The reluctant missionary

Just about the time I had given up on being a member missionary, the missionaries showed up at my neighbors’ door.   On November 3, we had discussed the gospel with our neighbors who seemed interested, and then, on Election Day, the missionaries just happened to track their door.  A few weeks later, they attended church services with us, and they were so impressed by the discussion of tithing and fast offerings that they donated a fast offering to the ward.   The next week, they asked me for a copy of D&C, because they already read The Book of Mormon, but were now eager to defend our faith to a non-member who chided them for attending our ward and told them to watch out for what is in D&C.  I don’t know where their spiritual journey will take them — they already exemplify the qualities of Christ and defend our faith.  But I do know that this opportunity to engage in missionary work has changed me.

Most of my life I have been fearful about what non-members think of our religious beliefs.  And I have been at times critical of church programs that I felt diminished me and of how members present themselves to the world-at-large.  But when I went to church with my neighbors, I scrutinized intensely every thing that past at church, wondering how it would appear to my neighbors.    As I looked at the church with the eyes of my neighbors, I was pleasantly amazed by what I saw.  The members were exceptionally gracious and welcoming.  The lessons that sometimes don’t speak to me were absolutely perfect for meeting very specific needs that I knew my neighbor had.  In short, I felt incredibly moved as I realized the immense capacity of our church to benefit people from many perspectives and backgrounds.   As I looked at the church through the eyes of an outsider, I didn’t see a frightening, insular, and closed organization.  I saw an organization that provided remarkable resources and benefits to a diverse membership that other people could desire.

I’m not currently a good member missionary.  I’m uneasy with claims to “truth,” and with the social discomfort inherent in the idea of believing that you have more of it than others.  In the past, I tried to more actively share the gospel, but nothing ever panned out.  But, now, despite my reluctance, I can see how God used me, because people I knew wanted to learn about the church.   Missionary work was ultimately something I accomplished not because but in spite of my lack of effort, because it happened on God’s time table.  And, perhaps, the real convert in this experience is me.

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  1. Thanks for this post! I’ve been thinking about sharing the gospel with a coworker of mine, but am SO reluctant! Will they approve? Will things be awkward if it doesn’t work out? Will we “Mo’s” freak them out too much? I’m definitely going to share!! Thanks again!

  2. Natalie, great, inspiring post. Thanks for this.

  3. Thanks for this post, Natalie. Very inspiring.

    We have been struggling lately to find our “voice” as member missionaries in our ward. I am not a good member missionary, but I have been struck recently by the fact that inviting people to learn more about the Gospel isn’t just a good thing to do — it’s a commandment. It’s not our place to judge how others might respond.

    I’m trying to do better.

  4. Natalie B. says:

    On a side note, I have been very impressed by the pratical ways my ward is engaging in missionary work. We just got a new building, and we are focusing on making the building a place that the community at large can use for events – without any proselyting (sp?) strings attached. The response has been wonderful, and I have learned that many people in the area really do want to engage with us and learn what we believe, even if they aren’t yet ready to convert. Who knows what good seeds that can plant for the future?

  5. Rameumptom says:

    I think the best way to be a member missionary is, first to set a good example. Second, be a good neighbor. Third, don’t push the gospel on them, but wait until they ask.

    The gospel DOES have a lot to offer many peoples. Gospel Doctrine was not designed to be a Gospel Scholar class, but to teach members a standard set of pragmatic themes. So it is with Sacrament. We may bore from the sameness of lessons taught, but those same lessons (tithes, for instance) can be something entirely new for someone else.

  6. My stake in January baptized more people than any other stake in the history of the mission. I noticed this first when I was reffing basketball and their was a good athletic kid I had never seen before. I asked the ward YM’s president who the kid was and he said the kids whole family had just gotten baptized and they were looking like they would stay active.

    In my own ward which rarely baptizes converts. 1 a year at most. We had a “Golden Investigator” get baptized last month. When she would come to meetings prior to her baptisms the speakers, the music, etc were amazing. It was almost like the Lord was helping our ward customize meetings towards her. I have seen this happen before and I think this idea fits nicely with your post.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Terrific post. When I bring non-LDS to church (rarely), I die a thousand deaths, scrutinizing every little thing for how it will appear in their eyes. And usually what I perceive as failings don’t even register for them. Even though I know that, I still can’t chill out about it; I’m over-anxious for the church to make a good impression, when in reality it does just fine without my needless hand-wringing.

  8. And, perhaps, the real convert in this experience is me.</em

    very nice

  9. This was so good for me to read. Lately, I have been acutely aware at how well other churches cater to the various needs of their congregants (and conversely, painfully aware of how our church seems to follow a one-size-fits-all approach). I needed to hear your perspective on this. Thanks.

  10. Great post, Natalie. We had some non-LDS friends attend my son’s baptism, and I cringed at some of what was said. (A sacrament meeting would probably have been less cringe-worthy, at least in my ward.) Although I have trouble turning off the inner critic, I know that a lot of this stuff doesn’t necessarily register with a newcomer. But if I’m going to be honest, 90% of why I don’t do more missionary work (“more” = “any”) is pure laziness. Okay, 95%. Maybe opportunities would drop into my lap if I were more righteous (“more” = “at all”).

  11. Excellent thoughts. I particularly appreciated your last line, “… perhaps the real convert … is me.” As a lifelong member I often forget, or don’t realize, what this Church offers to those who are seeking truth. Tonight, as I visited with a very recent convert I was reminded of what the Restored Gospel provides. The mechanics, traditions, or culture of the Church may sometimes get in the way, but it is a pure message that will take root in people’s hearts. Thanks again for your post and inspiring words.

  12. Wonderful post, Natalie.

    Personally, I believe we over-think the Church and the Gospel WAY too much – and I also believe perhaps our biggest failure is how we compartmentalize and stigmatize and even speak about sharing our faith with others.

    I don’t like the term “missionary work”. In fact, I really dislike it. It implies that we need to teach and preach – that what we need to do is “work” harder (with all the negatives that includes). I disagree with pretty much all of that.

    I like “share the Gospel” better, but I like “open up and share your life” best. The Church and the Gospel are an integral part of who I am, so why shouldn’t I talk about it in the normal flow of many conversations? Protestants of every stripe do it that, as do Buddhists and Muslims and all kinds of people. Not everything has to be a “missionary opportunity” – but almost everything deals with my faith and my religion. If I talk naturally about it without concerns about “converting” anyone, those who are touched will ask – and those who aren’t won’t. I truly believe, based on personal experience, that, as you said, if I am open to be used, the Lord will put people in my path who want to learn more – but I have to be talking about my life and my faith for them to be touched.

    If you are interested, I wrote the following post on my own blog just before Christmas. It sums up how I wish we would approach church and our worship:

  13. Thomas Parkin says:

    Amen, Ray. I think your insights are the way we must move if we are ever going to do this. I see a lot of evidence that it is where we are going. Elder Ballard’s “gospel Sharing Homes” talk is often turned into … marching to one’s destiny by catch phrases,- as we collectively do,- but I see it as a move towards your view of the matter.

    While I was WML in my last ward, pretty much everything out of my mouth was another way of saying what you’ve said. _Everything_ out of my mouth that I felt had any inspiration in it at all was along the lines of what you’ve said.

    Thanks, Natalie. ~

  14. I saw an organization that provided remarkable resources and benefits to a diverse membership that other people could desire.
    Here in SoCal, the Church quietly has been going about healing souls and solving problems. I believe this is one of the best ways to open people’s hearts to the restored gospel and to the Church: use them to better their lives then help them latch on to the guidance of the Spirit as soon as possible.
    Here are a couple examples from here:
    SW Los Angeles [Watts] Branch at the NW corner of 107th and San Pedro
    Annual “Discover Your Roots” conference, hosted by the Los Angeles Stake