My former mission president, Russell Osguthorpe, is presently the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at BYU. Recently, he published a book called Choose to Learn. I stopped by his office a few months ago, and he gave me a copy of the book. I’ve been re-reading it, and the book is basically a transcript of our mission zone conferences. He ran the mission like he would a classroom, and I believe that he was a master at teaching. Anyways, the book reminded me of a diagram that President Osguthorpe showed us while we were missionaries:
|Pure Motives||Impure Motives|
|Doing the Right Things||Missionary||Impostor|
|Doing the Wrong Things||Natural Man||Rebel|
Most missionaries, he said, fall under the “natural man” category. Most of them want to do the right thing for the right reasons, but don’t, for two reasons: (1) they succumb to temptation and/or lack focus, or (2) simply do not know how to share the gospel. For example, a missionary might want to serve others and teach the Gospel because he loves the Savior and because he loves people. However, he might struggle getting up on time in the mornings. He might alienate people in the way he teaches. He might be too shy to approach people on the street. He might have trouble focusing during scripture study. He might not know how to invite members to participate. Every missionary has something they could do better, and to that extent, they reside in the natural man category.
This is not the worst place to be, because all of these missionaries, President Osguthorpe taught, can be shepherded into the “missionary” category of the above chart. He explained that they can all move into the “missionary” category if they yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and put off the natural man, and become a Saint through the Atonement of Christ. In other words, those in the “natural man” category usually just need an invitation to rise higher and do better, and they will usually respond to that invitation. Such an invitation, President Osguthorpe explained, can take the form of training and instruction. All they need is to see good missionary work modeled, and they need to have practice, direction, supervision, and experience. He tirelessly sought to do just that, and for the most part, I believe he succeeded.
Those in the “impostor” category are those missionaries who are skilled teachers, who bring people into the church, and who are successful by every external means of measuring missionary success. They “do the right things,” in that they know what to say, how to motivate members, how to invite others to come unto Christ. They have all of the “skills,” and obediently follow the instructions of mission leaders. However, they care more about themselves than the work of God. They want to succeed because they know that success will bring them attention and others will admire them. These are the kind that desire leadership positions because those positions will put them in the spotlight. President Osguthorpe made the point that these missionaries aren’t really servants of Christ, but rather servants of themselves, feigning to be servants of Christ. Their hearts are not single to the glory of God. He didn’t spend a lot of time discussing this, except to warn us against distracting our hearts with the honors of men. The challenge with this category is that unlike the “natural man” category, missionaries in this group can’t be brought into the “missionary” category by training or education. It requires a change of heart that only the Spirit can provide.
President Osguthorpe stressed that there were no “rebels” in our mission. “They don’t exist,” he said, “Nobody wants to have impure motives and be unsuccessful at sharing the Gospel.” I’m convinced that he was simply trying to draw attention away from those who sought attention by being disobedient and detracting from the work. It was a brilliant tactic. By giving disobedience no press time, and by pretending “rebels” didn’t exist in zone conference and district meetings, they eventually went away. He didn’t ignore rebels—he responded to them swiftly, personally, and lovingly. He just made sure they were no longer the focus of gossip and training.
After presenting this, President Osguthorpe invited us all to become missionaries. He said that only when we are serving Christ for the right reasons, and only after we have put off the natural man, can we really be called missionaries. In a sense, he redefined the word missionary to mean not just someone set apart and on a mission, but rather someone who is doing what missionaries are supposed to do. This includes doing missionary work in an effective way. A missionary who wants to serve God, but consistently ignores what he is taught in zone conference, Preach My Gospel, and the scriptures, who consistently neglects to learn, isn’t fully fulfilling their calling as a missionary. Now, this may sound harsh, but remember: President Osguthorpe had a “no excuses” attitude (which I love and admire). He stressed, though, that becoming a missionary is a process, and not just a two-year process, but a life-long process. While this should never excuse us from striving to do better and be better, we should remember that the journey is never finished and we shouldn’t be disheartened by that.
I would like to explore for a moment how this chart applies to each of us as members of the church (specifically in regards to missionary work). I suspect few of us engage in missionary work to impress others, and few us have no desire to share the Gospel. I suspect most of us are in the “natural man” category. We want to share the Gospel with friends and neighbors. We would love to see them baptized into Christ’s church because we love them. But, we don’t. We don’t know how to bring it up in our conversations with them. We are too shy or scared to approach the subject. We miss opportunities to invite them to activities because we are focused on other things. We talk with them about spirituality and the Gospel, but we never extend an invitation to church, or invite them to read the Book of Mormon. The list can go on.
What is the solution? Well, I agree with President Osguthorpe: I think education and training is part of the answer. We could read Preach My Gospel, ask others for ideas, and watch and observe how others do it. We could practice with other members. We could role play. We could build up a repertoire of missionary experiences to draw encouragement from. But I think the biggest part is inviting the Spirit into our hearts, and asking the Lord to make us into missionaries. The transformation is certainly possible, but it isn’t possible alone. But I believe that if we ask God to help us, He will help us move out of the “natural man” territory and into the “missionary” territory. And that is a very rewarding process, since it involves introducing our practice to our ideals, and helping them build a friendship (whereas, for many of us, they rarely, if ever, meet). It involves finally doing what we’ve always wanted to do already.