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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.