What Advice Would You Give Our Bishops? (“Missionary Work”)

Ray christ, church, Culture, LDS, Leaders, missionary, Mormon, reverence, sacrament meeting, service, spirituality 27 Comments

I am on the Stake Missionary Committee, and Wednesday night we had a fascinating set of meetings.  I couldn’t help but think as the meetings unfolded that everyone here would have been shocked at the conversation flow and the end result of our final committee meeting.  I don’t want to go into lots of detail, but I do want to recap two highlights and ask everyone here the same question my Stake President asked us:

What advice would you have me give our Bishops? 

As a quick explanation, we have our monthly bishops training meeting next week, and after we finished the standard summary of the current investigators and their individual needs our Stake President turned the discussion to the upcoming meeting with the bishops.  We discussed a number of things relative to missionary work, and then, right before he left to do other Stake President stuff, he left the Missionary Committee with a charge.  He said:

I want you to give me some concrete suggestions for what to ask of our Bishops to improve missionary work in our stake.

The following is an explanation of the three things we are suggesting to him, with a brief explanation of why we are making those suggestions:

1) Instruct the Bishops to focus our Sacrament Meetings on Christ.

We had mentioned this when the Stake President still was with us, but we were unanimous that the best thing we can do to share the Gospel with others at the ward level is to have deeply spiritual Sacrament Meetings – and we all felt like too many talks were focused on topics that, while important as practical matters, were better suited for Relief Society and Priesthood meeting.  We talked of how we too often lose sight of the unique purpose of a meeting that is supposed to focus on WORSHIP – by introducing topics that are not “worshipful”.  We mentioned specifically that the following topics are not appropriate for Sacrament Meeting:

a) Food Storage (unanimous groans about that as a topic)

b) “Missionary Work” (one very dedicated, ultra-conservative High Councilor said he “withdraws” emotionally whenever “missionary work” is the topic of a talk – and, remember, this was the Missionary Committee)

c) Tithing (a spiritual law, but not focused on Christ)

d) anything else that is “programmatic” and not focused on becoming Christ-like

We talked of making sure each and every topic includes, at the very least, the qualifier, “and how understanding and living this principle (or developing this characteristic) will help me become more like Christ”.  We also talked of working to eliminate travelogues, thank-amonies and quasi-talks from Fast and Testimony Meeting.

2) Instruct the Bishops to personally set an example for the members of love and fellowship of ALL who walk through the doors at church.

Do this in part by ending all administrative meetings no later than 15 minutes before the start of Sacrament Meeting, spending at least 10 minutes mingling with those who are attending Sacrament Meeting each week, seeking out and just being friendly with EVERYONE not known personally, and being seated on the stand at least 5 minutes before the meeting starts – reverently listening to the prelude music and asking the congregation to do the same.

3) Ask the Bishops to instruct their Ward Councils and Activities Committees to coordinate regular activities around service opportunities in their communities.

Don’t add “extra” activities, but replace most of the activities they generally do currently.  Rather than have a ward dinner and talent show held in the cultural hall, for example, provide a dinner and talent show at a retirement community, nursing home or homeless shelter.  Don’t create more activities; rather, be less exclusive and insular – focusing the activities on helping and serving others.

Most of our conversation focused on helping members let go of referring to “doing missionary work” and begin to see it instead as “sharing the Gospel”.

So, for this post, I ask the same question:

With regard to “missionary work”, what advice would you give our Bishops?

Comments

comments

Comments 27

  1. 1. Sacrament meetings need to focus of the Savior and his atonement. Any principle taught at Sacrament Meeting or in a Church class needs to center on Jesus Christ.

    2. Ward activities need to include non-members and less-active members as well. Singles, the elderly, and those with disabilities need to be able to participate in the activity and feel welcome to attend. For example, a Valentine’s Dance for married couples will exclude singles and many with physical disabilities.

    3. Bishopric members need to reach out to all the members, especially those who are returning to activity in the Church. When they are continually ignored at Church meetings, they may feel uncomfortable in attending in the future.

  2. Ray, I love all of your suggestions. I don’t have much to add, but having the sacrament meeting focus on Christ would be so wonderful.

  3. Put on meaningful Easter programs. One of the things many converts from other Christian traditions — no matter how “TBM” they’ve become — find disappointing about the Church is the lack of any “special” feeling on Easter Sunday. Christmas and Easter are the two big days in most Christian congregations. Many people attend their church only on those two days. So make Easter Sunday in LDS churches a Big Deal. Maybe hold a sunrise service or something. Make it something even non-LDS want to come to. Maybe even advertise it in the newspaper.

  4. Speaking of Easter, this year ours will consist of Stake Conference meetings broadcast from who-knows-where. Not exactly a draw for visitors.

  5. Amen! I think re-focusing sacrament meeting around Christ would be a BIG DEAL! It is so easy to lose sight of the fact that it is designed for worship and not for dealing with the more mundane sort of gospel topics.

    EVERY time I see a missionary stand up to speak I prepare myself to walk out, at the very least emotionally. Because I know that they are going to say something that I simply don’t agree with. Sharing the gospel is a duty that we have to fulfill–ugh, no thanks.

    Look, folks, any time I hear anyone say that I MUST share the gospel, that it is my DUTY, I get just a bit tetchy. If a person doesn’t have a strong enough testimony to WANT to share the gospel, then telling them to do it anyway is going to result in an insincere effort which will not have the desired effect. Either the person that they are talking to won’t believe them (quite likely) OR they’ll decide THEY don’t believe it. Only in a very few instances will a person decide (after being forced to share the gospel) that they believe it. Theories of cognitive dissonance might trick you into thinking otherwise, but I’m convinced that this is why so many young men leave the church after their missions AND why the church has really hammered on the Raise the Bar program. Someone realized that having a bunch of people who weren’t already certain wasn’t doing ANYONE any favors. Now going on a mission is no longer seen as a way to gain a testimony, but gaining a testimony is seen as a way to qualify to go on a mission. What’s that odd scripture about ‘after thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren?’ I think that has some application here.

    Anyway, I could rant about this for a while, but I do have some other things to do.

  6. Advice to my bishop re: missionary work. Don’t talk about it for 24 years. I’m 56, hope to live to 80.

  7. “1) Instruct the Bishops to focus our Sacrament Meetings on Christ”

    I think the problem with this is even if the bishop does assign members topics that are Christ-centered, members seem to always find a way to go off on a tangent or an unrelated topic and the bishop can’t control that. Unless he is specifically the one giving the talk every week it is almost impossible to keep people from not finding a way to incoporate food storage into their talk on how to become more like Christ. So, no matter what advice a bishop may be given, even if he agrees and decides to make changes, the members will find a way to work around it. What comes to my mind that relates to this is when members were asked to focus on specific things when bearing their testimonies. I see some really trying to do this, but many still do not pay attention to it at all.

    “3) Ask the Bishops to instruct their Ward Councils and Activities Committees to coordinate regular activities around service opportunities in their communities”

    In my ward there is already a lot of focus on community service and much time and effort is put into this. I think if all the activities were to become like this then it might pull too much reserve from some and stop them from coming to the activities. I think some people in the ward really need the more “social” aspect of some of the activities to help them feel a part of the ward and to help them feel renewed. I think it has to be judged on a ward to ward basis though, because the members in my ward seem to give much more compared to my prior wards.

    kuri-
    I have wondered before why the LDS church hasn’t focused more on Easter and Christmas in Sacrament meetings. I know for me, it has bothered me that some people just go to church on Easter and Christmas and ignore the rest of the year as if worshipping Christ is a biannual event. I have wondered if that is why the LDS church doesn’t make such a big deal about it because they want to focus more on worshipping Christ everyday as opposed to twice a year?

  8. I am going to take a risk here, and I want to be careful because I agree with alot of what has been said with regards to sacrament meeting. Even still, this ultimately would come down to Sacrament Meeting should be only about the Atonement in a narrow way. 52 sundays per year, 70-80 years of Church attendance, that would get really, really, stagnate. Why not just focus on keeping it spiritual at any level, with just the minor exclusion of no more talks about food storage or other trivial Church programs, FHE, etc. Share faith, talk about the gospel, talk about the Savior, talk about thing’s that engage participation. Perhaps the Bishops should assign less topics, and just give these guidelines, again whatever you do, please no more talks about food storage.

  9. On sacrament meetings. We have focussed on the whole life of christ. each speaker takes a part and even then you don’t have enough sundays. Some talks about the marriage in cana, someone else on the temptations etc…

    I agree about the easter thing, but what would people want from that ‘special’ easter sunday meeting? I think it is great but what would we do… i gotta be honest i am currently preparing one right now, so any advice would be great.

    Back to original question: I think making friends with people outside of the church. I hope this is not taken in the wrong way, i think people shoull do this for its own sake not as a conversion tool. I just in general think this would be a good thing for the general membership (and I come from England). but if people do have more contact with people outside then it is more likely that people will be sharing the gospel.

  10. Ray,

    Those are awesome suggestions! Kuri, I agree completely about Easter! I posted last year on why Mormons don’t celebrate Easter. That’s a big problem, IMO.

    As for missionary work, I think there is far too little emphasis on reactivating inactives. It should be much easier to get someone to start going to church who used to come, than to find people cold turkey. I think missionary work expends too much effort on finding new people, than activating people we already have.

    They say in business it’s much easier to keep a returning customer than to find a new customer.

  11. The most important missionary message to wards that all bishops and SPs should make clear to all members is that every single week, there are people in that meeting who are investigators – some are non-members, some are members, some are returning less actives. People need to open their eyes and hearts and welcome everyone every single week.

    I love the notion that our meetings should be interesting and spiritual enough that people want to come to experience it. I think that could be done through music. Frankly, we have no pomp or ceremony, and we conduct our meetings like a business review. It’s a tough sell when people expect religion to be either ceremonial (like Catholicism or Orthodoxy) or invigorating (like the non-denomination Christians or the SBC). I sometimes think of something a business consultant said to our team at work: “You people look bored. You’re boring each other. And you’re boring me.” Boring people isn’t Christlike. Jesus wans’t boring.

  12. “I love the notion that our meetings should be interesting and spiritual enough that people want to come to experience it. I think that could be done through music.”

    With all due respect, most of the LDS adult music services at the local level have presented the same quality of experience as attending an elementary school program. I have never had the same experience from a music program, as I have when someone just gave a really good talk.

    That being said, I agree that we probably ought to distance our religious culture a bit more from Corporate America.

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    Thanks everyone. I actually am going to compile a summary of things suggested here and pass it on to the Committee Chairman and the Stake President.

    #1 – CB, Your #2 is interesting for our stake. Our Stake President has instructed the stake and ward/branch leaders to examine what they do and what they would change if 50% of all people in attendance in our meetings and activities were not LDS. He’s not talking about watering down the Gospel message, but rather eliminating stupid, thoughtless, off-putting, cultural things that drive people away or draw unnecessary distinctions.

    #3 – kuri, I would LOVE to see a little more flexibility for Christmas and Easter. I think that could get a bit hairy in areas where three or four congregations, but a combined worship service of multiple congregations at a unique time would be wonderful.

    #8 – Jen, Perhaps I should have been a little clearer about Christ-centered Sacrament Meetings. My home ward has been doing this for at least five years, and the effect has been astounding. Our former Bishop was adamant that no matter what topic was assigned, the talks had to address both the topic generally AND how that topic brings us closer to Christ. He also stressed to every speaker that he expected them to prepare their talk through inspiration, because the bishopric had prayed about the topic and genuinely believed someone in the congregation needed to be UPLIFTED in some way through their talk. He meant it; he was serious about how carefully they chose the topics; that message came through loud and clear to the speakers. Our current bishop has continued that practice.

    Honestly, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve attended a “bad, boring” Sacrament Meeting in our ward. I have heard some phenomenal talks over the last five years, not for intellectual content, but for the power of the message and the spirit that attended them. I REALLY love my ward, but it is what it is largely because a good man humbly committed himself to change it from what it was – and worked tirelessly at it for three years. I truly love that man – who currently is serving in the Nursery and happy to be there.

    Also, I don’t mean to imply that ALL activities should be “serious”. I’m all in favor of sociality – and even a few more “traditional”, church-building based activities. We just want members serving others without “conversion strings” attached. We want them living the heart of the Gospel (lifting the wounded knee and the heavy heart), not JUST partying and socializing.

  14. Good advice, but it is amazing how even that can be subverted. In one gospel doctrine class I attended the instructor asked “what can we do to most become like Christ?” The answer: “do our home and visiting teaching.”

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    #9 – Cowboy, I agree. We don’t want our bishops re-assigning the same handful of talks over and over again. As I said to Jen, it’s more about Christ-like attributes, events from the life of Jesus and what they teach us about (fill in the blank), general topics that deal with spirituality and righteousness as they relate to becoming more like Christ, concepts from Preach My Gospel that will help us become more like Christ, talks on specific counsel (scriptures and passages) attributed to Christ, General Conference talks as resources from which to pull NO MORE THAN one or two quotes to illustrate how we can “come unto (Him)”, examples from one’s own life of times when she felt closest to Christ and Heavenly Father, etc. (That last topic has produced some spine-tingling talks, as members opened up about their struggles and experiences feeling God’s love. Two, in particular, will remain with me forever.)

    #10 – Rico, I agree about making friends outside of church. You also might be interested in reading something I wrote a while ago:

    My Dream: A Collective Mighty Change of Heart

    #11 – I agree, MH, but I will add that bringing them back to the same old same old they left won’t accomplish anything in the long run. The church to which they return has to be different somehow than the one they left.

    #12 & #13 – Hawk and Cowboy (sounds like an old western movie – John Wayne stars in, “The Hawk and the Cowboy”), I agree wholeheartedly that boring is bad – and that good music helps tremendously – and that most units in the Church can’t pull off lots of good, varied music on a regular basis. How about being more open to inviting others to share their musical talents in our meetings – students from a local high school or college, groups from other denominations, civic groups, etc? Focusing the talks on Christ-centered topics and NOT about “missionary work” would help in those situations, but why must we only ask members to participate – as long as the songs and instrumentation are approved in advance?

  16. Cowboy: “With all due respect, most of the LDS adult music services at the local level have presented the same quality of experience as attending an elementary school program.” That’s too bad because I’ve been in some wards that had some really great musical talent: professional singers, people who run music studios for a living, professors of music, and even the director of the Hill Cumorah pageant. There are people with great musical talent. Part of the problem is how restrictive we are about what kind of music is allowed in our worship. I would love to see the brethren turn the “music standards” or whatever it’s called over to Gladys Knight to let her overhaul our standards so that it speaks to the human soul in a way that some of the mournful music of dead white Protestants does not. If Emma took this on as “an elect lady,” maybe Gladys is another elect lady to take it to the next level.

  17. “How about being more open to inviting others to share their musical talents in our meetings – students from a local high school or college, groups from other denominations, civic groups, etc?” Ray, hear, hear! One of the most memorable mission farewells I ever attended had a non-Mormon high school music teacher doing a Beatles medley on a guitar. Although some on the stand were squirming, others looked ready to wave their lighters in the air. Another great musical moment was in the Lihue ward (branch?) in Kauai. At the end of the service, they sing a variety welcoming songs to the visitors in Hawaiian.

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    #15 – geb, that’s why I really believe this has to be a top-down effort if it’s going to permeate an entire ward. I believe strongly that instances like what you described should be addresses head-on – directly, but gently – with something like, “OK, that’s one thing, but how can we really become more Christ-like in everything we do?”

    Having said my first sentence in this comment, I also think that ANY member should be able to go to a bishop and discuss this topic, even if it’s nothing more than copying discussions like this that happen in the Bloggernacle and handing them to him – or e-mailing a url and asking him to read it – or any other way to bring it to his attention in a non-threatening way. I do the last two (printing and e-mailing links to discussions) regularly, generally with a simple note that says, “I came across something I think you might like to see.”

  19. “I would love to see the brethren turn the “music standards” or whatever it’s called over to Gladys Knight to let her overhaul our standards so that it speaks to the human soul in a way that some of the mournful music of dead white Protestants does not.”

    Hawkgrrrl:

    I just don’t see this happening, but suspending reality for just a moment. Absolutely, if this could be the end product and the Gospel got a little soul, I’d be on bored. Though, to be honest, I’d probably more interested in The Church – but, not because of the religion.

  20. “…I’d be on bored.”

    Wow, I don’t know how that happened, let me try it again.

    “…I’d be on board.”

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  22. Some ideas for Bishops helping Missionary work.

    I think something that would really help, is that whenever Missionaries have someone prepared for Baptism, the Bishop needs to go with the Missionaries and meet that person- in that person’s home. I know that is a lot to ask, but it addresses one of the major problems we have with retaining converts.

    Converts are usually used to Protestant or Catholic organization were the local Pastor works full time visiting and tend the flock. In our church, Bishops can’t do that, but converts are still often confused about how it all works. Who do they go to? Sure, the missionaries can explain- but if the Bishop were to show up in their home even once, and say something like: “I have a full time job, I’m not paid to be Bishop so I can’t visit everyone myself. That’s why we assign hometeachers. They are your contact point with the church- but you can also approach me, or the Elders Quorum President (explain who he is and what he does), or the Relief Society President (explain this position too)” Give them the number for his secretary, and explain about how to set up an appointment with him, and then finish by letting them know that if these other avenues aren’t working out that they can approach him and talk to him.

    Simple housekeeping things like this are very important, but I found that only the more experienced Missionaries remember to do this, and so often the new member won’t really know what’s going on or how he’s supposed to interact with the church organization.

    A second thing that I think would help would be for the Ward Mission Open House to be taken over by the Bishop and assigned through out the ward organizations as an actual open house- not just a show up and listen to a talk by a missionary, or watching a video- but an actual tour of the church building. Have each organization assigned space (usually their meeting room) to set up a presentation about what that organization does. Print up flyers- nice ones (not gloss prints or anything, but at least the kind you fold up) that have the date and time of the open house, as well as short blurbs about each organization and what they do. By the way, Primary will be the biggest and most important attraction. (We did this once in a ward on my mission, I can’t tell you how many Protestant pastors approached me later to say how much they wish the had a “Children Church” like ours). Clean and pretty up the building. Our buildings are incredible, they can impress people and attract investigators who are looking for a Church to attend. This is something basic that any other church does all the time- and there is no reason we shouldn’t too. Let the missionaries (full-time and ward) serve as tour guides, and have everyone finish in the Chapel with a short message about Christ, and then off to the Cultural Hall for refreshments and more ward missionaries/member to mingle and answer questions (the refreshments are great for making sure the ward members hang around and are in a good mood for conversation- even when they aren’t actually called as ward missionaries).

    Distribute these flyers to all the less active members, give them to members to hand out- and give them to the full time Missionaries to tract with.

    I tell you truthfully, the first time you do this you will be lucky if one non-member shows up and a handful of less actives. But the biggest impact will be on the members, it has a huge effect in getting members interested in sharing the church with non-members. It’s a non-threatening invitation- “just come and tour my church and find out what I do there.”

  23. I would tell the bishops that sacrament meeting needs to focus on Christ more, especially fast and testimony meetings. Let me give an example… I usually sit in the back an watch people. Very interesting. During one fast and testimony meeting, I counted how many times people testified of the church, the current prophet, and Christ. I ignored the closing part to make the numbers a bit more representative of the shared testimony. What I found was that people overwhelmingly testified “I know this church is true” and “I know ____ is a prophet” and very few of them testified of Christ himself. I would address that first. I was once asked by an investigator after an F&T meeting why that was and I had no idea how to answer.

    Second, I sometimes pay attention in church and remember not too long ago Salt Lake told us that we were not to use term like “investigator” and “Non-member” or “Non-mormon.” To use these terms creates a division and makes people feel like outsiders and not part of the group. How can you hope to bring someone to Christ if you make them feel as if they are not part of the group?

    Third, sincerity needs to be addressed. I’ve noticed that people out here in the suburb of the state of Utah usually have their entire friend network and business relationships (i.e. LDS business directory) within the church subculture. They don’t stray outside of that if they can avoid it. If you go to fellowship someone for the sole purpose of bringing them into the church, they will pick up on it and it usually backfires. Members of the church need to get out of the bubble and make real ties in their neighborhoods. History has taught us that sticking to our own has not worked out so well. The healthy do not need a doctor. The spiritually starving and malnourished do.

    Lastly, missionary work isn’t something that is supposed to be scripted. You’re supposed to follow the spirit when you do it. I hated being forced to memorize discussions and repeat them word for word (otherwise I was being a disobedient missionary) when the person I was teaching needing something more. The most effective teaching I have ever done is when I broke ranks and taught what the person needed and helped them along the path. We have the restored gospel, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and (hopefully) testimonies. Use them!

    Sorry, got kind of ranting there, but I think I made my point. I’ll get off my soap box now.

  24. Perhaps we should follow the admonition found in D&C 19:31-32 regarding what should be in our hearts and what should be spoken of in our meetings:

    “And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost. Behold, this is a great and the last commandment which I shall give unto you concerning this matter; for this shall suffice for thy daily walk, even unto the end of thy life.”

    When was the last time you heard anyone speak of the ‘remission of sins by baptism and by fire and the Holy Ghost?’ I have often wondered if this is not why the Church had so much success in its early years. The simple message that we can receive a remission of sins and be cleansed by the Holy Ghost; not imperceptibly after a lifetime of service but as the Gate to the strait and narrow leading to eternal life (2 Nephi 31:17-18) Without that message, there is no gospel. Without this gospel, there is no church (3 Nephi 27:8 )

    Secondly, we are told in this verse that this should be sufficient for us to the end of our lives (assuming what the Lord said to Martin Harris is also good for us). I think that about covers it in terms of a focal point for the message of our meetings.

    Spek

  25. Our Stake has been working on improving missionary work and retention for about a year now two things have helped. Our weekly mission correlation meeting where we talk about what each organization needs to do with less actives, new members, and investigators and make assignments. After church we have a five minute meeting where we ask “who wasn’t here that we expected” and make sure some one calls and lets them know they we’re missed. We’ve had 20 baptisms in the last year with about a 70% retention rate.

    Additionally, I recommend reading Law of the Harvest as it has the simplest most strait forward member-missionary training I have ever seen.

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