In part 1 I mentioned a five-minute talk I gave on faith for which I memorized all the scriptures I wanted to use. I gave this talk on June 10, 1979. Here is my brief description of it from my journal:
Today was a spiritual one. I gave a talk in Sacrament on faith. I prepared hard–I memorized a whole bunch of scriptures for it. It went well–I never even opened my books. Everyone was impressed, and after the meeting I was literally swarmed with referrals! It was the neatest feeling.
That journal entry is pretty understated and doesn’t do justice to the reaction, which I can remember as if it were yesterday. I was mobbed by people I didn’t know, telling me about their neighbors or friends or relatives that they would like for me to teach. Several people who couldn’t get close enough to talk to me actually scribbled referrals on to scraps of paper and reached in and stuck them in my pocket(!) It was like girls trying to slip their phone numbers to Zac Ephron at the premier of HSM3 or something. That was as close as I’ll ever get to feeling like a missionary rock star. It was truly an amazing experience.
I think there is a lesson to be learned from this experience, but to appreciate it we need to consider its converse.
Some years later, I’m teaching GD class in a suburb of Chicago. We were instructed to ditch the regular curriculum for a six-week period and teach member-missionary stuff instead. I don’t recall whether this was a church-wide initiative or just something we were doing in our stake. I frankly was annoyed, because I preferred teaching the scriptures and this was going to take a big bit out of our coverage. But being a good soldier I tried to comply.
I don’t recall them giving us lesson materials, so I had to come up with my own lessons. On my mission, several times church classes would have us come in and give a discussion in front of the class so people could see how it was done and gain a comfort level with it, so I thought that would be a great way to cover one of these classes. I invited the local elders to present a discussion in front of my GD class the next Sunday.
Big mistake. I just assumed that these were average elders and that they could teach a discussion. But they couldn’t teach a coherent discussion for the life of them. They were awful. The only time they managed to mumble a few strings of coherent thought together was when they read their cheat sheets off the back of their flip charts. My heart sank, as I realized that I had just single-handedly set missionary work in that ward back months, maybe even a year, as no sane member who witnessed that performance would ever give those elders a referral for one of their precious friends.
Sometime after that debacle it kind of hit me what had actually happened in the wake of my five-minute faith talk on my mission. Why were people slipping me referrals as if I were a missionary rock star? It was because I gave the appearance at least of being fundamentally competent to teach their friends and neighbors. Members have to live with these people over the long haul; if they’re going to expose them to the Church, they don’t want to blow it on just any snot-nosed 19-year old. Now, I was just as snot-nosed as the next guy on my mission, but by speaking without notes I gave the appearance at least of being competent to teach well and powerfully. And in the wake of that the floodgates opened.
I wish this was something I had fully understood as a missionary; I wish I could write myself a letter and send it back in time. Usually when the elders come over for a DA, afterwards they’ll read a scripture from the BoM and say a few words about it. This is just a pro forma afterthought, and you can tell they’re just doing it because it’s part of the rules.
But what I’ve come to understand is that the members are watching you. They want to know that you’re a competent teacher before they’ll ever unlock their precious satchel of referrals and give them to you. That DA is an opportunity to show them that you’ve got the goods; you should prepare that lesson like you’ll be giving it to the Thursday meeting of the GAs in the temple. Because the members are watching you, how you act, how you speak, how you carry yourself, and they are judging whether you’re the one they’ll allow into the inner sanctum of their personal worlds.