I wrote a series of four short articles based on the material in Preach My Gospel, from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These articles were originally published at a website that has since changed its purpose and name, so is no longer relevant here. There are many things a missionary must do and be, but the official manual the missionaries study out of outlines four main responsibilities. I address this article directly to the prospective missionary.
They are to be
- The Lord’s Mouthpiece
- An Example
- A Representative
- And a Servant.
These responsibilities are not necessarily in order of importance, but they all need to be in the list.
The Lord’s Mouthpiece
When the Savior began his ministry he chose missionaries called the Seventy to go out two by two and preach the gospel and prepare the minds of the people for his coming. There are considerably more missionaries now, but the objective hasn’t changed. Missionaries are the Lord’s authorized servants. They preach the word of the Lord, and that is why they are referred to as being His mouthpiece. Once you are set apart as a missionary you will teach the people what he would teach if he were in your place.
The message is simple, and never changes. People are taught
- to believe in his teachings
- exercise faith by repenting
- and make covenants with God by being baptized into his Church
- so they can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We simplify this by saying we preach faith, repentance, and baptism for the gift of the Holy Ghost. But why does it take an official representative of the Lord to preach this?
Anyone can preach faith and repentance and have a measure of the Holy Ghost bear witness of the truth, but it takes someone set apart by the authorized priesthood authority of God to preach faith and repentance, and have the full weight of the Holy Ghost bear witness that what you teach is the truth. That is what separates the Lord’s missionaries from all other preachers of religion. You will have the Holy Ghost to bear witness to their souls that what you are telling them is the truth. This is where your power comes from. This is what converts people.
Your education level does not convert. Your fancy words will not convert. It is your humble testimony as an authorized servant of God that will bring the power of the Holy Ghost into your conversation and he will transfer the knowledge of your testimony into the hearts of those who listen to you. The more worthy you are, and the more obedient you are, the more power your testimony will carry to the hearts of those you have been called to serve.
Learning to be a representative of Christ can be tricky. It isn’t like there is a manual for this kind of thing, but learning the principles found in Preach My Gospel will help a lot.
Being a representative of Christ is hard to picture. How would He behave in this situation or that situation. Hmmm, hard to tell. But think about how the Apostles behave. When they are treated kindly, do they just take the compliments in stride, knowing they deserve them? Do they accept the kind invitations to dinner and sit in the best spots like it is due to them? Of course not. The Apostles express gratitude in every way. They are kind and generous to others, they recognize when others are giving up something so that they can have it instead, and they always express their gratitude. Many missionaries have been called to very poor areas where the people literally give them all that they have. If a missionary has come from America, especially, they can easily miss the sacrifices others make on their behalf. Learn to be sensitive to what the members and others do for the missionaries.
Having an attitude of gratitude is so important for a missionary, no matter where you serve. How do the missionaries you respect the most talk? Do they gripe about how hot or cold it is? Do they complain that they had to walk in the rain or tract in uncomfortable shoes? NO! The best missionaries, the ones people look up to the most are those who find a reason to be thankful for all that they experience. They exercise patience in adversity and thank people for their overwhelming generosity, and many people in and out of the Church are very generous when it comes to missionaries.
As a missionary I found that many good Christians would treat me like an honored guest in their home, just because they believed I came in Christ’s place. It had nothing to do with the fact that I really did, they would have treated any missionary from any faith that way. How much more appropriate that the real representative of Christ be gracious and grateful for all things at all times. Sometimes it is difficult, but cultivating a grateful attitude will help you immensely with keeping the Spirit with you. The Spirit doesn’t like a grouch any more than your mother does.
Learning to represent Christ is something that takes practice and forgiveness. The forgiveness is primarily for yourself, as it is you who will most often mess it up. Learn to be patient with yourself as you learn how to represent the Lord on His official business. Be patient with others and grateful for what people do for you. Don’t worry about what the Lord thinks of your efforts. He knew you weren’t perfect when He called you. He is just hoping you will be patient enough with yourself to learn the lessons you need to learn.
Learn to express thankfulness, and have an attitude of appreciation for the work others do. This takes practice, because sometimes the members move more slowly than you think they should. Think ahead. You will be in their shoes in just a couple of years, with school, work, and relationships on your mind too. Remember that the Lord is being as patient with you as He is with them.
It used to be that missionaries taught and tracted. That was about it. Fortunately the Lord’s work evolves as quickly as the members are able to bear the evolution. Now the Lord’s servants do more than serve by teaching, they teach by serving. As a member I get a little embarrassed when the missionaries come up to my door and ask if there is some yard work or something else they can do for me. In my mind it is as though the Savior has approached me and asked if He can weed my lawn for me. As much as I don’t want to let them do it, I realize this is part of their service, and I need to learn to be gracious about accepting service. It humbles me to have the Lord’s authorized servants outside working in my yard.
Much of the Helping Hands movement in the Church stemmed from missionaries who jumped in and started helping during times of crisis. That attitude of service has changed people’s view of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Governments are opening up to the Church coming into their countries and cities because they have seen that the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are good citizens and great neighbors. As a missionary you will not only be given opportunities to serve others, but will be expected to find opportunities to be of service to others. That means you will need to learn to find joy in getting your hands dirty. For some that will be easier than for others.
An important aspect of service that we sometimes forget is that the Spirit can guide us in our service as well as in our teaching and planning. Sometimes going the extra mile on a project or doing some little thing that is just a thoughtful gesture will open doors that otherwise would have stayed shut for who knows how long. The Savior’s most powerful tool in his ministry was his service to others. It is through service that we demonstrate our love for others. It is through service that the Lord will be able to touch people’s hearts and help them open up to the possibilities of listening to your message. Don’t think that getting your hands dirty is just an exercise to keep healthy. In the Lord’s work all avenues can open or shut doors. How you learn to serve others will in large measure determine your success on your mission.
Finally, be happy in your service. One of the most important things you can learn about physical labor is not how to do it, but that you can find joy in doing it. Work can be made pleasant if you have good company to talk to. While your hands are occupied your mind is free to roam and think. Working gives you time to contemplate the scriptures, your investigators, those you are serving, and even how you can help your companion. If you can learn to find joy in physical labor you will have accomplished a great thing indeed. That one skill alone will serve you well for the rest of your life. What better time to hone that skill than in the service of your God?
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