“Teaching Children to Share the Gospel,” Ensign, Apr. 1986, 28
As those who have served missions know, there is a certain spirit of excitement in sharing the gospel. “Every gospel teaching experience is a spiritual experience for all parties regardless of whether it leads to baptism or not. … There is a spiritual adventure in doing missionary work, in giving referrals, in accompanying the missionaries as they give the discussions. It is exciting and rewarding.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Oct. 1977, p. 7.)
When, as a family, we earnestly begin missionary work, we will feel our own enthusiasm for the gospel increasing. Our family members will live the teachings of the gospel more closely because they will want to set a good example for others. We will be more eager to learn the gospel so we can answer questions asked us by our friends. Our family can experience the joy that comes from serving others. There is an increase of love and understanding and we draw closer as a family when we fast and pray for those around us.
Enthusiasm for sharing the gospel is contagious. Children will get into the spirit of sharing and find their own ways to do it once they are introduced to the joys of missionary work. One mission president’s son, for example, developed his own system of “bus tracting.” When he rode the city bus to his school in the morning, he would select an empty two-person bench, slide in next to the window, and place a missionary tract on the empty seat beside him. Before sitting down, people would pick up the tract. When they began reading, the boy would use his limited command of the language of the country to explain that the tract told of his Church’s teachings. Then he would ask the golden questions. He referred many potential investigators to missionaries.
That kind of initiative need not be limited to those living in foreign lands or called on missions.
When we love someone we want the best for them. We seek for their welfare. We desire to share our happiness with them in order that they too may receive the blessings of the gospel. We want to do this out of sincere friendship, not out of a sense of obligation or to add to statistics of the Church. Parents should teach their children that sharing the gospel with friends is an act of love. Love for the Savior and love for other people, when woven together, become the spirit of missionary service.
“Should every father and mother, should every member of the Church serve a mission? Again, the Lord has given the answer: Yes, every man, woman, and child—every young person and every little boy and girl—should serve a mission. This does not mean that they must serve abroad or even be formally called or set apart as full-time missionaries. But it does mean that each of us is responsible to bear witness of the gospel truths that we have been given … to pass the truths of the gospel on … by example as well as precept.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Oct. 1977, p. 3.)
Friendshipping is where it begins. Developing a genuine friendship comes naturally and makes neighborhoods better places to live and life more enjoyable. All it takes is being a good neighbor. “Help out. Does [your neighbor’s] lawn need edging? Offer to bring over your edger and help do it. Do they sometimes run into a babysitter shortage? Offer your teenagers or yourself. Is there sickness? Call on them or take in a tasty dish. Do they need someone to watch their pet or home while they are on vacation? Can you pick up for them some food item that you noticed is on sale? Can you take their children to school along with yours? Many individual circumstances can show them you care.” (Ernest Eberhard, Ensign, July 1978, p. 39.)
Children learn quickly to participate in this kind of friendshipping. Once taught to look for ways to help, they will quickly notice a playmate’s need and ask, “Mom, can Jenny ride to school with us?” Or, “Dad, can Kurt come along with our family on the ward campout?” Wise parents will not consider the addition of another person to these activities as a burden, but as a chance to serve their neighbors’ children. And they will teach their own children that those who love friends enough to share earthly opportunities ought to be even more eager to share eternal blessings.
Once we have developed a friendship with someone, it becomes easy to invite questions about the Church through natural conversation. For example, “Our little girl made this napkin holder in Primary.” Or, “Tonight I’m playing softball on my Church team. Do you like to play softball?” Or, “I received a letter from my nephew today. He’s a missionary in Peru.”
When the Church truly becomes part of our own and our children’s lives, it becomes easy and natural to bring aspects of it into conversation. But sometimes we Latter-day Saints can become one-sided about religion. Our little children, not yet experienced in the proper ways to build friendships, often must be taught to respect others’ right to believe differently about God, heaven, the eternal nature of their spirits, and life after death. We need to teach them to listen uncritically. (Coincidentally, if our children feel confident we will kindly listen to their questions about LDS doctrine, many sweet teaching moments can result.) We as parents can set an example by expressing genuine interest in our friends’ religious beliefs.
“Tell me about your church” is a question Latter-day Saints are rarely accused of asking. But it is a good way to find out what is important to our friends, as they describe their faith or discuss their own questions about it.
We should teach our children, too, that there is no need to be embarrassed if a friend turns down our invitation to learn more of the gospel—the average convert is asked four times before he says yes. No friend will dislike us for our interest in sharing our faith with him, any more than we would dislike that same friend if he courteously invited us to his home to hear his minister. If he says no to an invitation to hear about the gospel, we should treat his response as we would if he had declined a dinner invitation: “I understand, John, perhaps some other time.” Then we should continue to be his friend, lest he conclude that the only reason for our friendship is to convert him.
Children also need to learn that inactive members should be extended the same loving consideration that we give those nonmember neighbors whom we are friendshipping. These inactive brothers and sisters once felt the spirit of testimony and fellowship and likely will respond readily to our efforts. And many times it is the children who respond first. All it takes is for us to demonstrate that we would like them to be with us and participate in the blessings of the Church.
Sometimes an inactive parent’s bitterness can infect children with the deadly “anti-” virus that breeds resentment and antagonism toward the Church or those associated with it. Where that is the case, active parents will need to teach their own children not to respond in kind. That is not the way that Christ has taught his disciples to act. Dissenters should feel nothing from us but love. They will never be won back unless we who call ourselves Saints, including our youth, set what the Apostle Paul called “an example of the believers.” (1 Tim. 4:12.)
No child must ever be made to feel somehow personally responsible or inadequate because a parent is not living fully the teachings of the gospel. As parents, we cannot choose our children’s friends. But we bear responsibility for teaching our own offspring the need to fellowship the children of inactive members and the importance of never judging them by their parents’ weaknesses. Again, there is no finer teacher than parental example.
In all our missionary efforts, let us not forget that there are many ways we can help the full-time missionaries. Among these are aiding financially, praying for missionaries and investigators, writing to missionaries, giving referrals, and giving away copies of the Book of Mormon and Church magazines. Children can help in all of these activities.
The family testimony placed in a Book of Mormon sent to the mission field can provide a rewarding missionary experience for all members of the family. Paste a photograph of your family on the inside cover of a copy of the Book of Mormon. Underneath it write or type a testimony of the book. You may want to include a self-addressed envelope with a sheet of paper inside; with this, the person who receives the book can write to your family once they have read it. The simple, unvarnished testimonies of your children, if they care to contribute them, may be most impressive to investigators.
For home evening one night, a family could write letters to missionaries encouraging them to do their best and expressing love for them and pride in their efforts. Once again, the words of your children may carry surprising weight—particularly encouragement of young people near the missionaries’ own age.
Here are some ideas for helping your family get involved in missionary service.
Be a model of righteousness, “an example of the believers.”
Fast and pray that the doors of nations and the hearts of men will be opened.
Support and encourage the stake and full-time missionaries.
Prepare and encourage sons to serve full-time missions.
Provide financial assistance to missionaries by contributing to the General Missionary Fund.
Share copies of the Book of Mormon with nonmembers.
Share subscriptions of the Church magazines with nonmembers and inactive members.
Be referral conscious: ask the Golden Questions and provide the missionaries with the names of nonmember friends.
Follow a plan for introducing friends to the gospel:
Prayerfully select a nonmember friend or family (or part-member family) who you feel is ready to accept the gospel.
Plan friendshipping activities to interest the family in the gospel. For example, you could (1) Invite them to take part in family outings or other family activities. (2) Share hobbies or talents with them. (3) Invite them to special missionary-oriented programs, such as firesides, pageants, tours of visitors’ centers, open houses, Tabernacle Choir broadcasts or concerts, Church-sponsored athletic events, and roadshows. (4) Hold a special family home evening with them. (5) Invite them to Church meetings. (6) Try to discuss aspects of gospel principles and gospel living in a normal, natural way when interest is shown.
Ask members of the family if they are interested in learning more about the Church. If they are interested, have the ward mission leader arrange for stake or full-time missionaries to teach them, preferably in your home. If they are not interested, continue friendshipping them and prayerfully seek for other families to friendship.
Continue fellowshipping those families who become members of the Church. (See Ensign, Oct. 1977.)