In 2010 at the 182nd General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson announced lower ages for full-time missionaries. With that statement still ringing in the rafters of the Conference Center, a virtual army of young, anxious, worthy members beat a path to the doors of their bishops, applications in hand, to offer themselves to the service of the Lord.
Unfortunately, this army of missionaries gets bogged down in the “finding” of people to teach. Too much of a missionary’s time is spent street contacting, knocking doors and engaging passersby. In a special Church broadcast, “The Work of Salvation,” members of the Church were again admonished to hasten the work, but this time the call came to members at large—be the “finders”.
The Surrey British Columbia Stake took this charge to heart and on January 31, 2015 hosted the first ever “Surrey Stake MTC [Mission Training Centre] Experience”. Adult and youth ward missionaries, assigned Relief Society sisters, Elders and High Priest quorum representatives in the Stake received invitations to attend.
The goal: “To unify the missionary force in our stake so that every ward missionary and auxiliary representative would come away with a deeper testimony and understanding of their calling,” Brother Jordan Clarke, high counsel representative stated, “We wanted an interactive day where people weren’t just lectured to, but participated; a day where a course of action carried the principles into the participant’s hearts.”
Participants attended break-out sessions for more specific instructions about responsibilities, stewardship divisions and “finding” techniques. The groups then reassembled for instruction from President and Sister Burt.
Just as President and Sister Burt started their presentation, and to everyone’s surprise, a long-haired, dusty, old-time miner clattered up the isle toward the pulpit carrying a duffel bag full of tools. “I hearz yur looking fer gold,” the character said to a startled President Burt. With that, the confused audience realized that Elder Christensen, in disguise, had launched a powerful object lesson of this truth—the most effective tool for getting the message of the gospel into the hearts of investigators is the power of the member.
Comparing the potential investigator to nuggets of gold, Elder Christensen, keeping in character, displayed various tools available to the missionary. He pulled items from his bag, each representing a different way that missionaries find the “golden investigator”.
Involving audience members, he equated the size and effectiveness of different hammers to the power of various methods of “finding”. Graduating sizes of hammers displayed increased effectiveness from texting and street contacting to tracting.
Finally, he pulled out a sledge hammer marked “member referrals” and allowed a sister to drive a large spike into a stump. “The best method for getting the gospel into the hearts of truth seeking individuals is the involvement of members finding and participating in the presentation of the gospel message.” Elder Christensen said. “This missionary work will never really take off until the members understand their role,” stated President Burt.
The effectiveness of his “hands-on” demonstration made an impact. “It’s something I won’t forget,” one attendee stated between breakout sessions and lunch.
1. Identify yourself as a member of the church everyday
2. Study and learn the nature of Christ
3. Apply the atonement daily—improve. Repentance equals improvement..
He further reasoned with the members that, “Everyone wants to be a Mormon; they just don’t know it yet. Since all ultimately desire happiness, all want what the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers—happiness....anyone within five feet of me is fair game.” Whether he’s at home, on planes or in stores, Elder Christensen finds a way to talk about the Church.
Sister Andrea Ashton, a local YSA ward missionary, responded, “I thought of so many people that I need to go talk to now. I’m on fire, ready to share the gospel to all my fellow men.” Ward missionary, Tracy Clarke said “Before, I would just freeze in conversations about the gospel. Now I feel like I better understand what I can do or say when I feel inspired to talk to someone.”
“It gave ward missionaries more of a desire to open their mouths—to be bolder,” Brother Clarke said. “For me, personally, I’ve made more of an effort in my own missionary opportunities. Last night my wife and I saw a little family at Costco. We stopped to talk to them and gave them a pass-along card and they seemed grateful for it.” He added, “I even talked to a guy at a job site and he accepted my invitation for members of the Church to come by and talk to him.”
Brother Clarke pointed to Elder L. Tom Perry’s comparison of member’s missionary efforts to children playing soccer (“The Work of Salvation, Missionary Work in the Digital Age, 2013”), “At first they don’t understand the fine points of the game. They have the same goal, to score a point, yet they are not well organized. They just converge on the ball en masse. In missionary work, many of us fall into this same category. We think we see and understand the ultimate goal, yet we do not see our purpose in it; we do not know the position, so to speak, that we are to play. Ours is a lack of understanding, not desire.”
“I feel that members of the church sincerely want to do what President Monson has asked us to do, they just need to be taught what their roles are and how to participate,” Brother Clarke continued. “We need to exercise faith that there really are people around us looking for the truth, then miracles will happen and more and more people will join church.”
If all church members will heed the call of the Prophet with the same vigour and immediacy as did the youth of the Church to the full-time mission call, the next big surge in missionary work can commence. The thunder of hastening footsteps no longer comes merely from the full-time missionaries. This Movement grows closer and stronger as members reach out and gather Heavenly Father’s children for the missionaries to teach.