This Sunday, I’m teaching a Sunday School class which is a special course geared toward teaching members to be better missionaries. I’m teaching this class as part of my calling as a ward missionary. The class is a four-week course and this week is the second week in the course. The title of the lesson is: “Finding Comfortable Ways to Share the Gospel.”
So maybe you can see my dilemma.
I’m wondering if we aren’t kidding ourselves a little here. First of all, there’s nothing really “comfortable” about sharing the gospel per se. Unless someone comes up to you and asks you to tell them about the church, it’s always going to be an uncomfortable subject to bring up, and possibly uncomfortable thereafter too. The lesson has a stated goal of “helping class members to see that the process of sharing the gospel can be comfortable.” It recommends things like seeking the Lord’s help in gaining the courage and confidence necessary for sharing the gospel, which is absolutely right, but if it was something that could be comfortably done, we wouldn’t need much courage or confidence in order to do it, would we?
But it does bring up a good preliminary point: We’re not going to get very far doing missionary work without the Lord’s help. So as a preliminary to doing missionary work, we want to cleanse ourselves as much as we can, and ask for the Lord’s help. This doesn’t mean we need to be perfect in order to do missionary work. Far from it. But we want to be perfecting ourselves as much as we can so the Lord knows we’re serious about this, so that we are good examples, and so that the Spirit can be with us. Then we’re going to pray a lot. Making missionary work a matter of prayer in our families and personally is essential. Ask for specific things. Tell the Lord you want to do missionary work. Acknowledge what fears you have. Tell him you want to overcome them. Ask him what he wants you to do. Think about specific people you would like to share the gospel with. Ask for his help with those people by name.
Then I think we need to begin by acknowledging the obvious: missionary work is not comfortable and for most of us, it never will be. It plays on some of our greatest fears: fear of ridicule, fear of rejection, fear of giving offense to people we care about and need to associate with, fear of making a mistake in what we say or do that ruins either a relationship or an opportunity for someone else to understand and accept the gospel. Some people, who have a fear of just talking to people or trying to make friends, will have even more fears on top of these obvious ones, but at bottom, it’s just the fear of being thought weird and the fear of being unfriended (literally and digitally) that keeps us from being more outspoken with our friends and acquaintances on the issue of our religion.
Once we acknowledge these fears, and the fact that this whole process is inherently uncomfortable, it may be possible to shed our fears and do the uncomfortable. As long as we know going in that it’s not easy for most of us, and there are legitimate fears involved, in some ways, that makes it possible to just go ahead and do it anyway. One way to get to that point is to take the sting out of the fear by asking “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” In most cases, the answer to that question is just that people could say no. That’s really it. So, what’s so bad about that?
Yes, in some cases people do get offended and want nothing to do with us anymore, but that’s pretty rare, and it’s especially not likely to happen if we approach the subject from a place of friendship and genuine love.
So that’s the first step:
Start with people you already love and are friends with and just invite them to things. No one is ever offended by an invitation, especially if it comes from someone they are already friends with.
But being friends doesn’t begin or end with an invitation to a church activity, so you need to continue to be friends no matter what the response is. This seems obvious but I think it needs to be said. Hopefully, continued friendship and continued invitations will lead naturally to opportunities for spiritual discussions and for the Spirit to testify to those we love of the truthfulness of the gospel, and of it’s necessity. Because, let’s face it, no matter how true the gospel is, none of us would be active members if we didn’t find it to be a necessity to us personally and for our families. Sometimes I think we need to quit talking so much about the “truth” of the gospel and talk instead about the real reasons that we find it to be necessary.
That’s the real reason for doing missionary work. Not because it’s comfortable or convenient, but because it’s a necessary part of being a follower of Christ. I suspect that, the closer we come to actually fulfilling that role, the more necessary it will seem. But it might not ever be comfortable.