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Is There A Way to be Comfortable with Missionary Work?

MCQ - January 28, 2011

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.


  1. MCQ,

    I agree with everything you’ve said here. The irony is, the three friends of mine who eventually did join the Church all thanked me for not trying to “preach” to them. Somehow my apathy and/or fear actually helped clear the path for their salvation. There’s got to be some kind of door prize for that.

    Comment by David T. — January 28, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

  2. Yeah, David, I don’t think “preaching” is what anyone wants. Aside from just telling people that the church exists, and what it’s basic beliefs are, no one wants to be “told” (or “preached”) about anything.

    But that’s not really required of us anyway. We need to get that idea out of our heads and realize that the basic info is already out there. Our job is just to be a friend and invite.

    Comment by MCQ — January 28, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

  3. Best and most comfortable way to share the gospel: Invite people over for dinner. Say nothing about the church or the missionaries or anything else. Then invite them again. Sooner or later they will ask about your beliefs or the artwork on your walls or the books on your shelves. Or they won’t, but even then, you will have still found some congenial dinner companions, so it’s a win/win.

    Comment by Mark Brown — January 28, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

  4. Sometimes I think we have the idea, maybe subconsciously, that missionary work means it’s your responsibility to have all the answers, even for the questions nobody asks, and to persuade people — maybe even against their will — to join the church. That’s never going to happen, and it can’t help but be uncomfortable.

    But really, we’re only responsible for the things you outline. Maybe if we’re just being a friend, just living our lives, just being who the gospel helps us be, testifying only to what we really know and only in settings when it’s appropriate and not forced, we’d be more comfortable *and* be real missionaries.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 28, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

  5. What Mark Brown said. I believe I once heard the method referred to as “All bait, no switch.”

    Comment by Scott B. — January 28, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

  6. “Sharing the gospel” does not mean marketing the gospel, or trying to entice or persuade people to believe. There should never be an ulterior motive of potential conversion in our friendships–people want to be friends for who they are, not for who they might become. I think any discussions of God or faith or organized religion ought to be completely authentic and natural–the negative as well as the positive –and listening to our friends share authentically their own feelings and beliefs, the good with the bad. I think people are more open when they are disabused of the notion that we are trying to convert them–that we just want to listen and be supportive of them in their journey of life.

    If we are excited about something we are doing at Church, there is nothing wrong with sharing it in the same way we might share anything else exciting in our lives with friends–recognizing that our LDS culture will require some translation for their benefit. I.e., just as my Jewish friends naturally share with me excitement or frustrations when a Bar or Bat Mitzvah approaches, I can share similar excitement or nervousness as religious events might approach in my own family. Again, not with a conscious or unconscious intent to entice, but with a purpose of sharing feelings and thoughts naturally in the friendship. Once we and our friends feel safe sharing with each other thoughts and feelings about religion, then we and our friends will feel safe in extending to each other nonproselyting invitations to events that may or may not have religious overtones.

    Once, many years ago, a good Catholic neighbor and we went on a joint ecumenical tour of a Mormon temple grounds in the area (and visitor center) and a Roman Catholic Cathedral. We all had a great time. Our neighbor, in fact, later invited some of her friends to go with her to tour the Mormon temple grounds.

    We all have different personalities. Some of us are comfortable inviting people to our homes or to various events, religious or otherwise. Some of us do not–some of us are, to use Garrison Keillor’s phrase, “shy people.” Inviting people to Church events or to hear missionary discussions is a form of sharing the gospel, but, in my opinion, sharing the gospel does not require issuing such invitations. It includes, and in my view means, sharing authentically thoughts and feelings about the good news of Jesus Christ and listening to other share their thoughts and feelings about such matters of personal interest.

    Comment by DavidH — January 28, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

  7. Inviting people to Church events or to hear missionary discussions is a form of sharing the gospel, but, in my opinion, sharing the gospel does not require issuing such invitations. It includes, and in my view means, sharing authentically thoughts and feelings about the good news of Jesus Christ and listening to other share their thoughts and feelings about such matters of personal interest.

    Well, David, that’s part of what I was talking about here. If someone falls into the category of “shy people” (I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Mr. Keillor did not originate that particular phrase), then invitations are, it seems to me, far less intimidating than “sharing authentically thoughts and feelings about the good news of Jesus Christ.” That’s the part that most people have a hard time with. It’s difficult to talk about such feelings in a way that you think others will accept, and it’s difficult to even find a context for bringing them up in any sort of natural way.

    And BTW, while we’re on the subject, it’s complete crap to say that “there should never be an ulterior motive of potential conversion in our friendships.” Of course that motive, ulterior or not, exists and will always exist. If we love and believe in the gospel then of course we want our family and friends to have it in their lives. The only question is how is that most likely to happen? The answer is not through “sharing feelings,” which is pretty scary and unnatural in my opinion, but simply by being friends with those we love and making opportunities available to them.

    Comment by MCQ — January 29, 2011 @ 2:08 am

  8. Mark, are you using/do you know about Clayton Christensen’s member missionary lessons?

    I’ve taught them a couple of times and had really good discussions.


    Comment by Kristine — January 31, 2011 @ 6:57 am

  9. I am very uncomfortable with the approach many in the church take to sharing the gospel (i.e. missionary work). It seems much of the efforts to brefiend others and provide charity work has the ulterior motive of converting others into the church. And that makes me EXTREMELY uncomfortable.

    Story: I was visiting my parents ward a few months ago. A woman shared that by donating personal hygiene kits to X country could open its doors to missionary work. X country doesn’t currently allowing prostelizing missionaries into the country but if we keep providing charitable giving/donations, it could lead to country X opening its doors. Same with our friends. If we friend them, invite them to many dinners, help them out… They may become more receptive to the Church.

    I cringed after this story (most of the members nodding their heads). How about: Let’s be kind and Christlike and charitable to others because, quite simply, IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO. No strings attached.

    Comment by LuluBelle — January 31, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  10. MCQ. I think we are largely in agreement.

    “Of course that motive, ulterior or not, exists and will always exist. If we love and believe in the gospel then of course we want our family and friends to have it in their lives. The only question is how is that most likely to happen?”

    I prefer friends who are friends with me because of who I am, not because of what they would like me to be. I suspect there are others like me. I do not think we are in disagreement over this particular point, because you state that being a friend, period, is key.

    “The answer is not through ‘sharing feelings,’ which is pretty scary and unnatural in my opinion, but simply by being friends with those we love and making opportunities available to them.”

    I agree that we should be friends with those we love (and even those we may not necessarily love). I also agree that sharing opportunities is not inconsistent with non-ulterior motive friendships. I suppose where we differ is how one “mak[es] opportunities available,” and whether sharing thoughts and feeling about God and faith (or lack there of) can be natural in a friendship.

    I suppose what is natural for some is unnatural for others. It is unnatural for me in general to extend invitations to participate in an LDS related function unless a friend has indicated an interest or receptivity to such an invitation. On the other hand, for me, it is not unnatural to have conversations about religion, philosophy, politics and other things with friends. For me, being a friend means being able to discuss almost anything–as long as it is done in a nonjudgmental way without a motive of changing the friend.

    I see it as similar to this LDS perons:

    “A year or two ago, Brother Alwi and I met
    in San Diego. For a morning we sat, he with
    his Quran and I with my Book of Mormon,
    and compared and discussed the many
    things we have in common.

    . . . .

    “Alwi, a devout Muslim of Arabic ancestry,
    and I, a Christian and devout Mormon, have
    agreed to symbolically walk arm in arm into
    the future. Together we hope to build a


    I would hope all of us are willing to share what we have (and be willing to allow others to share with us) and to make it clear that we would welcome our friends and anyone else to be part of the Body of Christ within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    I believe that this is clear, even when not plainly stated, in my friendships (and in my friendships with religious friends, the implied invitation is reciprocal). And it is also clear, even though not plainly stated, that my (and their friendship) is not conditioned on how we see the world religously (in the same way Brother Packer’s and Brother Alwi’s friendship transcends the differences in religion.)

    Am I a poor member missionary because my “sharing” is different from the way another member missionary shares? Perhaps so.

    I apologize if my prior post might have appeared to criticize approaches others find natural and effective in member missionary work. I do think that what seems natural (and therefore authentic) to one person may not seem that way to another.

    Comment by DavidH — January 31, 2011 @ 10:46 am

  11. Kristine, thanks for that link, I didn’t know about Cousin Clayton’s materials, and they look very good. Do you know the story behind that? I’m curious as to how that came about.

    Comment by MCQ — January 31, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

  12. LuluBelle, someone in my class actually made the same comment, and you are also raising similar concerns to those expressed by DavidH above.

    As I told my class member and DavidH, I think that if we are honest we cannot divorce from our motivations the fact that we want others to hear and accept the gospel.

    I (and most people I think are similar) have a few friends and family members with whom I regularly interact. If it weren’t for the Church, I might not feel any need to ever become friends with anyone else. But because my Church attendance and callings require it, I often associate with others with whom I then become good friends. These include fellow EQ members, SS teachers and class members, HT companions, HT families, my HTers, and others.

    With all of those additional acquaintances and friends, I would not ordinarily feel the need to expand my circle of friends. But because I want to be a missionary and share the gospel, I go out of my way to become acquainted with, and yes, even friends with, people in my neighborhood and at my office who are not members of my church and with whom I probably have little in common except proximity.

    Does that mean I have “ulterior motives?” Maybe. Does it mean I don’t value those relationships or that I’m not a genuine friend to these people? I sure hope not.

    The bottom line is that I think we often need a push to actually speak with and become friends with those we come in contact with on a casual basis. The idea of missionary work gives us that push, and hopefullly, genuine friendships result from that. Not because they are forced to do so, but because we often become genuine friends with people whom we make the effort to get to know. The original motivation for making that effort is, in my view, irrelevant.

    Comment by MCQ — January 31, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

  13. MCQ: Interesting. I can honestly say that I have never, not even once, befriended someone so I could share the gospel. I befriend people who I like, in and outside of the church. Most of my close friends (probably 80% are non Mormon). And when I do charitable giving or give my time for a cause, I have never once– not a single time– done it so I could get an “in” to sharing the gospel. It just seems odd to me. I help and befriend simply because I either want that person’s friendship for whatever reason or because helping out is simply the right thing to do. Period. No strings attached. I don’t even feel a shred of need to tell someone who I’m “helping” that I’m Mormon. I don’t even think it’s relevant. But, hey, if it works for you, great. I am just so incredibly uncomfortable with it.

    Comment by LuluBelle — January 31, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

  14. David I think we are mostly in agreement. I would add that some relationships we form with those who are not of our faith might require us to attend, and ask our families to attend with us, events at other churches. We should feel complimented and thrilled if and when others ask us and our families to attend their church services, and should feel it opens opportunities to discuss the gospel that might not otherwise happen.

    Some of my favorite missionary experiences as a full-time missionary were had when my companion and I attended Jewish temple services. We became regular attendees and learned a lot. We didn’t get any immediate investigators from those visits, but I don’t count them wasted in any way.

    Comment by MCQ — January 31, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

  15. LuluBelle, I suspect you are one of those few people who make friends naturaly as a normal part of your life. If you are constantly interacting with, and making friends with, new people who are not members of the church, then you need no additional motivation to do so in order to do missionary work.

    For those who are more insular, or who have family anf friends that are made up almost entirely of church members, we need some reason to open up our lives to new people. If that reason is, initially at least, related to the idea of missionary work, I see no problem with that. It’s simply a reality of life that some people will not otherwise interact in any meaningful way with many non-members.

    I don’t think this means that there are “strings attached.”

    My understanding of that phrase is that our friendship is conditional. That is, we are imlicitly saying that we are not going to continue the friendship unless the person is receptive to our message of the gospel. Obviously, that would be wrong. I am not advocating conditional friendship firndship or friendship with “strings attached” in any way.

    Comment by MCQ — January 31, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  16. MCQ: “Few people who make friends naturally”… Really? Is this a Mormon-thing? Because most people I know have a friends either in large or small numbers and most rarely keep those friendships to those in their church congregation only. How does anyone in the world outside of Mormons cultivate friendships? It seems a very insular way of life to mostly only surround oneself with friendships from inside the church. Hmmm. I’ll chew on that one. I suppose you might be right but really?? Without the church, would you really have almost no friends?

    Comment by LuluBelle — February 1, 2011 @ 10:20 am

  17. No, I wasn’t really talking about me, personally, and maybe I’m misstating this. What I meant was that the Church takes up a lot of the time we have for interaction with people outside of work and family.

    If I wasn’t a member of the Church, I’m sure I would have other organizations or just friendships or hobbies that would take up that same time and provide the same number of friends, or even more. But because I have obligations to be at Church meetings and perform my calling and home teach and be home taught, I have formed friendships in those environments.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately) this means that most of the friends that I interact with on a regular basis are Church members. So in order to have friends that are not Church members, I have to put in extra effort that I might not otherwise put in. This is probably easier outside the Wasatch, but I suspect even in other states, many members spend most of their non-work time on either family or Church activities where most of their interaction is with members of the Church.

    The result of that is that we have to work a little harder to develop real friendships with non-members, because it doesn’t happen as easily as it does with members just by virtue of being thrown together in EQ or RS or whatever.

    Some people who are naturally not outgoing might have an even harder time than others with this, but I think most of us are going to have to work at it a little, just because the time we have for social interaction is already pretty booked up.

    Comment by MCQ — February 1, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  18. Aaah. That makes sense (though this part of the church also makes me very uncomfortable). Church duties can take up every single minute of spare time we have (and spare time that we don’t have). I don’t allow it to, though. I hate visiting teaching so I don’t do it. Home teaching is mostly a miss for me, too, but we’re personal friends with our HT so they don’t come over once per month. When they did, I dreaded it because I have such little spare time so I usually declined. I feel no guilt at all missing extracurricular church activities if there’s a conflict. Like my husband’s friends had a Christmas adult-only party on the same night as the ward Christmas party. The old-only party reigned. I’m an active Mormon but I do not let all the incredible amounts of request on my time rule what I do. Being a Mormon is part of who I am and just a part of my social network. It competes with other interests and priorities and it is not my #1 priority simply because it’s a church activity.

    I think that is a weakness and why many oustiders feel that Mormons are extremely insular and clique-ish. I think it’s too bad. Plus, when there is a conflict between a church activity and my kids’ needing me, kids win Every.Single.Time. For instance, I was doing Young Women’s but because I work fulltime on YW’s weekly activity nights, my kids wouldn’t see me usually until the next day because I went from work to YWs. I decided my kids needed to see me and that my priority was with them, not with the YW so I promptly asked to be released– without guilt.

    The amount of time the church requires of its members is overwhelming and does leave little time for much else (not even family, let alone outside church friends). I think it’s OK to draw boundaries and say no. I think it astounding that the high school students are required (requested?) to spend 3+ hours in church on Sun, 2 hours weekly during YW/YM, 1.5 hours PER DAY 5days/week in seminary, PLUS other activities (i.e. camps). I will not “force” my kids to do all those things. They have sports and homework and family time and friend time and they need their sleep, too. Church will simply be “part” of the mix, not the priority in the mix.

    Comment by LuluBelle — February 1, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  19. LuluBelle, I like what you’ve been saying here. Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. It’s so obvious; why doesn’t every Mormon see things your way?

    I can honestly say that I have never, not even once, befriended someone so I could share the gospel.

    I help and befriend simply because I either want that person’s friendship for whatever reason or because helping out is simply the right thing to do. Period. No strings attached.

    Sounds like an ideal friendship. “I like you because of ‘whatever reason,’ and you like me because I will hide my primary guiding philosophy and religious identity in case you might disagree with it.” Win-win.

    This one’s my favorite:

    I hate visiting teaching so I don’t do it.

    Comment by Thaddeus — February 1, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

  20. Another easy way to get involved in missionary work is simply to blog about what you love about being Mormon. And/or create a mormon.org profile. I think the model of only ‘doing missionary work’ with people we know is being expanded by the internet.

    And it’s a way ‘shy people’ can share without the social anxiety. I’m not saying this should be a replacement for ‘real-life’ missionary work, but it is an element of missionary work that our leaders have talked about and care about.

    Comment by michelle — February 1, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

  21. Agreed Michelle.

    Comment by MCQ — February 1, 2011 @ 11:38 pm

  22. There is a way, it worked for me 30 years ago. Have no family, mortgage, employment or other ties. Be young, committed and naive. Move 6000 miles from where you live. Do missionary work comfortably.

    Comment by KLC — February 2, 2011 @ 9:06 am

  23. 3. Mark Brown’s missionary style is known among my family as the “barbeque method” or “zen missionary work”.

    I am one of those people who is not “naturally friendly” and needs to actively cultivate friendships, otherwise I end up completely isolated from anyone, either in the Church or out.

    A valuable missionary tool is “I don’t know”.

    When a friend asks you about some point which you are uncomfortable about, or unsure of the “right” answer, or just don’t know how to begin the discussion, say “I don’t know.”

    “But I know two full-time missionaries who do know.”

    Comment by Mark Chapman — February 2, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

  24. I think we all need to pursue zen missionary work.

    Comment by MCQ — February 2, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  25. I’m trying to be a nicer person before I share the gospel. At this point, a lot of people would find out I’m a Mormon and head for the hills.

    On a serious note (although I’m pretty serious about the above, no lie) I was so impressed with the simple testimony of that kid who’s an athlete. Can’t remember his name, but he’s been blogged about lately.

    I’m totally down with the zen of everything.

    Comment by annegb — February 6, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

  26. Are you talking about Jimmer? I agree. Testimonies from guys like that are worth a thousand missionaries knocking on doors.

    Comment by MCQ — February 6, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

  27. When I was 70′s group leader I felt the same way.We decided after hearing a great talk by Hartman Rector jr,that we would go knocking on doors with the missionaries.I went to the Elders and left a sign up sheet,left one with the high priest also. Then I went to my good friend the Bishop and a BYU education week speaker and invited him and his counselors. The next Saturday we all meet at the church parking lot and prepared to go forth as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do. There we were me my wife and my quorum.The rest of the invitees were busy that weekend. We had a great time and felt good after this experience,but after being released from 70′s leader I spent 12 years working in primary and none doing missionary work.Who was at fault me,the ward or is standing up for what we believe just to hard? I do know this 50 percent of our converts left the church,and 80 percent of my primary kids went on missions.

    Comment by marv thompson — March 15, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

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