“Sharing the Gospel with Sensitivity,” Ensign, June 2002, 53
A colleague once said to me, “You Mormons are nice people; I’ve never met a bad one. But your claim that you’re the only true church really bothers me.”
When the resurrected Savior ascended into heaven, He instructed His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). In our day the Lord commanded the Prophet Joseph Smith to send missionaries to preach the gospel across this country and Europe. Most recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley has challenged us to double the number of convert baptisms.1 Sometimes, however, in our eagerness and enthusiasm to share the gospel with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers we may be perceived as being arrogant, perhaps even offensive. We don’t want to come across this way, yet we have a divine mandate to offer the restored gospel to others.
We need not apologize for or feel uncomfortable about our testimony of the restored gospel, nor our eagerness to share it with others. However, we must ask ourselves, “How can I balance my responsibility as a member missionary with the need to be kind and loving in my approach to others?”
The sons of King Mosiah “were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28:3). Our motivation, like theirs, should be a deep love for our friends and neighbors, indeed for every son and daughter of God. Our acquaintances must know that our friendship is not contingent upon their joining the Church. When they feel that we truly care about them, they will begin to recognize that what we are offering them is based upon our love for them, not just a desire to increase the membership of the Church.
Daily seeking the Spirit to attend us in our activities and in our conversations with others will help us be sincere and motivated by Christlike love. We need to be meek and humble if we expect the Spirit to work through us. It is the Holy Spirit that can change a person’s heart, not the member or the missionary.
A friend who worked in marketing once told me, “People immediately recognize a sales pitch, and nothing turns them off faster than a sales pitch on religion.” When we are perceived as selling something, the response we get from those we approach often changes from full engagement in conversation to a half-listening mode. When introducing the gospel, do not be too concerned with the amount of doctrine you are teaching. Usually our friends’ questions can be answered in a simple, direct way. Stay focused on responding to the questions, and avoid straying into unrelated subjects. Do not engage in debates that can lead to emotional confrontations. Remain engaged in a friendly, caring conversation so “he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22). Our friends may have personal doubts about our religion, but we should never give them reason to doubt our sincerity or the spiritual feelings they have when we say something to them that is endorsed by the Holy Ghost.
In addition to being sincere, we need to be patient. The Lord’s timetable is often different from ours. The conversion of friends and family members is often a long-term process; it may begin with a gradual change in attitude. We would do well to let the following instructions from the Lord guide us in our missionary efforts: Influence on others can only be maintained “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41). Because conversion occurs from within, long-suffering (extended patience) and gentleness are often needed. Showing genuine love is perhaps the most powerful way we can influence our friends. When we are patient with the conversion process, they will recognize how much concern we have for them, barriers will fall, minds will open, and hearts will accept.
Conflict between the new ideas you are telling your friends and their old beliefs may cause them to hesitate or to reject the message of the restored gospel. One investigator I know put it this way: “If you’re right, my parents and my whole family have been wrong, and that is tough to take.” Our friends sometimes feel they must make the difficult choice of believing either the people they have known and trusted all their lives—those who have instilled within them their core beliefs and values—or of believing someone who is most likely a relative newcomer in their lives. Their decisions, quite simply put, become a matter of trust. As member missionaries we can help ease or lessen this conflict by reinforcing the correct principles and beliefs they already have. This can help because it validates their trust in the people they already love and respect.
The issue of trust is also essential for the member missionary. We must trust that the Lord also cares about our friends. Rather than trying to urge or press our beliefs upon them, which may push them away, we must trust the Spirit to give them a sense of peace and assurance during their time of social and doctrinal transition. The testimony of converts who have faced and overcome similar difficulties can help them at this stage of their conversion process. We can also help our friends build trust in the Lord by encouraging them to go to Him in prayer for understanding and confirmation of what they have been taught.
As my colleague noted, one of the real challenges for some investigators is accepting the idea of only one true church. This is especially true if they have been active in another religion.
How can we teach this principle without appearing arrogant or offensive? We can teach it by explaining our beliefs with patience and humility, as directed by the Holy Ghost, and by not taking offense when some of our cherished doctrines are initially disbelieved or rejected.
President Hinckley has said, “[We are] not argumentative. We do not debate. We, in effect, simply say to others, ‘Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.’”2 We will not bring souls to Christ by simply telling them they are wrong. Many good people are striving to live good lives. When we lived in Tennessee, our six children made friends with young people who were as active in their churches as we were in ours; one neighbor family read the Bible together every day. I have a business partner who pays tithing to his church. Most of my neighbors attend services at their churches every week. When sharing the gospel, build upon the foundation of what your friends already believe and practice. Acknowledge their many good beliefs and practices; then explain that God has made even more available through modern-day revelation: eternal marriage, sealed families, temple blessings for living and deceased ancestors, exaltation, and many other blessings.
The expression “I know the Church is true,” while a powerful testimony by itself, can be strengthened and made more effective with our friends when we also testify of principles that show the Church is true. Testify of how the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ have changed your life. Testify of Joseph Smith as a modern-day prophet and relate experiences that have brought you knowledge and peace. Testify of the feelings you have when you read the Book of Mormon and of how you came to know it is the word of God. Testify of the Restoration of the priesthood authority to the earth and the blessings that have come to you through the priesthood. Testify of modern-day prophets and explain the teachings of President Hinckley that have touched you personally. Testify of the joy and happiness you feel as a member of the Church. Testify that it is because of all these things that you know the Church is true.
During a staff Christmas gathering at the Catholic hospital where I work, I was impressed by the prayer of a beloved nun. She asked that a blessing be upon our Jewish friends, who were also celebrated during the holiday season. Like her, we should always be considerate and respectful of other faiths. Our Church is a worldwide church. Our friends and neighbors come from diverse backgrounds of cultural and religious beliefs. Those of us who have been raised in the Church often have too little appreciation of how much courage it takes to be baptized when that choice means breaking with long-standing traditions or forfeiting family and friends. This difficult transition can be especially true of people who are embracing Christianity for the first time. It is important for us to understand and appreciate the traditions from which they are coming.
President Hinckley has asked us to be tolerant of those of other faiths: “We must not be clannish. We must never adopt a holier-than-thou attitude. We must not be self-righteous. We must be magnanimous, and open, and friendly. We can keep our faith. We can practice our religion. We can cherish our method of worship without being offensive to others.”3 These attitudes, coupled with a sincere Christlike love, patience, and trust, are the answers to sharing the gospel with sensitivity to our family and friends.
More on this topic: See Dallin H. Oaks, “Sharing the Gospel,”Ensign, Nov. 2001, 7–9; Jeffrey R. Holland, “Witnesses unto Me,”Ensign, May 2001, 14–16; Sandra Rogers, “Knitting a Worldwide Church Together,”Ensign, Sept. 1998, 48–53.