I’m convinced that the best way to convert someone to Mormonism is to not try and convert them at all. Everything that we do for other people doesn’t need to be a “missionary opportunity.” If we just do good for the sake of doing good, then I believe we’ll have more effectual opportunities to show someone what the restored gospel is really all about.
I don’t believe any one person on this earth has the power to truly convert someone else. That change has to come from within as they interact with the convincing power of the Spirit. Even Christ, with all his miracles, couldn’t convert Peter and the other apostles to the truth of his own divinity. The scriptures describe Christ as someone who “went about doing good.” Others observed Him… and then wanted to learn more about what he believed. Once they were intrigued, he’d then begin a dialogue with them in the form of questions and reasoning. Aside from the sermon on the mount, there was very little “preaching.”
So why do we try so hard to convert other people? Why do we bug and pry and nudge and tug on other people to do what we think they should do in regards to coming to church, getting baptized, or being “reactivated.” I have no doubt that most of the time, those efforts are made in a spirit of genuine concern for others. But contrived acts of fellowship rarely work… and if they do work, they’re usually not permanent in their effects.
Ward mission plans, goals, KPI’s, and every other calculated program are in my mind, a distraction to what is most important. We’re suffering from the programmatic implementation of the gospel in our lives and according to Boyd K. Packer, “You cannot force spiritual things. You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before it’s time.”
So how the heck am I supposed to set ward baptism goals? I have no idea whether the Lord has prepared 1 person or 1000 people to hear the gospel and become converted. Can you imagine Ammon and his brothers setting out to the Lamanites and making KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) regarding how many people they were going to baptize?
Please understand that I am not against setting goals. They are a major part of my life, but create your own goals… for yourself. Don’t create goals that are beyond your control.
I can control what I do. I can’t control others. It’s never worked. There was an entire war in heaven over it.
I’m almost certain Ammon and his brothers had just one goal and one program. In fact, the scriptures say that all Ammon wanted to do was “dwell among this people [The Lamanites] for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.” Meaning… whatever it takes. Ammon just wanted to get to know the people and be an example to them with the hope that he could one day share what had brought him so much joy in his life. He just wanted to love them and serve them and find out what makes them tick. He had no idea how long he’d stay and he didn’t care. He had no timetable. No box to check. No report to give. If he had the opportunity to share the gospel with them, he’d take it, but the last thing he’d try to do was “force spiritual things.” He wasn’t going to try and baptize someone on December 31st in order to hit his circa 78 B.C. goals. He was going to do what the spirit directed him to do on the Lord’s timetable.
I remember a time while in the MTC when I was asked to role play with a companion. I was asked to teach one of the discussions. I was trying my best, trying to recall all that I had learned, and trying to give my own testimony as purely and as honestly as I could. The instructor stopped me mid-lesson and said, “C’mon… you’re not teaching with the spirit.”
“Dude… what do you want me to do? Do I need to make myself cry or something in order for it to be convincing? And really… who are you to determine whether I’m teaching by the spirit or not?” These are all things I thought to myself as I sat there in disbelief.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in my short time in this church, it’s this; the harder you try to convert someone to the gospel, the more you’ll push them away. The more you try to force spiritual things, the more things get awkward. But when you are authentically enthusiastic about the gospel, there will be no end to the number of people who will want to know what you believe and why you believe it.
Arbitrary programs, commitment patterns, “will you” questions, “I invite you” statements, “promised blessings,” and a host of other cultural hand-me-downs just make things weird. They usually come across forced and unnatural, rarely helping people to feel the spirit or causing them to consider joining the church.
“Teach correct principles,” the Prophet Joseph Smith liked to say, “and let them govern themselves.” When we cite D&C 43:9 about “binding to act,” it’s not insinuating that we need to place someone into a commitment pattern each and every time we want someone to participate in our program.
People will join the church because of your example, because of the doctrine, and because of the spirit that they feel. They’re not going to join the church because you’re on “assignment” to get them back to church or because you really need to return and report. People don’t want to be your goals. They don’t want to be your stats. They want to be your friends and they want the peace that only the Savior can bring them.
Sharing the gospel is like serving fruit. Regardless of how sweet and perfect that fruit is, if it is served improperly, then there’s a strong possibility that the recipient will not want any part of that fruit. The more care and thought we put into serving the fruit, the more that fruit will be accepted, embraced, and enjoyed. Taking a fistful if smashed raspberries out of your pocket with your dirty hands isn’t going to have the same result as taking those same raspberries and neatly presenting them on a platter.
But that’s what we do sometimes. In our conversations, in our friendships with others, and especially in our church meetings where missionaries bring their investigators hoping for some neatly presented fruit for them to be edified with. But instead, we smash the fruit in their face until what once might have become sweet and beautiful to them, becomes an unrecognizable ugly mess.
What I think is funny (more sad than funny) is the fact that I’ve been to so many meetings in which there are multiple investigators in the congregation who are ready to hear a powerful message about Jesus Christ, but then we waste the whole meeting talking about how to do missionary work and get more investigators out to church. This literally happened in the extreme a few years back when we had the mayor of our city out to one of our meetings. Can you guess what we talked about for almost 2 hours? Programs on how to get more of our friends out to church.
I wanted to yell from the back… “Hey there! We have 5 investigators + the mayor of our city sitting right here! Serve them some fruit!” Instead, we send them away with 5 tactics for getting more investigators out to church.
We have the most amazing gospel in our hands. We have the most powerful doctrine in our hearts. But then we throw golden opportunities away in the name of “instruction” and “programs.” We ought to stop talking about how to do missionary work and how to convert people because it doesn’t seem to help. It seems as if the more programs we implement, the more our numbers decline.
Why is that?
Maybe if we got up to the pulpit and brought Ammon and the Sons of Mosiah with us, and told their story along with the associated doctrine, we’d start to see a spark roar into a flame inside our members. And yet… how often do you see people truly teaching from the scriptures nowadays?
Stories, tangets, cliches, 5-10 minutes of local leadership flattering, and a closing thankamony? Then maybe one verse of scripture if we’re lucky. People are zoned out, scrolling Facebook, checking their bank balance, or “resting their eyes” aka sleeping.
In a recent training meeting, a senior couple got up to address the body of men sitting in the room. The Elder got up and said some stuff that I can’t remember. Then his wife stood up, opened her New Testament, and taught us about Christ in the context of what they were trying to convey. It was the best 10 minutes of the training. It was powerful because she opened the scriptures and let the Savior teach us.
All we’ve got to do is get back to the basics and expound upon the Book of Mormon and the Bible. If we still don’t know how to do missionary work at that point… well then… there’s little hope that some program is going to do the trick.
As a previously inactive 20-year-old, there was no program, no tactic, and no strategy that was effective enough to get me out to church and on to a mission. It wasn’t until I read the Book of Mormon in its entirety, and witnessed the excitement of one who had already served a mission that anything changed for me regarding conversion. Once I began to be taught the doctrine, it caused me to “put my hand to the plow and never look back.” (Luke 9:62)
Living the gospel and exhibiting Christlike love isn’t rocket science. But sometimes it feels like we turn it into rocket science. The Savior made it simple. Let your light shine bright! Everywhere you go. That’s it. Just let your light shine and others will be drawn to that light. Once they’ve been drawn to your light, then you can expound upon what you know about Christ and his teachings.