2018 Preach My Gospel edition

This week the church released a new edition of Preach My Gospel. I have a fondness for this document as when it was first released, a young missionary serving in my ward stood up and testified of his gratitude that missionaries were now going to be able to follow the spirit. My wife and I looked at each other and almost in unison said, “That was what was wrong with our missions!”

I haven’t read through the entire new document, but my quick look showed new changes galore. Unsurprisingly, it has been updated with more recent GA quotes. President Oaks’ 2014 sermon on women and the priesthood shows how female priesthood authority is becoming catechismal:

[2004] The Power and Authority of Your Calling

Missionaries are to go “in the power of the ordination wherewith [they have] been ordained, proclaiming glad tidings of great joy, even the everlasting gospel” (D&C 79:1). You have authority to preach the gospel. If you hold the priesthood, you have the authority to administer the ordinances thereof. As you prayerfully and worthily exercise that authority, you will receive spiritual power, which is evidence of the reality of your call. Do not be afraid or shy about fulfilling this commission. Just as the sons of Mosiah, you are to teach with the power and authority of God (see Alma 17:2–3).

[2018] The Power and Authority of Your Calling

Missionaries are to go “in the power of the ordination wherewith [they have] been ordained, proclaiming glad tidings of great joy, even the everlasting gospel” (Doctrine and Covenants 79:1).

As a missionary, you have authority to preach the gospel. President Dallin H. Oaks has taught: “Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties” (“The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 51). As you prayerfully and worthily exercise that authority, you will receive spiritual power, which is evidence of the reality of your call. Do not be afraid or shy about fulfilling this commission. Just as the sons of Mosiah, you are to teach with the power and authority of God (see Alma 17:2–3). If you hold the priesthood, you also have the authority to administer the ordinances thereof.

The shift in placement of “ordinances thereof” unfortunately removes it from the antecedent of “the gospel” and breaks the syntax. Or maybe “ordinances thereof” have become a noun unto themselves.

Similar to the shifts Home and Visiting Teaching, the progressive impulse to measure has been refocused, so that we are counting fewer tasks. Now this is a revolution that would have changed my mission experience. Note the shift from investigators to people, and counting people instead of lessons:

[2004] Key Indicators to Record and Report

• Investigators baptized and confirmed
• Investigators with a baptismal date
• Investigators who attend sacrament meeting
• Lessons taught to investigators with a member present
• Other lessons taught
• Progressing investigators
• Referrals received and contacted
• New investigators
• Lessons taught to recent converts and less-active members

[2018] Key Indicators to Record and Report

• People baptized and confirmed
• People with a baptismal date
• People who attended sacrament meeting
• New people being taught.

I look forward to reading more.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    In France and Belgium where I served we had “friends of the church” instead of “investigators.” I’m a fan of people.

  2. Nice observation. I’m curious to see whether Oaks’ expanded concept of priesthood authority takes hold among the general membership over time. As of today, I suspect most members in my ward are oblivious to Oaks’ expanded concept, and they fail to recognize it as an expanded concept in the various written materials now reflecting it.

    Btw, I think the items listed in the “Key Indicator” columns are backwards.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks Jiminy. I fixed it!

  4. “Ordinances thereof” presumably refers to “the priesthood” in the new version.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    jpv, yeah that makes sense, but as it is a quote from the Articles of Faith, it is just weird.

    Another cool bit: The Gospel topics Essays are approved Missionary study material.

  6. J., Are the people/investigator lists switched in the OP as to which is 2004 and which is 2018? What I see seems to be inconsistent with the text.

  7. J. Stapley says:

    JR, it was at first, but I fixed it. Try refreshing.

  8. J. I agree it’s weird, Mormons have the same tendency to half quote a scripture and apply it to something else.

    Great to hear because in YM today I literally passed out a list for mission prep including the BoM and all the Gospel Topics Essays as required reading before going on a mission (and gave instructions of how to click to them in the app).

  9. Anne Chovies says:

    Wonder what that young missionary in your Ward would have thought of the old Mr Brown discussions from years ago and how flummoxed some missionaries would get when a real Mr Brown went off script.

  10. Left Field says:

    I don’t really remember missionaries being flummoxed when Mr. Brown went off script. I think mostly because all of Mr. Brown’s lines were:

    Mr. Brown: Response

  11. Left Field says:

    I’m old enough to have seen about five sets of discussions come and go. It is always amusing that every new set of discussions comes with the tagline
    “NOW missionaries will be able to teach by the Spirit!”

  12. David T says:

    Check out the end of Lesson 2, where we get a pretty radical new approach to the relationship between the terms Eternal Life, Salvation, and Exaltation.

  13. Hey, that’s the exact same response my wife and I have when people talk about how Preach My Gospel finally allows missionaries to teach with the Spirit!

  14. I don’t know that one can argue that the Gospel Topics Essays were ever forbidden to missionaries to study, as they showed up on LDS.org. Indeed, they were released while I was on my mission, and I was engrossed – I spent hours upon hours on P-Day reading the ones on polygamy, blood atonement, multiple accounts of the First Vision, and Book of Mormon Translation.

  15. Katie M. says:

    @Jiminy

    As an anecdotal data point, today a member of of the YW’s presidency who taught the YW lesson, and who is an average, rank-and-file, pretty conservative-type member, brought up Oaks’ idea of the priesthood authority extending to women who preach the gospel, and even printed out Oaks’ quote on handouts for the girls. I confess I hadn’t heard the quote before, and then tonight I was surprised to see it again here and now it will be sent out with all the PMG manuals. So I might posit that it is spreading and getting around!

  16. scott roskelley says:

    Looks like the 1st discussion was changed and now missionaries introduce the existence of 4 different accounts of the first vision to people. “We have four different accounts of what followed, recorded by him or scribes under his direction (see Gospel Topics essay, “First Vision Accounts”). In one account, he described his experience: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head . . . . ” It’s also good to see the bad artwork for the book of mormon translation removed. Also added is the possibility to ascend higher in “in the world to come” rather than staying in the terrestrial or the telestial kingdoms. An openness to identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual is not a sin. Atonement coupled to Jesus Christ in every mention, and more emphasis on exaltation rather than “eternal life”.

  17. jaxjensen says:

    Honestly, as great as “missionaries get to teach by the spirit” sounds, I’ve been highly disappointed in what I’ve seen from them in recent years. The quality of what they actually teach has diminished substantially.

    Living in the “mission field” until just recently we spent a great deal of time with our missionaries, usually having them in our home 1-2x per week. So we got lots of lessons over the last 10 or so years. The quality of what they are teaching has gone down year by year since they’ve been “free” to teach as they please. Lessons have now included things like reading one scripture and saying “I know that is true, amen”; long incoherent tangents, or, Magic: The Gathering relation to the gospel. Being able to teach by the spirit equates to being able to NOT teach the principles of the gospel. Having gone out with them regularly too (instead of only lessons with my member family) I can’t say that they are noticeably better with investigators either. I’m not a fan of the actual change, even though the principle of it sounds nice.

  18. That’s very sad, jax.

    I thought it started as a nice transition, but that plus the age change may not have worked so well.

    We are at an entire dispensation-low mark the past couple years as far as missionary effectiveness (baptisms per missionary per year).

  19. jaxjensen says:

    jpv, wouldn’t surprise me if the trend continues to go down to. My experience says that the change allows them to teach “whatever they feel like”, and that is far too often something frivolous, trite, not thought/studied out (because whatever the spirit tells me to say…) or very, very rudimentary. In fact, in 10 years we’ve had exactly 1 missionary who could tell me all of the Articles of Faith. They are missing the basics and just winging it “by the spirit.”

  20. Aussie Mormon says:

    “In fact, in 10 years we’ve had exactly 1 missionary who could tell me all of the Articles of Faith”

    Learning the articles of faith is part of the faith in god award thingo in primary*, so there must be a lot of kids/parents/teachers/presidencies not bothering doing it.

    What would be great would be if the missionaries got the articles of faith pass-along cards like they used to have (with the pictures of the temple etc on them). It’s all well and good promoting our Christmas and Easter messages, and basic teachings of Jesus and the family. But if you want a quick and dirty summary of our beliefs, the AoF is where it’s at.

    * Not sure what the prior version was called, but I know when I was in primary yonks ago learning the AoF was still a requirement to get the certificate.

  21. Aussie Mormon says:

    Oaks’ 2014 comments are great because they solidify, and make explicit, what had only been hinted at before [1]. Putting it somewhere where it will be drilled into a large portion of the younger membership is a brilliant idea.

    [1] For instance in 2005, Russel M Nelson said “Although a quorum president holds keys, his counselors do not. Auxiliary presidents do not hold keys. Counselors and auxiliary presidents serve on assignment from one holding keys who, in turn, has delegated authority for each of them to act.”[2] and in the Oct 2013 General conference Neil L Anderson said “Specific priesthood keys are conferred upon stake presidents and bishops for their geographic responsibilities. And they call men and women by revelation who are sustained and set apart to exercise delegated authority to teach and administer” [3]
    [2]https://www.lds.org/liahona/2005/10/keys-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng
    [3]https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/power-in-the-priesthood?lang=eng

  22. I rather wonder what the new list of “key indicators” will indicate in my European mission area if, as I suspect, there has been no substantial change in the responses of non-Mormons to missionary efforts. Long ago, in my mission area the honestly reported monthly numbers for both missionaries who worked and those who didn’t would usually have been:

    • People baptized and confirmed -zero
    • People with a baptismal date – zero
    • People who attended sacrament meeting -zero
    • New people being taught.- zero

    As you can imagine, it was a real joy on occasion to be able to report something other than zero in these categories. I was grateful to be blessed with more such joys than most of our missionaries, including those I believe to have been harder-working, better missionaries than I.

    If “people” includes members and children of member parents, then the numbers could be significantly different. But what would those numbers indicate without some specificity as to who the “people” are? The sacrament meeting attendance indicator would merely duplicate the ward/branch clerk’s weekly census.

    All those decades ago, my mission president’s “key indicator” was reported proselyting hours. Definitions and honesty varied widely, but the reports gave him something to compare and perhaps to report further. I appreciate the 2018 refocusing, but cannot even guess how it might have changed my long ago mission experience.

    I’m a fan of “people” but I might actually have to read the book [ :) ! ] to see if I can figure out what it means in the list of key indicators.

    Jax, “Winging it ‘by the spirit'” is something some of our bishops and other leaders do – by identifying whatever occurs to them as “inspiration”, because, of course, they are “entitled” to revelation in their callings. Maybe the missionaries you’ve observed are just getting an early start toward that kind of leadership. I hope there continue to be those who will work at discovering the difference between “whatever occurs to them” and inspiration from God.

  23. I like these changes a lot. Like JR, I served a mission in Europe, where the key indicator reports would have been a whole bunch of goose eggs. (In one area, our BoM numbers were actually negative, because we were getting them back faster than we were giving them out.)

    But, for me, given the near-total futility of doing missionary work in that country, I wish now that I’d dropped any pretense at proselytizing and just listened to people. I wish I’d looked for chances to hang out with clergy in the sclerotic national church and hear about their lives.

  24. ‘Lessons have now included things like reading one scripture and saying “I know that is true, amen”; long incoherent tangents, or, Magic: The Gathering relation to the gospel. Being able to teach by the spirit equates to being able to NOT teach the principles of the gospel. Having gone out with them regularly too (instead of only lessons with my member family) I can’t say that they are noticeably better with investigators either.’

    As someone who served a mission ’13-’15, it pains me to acknowledge JUST how accurate this is.

  25. I’ll join the chorus with jax and KLN — my impression is that the missionaries aren’t as good at teaching as they used to be. There is an advantage to memorizing lessons — the missionaries can present the gospel concepts in an organized, coherent manner and know at least a few relevant scriptures. That’s especially useful in a foreign language. There’s no reason not to go off script when guided by the Spirit, but at least they can get back on if they lose their way. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that Preach My Gospel is a much better approach, but it requires more prepared and more mature missionaries, and that doesn’t seem to be what’s out there.

  26. What used to be “the ordinances of the gospel” is not, by syntax, “the ordinances of the priesthood.”

    Ordinances of the priesthood is a larger category than ordinances of the gospel. Ordinances of the gospel means baptism and confirmation. Ordinances of the priesthood is the whole range of ordinances. The change isn’t really doctrinally significant, but it’s an interesting (unintentional?) shift in emphasis.

  27. Jason K., Your BoM stat remark reminds me of a comment from a missionary in a neighboring European mission. He told me his “score” was minus-297 — and explained that his mission president was on a clean-up-the-membership-records kick and that he had baptized 3 and excommunicated 300. I didn’t much like the keeping score mentality even before I was sent to Europe, but it is quite natural to try to find a measurement of “success.”

    I hope no one mistakes such comments for an expression of dissatisfaction with the whole experience. For a variety of reasons and people, I’m very glad to have served when and where I did.

  28. Jack Hughes says:

    Must we still use the phrase “key indicators”? I thought we were getting away from the model of missionaries as traveling salesmen. “Key indicators” sounds like something an Alec Baldwin-esque district leader would scream about while pushing the ABCs (Always Be Converting).

  29. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Jack, when you consider the backgrounds of so many General Authorities, MBA-speak is pretty much inevitable.

  30. Jared vdH says:

    It’s interesting to hear the reported shift in teaching ability/coherence. My mission was selected as a Preach My Gospel test mission a couple months after I got out of the MTC. Back then, the understanding was that if you were going to call it a lesson, it better take a good 15 to 20 minutes at least. The first three lessons were understood to usually be taught as a whole as they represented an integrated series of ideas and principles. We were encouraged to go off of that, but if we were planning to we were instructed to write out our own lesson plan personalized for that person, not just wing it. If you were going to focus an entire lesson on just one principle or commandment, then you should really plan it out and come at the topic from multiple angles using a variety of scriptures.

    Maybe we were just given better training on how to actually plan a lesson? Maybe it was an age thing, but I was only about a year or maybe two older than the missionaries are now (I started when I was almost 20 due to a health issue).

    As for the “teaching by the Spirit” comments above, at least before Preach My Gospel in my mission the ingrained culture was to memorize and recite the 6 discussions in order, and if the person we were teaching asked questions that were covered in a different discussion then we were supposed to basically tell them “we’ll talk about that later” and then get back on the railroad.

    Given the comments above about previous iterations of the missionary lesson material and the current state of missionary teaching, maybe it’s just human nature that we inevitably get away from the original intent of the lesson materials provided. With previous materials it was mission presidents trying to have at least a minimum standard of teaching that rote memorization was emphasized, and with Preach My Gospel we’ve devolved into a free-for-all with clueless missionaries failing to understand how to coherently teach at all.

  31. Charactus says:

    If you hold the Priesthood, you have authority to administer the ordinances.

    If you don’t hold the Priesthood, but were called by one who does, you exercise priesthood authority.

    If you can exercise priesthood authority by nature of calling, and not ordination, it would seem you can administer ordinances by that same authority.

    I thing it’s clear there is absolute truth to what President Oaks said. But it’s also obfuscated things a bit, because in elevating any and all callings to using the priesthood authority (regardless of actually being ordained to the priesthood), it’s really no longer clear what’s the point of ordination to begin with. Simply, extend a calling and say by the authority of the call they can exercise the priesthood.

    Another interesting though along these lines: Black/African members were exercising priesthood authority all along.

    I don’t really disagree with the framing of Priesthood this way, because at it’s most basic level the whole point is to speak and act in the name of the Lord as if he were doing it.

    It certainly leaves a lot open to be expanded on in the future.

  32. Sister Molly says:

    Frankly, having served under the old discussions… I always felt as if it was the fault of the missionaries and not the discussions of you couldn’t bring the spirit. While I applauded the preach my gospel update, it simply removed the perchant for lazy by-the-bookishness that humans so easily fall into. We did just fine with the discussions.

  33. “It’s interesting to hear the reported shift in teaching ability/coherence. My mission was selected as a Preach My Gospel test mission a couple months after I got out of the MTC. Back then, the understanding was that if you were going to call it a lesson, it better take a good 15 to 20 minutes at least. The first three lessons were understood to usually be taught as a whole as they represented an integrated series of ideas and principles. We were encouraged to go off of that, but if we were planning to we were instructed to write out our own lesson plan personalized for that person, not just wing it. If you were going to focus an entire lesson on just one principle or commandment, then you should really plan it out and come at the topic from multiple angles using a variety of scriptures.

    Maybe we were just given better training on how to actually plan a lesson? Maybe it was an age thing, but I was only about a year or maybe two older than the missionaries are now (I started when I was almost 20 due to a health issue).”

    So this is absolutely what missionaries are still TAUGHT to do, at least it was five years ago in the MTC. Way too many just use the flexibility as an excuse to go all kinds of off-book, especially with investigators who have heard all the lessons but for some reason have not yet been dropped.

    My least favorite companion liked to tell Finding Nemo stories with a single scripture tied in, usually delivered after more than an hour of being at our incredibly fun and nice investigator family’s house. We were STL’s together, she was my senior companion, and her favorite topic of conversation was which members and missionaries were disobedient and how. Reading these statements about crappy lessons is bringing up all kinds of awful memories of trying to argue in my passive aggressive, sweet missionary way that we should endeavor to teach semi-useful lessons, and maybe not spend hours at a time at anyone’s house.

  34. Ryan Mullen says:

    KLN, “Finding Nemo stories”?

  35. Left Field says:

    Apparently for some people, having a less structured lesson is assumed equivalent to “teaching by the spirit.” But even in my day when we memorized a script, the discussion was not necessarily expected to be delivered as memorized. The discussion book said that missionaries were supposed to teach with their own words as inspired. And it was expected that investigator responses would lead to unscripted discussions. The left-hand page of the discussion book had resources to help with with those discussions without requiring a specific response. The lesson instructions said that missionaries could teach the discussions and concepts in any order that was appropriate. So if you were in the middle of the C Discussion and an investigator asked a question, you could skip over, and teach a few concepts out of the H Discussion. Missionaries were expected to testify in their own words, and the discussions reflected that. Of course some missionaries felt constrained to just recite the discussions as memorized, but that was certainly not the intent. In fact there were some portions of the printed discussions that just did not work as written, and virtually all missionaries revised as needed.

    For example, having missionaries recite the entire First Vision story in the first person was not a good idea. If we tried to do that, investigators would often become confused, thinking we were telling our own story. Part of the way through my mission, the church came out with a shorter third person revision, but missionaries had already learned to adapt the discussion.

    Past missionary discussion systems were probably not as rigid as current legend would have it, and “teaching by the spirit” is a different thing than “unstructured.”

  36. Ryan Mullen: It was common to take something which occurred in a Disney film and claim that it demonstrated a gospel principle (like repentance, for example), and then share a scripture.

  37. Left Field pointed out that the older discussion were not necessarily supposed to be a matter of only rote memorization, but that’s certainly how most mission presidents in practice saw them. In some ways, I think Preach My Gospel was an attempt to rebrand and try again to accomplish what was originally intended with the older material. (Perhaps similar to how ministering is replacing home teaching.)

    I’m really curious about the drop in missionary teaching ability that lots of people have noted. Maybe it’s the lowered age? Maybe it’s that, in my opinion, almost nowhere in the church do we model or expect serious engagement with theology or scriptural texts beyond a feel-good, surface level? (Though that wouldn’t explain any recent change.)

    One change that I think deserves further discussion is the rather lengthy new material in Lesson 2 giving strict definitions to salvation and exaltation based on President Nelson’s teachings. This seems like a very odd addition to me. First, the scriptures don’t always seem to be using “salvation” in the same way; sometimes salvation seems mostly interchangeable with the idea of eternal life. It feels like we’re trying so hard to artificially impose strict consistency in our usage. Also, I just don’t think this material going to be very useful in teaching for a number of reasons. If I’m teaching someone who’s interested (possibly only nominally) in hearing about our belief in God’s grand, majestic plan for His children, I don’t think I’d feel a need to outline the finer points and technicalities of this LDS terminology, especially if this is possibly only our second time teaching this person. Lesson 2 is already very long and complicated (always the longest lesson whenever we’d teach), and this feels like getting too much in the weeds. Of all the things I would want an investigator to remember after a lesson on the plan of salvation, it would never occur to me that a strict delineation between salvation and exaltation would be one of them. Also, if I’m teaching someone with a Christian background, “salvation” and “eternal life” are more familiar terms to them. Instead we’re stressing “exaltation,” which does not appear in the Bible; it’s an LDS term that we’ve really leaned on even though in our canon, it occurs only in D&C 132. I just foresee a lot of confused investigators and a lot of missionaries treating this like a super important distinction for every investigator to grasp in their second meeting.

  38. pconnornc says:

    Our primary lesson 2 weeks ago was on Moses, the plagues and the priesthood. The lesson instructed us to talk to the boys about preparing for the priesthood. We talked about Elder Oaks talk and how they all need to prepare for priesthood power – in being class presidents, in being ordained to offices, in being missionaries and when they are ministering.

  39. I have enjoyed this thread. Lots to think about. To me, to know the difference between salvation and exaltation is extremely important. Salvation is an unconditional gift given to all through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Exaltation is conditioned upon faith, repentance, and the making and keeping of covenants through proper priesthood authority. This is what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can offer over other denominations. This is what missionary work is all about.

  40. John, I don’t think that how you’ve defined salvation quite expresses either the Church’s usage (e.g., in PMG, lesson 2) or how the term is used in the scriptures. How you’ve described it seems to only capture the resurrection side of it. But generally in the scriptures, the term “salvation” is used to mean the conditional saving from sin that requires faith, repentance, covenants, enduring to the end, etc.:

    “I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation” (Mosiah 4:6–7).

    “And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else” (Alma 11:40; note that “eternal life” seems to be a parallel equivalent of “salvation” as used here).

    “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrew 5:9).

    “How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, … and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!” (D&C 43:25).

    But on the other hand, Mormon soteriology also holds that in some sense, there is a salvation that is given (unconditionally? or upon conditions that can be met post-mortally?) to any who qualify for a kingdom of glory (see D&C 76:88). (And I tend toward somewhat universalist views myself.)

    But I guess this is my point. These terms are a lot less cut-and-dry than I think church likes to present—even to the extent that many long-time members have differing understandings of them. Given that, I just don’t feel that it’s helpful or necessary for an investigator to understand these very fine (and possibly uncertain or dubious) distinctions on their first exposure to the plan of salvation.

  41. Sorry Left Field, but “past missionary discussion systems were . . . as rigid as current legend would have it.” I was a missionary in France and Belgium in the 1960’s and we were told to present the 6 discussions word-for-word. We were to memorize them. This was just after the “baseball baptism” disaster in Europe and the polygamist scandal in France. Church attendance was about 10 percent, Not a good situation. To make matters worse, foreign language missions were at least 2-1/2 years.

    What the missionary program needs is not more bandaids, it’s a new vision. There must be better ways to promote religious beliefs.

  42. Mark N. says:

    ” The quality of what they are teaching has gone down year by year since they’ve been “free” to teach as they please. Lessons have now included things like reading one scripture and saying “I know that is true, amen”; long incoherent tangents, or, Magic: The Gathering relation to the gospel.”

    Elder Cunningham lives!

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