Preaching to the choir

I served as a full time missionary for the LDS church in the Nevada Las Vegas Mission (there was only one mission in Nevada at the time).  Lots of fond memories there.  Blistering heat that would leave your footprints in the asphalt, desert rainstorms / flash floods, really interesting people from all over the world.  There was also the “work”.

I remember the first time I was a trainer.  We were instructed by our mission president to take our new missionary tracting as soon as we got them back to the apartment.  Didn’t even give them time to unpack.  I think I handled the first dozen or so door approaches before my “greenie” got the courage to try one.  On his very first try, a man came to the door wearing nothing but boxer shorts with a handgun tucked in the front.  The man suggested we leave.   We did.  What a great way to start a mission.

I experienced two mission presidents while there.  Both of them had different approaches to proselyting, but one thing remained the same.  We were to spend as little time as possible with existing members of the church.  We were even told that if there wasn’t an investigator at church, that we were to be sure to attend one of our wards and take the sacrament, but then we should leave and be out in the community proselyting, even attending other churches.  We did this quite a bit.  While in Nevada, I attended Catholic Mass, Jehovah’s Witness meetings, and a variety of other Christian denomination meetings.  While not  always resulting in formal teaching opportunities, attending these other churches generated a lot of gospel discussions.

When we were with members, we would tract or take them street contacting.  We never visited with the less active unless it was a part-member family situation that had a potential convert.  Our dinner appointments with members were to be wrapped up in under an hour unless a non-member was present.  The total focus was on bringing souls to Christ through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation.  And you can’t do that when you spend all your time with the “already baptized”.

Fast forward to today.

The mission in the area where I live has been given a mandate that every companionship needs to teach 20 missionary discussions a week.  I guess that’s a good thing.  I remember similar goals when I was a full time missionary.  However, here, where I live, the focus seems to be on teaching these discussions to member families, not non-members.  The missionaries in our ward pass around two calendars.  One is the dinner calendar, and the other is a calendar for you to have them over to teach you a discussion.

To me, that’s just bizarre.  I just don’t understand the logic in “Preaching to the choir”.  I mean, pretty much all active, attending LDS families are probably already converted.  There is almost zero chance that anyone they are teaching is a candidate for baptism and confirmation.

I’ve heard the argument that this will help inspire members to invite non-members over to take part in these discussions.  Frankly, I don’t buy it.  In the last couple years that they’ve been trying this, we have had ZERO convert baptisms in our ward as a result.

Is this the future of missionary work in the church?  To spend all that money, time, effort, and resources to become an over-glorified home teaching program?

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A Successful Missionary

Page 10 of the new Preach My Gospel:

Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people and to help them become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost.

Avoid comparing yourself to other missionaries and measuring the outward results of your efforts against theirs. Remember that people have agency to choose whether to accept your message.

There it is in black and white.

I am still surprised at how many missionaries, ward mission leaders, bishops, stake presidents, and mission presidents measure their success by baptisms alone.

But how else would you go about measuring commitment??Ǭ† Why the need to measure in the first place?

“We all know the story of…”

I cringe when I hear those words at church.

?Ǭ†Usually, they are spoken by a Gospel Doctrine teacher when introducing a topic .?Ǭ† I’m sure on any given Sunday, those words are mentioned a couple dozen times in any average ward.

The reason why I cringe is mostly because of my dear wife.?Ǭ† She joined the church after her 18th birthday.?Ǭ† She had very little exposure to the gospel before that.?Ǭ† Her knowlege of things taught in primary could probably fit in a large thimble (ok, well, she?Ǭ†probably knows more than she lets on, but it’s nowhere near what us BIC’ers have encountered).?Ǭ† Usually after a lesson in which those words are mentioned, she asks me about the story that the teacher was referring to.?Ǭ† I do my best to explain it.?Ǭ† She usually mentiones something like “well, knowing that would have helped to make sense of the lesson”.

?Ǭ†Another variant is the phrase “We all know…”.?Ǭ† This one is even worse.?Ǭ† It’s not just a story, but usually some cultural church practice or perhaps some meaty chunk of doctrine.?Ǭ† The instructor usually glosses over the important parts and dives right into his / her analysis, leaving my poor wife in the dust.

?Ǭ†I’ve noticed it’s lessons or discussions / talks like this that make church services so unplesant for my wife.?Ǭ† After a consecutive string of Sunday’s like this, she usually?Ǭ†wants?Ǭ†a break and we all take a rest from going to church.

I guess what really baffles me is the fact that we are suppose to be a missionary minded church.?Ǭ† We are suppose to be ‘inviting others to Christ’, but when they get here, we treat them as if they’ve been here all along and end up frustraing the heck out of them.

Why My Mission Isn’t the Best Two Years

There’s a common saying among returned missionaries that their missions were the best two years of their life. I even thought that once. I no longer do however. It was a good experience ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù valuable even ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù and probably ranks as the better two years of my life.

I have to say though that in the more than 12 years I have been home, I have had more valuable experiences than any mission experience.

No experience with any mission companion comes close to equating with kneeling with Mary across the wedding altar nearly 12 years ago when we were married.

No convert experience compares with being part of the birth of my three children.

I’ve learned more regarding how the Church operates as a two-time elders quorum president and serving under a bishop and stake mission president than I ever did from any priesthood leader on my mission.

The poverty I experienced on my mission was nothing close to the poverty we experienced when we first moved to Lethbridge.

The trials I had on my mission pale in comparison to the faith-shaking experiences I have had since then.

Do I consider my mission the best two years of my life? No.

Would I go back and do it all again? Yes.

Leadership Now & Then

There’s something I don’t get.

My entire married life, the only callings I have received have been leadership callings. Elders quorum presidencies, ward mission leader, young men presidency, stake mission presidency, ward clerk. I have no idea why. I don’t think I do a particularly good job, and I honestly don’t think I have any leadership skills; I’m certainly not a very good motivator.

But what really gets me is that this is completely opposite of my mission experience. I never once had any leadership experience on my mission (except for my last trunky month training). No district leader, no zone leader, no AP. I was never even a senior companion (always a “co-companion”).

I don’t know why there’s this contrast either. On my mission, I read my scriptures every day (for at least an hour). I prayed often. I got along with my companions. Sure, every so often, I slept in or caught a video. But I loved to teach and I was good at it. I struggled with resolving concerns for the first half of my mission or so, but the last half, I was a pretty good teacher.

I hated finding though. I detested it in fact. I wish back then I had a secretary to make my appointments for me like I do now. I hated asking for referrals and knocking on doors (selective tracting is what we called it in Utah). All I wanted to do was teach.

The baptisms weren’t even that important. Sure I was caught up in all the hype and the numbers game, but teaching and seeing progression was the real thrill for me.

I certainly teach less now. I read my scriptures less. I pray less. I watch TV and movies more. I listen to music more. I even kiss more.

So why? Why is it now that I seem to be focusing less on spiritual things and more on temporal things, I am given leadership callings? And for that matter, only leadership callings?

Corianton’s Sin

In Alma 39:5, Alma the Younger chides his son Corianton by saying that his actions were so bad that only denying the ghost and murdering would be worse.

Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?

So what does he mean by “these things”? Well, modern Mormon interpretation of this means sexual sins; often in a general sense. But is that what it really means?

Specifically, Alma said, “Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom. . . . thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel” (vv. 2?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú3).

So it seems that the actions Alma was reproving were three fold: boasting of his own strength and wisdom, forsaking his ministry, and going after a harlot. I’m not sure why common interpretation leaves out the first two, but it is easy to see how one could make a connection between sexual sin and going after a harlot.

But does “going after a harlot” strictly refer to sexual sin? Did Corianton actually do anything sinful (read ?¢‚ǨÀúsexual?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢) with Isabel? Or did the sin lie in the fact that he left his mission to go after her. In other words, his personal desires were more important than the Lord’s; doing what he wanted was more important than doing what the Lord wanted.

On the surface, it even seems that the question remains unanswered because Alma didn’t go into any further detail regarding Corianton?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s sins. Yet, on the other hand, if Corianton?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s sin was simply going after Isabel (not really that simple)?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùand didn’t include any actual sexual activity?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùthen Alma went into all the detail necessary, and the account is accurate.

Somehow the list that Alma gave in verses 2 and 3, however, has evolved into including everything under the sexual sun so to speak. Odd.