 Ne 8 actually states.

What would missionary efforts be like if everyone in my ward viewed the gospel as being the sweetest thing s/he had ever tasted? What would such efforts be like if everyone in my ward felt like their souls were completely filled with exceedingly great joy?

Maybe instead of playing the odds by having lots of member–nonmember contact to get a few discussions, we should be trying to work with members to help them have inspiring spiritual experiences, experiences that change their lives.

The funny thing is I bet a lot of our other concerns (low home teaching, poor temple attendance, etc) would disappear.

“The Two Trees”, a presentation on equality in the Plan of Salvation

I came across this presentation by Valerie Hudson Cassler. Her presentation, “The Two Trees” was a presentation given at this weekend’s FAIR Conference.

It is a great presentation regarding feminism and what equality truly means in the plan of salvation.

Why did Zeniff give the kingdom to Noah?

For the longest time, I thought King Zeniff handed off the kingdom to his son Noah because he had no choice. A week or so ago, I came across Mosiah 10:22, in which Zeniff refers to Noah as one of his sons, which raises a question in my mind.

If he had other sons to choose as heir, why choose Noah?

One might argue Zeniff had no idea what Noah really was like. Perhaps Noah hid his debauchery from his father.

Another reason might be that Noah’s brothers didn’t want the throne. Sort of like in Mosiah 29:3, When Mosiah’s sons didn’t want to inherit his throne. That is certainly possible.

Sort of related to that is the idea that Noah may have been the firstborn. In many monarchal societies, inheritance of the kingdom goes according to birth order. That is possible, as well.

Either way, at the end of Mosiah 10:22, Zeniff’s last word were: “I . . . did confer the kingdom upon one of my sons. . . . And may the Lord bless my people.” I wonder if he did know after all. Maybe, for whatever reason, he felt he had no choice, and he desperately hoped the Lord would bless his people despite Noah.

District president in Iraq

Alone in a closet-sized room in Iraq, U.S. Army Col. Guy Hollingsworth dropped to his knees and cried.

In a conversation via Skype with Elder Paul Piper and Elder Bruce Porter of the first Quorum of the Seventy, he had been called to be the district president of what would become the Baghdad Iraq Military District.

“I just dropped to my knees and started crying for a couple of reasons,” Hollingsworth said. “I felt completely inadequate. I was already working 20 hours a day, and I just didn’t know how I would find the time to take care of 1,300 members of the church.

Read more at Former district president in Iraq reflects on unique calling

Immerse members in scripture study to improve activity levels

Spending six years as elder quorum president teaches you a few things. One thing it taught me was the futility of focusing on fixing poor home teaching stats. Another (related) thing it taught me was that it was more important to teach charity and service to the brethren than it was to teach home teaching; it had longer-lasting effect.

After all, what is the point on trying to convince the quorum they need to get 100% home teaching when very few of them read their scriptures regularly, and some of them even didn’t have personal prayer.

The problem with not trying to focus on fixing home teaching is that priesthood leaders (bishops, stake presidents, high counsellors, etc) are still in the mindset that home teaching is vitally important. If it were really this important, you’d think we’d measure success of the programme in more meaningful ways other than whether a visit was made.

Anyhow, we read the following quote from Ezra Taft Benson in Gospel Doctrine class today, and it gave me hope I had been on the right track.

“Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 44).

I have argued for several years that focusing on foundational issues — such as scripture study — goes much further than focusing on specific programmes.

Elder Ballard had something similar to say in the October 2006 conference:

[F]ocus on people and principles—not on programs. One of the most important things we do through the gospel of Jesus Christ is to build people. Properly serving others requires effort to understand them as individuals—their personalities, their strengths, their concerns, their hopes and dreams—so that the correct help and support can be provided. Frankly, it’s much easier to just manage programs than it is to understand and truly serve people. The primary purpose of Church leadership meetings should be to discuss how to minister to people. Most routine information and coordination can now be handled through phone calls, e-mails, or regular mail so that agendas for council meetings and presidency meetings can focus on needs of the people.

My hope is that one day this can become a reality in the church. That the church can one day be run like a ministry and less like a business.