Gospel Principles 33: Missionary Work

I’m always conflicted about a lesson on missionary work.  In my life, I’ve found that when my efforts to talk to someone about the Church are based on guilt rather than the Spirit (note: this usually happens during the week after a Church lesson on missionary work that was full of examples like “your friends will cry to you from spiritual prison, ‘Why didn’t you share the Gospel with me?'”), my efforts fall flat. 

In a lesson like this as the teacher, my primary message to my class would be, “Listen to the Spirit. Don’t leave this lesson feeling guilty and try to go preach to someone without A LOT of prayer and thoughtful consideration.  Trust me, that doesn’t work.”  (ask me how I know.)

I haven’t done the usual commentary on the lesson like I usually do, but there are some very good ideas in this lesson.  Instead, I’ll offer and intro to the class and some excellent past posts from the Exponent that can spark discussion.  If you have insight into how you would or will teach this lesson, please share in the comment section.

Begin the class with a discussion on how the class would feel with certain missionary tactics.  Some examples:
1) 2 men come knocking at your door–how many of us open the door to the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
2) an acquaintance invites you to her church’s play or service but has never invited you to a movie or dinner
3) you mention what you had for dinner and your friend says, “Oh, we never eat that.  It’s against our religion.” (do your Jewish friends ever look at you askance when you say you love bacon?)

Past Exponent Posts on Missionary Work
Guest post by Margaret where she engages in a frank discussion about her beliefs in her graduate school class: http://www.the-exponent.com/2009/03/17/guest-post-dialogue-and-mormonism/
Exponent Class about the feelings of a Mormon woman married to a non-member: http://www.the-exponent.com/2008/05/01/exponent-classics-married-to-a-nm/
Deborah discusses other faiths and their approaches to missionary work: http://www.the-exponent.com/2007/11/05/sharing-the-gospel-a-charitable-reading/
Jana talks about the keys to retention for new converts: http://www.the-exponent.com/2006/05/25/fast-food-or-feasting-spiritual-development/
Linda shares her experiences with missionary work in her ward: http://www.the-exponent.com/2006/04/02/taking-my-pulse-on-missionary-work/

Past Exponent Lessons on Missionary Work

Also, another handy resource is coming out soon to help with lesson preparation.  LDS WAVE will be posting a book of quotes by Mormon women and/or about Mormon women in time for Mother’s Day. 

Note: This lesson was originally written for the Relief Society audience in 2010-2011, when the Gospel Principles manual was temporarily used as curriculum for Relief Society, Elders Quorum and High Priest classes. The lesson may require adaptation for Gospel Principles classes, which are mixed gender and primarily serve new members and investigators of the church.


EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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9 Responses

  1. Shelley says:

    When I was a full-time missionary, I remember wondering why our members never invited their friends/coworkers to church activities. I thought it was so simple. And then I got home and got a grown-up job. Now it all makes sense. I kind of want to go back to the members in my mission and say, “yeah, I get what you mean now.”

  2. Deborah says:

    I had completely forgotten the post of mine that that you linked to above. Four years later, it still reflects my peace/piece with missionary work. Thanks for letting me travel back.

  3. Hope says:

    In the past few months, I’ve been going through a huge paradigm shift. Let’s see if I can explain it….
    I think I use to judge whether or not I was on the right track by a checklist of all the things I’m taught I need to do…VT, service (feed missionaries, bring a meal to someone in the ward, go to RS sponsored activities…, teach my kids something that day, prayers, read scriptures… The more of these things I could check off the better I felt about my spiritual progress.
    However lately, it’s hit me that I’m not at all like Christ. I don’t have a Christ-like love for everyone that motivates me in my actions. I do the things I do mainly because I’ve been told to. I think that if I was Christ-like…had his image in my countenance… then my focus would go well beyond the boundaries of my Ward family.
    I taught a lesson in RS a few weeks ago about service…now keep in mind that I had been reading about some amazing people who are not church members who had dedicated their entire lives, selling everything they had, in order to help people.
    Just as a bit of history, a few weeks before I taught the lesson, I had left church early because of a sick child. When I got to my car there was an elderly couple working out in their backyard (their backyard adjoins our parking lot). Now this couple had had a huge tree blown over in a storm a few months ago and it had damaged their shed on the way down. I had often wondered about them and if they were in need of help in repairing it. The words almost came out of my mouth before I had a chance to think. I talk to them a few minutes, they were extremely friendly, I eventually asked them about their shed and casually asked if they needed help repairing it. They joked about needing all the help they can get, and then said no, they would get someone to fix it as soon as they had the money.
    So I had been wondering what to do about that. I don’t have construction skills and would need others help in order to help them.
    It was just a coincidence that my lesson on service was coming up. I decided that would email a bunch of people at church (a lot of the women’s husband that I emailed had construction experience) and I told them about the couple’s need and ask if anyone wanted to help. I didn’t get 1 response.
    See I had had a theory, including myself, that no one in the church (there are exceptions) will do any kind of service unless it’s a church activity, or it’s as Visiting Teacher, or it’s in their families.
    When I taught this lesson, I started out asking for examples of service…what I got?? Oh, someone in the ward bringing bread to another ward member, serving their family members… my theory appeared to be proven correct.
    When I talked about some of these people who weren’t members sacrificing all they had and moving to another country to feed the hungry, the comment I got was how we needed to go by the spirit with service because we couldn’t compare ourselves to others and feel guilty.
    How many of us would sacrifice that super huge all brick house with a mortgage payment that makes finances tight for something a lot more modest so that we would have plenty of money to help others have a better life?
    You see, until we truly have Christ image in our countenance, missionary work doesn’t work. We have to truly care about our fellow human beings; you can’t share the gospel just because you feel guilty that it’s something you need to do. It doesn’t work very well that way. If you truly had Christ like love there wouldn’t be retention problems because you’d be there for the person just baptized after their baptism, it wouldn’t be a chore.
    Anyway, does this make sense?
    I’ve realized that I’m not the person I thought I was. And after that lesson, it seems that a lot of church members are in the same boat.

    • EmilyCC says:

      a profound comment, Hope. Thanks for sharing!

      I know I often focus on the checklist because a. I haven’t accomplished everything, and those tasks are neat and black and white, and b. it seems quite a bit easier than having Christ-like heart.

      Thanks for the reminder!

    • Bobett Ray says:

      I do agree for the most part, it is so impostant to have that”mighty change of heart” that brings about having Christ’s image in our countenance, but it is a process and we are all at a different step in our progression. One of the important things is not to look at others and judge where they are by thier actions. Only Christ can judge thier hearts. Sometimes we give servive and sacrifice and in doing so the service and the sacrifice helps to sanctify us and move us along in that process. Through the atonement ,when we fall short in our efforts, with our list making and trying to just get the job done, our hearts become purified and we do see the bigger picture and Christ makes our efforts enough.

    • Jannette says:

      Thank you Hope for your comment. I agree with you 100%. I am teaching this lesson (missionary work) next month and will keep your comments in mind as I prepare my lesson. Thanks again for giving me something to think about. I love this sight!

  4. Hope says:

    You’re right the check lists are easier, but I think they can hold you back too. It’s easy to do the checklist without being truly converted. And I guess that’s okay to keep trying even if you aren’t fully converted, but I don’t think we will really reach our true potential unless we are.
    This paradigm shift has put me in a place I’ve never been in my life, I’ve been looking around at myself and others close to me and have said to myself, if this is what the checklist gets me then I don’t think I want it.
    I feel liberated from everything I am suppose to be doing but don’t really feel like doing. Now I’m doing it because I want to do it.
    I have found myself at that cross road. I’ve grown up in the church, went on a mission, but I’ve come to a point where I either need to feel it fully in my heart, that christ-like love that motivates me or else I’m ready to leave it.
    For a while I didn’t know which way I’d go but lately I’ve felt a strong desire to know Christ, I don’t know where it’s come from because I didn’t think I would be able to find the motivation to seek that true conversion, but I think its coming.
    I’d don’t know how far down the path I’ll get but I feel at peace knowing with where I am.

  5. Cindy says:

    I believe that we do need to be mindful of others 1st and formost. I also believe that most of us are better than just doing service if it is a “church activity”. I believe in people. I guess it is because I have seen Christlike attributes in so many people, members and non members alike. I think missionary work begins with attitude–a Christ centered attitude that we share with our children through everyday things that we do. Service in the home is so important and when we do the small and simple things like reading our scriptures, having FHE, personal & family prayer, ect and our children live it, they are becoming Christlike. As they see us concerned enough for our neighbors to include them in family prayer, take meals to those in need, stop and talk with a neighbor, share more than just a casual greeting of Hi, how are you, they are learning to be Christlike. We do tend to love those we serve, even if we are assigned as a Visiting Teacher. I have several friends that are not members of our church. One day, as I was a meal in to one of them, my daughters told me that she thought it was great that I was a Visiting Teacher to my friend even though she wasn’t a member. I guess I just see the good in people. It is okay to strive to be better. Remember that as you go through your day to include all the acts of service to your family, every time you help a small child say a prayer at dinner, or comfort a teen that is feeling low you are still doing service, being Christlike, and being a missionary. To quote Sherri Dew “You are better than you think you are!”

  6. Katie says:

    I love Hope’s paradigm shift. Since teaching the charity lesson I’ve been thinking a lot about how “Charity never faileth.” The checklists and everything else are just to help us move toward developing charity. Once we feel that Christlike love we don’t need the checklists because we’re guided by the spirit. Life is all about learning to love and serve. In fact, my main point with this missionary lesson is that missionary is work is all about loving and serving others. As we do that we’re sanctified, and it opens the door for the other person to feel God’s love.

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