PROVO, Utah — Missionaries need to recognize the Spirit and teach by the Spirit more than at any time in our history, said President M. Russell Ballard during the 2019 New Mission Leadership Seminar on June 24.
“If we help create a mission culture based on Spirit-led invitations that allow others to have spiritual experiences, our missionaries will feel the power of God as they witness the changes occurring inside the hearts and minds of all those they find and teach,” said President Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Speaking to 164 new mission presidents and their companions gathered at the Provo Missionary Training Center for the conference, President Ballard said gospel invitations — especially invitations to be baptized — should be Spirit-led.
Some missionaries have felt pressure to invite people to be baptized during the first lesson or even the first contact: “These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected.” He added, “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.”
Church leaders don’t know where these practices began, but President Ballard noted, “It was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ.” He explained, “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.”
Quoting President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Ballard said, “We cannot have [those baptized] walking in the front door and out the back. ... There is absolutely no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort.”
Other problems this practice has created include:
First, some Latter-day Saints are hesitant to share the names of families and friends with missionaries because the members worry the missionaries will extend invitations for baptism before the person being introduced is prepared and ready to be baptized.
Second, missionaries sometimes feel like salespeople who have to achieve baptismal goals; therefore, the missionaries use high-pressure tactics to rush people into the baptismal font. Such a culture can ultimately hurt the faith of the missionaries who may return home feeling guilty for their actions in this regard.
Third, some people have stopped meeting with missionaries because a premature baptism invitation was given too early in their spiritual journey. They feel like missionaries are more interested in the baptism event than in what they are really experiencing spiritually.
Missionaries should be taught to determine by the Spirit when an invitation to be baptized is appropriate. President Ballard invited the mission leaders to read examples in the New Testament of how Jesus and His disciples offered Spirit-led invitations.
“Missionaries need to be careful not to push people down the path,” explained President Ballard. “Instead, they should invite them to take the next step on the path.” The Book of Mormon also clearly teaches that commandments or invitations should be given in context.
Missionaries should also understand that not every Spirit-led invitation will be accepted and that a Spirit-led invitation becomes more effective when followed by an offer to help. President Ballard clarified, “For example, if missionaries invite someone to read from the Book of Mormon, they may want to offer to help by reading with them.”
Spirit-led invitations, followed by offers to help, are even more effective when followed by equally inspired questions. President Ballard explained: “Inspired questions help missionaries understand the experiences that those they teach are going through and learning as they study the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Quoting 'Preach My Gospel,' President Ballard emphasized, “‘When individuals… feel the Spirit ... or when they see the evidence of the Lord’s love and mercy in their lives, they are edified and strengthened spiritually and their faith in Him increases. These experiences with the Spirit follow naturally when a person is willing to experiment upon the word. This is how [all of us] come to feel and know the gospel is true.’ In other words, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is about experiencing the power of the Atonement of Christ in our lives.”
When missionaries try to teach people through a “check-the-box” routine, they miss the power of an inspired invitation that can touch a soul, taught President Ballard: “For us to see the great harvest the Lord has promised, missionaries need to move away from the ‘check-the-box’ approach of finding, teaching and extending invitations. We all need to follow the example of Jesus Christ and His apostles and servants by offering Spirit-led invitations along with meaningful offers to help and inspired questions.”
Concluding, President Ballard taught that mission culture “needs to focus on spiritual experiences that lead to true conversion.” This is best accomplished through Spirit-led invitations, offers to help, and inspired questions.
He counselled: “If we help create a mission culture based on Spirit-led invitations that allow others to have spiritual experiences, our missionaries will feel the power of God as they witness the changes occurring inside the hearts and minds of all those they find and teach. And members will be confident that missionaries are motivated by love when the members invite their friends and neighbours to listen to the message of the Restoration taught by faithful, Spirit-led missionaries.
He envisaged: “If missionaries and members successfully extend simple and doable Spirit-led invitations, along with sincere offers to help and inspired questions, they will see increases in the number of people being taught, spiritual experiences, and baptisms, and most importantly, they will witness what is described in the Book of Mormon: ‘As many as believed ... were converted unto the Lord (and) never did fall away’'(Alma 23:6).