In 2004, the Church released the long-anticipated “Preach My Gospel” manual, replacing the six discussion manuals and the pink “Missionary Guide.” This was a major development that dramatically changed processes and procedures for full time missionaries. With it, there were many shifts in emphasis and priority, the authorized Missionary Library was altered, and in many aspects, the way missionaries study and obtain information was reformed.I think it is crucial that we understand the role that this manual will have in the Church’s future leaders. In about 10-15 years, the local leadership of the church will be filled with a wave of people who served, studied, and learned using “Preach My Gospel” as their guide. In 50 years, the same will go for the General Authorities. “Preach My Gospel” will have set the groundwork that will influence their interpretation and implementations of policy and doctrine, their concept of the place and purpose of the gospel and the Church, and their ideas of what the “right” ways to do things are.
I am keenly aware of the before-and-after contrast, because I was on my mission (around hump day) when “Preach My Gospel” was introduced. I had spent the first half of my mission on the old-school discussions, and I completed the last half with “Preach My Gospel.” The new system was a welcome change. The old one was comprised of 6 rigid “discussions,” which you recited to investigators, with specific scripture references planted throughout the sequence. The terrible irony was that these were last thing you would every call a discussion…in fact even the church vernacular adopted the verbs “teach” a discussion (for missionaries), or “hear”/”take” the discussions for investigators, since there really was no “discussing” going on at all. “Preach My Gospel” got back down to earth, and simply called them “lessons.”
The original discussions were written in first person, much like a movie script. There were notes by the text with “stage directions” of sorts, prompting the Missionary to share a scripture or ask a question. The new lessons are not scripts, but rather a summaries of the doctrines, principles and teachings that are to be covered and taught to the investigator. The missionaries are specificially instructed to:
“Teach the message of the restored gospel in such a way as to allow the Spirit to direct both the missionaries and those being taught. It is essential to learn the concepts of the lessons, but these should not be taught by rote presentation. The missionary should feel free to use his own words as prompted by the Spirit. He should not give a memorized recitation, but speak from the heart in his own terms. He may depart from the order of the lessons, giving that which he is inspired to do, according to the interest and needs of the investigator.” (pp. 29-30)
This was huge for us missionaries. Having in many ways come on our missions expecting to simply receive instructions and obediently carry them out, we were now being given responsibilities to 1) learn and become well-versed in the subject matter we were teachings and 2) convey that information in a custom, genuine, and human way, not by simply reciting what we had read, but by mixing and matching ideas, concepts, and principles, to create an engaging and meaningful learning and spiritual experience for those we were teaching.
Each lesson, and each chapter for that matter, in “Preach My Gospel” is full of additional scripture references and other starting points for study. I could tell that collectively, as a mission, our study was become more meaningful and driven, and was more focused on the scriptures, but constantly with the human element in mind.
That right there is what I feel the single most important change was in the whole process: the human element. I feel that that will also have the most significant impact in the future wave of Church leaders.
Whereas before, the authorized agents of the church (missionaries) would present the message as almost a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum, now “Preach My Gospel” emphasizes the need for these same authorized agents to customize and tailor their message in an effort to reach out in love and understanding, carefully considering the needs and circumstances of others. I wonder how this ideology will play out when these missionaries raised on “Preach My Gospel” become Bishops and Stake Presidents. My feeling is that it will prove to be very positive and uplifting for all involved.
There are many other elements of “Preach My Gospel” (besides the lesson plans) that bring similar positive changes. Some of these include:
- An interestingly philosophical approach to the Book of Mormon
- An entire section dedicated to helping missionaries develop Christlike attributes
- Encouragement to engage in unplanned, unstructured, spontaneous acts of kindness and service
- An action plan specifically to help those seeking to overcome addictions
- Several suggestions for effective and engaging spiritual activities
- And more…
I think the change in focus and tone found in “Preach My Gospel” is doing many positive things in the mission field now. I predict that the principles, elements, and emphases embodied in “Preach My Gospel” with have a sweeping influence on the future church. The only question then, how will this influence be manifest? If “Preach My Gospel” is in fact an accurate barometer, then what’s the forecast? Any thoughts?