Monday, June 24, 2013

The Big Meeting

Like many others, I watched the leadership training broadcast yesterday afternoon, and like some I watched it at home. (No one but me got the comfort of my General Conference La-Z-Boy seat.)

I did not have huge expectations of great new innovations in the missionary program of the church. (It’s easy to say that after the fact, of course!) I was a little amused by some predictions of what would be announced at the meeting, or what people hoped would be announced.

In the end, the key messages of this meeting were not a lot different from similar meetings in the past: Missionary Work is one part of the work of Salvation. It is not the only part or the most important part, and it cannot be separated from the other parts. Do it. Do it now. And do lots of it. And don’t limit your efforts to finding new people to teach; work on re-finding those sheep who have been lost. And work on getting them all to the temple.

Oh, and we have lots more missionaries. And they’ll do some things a little differently as time goes on, making use of more modern equipment.

But You (meaning Me): get out of that La-Z-Boy and get to work.

It comes as no surprise that the message doesn’t change much. One Eternal Round and all that. And it comes as no surprise that there are some innovations (lower entry ages, electronic media, chapel tours).

What I also found wonderful was just watching Elder Holland conduct the meeting, watching him interact personally with the video “guests” from outside Provo, and having him share his testimony of this incredible work. Seeing that enormous missionary choir was really impressive. I felt sorry for those mission presidents and their wives, and I wondered how many sessions they had already sat through that day and how overwhelmed they might be as they drink from the firehose.

I remember first learning really about the “Unified Effort” when I was a bishop in South America. Our mission president was in our ward, and he taught us well the value of the ward council in helping people to stay active once baptized. We had two ward councils a month to keep track of our 75+/year converts. It was really impressive to see the whole ward council pull together to help these new converts stay active in the gospel (and that ward council was pretty successful at it, too).

The same theme was repeated when I was a bishop in the US when President Hinckley gave his famous “double the number of baptisms” fireside. But the principles were the same. Every new convert needs a friend, a responsibility and to be nurtured by the good word of God. That message certainly has not changed.

I’ve participated in various church councils since I served as a Deacon’s Quorum president over 40 years ago. I learned then what I know now: we almost never need a “new” program to do the work. We need to do the work. Yes, there will be minor shifts in focus from time to time. New tools may be available to aid us in the effort. But in the end, the work of salvation is one-on-one, face-to-face. An old Sting song years ago proclaimed, “Men go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one.” (Not that I take all my gospel teaching from rock stars, mind you.)

So why such a big meeting to preach a message that has been preached before? I can think of several reasons:

  1. We need to be taught and re-taught. If we got things right the first time around, there would be no need for repentance. And President Packer (bless him!) taught us again in this meeting, we all need repentance. 
  2. There are new people hearing this message for the first time. All those fresh-faced missionaries in the Marriott Center are new to this work. They didn’t see Elder Packer teach the 3-fold mission of the church in the 1980’s, nor hear the brethren teach the unified effort in the 1990s. And they’re not the only ones. Many members of ward and stake councils -- especially in growing areas of the church -- are new to this part of the work, and they are hearing this for the first time.  
  3. There is value in hearing renewed testimony of eternal things. If it were not so, why would we have General Conference twice a year? Why would we have fast & testimony meeting once a month? Each time we hear truth, we have an opportunity for the spirit to touch our hearts.
I for one was glad to hear the messages of the apostles who spoke, to hear of successes in various parts of the vineyard, and be made to squirm just a bit in my La-Z-Boy.


  1. Nice recap. I watched from our couch. (Bonnie the beagle claimed the La-Z-Boy). I felt the same as you: no earth-shaking announcements, just gentle reminders of what we already know.

  2. You didn't think the announcement that missionaries would be using the internet was big news? Goodness, when I was a missionary we didn't even get to call home on Mother's day or Christmas!! And what about having meeting houses open to the public? How big of a change is that! So many other churches are open with a pastor (or whatever) there to minister to visitors. I thought that was fantastic to utilize the missionaries in that way, instead of doing what I did which was endlessly knocking on doors. I'm so old we didn't even get to do service. Missionaries today have SO MANY options that we didn't have 35 years ago. We are living in exciting times.

  3. I agree the technology & meetinghouse tours are interesting, but not earth-shattering. Just one or two more items in a growing toolkit. Our building in Taipei was already open for tours several years ago. I will be interested to see how the Internet thing goes.

    But for me the key message was not the change in what fulltime missionaries do, but the continuing reminder of what I should do.

  4. "We almost never need a “new” program to do the work. We need to do the work."

    Amen - and amen.

    My daughter, who is in Germany, is going to be able to stay in touch and share her mission with her non-LDS friends who want to know what she's doing. She is going to be sharing a mission with them without once having to preach to them.

    I think a lot of members have no clue what a huge thing the technological aspect of this change is in that regard alone.

  5. Interesting thought, Papa D. Through small things...

  6. I have shared this in other places, (and have a blog post that will eventually go up in several parts) that I have had the experience of having 2 very good friends, who started as Internet Pen Pals, and who joined the church after knowing each other and having conversations about the gospel. I had known one for 5 years and the other for 4 years, when they became interested in the gospel.

    I didn't even try to find missionaries in the area of my friend stationed in Germany, (and who stayed in Germany after he left the military) until after we had covered all of the missionary discussions, and the "problematic issues" that some people have with church history. He had read the Book of Mormon twice, the first time with us discussing 4 chapters a night and the second time on his own. For the D&C, I had a copy of the BYU curriculum mailed to him, and we read that along with the scriptures.

    I had no idea how hard it would be for me to find missionaries, in another country, to teach my friend who was ready to be baptized. In the end, since the house he bought off base was in an area that had only native German missionaries and there was a mission rule against them teaching American service members, one of the Temple Presidency members and his wife, along with the military branch Elder's Quorum President, met with him several times, and then he travelled to the mission office, for his baptism interview. I wouldn't have been able to get that arranged without the help of the base chaplain, a wonderful Catholic Priest who finally convinced the Mission President that I was not a Mormon girlfriend from the US, trying to get his missionaries to waste time trying to convert her boyfriend while he was overseas.

  7. (Continuing)

    Fast forward to 4 years ago, and another good friend lived in Edmonton. He had recently last his mother, and in a marathon discussion from 2:00 am until noon, we discussed the Plan of Happiness, and as his grief was lessened, and his faith went from seed to plant poking it's head out of the soil, he wanted to go to church that day, as it was Sunday, and we both shared several very sweet experiences of the Spirit. I had never understood quite so well, why we call that part of the Gospel a Happy one.

    By 4:00 am, he wanted to know if there was an LDS church he could go to. I put his address in to the search engine for "Find a Meeting" and we were told his zip code didn't have a church. (This wasn't a surprise since he was house sitting for a year, in a place that was about a 20 minute drive from town. I was confused, because in the US it would still tell you which ward or branch you would go. After searching different ways, we realized there were lots of buildings in Edmonton, and figuring out which one he should go to was difficult since there were 4, all approximately the same distance from where he was living. By 4:30 am, we were trying a conference call with the church's referral line, trying to find out the right building, ward, missionaries assigned to his area, or even the number for the Mission Office. The young missionary we talked to went through his long set of questions, none of which really mattered because we didn't really want to put in a referral, my friend just wanted to go to the right place, and be able to meet the missionaries, before he had to work a late afternoon shift. In the end my friend went ahead and put a referral through, for himself, to have a Book of Mormon delivered. The companionship that brought it to him, over 6 months after he had been baptized, were annoyed that a member had asking for a Book of Mormon from the missionaries instead of just getting one from the distribution center. My friend explained that the referral had been put in almost a year earlier, and by the time he called me, he was laughing so hard he could barely get the story out.

    So, that day when we couldn't find a way to contact the missionaries, he randomly chose a building. He was not only in the wrong building and Stake, the next week was Stake Conference, so they were having fast and testimony meeting a week early. One of the ward missionaries in that ward did help him figure out the correct ward to go to the next Sunday, even though he had to call someone in the other stake to find out.

    I can definitely see the value in having missionaries online, and accessible to members inside and outside their areas. If I could have sent a missionary, especially one serving in the mission office, in Germany or Edmonton a PM, and been able to ask questions, it could have made the process much less painful. I think that being able to share some insights into the discussions and experiences an investigator has already had, will be valuable for the missionaries who are teaching the friend of a member, who can not be there for a discussion. I also think that ward mission leaders who "friend" investigators, and can see what their interests are, will have an easier time figuring out which ward members to ask to be involved with that investigator.

    I think we are probably on the cusp of a lot more ways for members and missionaries to be the beacons, that those who are searching for the gospel, can more easily find, regardless of where we live. I don't think that contradicts the need to "Do The Work," I just think that the ways that we do it are changing, and hopefully catching up with the realities of 2003. ;-)

  8. Julia,it sounds like you are an awesome "virtual " missionary. Good for you. :)

  9. I prefer to think of myself as an awesome friend, who is always willing to share as much info about the gospel as someone is interested in learning.

    I was on the "cutting edge" of kids on BBS boards and then national and international chat rooms, back before there were all the cool interfaces and you had to be able to think in DOS to find things. Lol.

  10. Julia, you are right: being an awesome friend is what it's all about.