Help! I’m giving a talk next Sunday!

I have been a Ward Mission Leader for the past 3 ½ years. That’s a very long time to have served in such a calling. It is so long, in fact, that I’ve come to believe I am entitled to some special Church benefits — perhaps a one-year Word of Wisdom reprieve, a “Get Out of Tithing Free” card, a lottery win, or at least a meaningful, Three Nephites visit as I drive up the I15. While contemplating my imminent negotiations with the Brethren on this point, I was suddenly released last week! Finally. (Truth be told, the only way I got this to happen was to wait for a new Bishop to be called, and then prematurely announce in Fast and Testimony meeting that we had finalized our plans to move out of the ward).

Unfortunately, my release proved to be a mixed blessing. Yes, I don’t have to attend PEC meetings anymore (Oh wait — I stopped going months ago), but my wife and I have now been asked to give talks next week in Sacrament Meeting in anticipation of our imminent departure. I, of course, have been asked to speak on missionary work. Speaking on this topic should be easy as pie for me. However, it isn’t.

You see, I really don’t like speaking in Church that much anymore. I think this is primarily because I’m out of practice “ I’ve only done it twice in the last 10 years. I’ve taught a million classes in Gospel Essentials, Gospel Doctrine and Elder’s Quorum, and I enjoy teaching immensely. I like the give and take, the unpredictable discussion, and quite frankly, the lack of a need to prepare all that much. But speaking in Sacrament is different: I can’t ask the audience questions, and I feel the pressure to assume a devotional posture for 20 minutes, which is something that doesn’t come naturally to me (believe it or not).

There’s another problem, however: I’ve been immersed in missionary work for so long, that I feel like I’ve said everything there is to say about it 100 times before. It isn’t really true, but it sure does feel that way. And I suspect most members feel like they hear the same “every-member-a-missionary” pep talk whenever a talk or lesson is given on missionary work. And they’re probably right. And so nobody really listens anymore. “Same old, same old,” we say to ourselves. Blah blah blah.

So, dear readers, this is where you come in. I need a fresh approach, or at least some fresh talking points, to use in my talk next Sunday.

(1) How can I approach the topic of missionary work so that I really get through to people in a novel and memorable way?

(2) Are there any aspects of the traditional “missionary work” talk that annoy you and that you wish speakers would jettison?

(3) Most importantly, what would you like to hear in a talk on missionary work that you don’t typically hear?

Surely, there are some opinionated readers in the Bloggernacle that have thought about this question. I would appreciate any thoughts that you all can provide.

Write my talk for me! Thanks in advance.

Aaron B


  1. Aaron Brown says:

    P.S. Maybe if you come up with some good ideas, my wife will stop accusing me of “wasting so much time on the internet,” and finally recognize that blogging really is good for something after all!

  2. Perhaps you should talk about how conversion shouldn’t be easy.

    Jewish people use the story of Ruth to exemplify this. Naomi told Ruth to go away three times before she finally relented to the idea that Ruth would stay with her. Consequently, Jewish rabbis often will refuse a willing converts request for conversion the first several times, to test whether the potential convert is really serious about their desire.

    Then again, this might not be the kind of thing people want to hear. But it might qualify as a new and non-conventional approach.

  3. tell the enema story.

  4. I recently read an article with an interesting take on missionary work. It’s by a former Protestant minister who joined the Church and became a BYU religion professor. The link is and the article is on pages 5-11. If you’re interested.

  5. Get everyone in sacrament to do a role-play.

    “So, I’ve been talking about missionary work for the past ten minutes, now let’s put a little of this in practice. We’re going to do a role play. Right now.

    Turn to the person next to you. Yes, you too, Bishop. Is everyone in a two-person group? Okay? Good. Now, the person to my left is the non-member. The person to my right is the member. I want you each to try giving a pass-along card to the non-member. I’ll observe a few groups and comment in a minute. . . .”

  6. If you’re giving a talk about missionary work, and if you think about it while driving up I-15, does that mean you live in Utah?

    If so, just bail out. It’s all theoretical there, isn’t it?

    Yeah, I know that SLC is half non-LDS. But, haven’t they already heard, and made their decision?

  7. Aaron Brown says:

    Astute observation, Mark B., but no I don’t live in Utah. It’s just that all the Three Nephite-as-Hitchiker stories seem to happen in Utah, so I figured that demanding the Brethren send them to see me in Los Angeles was asking a bit much of them. What do you think?

    When I get some free time, I’ll read the article that Amira links to.

    Incidently, the paragraphs in this post should have spacing between them, but there’s something wrong with this darn Typepad, and I can’t make it work. Steve E. is supposed to come to my rescue, but I’m not holding my breath. :)

    Aaron B

  8. My suggestion for how every member can do missionary work is to focus on planting seeds rather than trying to harvest what hasn’t yet matured. Suggest that rather than thinking of missionary work as soliciting a missionary referral, think of it as an informational process. For example, rather than trying to invite someone to church, how about just telling them about what you do there (“I teach the 7 year olds in my church’s Sunday school and last week one of them said …,” “the first Sunday of every month we have open pulpit so anyone can get up and speak and last Sunday this guy …,” etc.). When a subject comes up, give your Mormon perspective. People will generally be tolerant as long as you’re just saying your own opinion rather than trying to tell other people what to think. Ask members to think of how they would tell others what they do at church, not why it is true or why the other people should join it. You’ve then laid the groundwork for them to ask when they are ready.

    My overall impression is that converts who stay active often have had a long acquaintance with the Church and were investigators for a long time before being baptized. The classic case being Brigham Young who investigated for two years before being baptized, a story retold even in the super-offical and super-correlated church history booklet released for this year’s Gospel Doctrine class. You might read it as part of your talk to give the non-members’ perspective. Brigham is always quotable and lively. The original is in Journal of Discourses 3:91.

  9. Floyd the Wonder Dog says:

    Tell one of your core stories about missionary work.

    If I wanted to touch on the aspect of being a good example, I would tell about two of my high school friends who joined the church after I went on my mission. They didn’t want to see the missionaries in high school, but when they were ready, they let them in because they knew the church through me.

    If I wanted to talk about not being afraid to talk about the church, I would tell about the young man that was baptized because my son wasn’t afraid to talk to his frien about the church.

    If I wanted to talk about commitment, I would tell about about my mission president promising us that if we worked hard all week, we would find a family to teach. Saturday night walking back to the apartment, we were stopped by a lady who asked if her family could be baptized.

    Scriptures and stories about general authorities are good and should be used, but your core stories (those stories that have put fire in your heart) will move the members.

  10. JWL: “focus on planting seeds rather than trying to harvest what hasn’t yet matured…”

    Jim, as your ward mission leader I am officially telling you that’s a cop-out. Members as informational kiosks? Come on now, we can do a lot better than that. Sure, we should be shining examples, and if people come to us we should be good with their questions. But any automated booth at an airport could do the same.

    Think of the “missionary moments” that come from this level of missionary work: “a friend asked me today about the book of mormon. I explained that it was an ancient record of Christ’s visit to the Americas. I didn’t give her a book but I feel I’ve laid an excellent foundation.” Arrrgh.

    In other words, for missionary efforts to “count,” in my book, there needs to be more than information transfer — I believe there needs to be testimony sharing. If, in the course of your labors, you’ve shared a piece of your testimony, I think that is the true measure and cut-off point for saying that we have begun to do our duty.

  11. How about a talk on being friends with all the people who are missing from the pews today?

    Instead of ending with a prayer that says, “Dear God, please bless all those who aren’t here today that they can come next week,” how about taking a phone number, giving them a call, and going out and saying hi to them – no strings attached, not inviting them to church activities. Invite them to dinner or lunch or a concert or a game night or shopping or…. Find out what they like to do, find out what’s important to them, and get to know them in a way other than, “Gee, it’s good to see you in church today. HowyadoingIgotta run and pick up the kids from Primary class.”

    If the only people telling non-attendees that the ward misses them are the full-time missionaries with assignments to visit the “less actives”, that message rings hollow when nobody at church recognizes them or knows their names when they show up on Sunday.

    It’s not just the Bishop’s/EQ Pres’/RS Pres’/Ward Mission Leader’s/etc. job to know the ward members, is it?

  12. That being said, Jim, as a human being I agree with your comments :)

  13. Oh mighty, fearless, and exemplary Ward Mission Leader Steve E:

    Aaron seemed to be asking for something that would actually impact on all of the people. My suggestions were intended as a kind of minimal approach that ANY member could handle. I know that I didn’t say that in my post, but that was the thought behind my suggestion. Not everyone is as naturally bold as a high-powered CLS educated hotshot New York attorney (including some who meet that description). With the ice broken by smaller groundwork steps, the bolder stuff is more likely to follow.

    That said, don’t you think that volunteering information to someone else carries the clear implication that you believe it is true and valuable? For example, that you tell someone about all the time you spend in church service also tells them that you think it is worthwhile, that you tell them what “Mormons believe” or “my Church teaches” tells the listener that you believe it too (unless you qualify it yourself in some way in the telling).

  14. Yes, there’s an implication with information-sharing, but it is altogether a weak one. It’s not too tough to tell somebody that you spend three hours at Church on Sunday. It’s a bigger step to tell them of the satisfaction you receive from that service. In my mind, that extra step is what makes all the difference in a missionary effort.

    Keep in mind, though, that even what I’m preaching is wishy-washy baby biscuits compared to the “set-a-date” and other program the Church traditionally espouses. I am at heart a coward — this just happens to be what I consider to be the minimal level of missionary work. Below my testimony threshold, you’ve done what any normal person would do in answering questions.

  15. I know it seems like you’ve said everything there is to be said, but since it’s been years since you spoke in Sacrament Meeting, not everyone has heard what you’ve said in the past.

    We’ve been focusing on Home and Visiting Teaching in our ward and using assignments to less-active and part-member families as a way to spread the gospel. We’ve had several less-actives return to activity because of it. One woman tells of how she had decided to ask to have her records removed after years of inactivity when a card arrived from a dedicated visiting teacher who wrote monthly even though she was never allowed to visit. That sister is now in our temple prep class.

    Hope that helps.

  16. David King Landrith says:

    You may want to fast and pray in leu of preparing a fixed text. You could then rely upon the spirit to prompt you to say the right thing. Of course, I’ve never seen this work before, but there’s always a first.

  17. someoneoutthere says:

    How about trying to talk about missionary work without ever using the term. I dislike the term “missionary work.” It minimizes what you are really doing. I makes the activity sound like a form of spiritual drudgery.
    What you are really doing is trying to open the eyes of a blind generation to the most important truths they could ever know. You are trying to wake someone up to the facts concerning who they really are and what they can become on an eternal scale.

    If you can say something that will give the members of your ward this larger vision; a vision that is more aptly described as “proclaiming the everlasting gospel” or even “a marvelous work and a wonder” then you will succeed in saying what God would have you say about the subject.

  18. Adam Greenwood says:

    “(1) How can I approach the topic of missionary work so that I really get through to people in a novel and memorable way?”

    Looking over the audience, start calling out the names of people who’ve done jack diddly squat for the work while you’ve been there. Dredge up memories of times they’ve turned you down. You’ll be remembered.