Are you ever nervous about turning your friends over to the missionaries? Do you fear you may be subjecting them to a high-pressure time-share sales presentation?
Let’s assume this reluctance has nothing to do with how you feel about “the message” itself. You love the gospel. You have a testimony. Attending church makes you happy and helps you be a better person. And you feel some compulsion to share that with others. It’s still possible to not want to turn your friends or family members over to the missionaries. It’s possible to love the message but to feel insecure about the messenger.
If the gospel is the message, then the missionaries are often the envelope in which that message is delivered. When I sort through the mail, this is the stuff that goes straight in the trash:
- anything addressed to “resident” or our house’s previous owners; anything addressed to someone who doesn’t really exist or never lived there
- stuff stamped with “urgent” or “open immediately” but is clearly from a business with whom I have no existing relationship; stuff with loud colors or big “zowie” outlines around words like “new”–clearly junk mail
- those pretend-familiar letters that look handwritten to you but you don’t know the handwriting or it’s really a font designed to look like handwriting
- anything that looks like it has been mangled by an automated sorted system
Who has not received a letter like this and thrown it directly in the trash? That’s why we call it junk mail: it’s impersonal (or worse, fakes being personal), it treats you like a number and not a person, it is all about its own aims (e.g. marketing numbers) and not about your actual needs, it approaches you as a commodity to be manipulated and coerced toward its aims. Those are the same qualities that describe ineffective missionaries.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many effective missionaries who are humble and love the people they serve, who treat each person as an individual, and who truly prize the message they are sharing. So why are some missionaries not like this?
- Pride. Just like any group of people, some missionaries have an ego. They want to be viewed as successful, and if success means numbers, some of them will do what it takes to get those numbers, even if it’s not what they should do.
- Pressure. That’s really just pride again, but stated as if the person(s) or system applying the pressure is the responsible party. Missionaries need to reduce their susceptibility to pressure to do things that are wrong (or to do them the wrong way) in order to be successful. And mission presidents are as susceptible to pride as the missionaries they serve and lead. Often, MPs are successful businessmen who are used to measurable results. They want a scorecard. They want to know they are successful and to make goals for success. When they apply these business skills to the mission, though, they run the risk of cutthroat tactics to achieve “success.”
- They had a bad day. OK, cutting missionaries some slack here, everyone has good days and bad days. Sometimes they are going to be less effective. That’s just being human. Zebedee Coltrin left his mission due to a splitting headache, and Parley P. Pratt opened his preaching to the Quakers by decrying their beloved celibacy. Even Paul got run out of Ephesus on a rail. We’ve all made mistakes.
So, what can we as lay members do to ensure that the envelope doesn’t get in the way of the valuable message?
- Befriend, don’t proselyte. Don’t be talked into doing something you are uncomfortable with. Personally, I think missionary work (for members especially) should be about recognizing that this is a cool person you would like to hang out with at church, someone you want to join your church family.
- Explain the process. If you think a missionary is going to give the full-court press or that the missionary is someone they may not like, let your friend know up front what to expect.
- Keep “Zeniff” missionaries in check. Talk to the missionary to know what kind of person you are dealing with. Tell them what your friend needs and express any concerns you have.
- Deliver our own messages. If you are worried about the missionary, be there in person to make sure the message gets through correctly, or just do your own missionary work until a missionary you trust is in place.
What do you think of these guidelines for us as members? Would this improve the effectiveness of missionary work? What else would you suggest? Discuss.