The Unconventional Missionary

Posted by on September 24, 2012 in women | 10 comments

Every member a missionary? I am not proud to admit that I am squirmingly uncomfortable engaging in traditional missionary efforts — handing out Book of Mormons, inviting friends to “special firesides,” committing to do “x” initiative that the missionaries/bishop/stake president ask us to commit to.  So when I had to give two lessons in a row on missionary work — as the Relief Society Manual recently required that I do — I had to dig deep.  This post from my past reminded me that I am not adverse to spiritual sharing – quite the contrary.

Perhaps I’m just better suited to different forms of Good-News-spreading than we typically talk about.  Sometimes I feel like a missionary for interfaith marriages – (Don’t let the Proc-Talk get you down! Healthy relationships are worth  celebrating! Your mom will get over it! God is Love!).

This week, when a friend was personally contacted about her ward’s mission plan, she composed this gracious and thoughtful response.  My friend may be an unconventional missionary, but I am certain she is called by God to this charism of outreach.  Listen in (shared with permission):

Dear ______:

I’m so impressed with how on top of this you are! I think the ward’s missionary plan is an interesting idea, and I hope it’ll be successful.

After a rather disastrous attempt with a neighbor and missionary work a few years ago, I have made ways I can do missionary work a matter of prayer and have found ways that I believe help me and those I’m trying to help but aren’t conventional missionary ideals.

My husband and I regularly host a Mormon LGBT group at our home that supports members of the Church who are gay and are deciding how and if they want to continue to be Mormon. I work with a lot of women across the country who struggle with the way women are treated in the Church, and I continue to befriend my friends who have decided that the Church isn’t a safe or happy place for them to be, supporting them and knowing that they’ll never come back. Some of these people are in our ward boundaries, most are not. I realize many don’t consider this missionary work, but to me, showing our sisters and brothers love and acceptance, like Christ did, is the single best way we can bring others the light of the Gospel.

I feel like this is the type of missionary work I am best able to do. It doesn’t fit in particularly well with the model below, but it is a part of my daily life, and something I feel called to do.

If I can be helpful with your work in the ward, please let me know.


Her response was a balm to me, a reminder to reach out to those in pain in our ranks and help provide a soft landing, a place of rest — wherever their journey might be taking them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on unconventional missionary work.

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  1. This is an awesome post and an even thoughtful letter with an outstanding response. I would join that group in minute.

    I think what I like the most about her response is her acknowledgement of the people that she is trying to serve. I like how she’s giving these people a safe place to voice their concerns without condemning them, or calling them to repentance as so often happens.

  2. I love this so much. I, too, struggle with conventional “missionary work” and get uncomfortably squeamish when the topic comes up. Earlier this year, the ward mission leaders invited us over for what turned out to be a missionary work pep talk, directing us to give out more BoMs, pass-along cards, etc, invite our neighbors to church with us, and generally be pretty vocal about sharing the LDS church. I hesitate to get involved in those particular pursuits as I have found them less than effective and often harmful in the relationships where I’ve tried to use them. Maybe my approach is wrong. Maybe my motivation or my desire leave something to be desired. But I feel much more comfortable with the approach your friend suggested in her letter. Showing love and acceptance, understanding and kindness, seem a much healthier approach. And help me feel less like I’m trying to convince everyone that I’m right and they’re wrong. Because honestly, I don’t think anyone else’s opinions on God or religion are “wrong” – they just “are.” And I’m ok with that.

  3. For some time I’ve felt that missionary work is unnecessary. It seems to me that any group which has and lives the Fulness of the Gospel and the Plan of Happiness should have people beating on their doors begging for the secret. Needing to go to people to tell them how happy we are seems a bit strange.

    Your friend’s idea of missionary work–”showing our sisters and brothers love and acceptance, like Christ did,” is the best missionary program I’ve ever heard. I hope it catches on Churchwide.

    • I agree, Course Correction. That we push missionary work so hard implicitly suggests that we don’t think the message is all that compelling.

  4. I had to teach one of those missionary work lessons as well, and it was pretty painful (3 in a row!?).

    There are two terms describing overlapping things, one of which I like and one of which I really don’t like: sharing the gospel and missionary work. Sharing the gospel is something I can do because it’s sharing a part of my life. Missionary work seems more like sales, which I could never authentically do.

    We once had a ward mission leader whose ward mission plan was simple: have a non-church member in your home at least once a month. That’s all. You don’t have to send them home with a Book of Mormon. I liked that.

  5. The best “missionary” lesson I had: have authentic conversations with your friends and other people with whom you interact about meaningful things in your life–including faith, spirituality, family, feelings, etc. Listen and ask questions with real intent, NOT for the purpose of sharing a message about the Mormon church but simply to build a relationship with the other person and learn from her/him. Traditional “missionary moments” may arise from such conversations, but that’s not the point.

  6. I like traditional missionary work too. After all, I served a mission. But: I like non-traditional missionary work even better, and generally think it is more effective, precisely because it is generally more natural. What forms of non-traditional missionary work do I do? Post personal blog posts on my facebook about my real life, when sometimes my real life involves things of the spirit, or big things of the spirit like a recent death in my husband’s family ( I wrote the things I had to write, and then I shared it. Non-lds friends and family members wrote me that my words made them cry, and sometime later I realized that I bore my testimony to them without even trying. It was just me being me. No offense was had. There was no fakeness. I also post the good articles on Mormonism during this “Mormon Moment.” Does that mean that my posts are coming from Church Headquarters? Rarely. But sometimes. And my friends are learning more true and nuanced things about us, which I count as a BIG positive.

  7. At my dad’s stake conference in Northern California, they were told that they needed to make friends beyond their faith community and NOT talk to them about the Church. I wonder how I would feel about missionary work if I was given that sort of direction.

    • By that definition, I’m the missionary of the year!

  8. As someone who isn’t so great at traditional missionary work, I loved to hear that letter you shared. However, I was disappointed that some are discounting the traditional method. I think if that method is who you are and you are genuinely out there and ready to share- I think it can work wonders. However, as a more reserved person, I don’t feel very genuine if I just get out there and start talking Book of Mormon etc. I feel like I am a better and more genuine missionary if I just share my beliefs when they come up in conversatioin with a friend. That is much more genuine for me. I don’t try to dodge the topic, but I don’t “unnaturally” try to inject it into conversations either. On the other hand, I have friends who are naturally very gregarious who can bring up things that are important to them, such as the gospel, and share it in a very genuine way for them. I don’t discount that. I think the real problem comes when someone senses that when we share the gospel, it is not genuine. (Keep in mind, this comes from my perspective, and I rank genuineness very highly). Love the “unconventional missionary” and there is a place for us all to be missionaries with our own strengths. Bravo!

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