Why missionary work isn’t working

Other working titles:
1. Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon Musical
2. And Now a Word from Someone Else’s Sponsors

When I was a missionary 35 years ago, we were excited that President Kimball could announce reaching 30,000 missionaries.  We were also excited to be baptizing 250,000 or more people a year. In fact, we had a couple years that reached 300,000 new converts.

Now in 2014, we are excited to say we now have over 85,000 missionaries – almost 3 times when I was a missionary!  Not only that but we are now baptizing an astonishing….250,000 new converts per year?

Doesn’t it seem that we should be baptizing 3 times the number we were doing in 1979? Why aren’t we baptizing 750,000 new people a year, or even 500,000?  Why can’t we even get back up to the 300,000 converts we once were doing?

The reality is, in many locations of the world, the world is saturated with the Mormon message.  Or rather, A Mormon message. Especially in North America and Europe, people have heard of Mormons. They all know we ride around on bikes, wearing white shirts and ties.  They know we all have 10 wives.  They know Mormons are non-Christians, who worship a guy named John Smith, or something like that.  They also know that it is all based on a Broadway musical by the same name.

We live in a comfortable world, where people are satisfied with their safe, partial knowledge of what goes on around them.  We have sanitized napkins, sanitized diapers, sanitized food and sanitized wars. We prefer to just have enough perceived knowledge on things that we are comfortable fitting them as is into our little pink-colored sunglasses’ world.

People are not joining the Mormon Church because 1. they do not really know us, 2. they are satisfied with their current lives, and 3. they do not want to know anything that will disrupt their comfort.

In Alma 17-22, we read the story of the great missionary adventure of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites.  Here we see two major efforts occur.  In one effort, Aaron and most of his brothers go forth preaching boldly the gospel of Christ. However, they go among a people that are comfortable with their lives and the understanding they already have regarding Nephites and their religion. As it is, they have had many Nephite dissidents dwell among them for years, telling them all about the crazy and wicked things those Nephite Christians were doing! The Lamanites that dwelt in Midian and other locations were wise to cast Aaron and his brothers into jail, because they obviously were menaces to society.

Meanwhile, Aaron’s brother, Ammon, went into the land of Ishmael with a different approach.  He did not begin by boldly preaching the gospel. First, he put himself in a position to assess the situation around him. He offered to be the servant of the king, where he would be in the center of events, and could determine the needs of the king and others.

It was while he was on assignment with other of the king’s servants tending flocks that a crisis occurred that allowed him to show others that the gospel has solutions.  When the flocks were scattered by the king’s enemies, Ammon prayed and asked the Lord to guide him in helping the other servants, who were paralyzed with fear, because they knew they would be slain by the king.

Ammon showed forth the power of God. How else could one man fight off a group of thugs?  In doing so, the king’s servants were so astounded, they immediately reported the miracle to the king on their return.  The king was astounded, because someone solved a big problem for him that obviously had been occurring for years. And yet, Ammon was not eagerly waiting in the room to tell the king about the Church and gospel!  No, he was still serving the king, helping him with another need.  Only when their hearts were ready to hear, did Ammon open his mouth and teach them.

So eagerly did the king and servants accept the message that the king was overwhelmed and lay in a coma for several days.  Now, the queen and others had a crisis – the apparent death of the king!  But Ammon told them that the Lord had a solution for them as well, and the king would arise on the morrow.  This pattern continues after the king arises, and solutions are provided for each crisis that occurs.

After being rescued from prison, Aaron and the other brothers learned from Ammon the pattern of success. Before opening your mouth, find out what needs the people actually have first and use the gospel power to help solve those problems. In Alma 22, Aaron goes the the chief king of the Lamanites, who has already been impressed by Ammon’s love for his son.  Aaron offers to be the chief king’s servant, which would allow him to seek opportunities to serve and bless. However, Ammon already prepared the heart of the king, and he was ready to hear the words of Aaron.

Praying for Catastrophes

The Book of Mormon teaches the Pride Cycle. When people are humble, they become righteous and seek God. Once converted, the Lord blesses them and many invariably become comfortable in wealth and life, forgetting God. In their riches, they fall again into sin, until the Lord chastises them anew.

In Helaman 11, the people fell into pride and wealth, which led to wars and destruction. Knowing the path of destruction they were going down, Nephi prayed the Lord would send a famine to chasten the people.  After months of famine, we learn the most wicked people passed away and the remainder humbled themselves and called upon the prophet Nephi to pray the Lord end the famine.  Nephi prayed, the famine ended, and many joined the Church in that day.

There is a time when people must be pushed off their cloud, so they can learn to depend upon God. If they will not hear the words of the prophets, apostles and missionaries, then the Lord will use a louder voice:

And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people.

For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand

And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds. (D&C 88:88-90)

The destructions come as a way to bring people to repentance.  God prefers to bless his children, but knows that their eternal salvation is the most important thing of all. It is better to cause people to repent, because they fear, than to lose them to the subtleties, riches and enticements of Satan.

Are we praying for the wrong things in missionary work?

How often are we encouraged to pray for “missionary experiences” in our lives, only to have them appear, but not lead to anyone being converted?  Is it because we lack faith?  Is it because we aren’t trying hard enough?  Or is it because we are trying to do the work all ourselves?

At the beginning of their mission, the sons of Mosiah prayed and fasted on such things.

And it came to pass that they journeyed many days in the wilderness, and they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth, to the knowledge of the baseness of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.

And it came to pass that the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted.

And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls. (Alma 17:9-11)

Notice that the Lamanites did know things about the Nephites and their religion, but it was based upon “false traditions”. They would have to replace the false teachings and beliefs with the truth, just as today we must replace the Book of Mormon Musical version of Mormonism with the original Book of Mormon version of Mormonism.  The Lord tells them to be a patient example “unto them in me” and only then could they be successful instruments.

We cannot convert anyone. For some reason, we keep trying to do so. Just because we are excited about our own testimonies of the gospel, does not mean that others will immediately have that same excitement. Most will not.  We must prepare them to recognize that great need all people have down deep inside for the Lord and his gospel.

Sometimes it might require us to ask the Lord to send a famine into a person’s life, so that they have a need that the gospel of Christ  can heal. On my mission, I knew of two elders who taught the gospel to a family. The family recognized that it was true, however they were comfortable with their lives and said they did not want to join the Church. The elders prayed the Lord would work with them, so that they would see the true need they have for the gospel. Over the next couple weeks, the man lost his job, family members got sick, they had a house fire, and the dog died. The family sought out the missionaries, and found great joy on the day of their baptism.

There are stories of those who have prayed that angels would help their friends, families and investigators to hear and accept the gospel message.  I know of two elders who taught a young woman, who had her toes on the edge of conversion, but would not commit. She said that she lost her job and was too busy looking for work. The elders asked the Lord to send angels to help her find a job, so she could concentrate again on the discussions. They saw her a couple days later, and she said she found a job. As she walked by a beauty shop, she said she felt invisible hands push her inside the building. As she was being pushed inside, she saw a help wanted sign. She asked about the job, and was instantly hired.

This asking the Lord to send angels, is actually a part of the priesthood power. One of the keys of the Aaronic priesthood is the key of the “ministry of angels”. As members of the Church, who have received the covenants and promises of baptism and other ordinances, we have the right to righteously pray for angelic assistance in bringing to pass the work of God. I am certain that it was an angel that protected Ammon from the slings, clubs and swords of the thugs he slew and disarmed (literally).

Conclusion

The secret to breaking the 250,000 conversions per year barrier is not to throw more money or missionaries at the problem (although both can be helpful). It is for the members to serve those around them, fasting and praying continually that the Lord will use them as instruments of service and miracles in His hands.  As friends and others have crises in their lives, and Latter-day Saints rush in to save the day using the power of God, then those individuals will see just how much they need the gospel in their lives.

I have no doubt that when the fierce day of testimonies of thunder, lightning, and earthquakes occur, millions will flock to the safety of Zion and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As members, we must be prepared to help God show forth his great power in their time of need, and when they are ready, to preach to them the words of life in Christ.

 

38 thoughts on “Why missionary work isn’t working

  1. Good thoughts, Ram. “How often are we encouraged to pray for “missionary experiences” in our lives, only to have them appear, but not lead to anyone being converted? Is it because we lack faith? Is it because we aren’t trying hard enough? Or is it because we are trying to do the work all ourselves?”

    I often ask these questions of myself whenever I feel I’ve missed on a missionary opportunity or when I extend an invitation or share my faith and experiences with little result. It happens so often that I expect to be politely turned down, while trying to stay positive for the Spirit to guide me at the next opportunity. After all, the Lord declares that “the field is white, already to harvest.” And yet, at the same time, we know that the Gentile fullness will emerge in due time.

    However, I’ve learned not to expect results and to focus on planting seeds wherever I go, so that others may reap the rewards of my efforts.This aligns with the statement that “we must prepare [people] to recognize that great need [we] all…have down deep inside for the Lord and his gospel.” I think that should be the expectation of all members, to furiously plant seeds–whether it be via service, or verbal efforts, or silently and righteously going about our daily activities while being aware of people around us–regardless of the circumstances or attitudes of the day.

    For this reason, I don’t put much stock in numbers. 200,000 doesn’t mean that we are failing, anymore than 500,000 means we are succeeding. It is what it is. Numbers can lie and often don’t tell the whole story and they fluctuate year to year. What we need are “quality converts” like King Lamoni and followers–those with the testimony and the faith to strengthen the Church. And they, like the Lamanites, may not even be among our own people.

    I wouldn’t personally wish or pray for a crisis on anyone, but some people have to learn the hard way or must be compelled to humility. I would add that we need to be aware of the tests people face, both silently and openly, and be ready to “give an answer…for the hope that is in [us]” to succor them in their time of crisis. For instance, a Christian friend was unemployed and planned to move out of state by the end of the month if he couldn’t find a job. So I suggested to him, why don’t you fast and pray, and let’s do it together. We did. He got a job on the last day of the month and was very receptive to the Book of Mormon a week later.

    I like the idea of praying for angels to assist us in the work, that’s not something I have ever done. We ought to also pray more for diligently our local angels–the missionaries–and work with them closely as our priesthood leaders have asked.

  2. While growing up in the 1970′s-1980′s it seemed the members were asked, quite frequently to fast for something or another, including missionary work.

    When I served my mission (I am female) the church had a program of female missionaries being “Welfare” missionaries. In the 1990′s the church did away with it. I was a Welfare missionary. My mission president did not want the Welfare sister missionaries to do welfare work, he only wanted proselyting.
    When I would get a companion who was also trained as a welfare missionary we did welfare work. We were able to do so much good, and it left a good impression on people. We did it with no strings attached. We had more success with welfare work than with proselyting.

    Today the church does not have welfare missionaries, but they are focusing on service, which is good, but it is nothing like the welfare work I did. I think putting service first, for members, inactive, non members, anyone, is going to see more results than proselyting. I never understood why the church quite the welfare missionary program. It was a great loss.

  3. I forgot to add this: the Internet has done much damage to the image of the church. The SLC leaders have been slow to counter the attacks, and slow to answer difficult questions. I think the leaders were thinking like in the old days, ignore it and it will go away. The speed and ease of information does not work like that and the leaders made a huge mistake. They were not keeping abreast of things. Today there is still silence from the leaders. I think it would do a lot of good if the SLC leaders themselves would start to address troubling issues for people. People do not want to hear answers from regular people, they want it from the leaders.
    It is frustrating that the church will not do damage control. Things can not be ignored any more.

  4. Great thoughts and encouragement. I think a great deal of missionary work that occurs now, in Europe and North/South America at least, is the reactivation of those people who were baptized over the last 30 years who have fallen by the wayside, and of course, taken their children and grandchildren with them. Like anyone, I’m thrilled when someone joins the church. But, I’m just as happy if the missionaries can help reactivate members who are sitting on the rolls of the church.

  5. Yep. But missions aren’t about converting others. They are about an intense, focused experience seeking the spirit for the welfare of others. Because of the calling and the mantle, that focused effort invites the Lord to magnify the results in the lives of all who embrace the true religion behind the call (to relieve the oppressed and to keep oneself unspotted from the world). Then those missionaries come home and if they have really been converted, they realize that the rest of their lives must be exactly what you have described. It’s just boot camp. It isn’t the war.

  6. “I forgot to add this: the Internet has done much damage to the image of the church. The SLC leaders have been slow to counter the attacks, and slow to answer difficult questions. I think the leaders were thinking like in the old days, ignore it and it will go away. The speed and ease of information does not work like that and the leaders made a huge mistake. They were not keeping abreast of things. Today there is still silence from the leaders.”

    Hm. I would respectfully wonder if you’ve really been paying attention. They speak and have spoken on these issues. Here’s a good money quote from Elder Holland about how “with it” the Brethren really are:

    “As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. I bear personal witness of how thoroughly good they are, of how hard they work, and how humbly they live. It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world, and it shines from these proceedings.” — Elder Holland, “Prophets in the Land Again”, October 2006 General Conference.

    By suggesting that the Brethren have been clueless, you’re feeding the narrative foisted by the folks who hate the Church. I would recommend a little more reflection before posting on the “mistakes” of the Brethren.

  7. Elder Ballard’s CES fireside address, also addresses how “with it” the Leaders of the Church are. They know what is going on, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are VERY much aware of what is going on and they are VERY much working to counter the problems that we face. They also, however, need us to work and counter the problems. If we have friends and family that are falling into dissent or in with groups that dissent from the Church it will be more effective for US to go and work with that person, rather than the apostles to issue edicts from the pulpits. If you remember as well in the most recent General Conference, Pres. Eyring assured us that they know what’s going on, and that most of the time “it works out”. Trust that, and then go to work where ever you are to counter the problems inside and outside of the church.

  8. I dont know what assignments God is passing out to the rest of you, but He has given me some very specific assignments.

    In a day when other faith traditions are hemmorhaging members, keeping up a solid 250K converts per year isnt as shabby as all that. That said, there are ways and ways for us to help. And the beautiful thing is that we can each go to God and ask what He wants us to do. Every day. Maybe even more frequently than every day.

    No need to wait on anyone else to develop a program or PR campaign. We can be the hands of God at any time and in any place.

    Obvoiously one of the things I think God asked me to do was focus on my polygamous ancestors, which is what eventually led to the series I am doing here about A Faithful Joseph. Despite the fact that some faithful aren’t sure why I feel a need to defend Joseph and the core doctrine of our religion (the salvation of all mankind as a single multi-generational, global, family “unit”) I think it’s a good thing, and I think God approves.

  9. I’m so grateful we have Meg here to remind us that a number of increase does not occur in a vacuum. In times when fewer people are becoming religious, it is important to recognize how large a piece of that pie is coming in. Engineer minds unite!

  10. Your suggestion that we should pray for calamities is deeply troubling. I’m amazed that no one here seems to think that might not backfire in the worst way. Many of the catastrophes spoken of sound very much like the results of climate change about which the Lord through our scientists has been warning us for decades, and which we, in our smug and self-righteous pride have ignored and made worse through our intemperate abuse of God’s creation. If the hammer is to fall, it is as likely to fall on us as much as anyone else, and we will deserve it. The hubris and idolatry—yes, idolatry—implied in that suggestion is beyond all reckoning. We, of all people, deserve most to be smitten if that is the way we think.

  11. I also disagree with praying for catastrophe for conversions. While the drought Nephi prayed for did result in many of the wicked dying and many being converted, it was a very short lived conversion. It wasn’t long before the people were even more wicked than before. Trying to force a conversion like this simply does not work for most of the people whom it affects. Yes, it works for some, but more lasting conversion works better, more often, by other means.

  12. Well I don’t think praying for calamities is the right course of action either. That being said, calamities *are* coming whether Al Gore or anyone else likes it or not. Read sections 45 and 133 and let me know if anyone feels a warm fuzzy.

    (Oh and “Strix”: people abuse the environment because they are not spiritually sound and refuse to submit to God’s will. It’s not because folks aren’t paying enough attention to the Chicken Little’s of the smug, self-righteous “but it’s Science!” climate change boondoggle crowd. I don’t take spiritual direction from those hornswagglers. Neither should you.)

  13. @Frank,
    And I think you’re touching on the thing many latter-day Saints miss. Not all folks are going to be exalted. In the end, not all of them will be saved either. The LDS Scriptures do not promise that if we just work harder or have enough faith that everyone will join the church. The scriptures plainly teach that there won’t be alot of people in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Jesus himself wrote, “few there be that find it.” Missionaries gather the elect, they don’t convert the tares. Having the expectation of changing a tare into a sheep will wipe out one’s enthusiasm.

    I really don’t care if other people waste their time by praying for disasters. But I certainly won’t do it. There’s enough destruction in the world without me hoping for it. I guess I could pray that all people everywhere will repent with or without disasters?

  14. Strix, you’re right that everyone, even LDS, and the righteous members of all religions suffer from calamities. Another example is the Obama presidency and administration, which is definitely a calamity, and a punishment from God!

    It’s just like in the Book of Mormon. The Nephites elected those wicked and corupt judges by the voice of the people, just like we, as a country, elected the Obama administration and Harry Reid.

    I think that’s the way God does things a lot of the time. He most often punishes us not by fire and brimstone raining from heaven (such as in Sodom and Gomorrah, that was a rare event), but by giving us what we ask for.

  15. At a recent presentation by a mission president I learned that much official missionary work is being done using contacts provided by social media with investigators often being taught initially by a special section of missionaries who work through electronic means because they are unable to do conventional missions because of assorted issues. These ‘cyber-investigators’ are being baptized in significantly higher numbers per missionary and are remaining faithful. Most of my LDS Facebook friends regularly post links to sites like Mormon.org and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir youtube channel. I flew to California for the baptism of a woman I met on an internet forum. Praying for trouble of any kind is not within our stewardship (unless the Prophet is a participant here) but many if not most of us have witnessed situations where some kind of serious problem preceded the humility and sense of helplessness that resulted in conversion.

  16. As a counterpoint to the very wise chorus saying it’s abhorrent to invite tragedy, I wouldn’t be upset if God someday told me my autistic daughter was sent to teach me a bit of humility. Actually, a lot of humility. On some days I credit her with saving my soul.

  17. I think the main point is relevant, but there is a much more relevant reason. The requirements for baptism are much tougher.
    1) Must attend sacrament at least twice, used to be none.
    2) Specific waiting periods on commandments, used to only require desire to obey.
    3) Requirements to teach opposite sex, must have 3 adults of same gender to teach.

  18. Missionaries gather the elect, they don’t convert the tares. Having the expectation of changing a tare into a sheep will wipe out one’s enthusiasm.

    Wow. So those who don’t immediately convert upon hearing the missionaries are tares? Missionaries don’t get to be the arbiters of those who are “worthy” enough to be taught the gospel, and neither do members.

  19. There are plenty of calamities and other trials to go around as it is. Maybe we should just pray that we can help someone overcome one they are in. I think that the prayer and fasting to help others is something that is less emphasized now. It seems like a decade or more since I have heard a general request like that in PH mtg or to all adults.
    jrsg,
    I think that the local units have increased the amount of local service that they do. My 14 yr old has done more youth service projects than I did in 7 yrs in Aaronic Priesthood.
    I do agree that the general leadership was slow to react to the many other voices on the internet. There was a conscious effort to move family history work in the early days and that is where the focus was. This was a very important work, but may have slowed the organized response to internet static. That is clearly not the case anymore.

  20. Frank: you wrote “Wow. So those who don’t immediately convert upon hearing the missionaries are tares? ”

    That’s not what he said. And I don’t see how his words could be construed to mean that.

  21. Several have shown disdain for my thoughts on how God uses catastrophes and trials to humble people into repenting. Once noted that the repentance was only temporary – and in the case of Nephi and the famine, yes. However, the destructions that followed Jesus’ death brought forth 2 centuries of peace and faith. So there are times when such trials can be lasting.

    For the pioneers who trekked the Great Plains, those trials cemented their faith in the gospel.

    I look at the trials I experienced that led me to the Church. Almost 40 years later, I still remember my conversion and the difficult times that led me to seek out God and the Church, and to recognize it when I did find it.

    No one wants trials or calamity. God wept to destroy the earth by Flood. Yet, sometimes the better path goes through the valley of the shadow of death, wherein Christ descended below all things, he then was able to rise above all things, may apply to us in many ways as well.

    We wish our kids could avoid the struggles they go through. Yet, we know the trials we’ve had are those things that made us who we are. It is a painless life that leads to stagnation and a loss of exaltation. Even God weeps.

    Being a god does not mean one is totally blissful. It means one has a maximum of charity, caring, and compassion for others, which requires we are not always experiencing bliss.

    In his journal, Benjamin F. Johnson (a 70) notes returning from a mission, only to find his wife and kids were uppity and full of pride. He went into the house and prayed for a trial from the Lord, so his household would be placed in order. Immediately, a tornado dropped out of a clear sky, wiping out their crops and animals. Suddenly, they were dirt poor, his family distraught, and Ben Johnson was thanking God.

    In treating cancer, doctors must cause incredible pain through radiation and chemotherapy, so that the patient may be healed. Without the short term invasive treatment, the patient would die. Is it terrible to have them go through such pain, so that on the other side of the catastrophe they may be pronounced healed?

    Unpopular as it may seem, the reality is, perhaps in some cases, the better choice is to pray for specific calamities to occur in people’s lives, if it means they may accept the gospel through it.

  22. H_nu: you wrote: ‘The scriptures plainly teach that there won’t be alot of people in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Jesus himself wrote, “few there be that find it.”’

    I’ll nitpick on both those points. If those who die before reaching the age of accountability are basically guaranteed exhaltation, then that top rung of exalted people in the CK might be the most populous of the 5 known classes of resurrected beings. (3 degrees in the CK, plus Terrestial, plus Telestial = 5).

    It is generally believed that the majority of souls born on earth died as children. We don’t know much about pre-historical times (outside of the biblical record), but in recorded history, a majority of children surviving to adulthood is a recent phenomenon.

    There are also several scriptures that say that “heathen” or “those who die without the law”, without having any form or bit of the gospel preached to them in this life, inherit salvation, which strongly implies at least the Celestial Kingdom, if not actual exhaltation. So if we add “heathen” (those who die without any knowledge of the gospel, it’s a bible-word, so don’t jump on me for it) to the CK, then I’m pretty sure that they, plus those who die before age of accountability, will make the CK the largest populated kingdom of the three.

    Then, add in all the good people, like Alvin Smith “who would have received the gospel with all their hearts had they lived at the right time” who will either be somewhere in the CK or even exalted in the CK.

    Therefore, I conclude that “Mormons” (ie, church members since 1830) will be a very small minority in the CK.

    As far as the line “few there be that find it” goes, it can be logically parsed as “find it in _this_ life.” Because we also beleive that _everyone_ will have the gospel preached to them in the spirit world. So if they didn’t find it here, it will be delivered to them there.

    Also, all standard works have verses that say that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Christ at some point before the final judgement that occurs at the end of the Millennium. So in essence, everyone will “find it” in reference to the gospel, just not everyone will “enter in” to the CK.

    Bruce Webster said it, either on his blog Adventures in Mormonism, or somewhere as a comment, that the LDS church is sort of like an “outpost” here in mortality, and the vast majority of gospel work and people accepting the gospel, actually happens in the Spirit world.

    So all together, the above helps keep me hopeful, that even when the people we share the gospel with don’t join in this life, whatever we do or say here is likely to be beneficial to them later on in the spirit world.

  23. Seems to me that we should be looking at, say, how many converts get endowed rather than how many get baptized. We’ve all heard stories about baseball baptisms. There’s a reason the church ended up sending members of the twelve to live in the Philippines and Chile. Certainly many new members today don’t stick around–but I’m guessing the numbers of new members who quickly fell inactive were much, much greater in places like South America and the Philippines a couple of decades ago.

    So my question is–how do the numbers look when we’re tracking convert endowments versus convert baptisms? That’s going to give you a much clearer picture of how things really are.

  24. Pat Chiu, there was an article in the Deseret News 4-6 weeks ago, and I can’t find it, but it was about the Virtual Mission which is located in Provo. These missionaries are called to serve online, based out of Provo. They are set apart, have companions, wear their suits, ties and name tags and work on the internet all day. They use social media to do their work. This is its own mission as well. It was very interesting. I wish I could find the article!

  25. I like Meg’s comment (2.21pm). I don’t think any of us develop any Christlike attributes without a load to create spiritual traction, as Elder Bednar described it in the April conference, and I think that applies wherever we are on the spiritual scale from wicked unbeliever through to almost perfect. I think God does have a different view on calamities, even though I believe He also weeps when we weep.

    That said, I’m not sure that praying for calamities is necessarily the right approach. I like the story of Lamoni precisely because of this. Lamoni was hardened against the message of the gospel because of his cultural traditions. I don’t see what happened to him as a calamity, so much as a miracle. Similarly his father, a fundamentally righteous person who would sacrifice everything for the truth was willing to kill his son because of his traditions, and it was a miracle (Ammon being able to overcome him – and presumably his guards though they aren’t mentioned) and the enormous love Ammon shows to Lamoni that enables the scales of cultural unbelief to fall. Saul happily stood by while Stephen testified of seeing the Father and the Son (surely the Spirit must have been powerfully present), feeling nothing – it took a miracle on the road to Damascus that allowed his cultural learnings to fall by the wayside.

    So, pray for calamities? No. But pray for miracles? Yes. The Lord can then decide what shape the miracle needs to take (which could be a personal calamity of course). The key question for me is whether I truly believe that the Lord will send a miracle to someone when I ask in faith for it – and whether I am living my covenants such that I am worthy to ask for such a miracle.

    I like the idea mentioned in the post of asking for angels to attend others – that’s not an aspect of the blessings that come from our baptismal covenants I had considered before but it certainly feels right.

    Thanks for the post.

  26. Thanks for the post. I liked the thoughts about praying for angels and miracles. I believe I sometimes need to have more faith to summon the Lord’s help and this was a great reminder.
    As I was reading through this posts and the comments, a thought kept coming to my mind. When I was RS President, our visiting teaching numbers were pretty low. I was feeling pretty down about it and taking it somewhat personally. But, through scripture study and some inspired thoughts (personal revelation), I realized that while our church keeps records of statistics and they do tell a story, they do not tell the complete story. The main message I learned was that as a disciple of The Lord, it is my duty to give as many people as possible, the OPPORTUNITY to come unto Christ. My success as a follower of Christ was not measured upon what people decide to do with that opportunity. My thoughts then went to our Savior and His sacrifice. There are so many who choose not to take advantage of the Gift He has given to all, but their refusal to partake or even to understand in no way lessens His gift. For me, in looking at missionary work, visiting teaching, ministering, as my job to give opportunities more than actual converting, I have felt more peace and faith in the Lord’s plan and timing.

  27. If you want to visit a website that gives remarkable analysis of church growth and trends, I would recommend http://www.cumorah.com/

    The site features a lot of case studies, articles, and hard numbers. They do a very good job of analyzing — from an objective viewpoint — what is clearly working and what is not working. As far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s a faithful site but they don’t hesitate to point out where the numbers show problems.

    As I think we’ve stated before, the issue isn’t necessarily a lack of convert baptisms. It’s pure retention. As well as effective outreach in places where the Church, for many reasons, hasn’t penetrated.

  28. “Unpopular as it may seem, the reality is, perhaps in some cases, the better choice is to pray for specific calamities to occur in people’s lives, if it means they may accept the gospel through it.”

    I’m with JeffC on this one. The major difference with Nephi calling down a calamity was that he was granted sealing powers, such that the Lord knew he would not ask anything contrary to His will. If I call for fire and brimstone to rain down on your house because I think you need a lesson in humility, well, that’s just arrogant and hypocritical. Yes, adversity and trials have their purpose but it is not within my purview to pray the Lord dish out those important lessons and events. It would probably be within my right as a father and priesthood holder to make calamity requests for my own family, but I will leave such atypical requests to the prophets and apostles, and trust the hand of a perfect God to determine what lessons we need, when we need it.

    I believe the greater test is for us to respond to the needs and plight of others. God is not a dormant God. Trials and miracles occur everyday! Are we going to pass by the suffering victim or respond as compassionately as the good Samaritan, whose efforts were every bit as important as any missionary service? As Ram points out, acts of service often precedes conversion.

  29. I mentioned the idea of praying for miracles, and my son-in-law dismissed this.

    When he was a young missionary, he was super enthusiastic and faithful. During one of these early lessons, he was praying fervently for some miracle to manifest to the investigator the truth of the message.

    They were teaching the lesson about the First Vision. In their version, they didn’t stress or even mention the dark feeling that occurred, but focused on the pillar of light.

    Just as my son-in-law’s companion mentioned the pillar of light, the clouds on that dreary overcast day parted. A shaft of sunlight shone on the missionary and the investigator. It was amazing, and the investigator definitely noticed the event, and the timing of this shaft of light relative to the miraculous story.

    That said, the missionaries were never able to make contact with that man again.

    As for me, I figure that miracle was a good one. In my thinking, God can point out to that one of His sons at some future time that he was shone a miracle, and perhaps should get with the program and embrace the gospel.

    So I’m all for miracles, whatever form those miracles might take in our lives.

  30. FWIW–My recollection is that Nephi did not “call down” a calamity upon his people. Rather, calamity (war) was already upon them; and Nephi prevailed on the Lord to replace that calamity with a famine.

    Would a war have resulted in a more lasting repentance among the survivors? Is Helaman 11 a testament to Nephi’s faithfulness, or is it the Nephite equivalent of our own 116-lost-pages tale?

  31. “Would a war have resulted in a more lasting repentance among the survivors? Is Helaman 11 a testament to Nephi’s faithfulness, or is it the Nephite equivalent of our own 116-lost-pages tale?”

    My first thought is that Nephi received the sealing power because the Lord said he would not ask for that which was contrary to the will of God. Therefore, I think it most likely that Nephi prayed for the change in calamity in line with the will of God (unlike the 116-pages tale), which would probably make it better than the war option. Just a thought.

  32. I’m not so sure, SteveF. I think you’re alluding to Helaman 10:5 which reads “. . . I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

    Is “thou shalt not” an expression of confidence, or an injunctive?

  33. If a ward isn’t taking care of the sheep they already have, why should the Lord bring in more sheep?

  34. Note the following quote from Neal A. Maxwell:

    In the Book of Mormon is a verse I wish I fully understood, but which I draw to your attention. It is 2 Nephi 28:19, which says “the kingdom of the devil must shake.” It is a very intriguing verse. I do not presume to know what this redemptive turbulence will be like, but it will be such that a few people now caught up in that generic kingdom of the devil will be “stirred up” and find their way out and into the kingdom of God. I don’t know how that will happen, but it will happen.

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