Church Members as Ambassadors
President George Albert Smith noted that as the Church becomes more well known, “its members are esteemed for their virtues,” and critics “are quickly divested of their unjustified prejudices, by coming in direct contact with the Latter-day Saints in their daily lives. … They then judge us by our fruits, from personal observation, and such information, as they impart it, can have but one effect, and that most favorable to us.”1
Smith observed that actually knowing members of our church dispels prejudice about the church. People who know us drop their misconceptions and instead judge us by our fruits—what we actually do. This seems logical to me but I question Smith’s assertion that knowing a Mormon “can have but one effect.” Depending on which Mormon you know, and how that particular Mormon behaves, you might draw different conclusions about the church. Sometimes, we Mormons, like anyone else, can be guilty of producing sour fruit.
What if we could test Smith’s theory about whether knowing us Mormons dispels prejudice? A recent research study actually did look into this idea. The researchers found that members of the general public who actually knew Mormons really well were not likely to be influenced by negative messages about the LDS Church—or positive ones, either. Their personal experiences with church members trumped any other messages about the church. Our actions as church members appear to have a strong impact on opinions about our faith among other people who are close to us.
However, this was a small group; the largest group of study respondents was not acquainted with any Mormons at all. People with little or no experience with Mormons were more likely to be influenced by both negative and positive messages about the Mormon faith. They were like blank slates with regards to Mormonism.
One group of people was influenced strongly by negative messages about Mormonism but unswayed by positive messages. This hard-to-please group of people knew Mormons, but were not close to any of them. a
If this study is an accurate depiction of how members of the church influence others’ feelings about our faith, it appears that being close to a Mormon does lead to strong, unswayable opinions of the Mormon faith, whether for good or bad. When we are close to people of other faiths, our examples really do affect their impressions of Mormonism in general. However, people who are acquainted with Mormons, but not close to any of them, are easily influenced by negative messages about our faith–they are the group most likely to become prejudiced against us.
Smith urges church members to help others overcome prejudice about our faith:
The adversary has used his strongest efforts to prevent the spread of the truths of the gospel. And it is your duty and mine, by tact and brotherly love and faith, to overcome the prejudice that the adversary has sown in the hearts of our Father’s children, to break down the false impressions that exist in some cases even in the minds of good men and good women, and to teach them the gospel of our Lord, that it is the power of God unto salvation unto all those who believe and obey it.14
When I was serving as a missionary, one of the people I was teaching told us that he had reconsidered his decision to be baptized. He had only spoken with members of the church at the chapel, so he did not know how they behaved outside of church. He did not feel that he could align himself with our organization without observing Mormons elsewhere. He went on to describe how he looked for a place that “Mormons frequent” and chose a local marketplace. He saw many of the people he had met at church there and told us that he observed that Mormons were just like everyone else but happier, confirming his decision to join the church.
What are some ways we can help others to have a positive impression of our faith?
What are some actions we should avoid if we wish to be good ambassadors for our faith?
How did the actions of church members affect your decisions about conversion to the church or the decisions of people close to you?
The study results showed that most people outside our church are not close to any Mormons. Are we too insular as a community? How can we better befriend people of other faiths?
How can we be better neighbors, coworkers and family members to people of other faiths?
We participate in missionary work by helping prepare future missionaries and by supporting them on their missions.
Smith points out that people who support full-time missionaries, even if they do not personally serve as missionaries, make valuable contributions to missionary work:
A plea has been made … that we send our sons and daughters into the mission field. … It has been a joy to me to see men and women economize and plan in order that their children may go into the world. Within the last few weeks a young man … left to go into the mission field, and his two sisters … are sending him part of their small salaries that he may enjoy the blessing of a mission. He is the first of a large family of children to go into the mission field to disseminate the truth. … I know the joy that will come into the hearts of those two fine women who have faith to give their means to their brother in order that he may serve the Lord in the field. They will receive the blessing that comes from teaching the Gospel, as far as it is possible to receive it without personal service.20
We participate in missionary work by preparing to serve missions ourselves.
Finally, Smith discusses how we can contribute to missionary work by becoming missionaries ourselves:
Our missionary field is before us. Our Father’s sons and daughters need us. … There are in this Church thousands of men and women who are capable of teaching the gospel and who can become more capable by doing their duty in the mission field. They will be blessed with means, sufficient to take them to perform the work that the Lord wants us to perform.24
I like how Smith points out that many of us are already capable of missionary work and that we can also become capable during our missionary experience. Skills we already have may be useful; but the fact that we don’t have certain skills yet doesn’t mean we can’t learn them.
…if we would have eternal joy in the kingdom of our Father with those he has blessed us with here, let us be unselfish in our lives: let us prepare for the work, and go out into the world and proclaim the truth, when the opportunity comes, and be the means in the hands of our Father of drawing his children back to him by teaching them the beauties of his gospel.22
Even if you are not a young, single person, there are many opportunities to prepare for formal missionary service. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said that senior missionaries “bring a maturity to the work that no number of 19-year-olds, however good they are, can provide.” b I served a mission alongside many 19-year-old boys and I can bear testimony of Hollands’ assertion that they are not mature (although most of them have many other good qualities). Missionaries with more life experience are certainly needed.
In 2011, the church changed some regulations regarding senior missionaries in order to remove some of the barriers to service:
- Housing costs of senior missionaries may be supplemented by the Church if they exceed $1400/month.
- Senior couple missions can be for 6 or 12 months as well as the traditional 18 or 23. (If couples wish to serve internationally for less than 18 months, they are expected to pay their own travel expenses. Single senior sisters must serve for a minimum of 12 months.)
- Senior missionaries may visit home at their own expense for critical family events, such as weddings and funerals.
You can view the complete guidelines for senior missionaries at http://www.lds.org/service/missionary-service/senior-missionaries?lang=eng
Unlike younger missionaries, who are usually surprised by where they are called to serve, senior missionaries are encouraged to indicate the types of assignments and locations that interest them. There is a wide range of missionary opportunities for seniors besides proselyting, which I consider to be good news. I served a proselyting mission when I was 21 and I enjoyed the experience, but I would prefer a different kind of service if I go on another mission later in life. Some senior missions that interest me include humanitarian aid work and teaching music skills. You can find out about current openings for senior missionaries, locations, duties, and expected living expenses in various mission areas, by reading the Senior Missionary Opportunity Bulletin. http://www.lds.org/csm/pdfs/MissOpp.pdf
The most flexible option for missionary service is a church service mission. These missions may be performed full-time or part-time and usually do not require you to live away from your own home. Both single and married members may serve, and married couples may serve together or individually—making this a great option for married people who would like to serve a mission but whose spouses are not members of the church or whose spouses are unavailable for or uninterested in missionary service. Members actively pursue the church service mission of their choice by looking for opportunities at this website and then contacting the missionary service supervisor listed: http://servicemission.ldschurch.org/csm-public/home.jsf Many of these missions utilize work skills you may already have or can learn through on-site training. Some service missions that seem interesting to me include web design and camp director positions. You can learn more about church service missions here: http://www.lds.org/service/missionary-service/church-service-missionaries?lang=eng
Have any of you served as a senior missionary or a church service missionary? How did you decide to serve a mission and prepare for your service? What kind of work did you do as a missionary?