“New Program, Preach My Gospel, Being Launched in Missions Worldwide,” Liahona, Mar. 2005, N1–N4
After Church leaders first talked about raising “the bar that is the standard for missionary service” in general conference of October 2002, heavy emphasis was placed on sending out more young men and women who are better prepared and more capable of teaching by the Spirit.
The results of that effort have made possible Preach My Gospel, a recently released manual that introduces significant changes to the missionary program in the way missionaries will teach, plan, and work.
“Preach My Gospel is intended to help you be a better-prepared, more spiritually mature missionary,” wrote the First Presidency in an introductory message to the manual. “We challenge you to rise to a new sense of commitment to assist our Father in Heaven in His glorious work.”
“We are hopeful that by adopting the Preach My Gospel plan, the Spirit will be felt and will dictate the conversation between the missionaries and their investigators,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley upon introducing the new program to missions around the world by satellite in October 2004. “This program will require greater effort on the part of the missionaries. It will require much of prayer and much of study.”
“This is a major change in direction,” President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told mission presidents at the 2004 Seminar for New Mission Presidents. “We know it is the right direction. Where it will lead is on the right course.”
The program, which has been successfully piloted in 14 missions around the world, is being implemented in each of the Church’s 338 missions. The centerpiece of the program, the Preach My Gospel manual, which includes new missionary lessons and changes to how lessons are taught, has arrived in all missions across the world. Spanish and Portuguese editions were scheduled to be released by the end of 2004, with most other language editions scheduled to be available during the first half of 2005.
While introducing the new program at the seminar for mission presidents, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained why the changes were necessary. “Missionaries have to be prepared spiritually today in order to go into a world that has become as difficult as the one we are now living in. They must be powerful gospel teachers. They must know the doctrine.”
Raising the standards for missionary service was an important step, but in addition to having “raised the bar,” Elder Ballard said, “we have worked very hard in preparing materials that we hope will make a significant difference in preparing missionaries to find, teach, baptize, and retain more of our Father in Heaven’s children.”
A New Guide
Among the most significant of the changes to the missionary program are modifications to the missionary discussions and discussions for new members and planning materials for missionaries.
The former Missionary Guide, discussions, discussions for new members, and the missionary gospel study program—a combined total of about 676 pages—have been replaced by a single publication of about 230 pages called Preach My Gospel. It addresses topics such as learning what a missionary’s purpose is, studying effectively and preparing to teach, recognizing and understanding the Spirit, understanding the role of the Book of Mormon, developing Christlike attributes, learning another language, using time wisely, finding people to teach, improving teaching skills, helping people make and keep commitments, preparing people for baptism and confirmation, and working with stake and ward leaders.
“This manual is a guide to what a missionary needs to know and to become in order to be a teacher prepared to declare the message of the Restoration to the people of the world,” said Elder Ballard.
Teaching, Conversion, and Retention
The program inseparably ties together teaching, conversion, and retention. It integrates the efforts of Church members and missionaries in all important elements of missionary work.
“If there is better teaching in the conversion process, there will be greater retention of those who are baptized,” President Hinckley said.
At the heart of Preach My Gospel are the new missionary lessons. Missionaries will no longer memorize and teach six discussions for investigators and six discussions for new members. Instead they will study and learn the doctrines and principles in five basic lessons and create and present individualized lessons as needed for each investigator or new convert. Each lesson focuses on preparing investigators to meet the scriptural requirements for baptism found in Doctrine and Covenants 20:37.
Missionaries can no longer simply read or recite a standard presentation. The doctrine “has to be understood by the missionaries so that they can teach,” said Elder Quentin L. Cook, executive director of the Missionary Department. It is based on the scriptural injunction to “seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men” (D&C 11:21).
The new materials are also more member-friendly. Church members can cooperate more freely with missionaries as their friends and acquaintances are being taught. Members should feel more comfortable in giving referrals and in having missionaries come into their homes to teach people with whom they wish to share the gospel. There should also be greater cooperation between missionaries and wards and stakes in finding, teaching, and fellowshipping investigators and in retaining new converts.
Aside from the new lessons, some of the most important aspects of missionary work taught in the new manual are goal setting, planning, and accountability in using time wisely.
“When you set a goal, an objective,” said Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “and begin to work to it, then the Spirit comes in and gives guidance.”
To this end, the previous one-page weekly planner has been replaced by a six-week planner. The booklet includes planning guidelines, ideas for finding new investigators, weekly goals, and a daily plan that provides space for backup plans and notes.
Aside from a two- to three-hour weekly planning session, companionships will spend a half hour each evening planning for the next day and a short time reviewing those plans each morning before going to work. The planner, in conjunction with information from the area book, will give missionary companionships tools to help them plan their time and record important information about the people they are teaching.
“When a missionary … has the Spirit of the Lord with him … the investigator feels something,” said Elder Ballard. “That’s what Preach My Gospel is designed to do, to prepare the missionaries with that kind of power. … In some parts of the world there are those who just simply are not interested in religion. We have to help people understand the message of the Restoration to penetrate through that. … The only way that that is going to happen is to prepare the missionaries as never before.”
Teaching by the Spirit
The lessons found in Preach My Gospel require missionaries to “treasure up in [their] minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given [them] in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (D&C 84:85). Missionaries must now study and learn and teach the gospel by the Spirit.
“When I was a missionary some 70 years ago,” observed President Gordon B. Hinckley in a missionary satellite broadcast on October 15, 2004, “we had no proselyting program. Missionaries would decide each morning what tract they would use for the day and then go out and knock on doors. Remarkably, interested investigators were found and taught.
“Years later, when I had responsibility for the missionary program, under the direction of the First Presidency and Twelve, the first unified plan was introduced and used. The effects were wonderful, but the plan through the years grew into a procedure where memorization was the principal endeavor. The lessons were given in a rote manner from memory. Missionaries were more prone to rely on their memories than on the Spirit of the Lord.”
During the first Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting on January 11, 2003, President Hinckley warned against ignoring the guidance of the Spirit in missionary teaching.
“For many years now we’ve had a standard set of missionary lessons. Great good has come of this. The missionaries have never lacked for something to teach in a systematic way. But unfortunately this method in all too many cases has resulted in a memorized presentation lacking in spirit and personal conviction.”
He then quoted Doctrine and Covenants 46:2: “But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.”
President Hinckley promised: “If this principle is observed … there will come a new force into their teaching. … Let the missionaries shake loose from their memorized lessons. Let them speak with great conviction prompted by the Spirit of the Lord.”
The lessons in Preach My Gospel are at the same time a return to the unscripted preaching of early Church missionaries and a step forward, providing missionaries with greater support materials that have been developed based on many years of experience.