Be a Missionary All Your Life
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“Be a Missionary All Your Life,” Ensign, Sept. 2008, 44–49

Be a Missionary All Your Life

Elder Quentin L. Cook

For the Savior’s mandate to share the gospel to become part of who we are, we need to make member missionary work a way of life.

In 1842 John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, wrote to Joseph Smith requesting information about the Church. The Church had been organized 12 years earlier and had just over 20,000 members. The Prophet Joseph replied and concluded his response by using the “Standard of Truth” as a preface to what we know today as the thirteen Articles of Faith. As I tour missions, I find that many missionaries memorize the Standard of Truth. It conveys in a concise way what must be accomplished:

“No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”1

Becoming Effective Missionaries

I believe that we are on the threshold of the most significant missionary success to date.

The conversion of Jordan Vajda, a fine young man who had been a Catholic priest, is instructive. When he was in grade school, he had Latter-day Saint friends in his class who shared with him their love of the gospel. At age 13 he found an offer from the Church for a free Book of Mormon. He sent for it, and two sister missionaries responded. They were surprised that he was only 13 and had requested the Book of Mormon. He was impressed with what they taught and what he felt, but after discussions with his family, he decided to become a priest in the Catholic Church. As he prepared to be a priest, he remained interested in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He studied at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He became acquainted with many who take the position we are not Christians, but he also associated with the students at the Latter-day Saint institute of religion at Berkeley. He decided to write a master’s thesis on why some people maintain that we are not Christians. This was primarily an academic pursuit. He became a priest in the Dominican order and had assignments in Arizona and then at the University of Washington. There he came in contact with our missionaries.

After being taught by them and praying sincerely, he received inspiration that he should resign as a Catholic priest and be baptized and confirmed into the Church of Jesus Christ. His letter of resignation expressed his love and appreciation for the Catholic Church and then stated:

“Why am I doing what I am doing? To put it most simply: I have found a fuller truth and goodness and beauty in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After years of study and reflection, I have come to believe that the LDS Church is the only true and living Church of Jesus Christ, guided and led by living apostles and prophets.

“I believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, called and ordained for this, the dispensation of the fullness of times. I love the Book of Mormon; I believe it to be the word of God for us in these latter days.

“I can no longer deny my feelings, my heart, my conscience. I cannot deny the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost, which has come after much prayer and soul-searching. At this point in my life, at this moment, as I look forward to and prepare for my convert baptism, I have found a happiness greater than I ever imagined possible.”2

This good man is active in the Church, has been to the temple, teaches the Gospel Doctrine class in his ward, and has a management position in a hospital in Seattle.

The gospel truly changes people’s lives. Last year I met the missionaries who taught a family of five in South Carolina. The father of this wonderful African-American family was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. His father had abandoned his mother when he was very young. He said his “angel mother” worked hard every day of her life to keep them from being homeless. He cannot remember one fun day as a child or as a teenager. He stated, “Other than the love of my mother, I felt very much alone in this world.” He served in the United States Navy on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, where he learned discipline, organization, and order. He met and married his sweetheart, and they have three children. They came in contact with the missionaries, and he subsequently wrote:

“The missionaries taught us to pray. They taught us about the Restoration. They taught us about revelation and truth. As they bore their testimonies, my heart became softened and I saw in their eyes the truth of what they said. In my whole life I have never seen such sincerity and love. On May 5, 2006, my family was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now I really do believe that I have found my place in this world.”3

The requirements for baptism are set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 20:37: “All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.”

When you think of these two accounts and realize that there were more than 279,000 converts who met the requirements for baptism last year, you get some idea of the significance of missionary work. Our challenge is to share the joyous, eternally significant gospel with our brothers and sisters so they can find peace, happiness, and exaltation. With this in mind, how can we be more effective missionaries?

First, be a missionary all your life. President David O. McKay (1873–1970) taught that “every member is a missionary.”4 That is as true today as when it was first declared.

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) said it this way: “Great is our work, tremendous is our responsibility in helping to find those to teach. The Lord has laid upon us a mandate to teach the gospel to every creature.”5

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel.”6

Second, overcome feelings of hesitancy or inadequacy. The account of the first missionary to serve outside of North America in this dispensation is inspiring.

In June of 1837 in the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith whispered to Heber C. Kimball that the Spirit of the Lord had spoken that Heber should “go to England and proclaim [the] Gospel, and open the door of salvation to that nation.”7

At the time, Heber C. Kimball was 36 years old. He had been a member of the Church for five years and an Apostle for two years. He had a wife and small children. He was the first missionary called to serve outside of North America. A financial panic had swept over the country and the Church in 1837. It was not an auspicious time for Joseph or Heber to commence such a project. But, as Joseph said, the Spirit of the Lord had directed the action.

Heber recorded his reaction: “O, Lord, I am a man of stammering tongue, and altogether unfit for such a work; how can I go to preach in that land?”8

Almost everyone who attempts missionary work feels inadequate in some way. The idea of such a mission was almost more than Heber could bear, but his faith and obedience prevailed. He stated: “However, all these considerations did not deter me from the path of duty; the moment I understood the will of my Heavenly Father, I felt a determination to go at all hazards, believing that He would support me by His almighty power, and endow me with every qualification that I needed; … I felt that the cause of truth, the Gospel of Christ, outweighed every other consideration.”9

Think of the challenge of being a missionary and opening a new country without members, Church buildings, a mission home, or any funds! Despite these feelings of inadequacy, Elder Kimball worked hard and was humble. He and his companions were very successful.

Third, do not be discouraged because missionary work is hard. The New Testament tells of the Apostle Paul’s visit to Athens. Paul wanted to proclaim the message of the resurrected Christ. Certain philosophers invited Paul to Mars’ Hill. Acts 17:21, describing Paul’s audience, states: “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.”

Doesn’t that sound like the world we live in now? When the Athenians realized that Paul was speaking of the risen Savior, some of them mocked him, and the more polite but still not interested said, in verse 32, “We will hear thee again of this matter.” Missionaries in our own time experience this kind of rejection every day.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in speaking about how hard missionary work is and has been, said: “I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him?”10

Fourth, be a good example and take every opportunity to share the gospel. Paul counseled Timothy, “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). It is not enough to preach the gospel. One must also live the gospel. Very often people are receptive to being taught because they have had a positive experience with a Church member.

I know a graduate of Brigham Young University who is a great example, loves people, loves the Lord, and has a great desire to be everyone’s friend and share the gospel. He points out that there is a mirror quality to conversation. If we talk about the weather, people respond by talking about the weather. If we talk about sports, they respond by talking about sports. This friend says he asks people he meets about their school and listens intently. After they respond by asking him about his school, he tells them about BYU and then shares his testimony of the gospel. Then, in a positive way, he offers to let them learn more from the missionaries. He has been very successful in sharing the gospel. He has also remained on excellent terms with his friends who do not respond to his invitation, because he genuinely loves them and is interested in them.

Elder Clayton M. Christensen, who is a professor at Harvard Business School and an Area Seventy, indicated: “I have learned to use terms that associate me with Mormonism in my conversations—comments about my mission to Korea, my children’s missions, my assignments in the Church, my having attended Brigham Young University, and so on. These comments open the door for a conversation about the Church. Most who notice that I have opened this door choose not to walk through it. A few do, however, usually saying, ‘So you’re a Mormon?’ I then ask if they’d like to learn more about us.”11

An Account of Our Progress

The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are the missionary committee of the Church and oversee all aspects of missionary work. Let me give you some numbers describing what has been accomplished under their direction since 1995.

  • Approximately 435,000 missionaries have entered the mission field, which represents more than 40 percent of the missionaries who have ever served in this dispensation.

  • About 3,800,000 converts have been baptized, which is the equivalent of more than one-fourth of the total current membership of the Church.

  • The total number of missions in the Church has increased from 303 to 348.

  • The number of converts continues to increase.

I am very enthusiastic about where we are at this time in missionary work. But we can still do better.

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service was first introduced in October 2004. President Hinckley commenced this effort in an address to all General Authorities. He called for the missionaries to learn the doctrine and teach the principles by the Spirit in their own words and avoid rote recitations of the discussions. The First Presidency subsequently “raised the bar” on missionary worthiness standards and instructed the Missionary Executive Council to bring forth the new guide to missionary service.

Every member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve participated to a significant degree. The Missionary Executive Council, under the direction of Elder M. Russell Ballard, and the Missionary Department were inspired in their efforts. It literally felt as if the windows of heaven were opened and the Lord’s inspiration poured out to bring forth this great resource.

I was deeply touched when President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaking of Preach My Gospel, said it “was designed beyond the veil and put together here.”12

More than 1.4 million copies of Preach My Gospel have been acquired by members of the Church. I hope you will all become familiar with this great missionary guide. It will help strengthen you to live worthily.13

Blessings of Missionary Work—and the Charge

There are great blessings, including eternal joy, in helping to bring souls unto Christ (see D&C 18:15). Among the blessings of being a full-time missionary are the lifelong relationships you develop with missionary companions. Other blessings of serving a mission are having the opportunity of being nurtured under the guidance of a mission president who has been called by inspiration; developing gospel knowledge and study habits that will serve you well throughout your life; and achieving the enormous strength that comes from doing something that is very challenging. Having increased faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel is a most significant blessing.

But the most important reason for going on a mission and being committed to missionary work throughout your life is that it is doctrinally what the Savior has asked us to do.

The last chapters of Matthew, Mark, and Luke; the last two chapters of John; the first eight verses of Acts; and the first chapter of Revelation contain the only New Testament accounts of the risen Christ. Suppose for a minute that you had been a disciple of the Savior during His life here on earth. Suppose you had believed His teachings. Can you imagine how wonderful it would have been to actually behold the risen Lord? Can you imagine how attentive you would have been to His message?

There may have been other things the risen Lord taught that were not recorded, but the overwhelming message in each of the accounts was to preach His gospel.

The next-to-last verse in Matthew is a good example: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).

We could go to almost any part of the Book of Mormon for the same message. Think of Alma and his lifelong commitment to bring souls unto repentance even when he was the head of state.

What about missionary work in this dispensation? I am particularly impressed with section 112 of the Doctrine and Covenants. There is much that could be said about section 112, but verse 21 is particularly significant for those preparing to serve missions. It states: “And again, I say unto you, that whosoever ye shall send in my name, by the voice of your brethren, the Twelve, duly recommended and authorized by you, shall have power to open the door of my kingdom unto any nation whithersoever ye shall send them.”

That describes our missionaries today. Every missionary is called to serve by the prophet and assigned to a field of labor by one of the Twelve Apostles.

As I see missionaries all over the world teaching investigators in so many languages, it is inspiring to reflect on Doctrine and Covenants 90:11: “For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power.”

Missionary work is not just one of the 88 keys on a piano that is occasionally played; it is a major chord in a compelling melody that needs to be played continuously throughout our lives if we are to remain in harmony with our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My specific challenge to each of you is to make a commitment to be a missionary for the rest of your life. There are many among your friends who would respond to the gospel if you would have the faith to share the message of the Restoration with them. What we desperately need is for member missionary work to become a way of life in order for the Savior’s mandate to share the gospel to become part of who we are.

I pray that we all will follow the Savior’s counsel and the prophetic counsel of all of the prophets of this dispensation to preach the gospel throughout our lives.


  1. “The Wentworth Letter,” Ensign, July 2002, 31.

  2. Jordan Vajda to the Very Reverend Robert Corral, OP, June 21, 2003.

  3. Personal correspondence.

  4. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society course of study, 2003), 53.

  5. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 107.

  6. History of the Church, 2:478.

  7. In Orson F. Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball (1945), 104.

  8. In Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 104.

  9. In Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 104.

  10. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Missionary Work and the Atonement,” Ensign, Mar. 2001, 15.

  11. Clayton M. Christensen, “My Ways Are Not Your Ways,” Ensign, Feb. 2007, 58.

  12. Boyd K. Packer, “One in Thine Hand” (address delivered at new mission presidents’ seminar, Provo Missionary Training Center, June 22, 2005), 4.

  13. See Richard G. Scott, “Now Is the Time to Serve a Mission!” Ensign, May 2006, 88.

Photographs by David Stoker, except as noted; black-and-white photograph by Robert Casey