Taking my pulse on missionary work
I heard that missionaries in an area conference got this non-PC but cut-to-the-chase directive: “do NOT go into the ghetto and baptize anything with a pulse”.
There’s a new push these days to make missionary work more ward based and ward initiated…as opposed to missionary based and missionary initiated. The new “Preach My Gospel” guidelines make this clear. What happens when missionaries in an urban setting make their most frequent contacts with people with serious and chronic social, medical and/or mental issues?
At a recent correlation meeting the elders told us what they do in our ward. They have been instructed that if an investigator repents and expresses a sincere desire to be baptized (as determined by the Spirit through the missionaries – not the bishop or ward mission leader) “Don’t wait. Hurry and get them baptized and confirmed so they can have the Gift of the Holy Ghost to help them face the difficult adjustments to their new lifestyle.”
Our ward straddles both gang-infested urban stretches and some of the most hoity-toity suburban communities in America. In a twisted way, one of the things I love most about our ward is that everyone worships outside their social comfort zones. It keeps us on our toes. But, hey, what happens when the “difficult adjustments to their new lifestyle” happen to these new investigators most intensely at church? I’ve been asking myself that question for over 30 years now.
We’ve been told that missionaries are to be our resources in helping teach our ward mission pool. Shouldn’t that include thorough teaching that membership in the church is more than just the personal covenant of baptism but the ongoing, determined work of bearing burdens, mourning, comforting and all the other communal components of being part of the fold? Is it fair to them not to expose them – at least a smidgen – before they commit?
In a different urban ward, a friend analyzed the statistics and learned that of the 100 convert baptisms in our ward in one year, at the end of that year only 2 of those people remained active. After that, the mission and the bishop worked together on a system of expecting investigators to attend church for four weeks before they were allowed to be baptized. How reasonable for everyone! Surely a new testimony can bear that much of a maturing process, can’t it?
How can it really be the ward’s mission pool if the ward’s resources are not taken into account should this fresh convert (or lonely enthusiast) promptly bow out? Welfare needs? Transportation to and from church meetings and activities? High maintenance home and visiting teaching? Some wards become gaping black holes of service because these issues of readiness and awareness are inadequately (or never) addressed. There has to be a balance somewhere, right? WWJD?
There’s always a vague cloud of shame emanating from some nameless hyper-orthodox hobgoblin when this topic comes up. Of course there is no “one size fits all” measure of acclimation and readiness. Of course people come in (and go out) for all sorts of reasons. Of course this does NOT mean we don’t want poor folks with issues to join the church. Regardless of income level, if we’re really honest, we are ALL poor folk with issues.
Yes, of course, the Spirit should guide. But let’s make sure that includes doing the right kind of right by the investigators and by the ward.